An electric car can’t fully replace a gas-powered car in my world

2018 Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3

Three incredibly long days after my nearly 3-year-old son Seth doubled over and screamed his “tummy hurt” we were finally back on the freeway headed home.

My mind wandered because there’s not much else on Interstate 380 in Iowa in December.

Three days earlier, my wife, kids, and I traveled from Minnesota to Reinbeck, Iowa—northeast of Des Moines, south of Minneapolis, and west of nowhere—for the holidays to see family. We drove the 195 miles like we always do, as our family life, sprawled across the upper Midwest, happens on a scale much longer than “down the street.”

2019 Subaru Ascent

2019 Subaru Ascent

The journey from Minneapolis drained the gas tank of the 2019 Subaru Ascent by three-quarters. Seth complained about his stomach before we left that morning, but it seemed like the usual toddler issues. But as we approached our destination, his tummy pains got worse. I mentally noted that the nearest urgent care facility was 24 miles away from us in Cedar Falls. No problem. In 15-degree weather, I blasted the heat and flicked the heated seat and steering wheel switches without a second thought on a quarter tank. There are plenty of places to refuel at a moment’s notice, after all.

Refuel with gas, that is. In rural America, electric-car charging infrastructure isn’t in its infancy; it hasn’t yet been conceived. Thousands of fast-chargers dot the U.S., but none of those dots land in Reinbeck—or anywhere close.

It’s going to take years before electric-car recharge times can rival fuel refilling rates at any widespread, accessible level. Dumping electrons in a battery isn’t as simple as dumping gallons of fuel into a gas tank. My problem isn’t that an electric car couldn’t cover the 219-mile journey I’ve traveled so far. It can. My problem is what came after.

 

Son in hospital

Son in hospital

Asking too much of an electric car

Seth’s “tummy hurt” was far more serious than my wife Karen or I imagined. The doctors at the urgent care facility thought it was appendicitis and told us to go quickly 9.1 miles to Allen Hospital in Waterloo. Their diagnosis ultimately would be wrong.

After further discussion and tests at Allen Hospital, it was clear Seth had intussusception—his intestines had folded onto themselves, and nobody could do the more complicated procedure on a toddler at the small-town hospital. I immediately wanted to go north, back to Minneapolis to get him care from doctors we knew and trusted, or at least head north and go to The Mayo Clinic. From that point, that would’ve asked an electric car to cover at least 339 miles, or at most 446 miles in the dead of Iowa winter. Waterloo, Iowa, isn’t far and has electric-car charging, but waiting at a Level 2 charger to charge over hours, at a trickle, wasn’t an option when every minute counts.

 

Son in ambulance

Son in ambulance

The doctors at Allen Hospital urged us to take an 84-mile trip south to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital with Seth in an ambulance and one of us trailing in the Subaru. He desperately needed emergency treatment.

After brutal rounds of specialized treatment (literally gut-wrenching for him, metaphorically for us) Seth’s organs were back where they should be. Surgery was avoided, screams were settled, and after two and a half long days, Seth went back to his Hot Wheels. We were lucky.

 

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

I’m not ready to plug-in

On paper, my wife Karen should drive an electric car. She doesn’t, and after our Christmas ordeal, she probably won’t for a long time.

We recently sold her 2001 Audi A6 4.2 V8 and replaced it with a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 5.7-liter V-8. I entertained the idea of an electric car for our Feder fleet.

Her daily commute to the office, the kids’ school, and back home is 19.8 miles. Her car clocks approximately 7,500 miles a year.

But traveling 200 miles up north to the family cottage or down south to Reinbeck is the norm for us, and we need a vehicle that can get us there regardless of the weather or situation.

Today, an electric car can’t do that consistently, and certainly won’t have a reasonable charge left to get us home or somewhere in an emergency.

We can breathlessly talk about driving range, but neither that nor more chargers would have erased my anxiety—the anxiety of a parent who can’t spare extra minutes because his kid needs to get to the hospital.

Until I can fast-charge an electric car in 5 minutes in the middle of nowhere Iowa at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night over a Christmas weekend when it’s 15 degrees outside, an electric car can’t fully replace a gas-powered car in my world.

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