It’s Electric! Renting an EV & Touring Spain & Portugal

Gas prices are higher than ever — in Spain they’re over 2 euros/liter which is around $8/gallon taking into account the exchange into US dollars. So when Carlo and I began planning our European road trip this spring we decided to rent an electric car from Europcar. We met as climate activists and loved the idea of ditching a gas guzzler for a newer EV.I’m writing this blog to share our experience, in the hope it will both be an inspiration and a offer some tips and red flags that came up for us.

Map of route through Spain and Portugal
The trip was just shy of 2,000 kilometers, around 1,200 miles


Let’s start with numbers.

Car rental for 1 week – 350 euros (~ $375) through Europcar. This was about 100 euros more than economy car for the same period.

We paid with a Capital One Venture card, which then covered the car with CDW. It was unclear to us if personal liability would be covered or if Europcar’s insurance would cover this. This is worth looking into. Thankfully we didn’t get into any accidents.

Charging Expenses
Thanks to a few free chargers, we only spent 65.45 euros on charging. This translates to around $72.

Tolls and Cleaning
We’re not sure the total here but there was a 13.35 toll to get back into Madrid and we paid 9.50 to wash and vacuum the car before returning which, which I’ve never done in the US but Europcar told us to do (but said we didn’t need to charge it!)

Doing some quick math, on a car that gets 35 miles/gallon, we would have spent $275 in gas. If we had a more efficient car, say a 50 miles/gallon one, we would have spent $192.

So we saved about $100-$200 by going electric! Woohoo!

Charging Infrastructure – Now this is the Challenge
While there are a lot of pluses to having an electric car — no emissions, smooth ride, cheaper to operate, there are some challenges that are mostly due to poor charging infrastructure. If you are planning on doing a similar road trip in Spain and/or Portugal read carefully!
When we started planning this trip both Carlo and I thought you could drive up to a charging station, swipe your credit card, and charge.
In both countries the charging stations are operated by different vendors. Each vendor has an app and/or RFID card you can somehow procure to be able to charge at their station. Given that we were planning our charging strategy the week before we left, getting RFID cards was out of the question.
Download the app Electromaps
The first thing you should do is get on your phone and download Electromaps. This app was the primary tool that we used to find charging stations along our route, along with details about how you pay, if any stations were in use or broken, the hours of availability, etc. This app was invaluable to us.I want to talk about Spain and Portugal separately now.
In Spain there are multiple apps that you can download that different charging stations use. So I’d look on Electromaps and see what chargers were available at a good stopping point. The next thing I’d do is see how you’d pay. Occasionally there were free chargers that didn’t require payment or an app but they weren’t that common. So for all the others you need to activate the charger with an app.Now, we have a few advantages compared to US tourists. Because we are in Europe for over a month, we both have local cell phones (we got Sim cards from Vodafone; super cheap and easy – I highly recommend this over using your US cell plan overseas). In addition we had a Spain address we could use – Carlo’s mom. Finally, Carlo has an Italian passport and Spain NIE number, two things that we ended up needing for a couple charging apps. We both have US-based credit cards.
Here’s my reportback on the apps.
Spain-based Apps

  • Wenea – I was able to set up an account with a US passport number and American credit card.
  • Waylet – Carlo set up with either his Italian passport or NIE and credit card.
  • Juicepass – Neither of us could get a credit card to stick.
  • Easycharger – Carlo was able to set up the app with his passport or NIE but then when we tried to charge we got an error and Easycharger said it was our car, but then when we tried charging at another station, the charge worked.
  • Iberdrola – I couldn’t set up as an American; Carlo didn’t try.

There were a bunch of other apps we didn’t download or try to use. It’s really important to read the Electromaps profile carefully and it helps to know some basic Spanish.

Portugal Charging
Portugal has a completely different set-up for charging that is not at all tourist-friendly. If you’re a local you can get a charging card that works at all charging stations and the expenses are tied to your utility bill. Yay for locals. But you can’t get this as a tourist since you need to sign your car up and as a renter you don’t know anything about your car until you pick it up. So you’re screwed.
Except, Continente supermarket came to the rescue! There are Continente’s all across Portugal that offer charging (for a fee) and all you need is a Continente shopper card and the app. We determined we could pull off Portugal by hitting the Continente’s. Critical tip — we were only able to create a Continente shopper card using a Portuguese cell number. Lucky for us I landed in Portugal first and still had a sim card and number. We used that and then Carlo set up the account (and I’m not sure which ID # he used, this could be another that required a Europe based number).
A Note on Europcar
Europcar is clearly not targeting electric car rentals toward people going on road trips like us. When we picked up the car and told the worker we were going tto Portugal she was shocked and told us she still had gas cars. Nobody does that!Our Renault Zoe only had a Type 2 charger, meaning we could charge at 22kwh max (more about this later). Secondly, they didn’t include a slow charger, which would have been great to have in case of an emergency (so we could plug into an outlet, which we couldn’t do). Finally, this whole process could have been a bazillion times easier if Europcar had RFID payment cards that came with the car. I imagine that would be hard to manage which is probably why they don’t offer it.
Charging Speed
We learned a little bit about charging speed. Again, we started with a false assumption — that the car would come with a fast charger. The newer Renault Zoe’s come with CCS fast chargers. But this car only had a Type 2 Mennekes charger. This meant that the max we could charge at was 22 kwh. Since the car’s battery is 52 kwh, that means it took nearly 2.5 hours to fully charge the car.

PictureA type 2 charger

Other Tips

Read up on EVs before you go. Things we knew or quickly learned:
Even if the car has a long range, like ours said 389 kwh when fully charged, we only got a little more than half that on the highway.

  • Going fast drains the battery faster. Going downhills and braking regenerates the battery.
  • Turning on the heat drains the battery.
  • It took one driver and one passenger planning stops to make this work. It would be difficult to do solo (not impossible, just a lot more planning).
  • There are some areas of Spain and Portugal that have very limited charging stations. One our final day our first charging station didn’t work, then the second one we went to initially wouldn’t work (thankfully a phone and app reboot fixed that problem). We only had one more option to try and if it didn’t work we would have been stuck. So plan charging stops with “what if this doesn’t work” in mind.
  • You may need to plan a longer driving route in order to get a viable charging station. We had to stop in Badajoz for this reason, though we could have chosen a more direct route.

View from a cafe in A Granxa, Galicia, Spain. Two rivers connect here.
View from a cafe in A Granxa, Galicia, Spain. Two rivers connect here.

Despite all the challenges we were so glad we rented an electric car and got to see so many beautiful places. The charging infrastructure is getting better every year. Be prepared and enjoy your trip!

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