I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Tesla Model 3

One of the biggest obstacles holding back the growth of electric-vehicle sales is the speed and availability of charging stations.

While in most instances EV owners can charge their vehicles at home, longer trips can require a stop at a charging station. Finding a charging station was the biggest problem I experienced when driving the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf last year. On multiple occasions, I was unable to find a station I had navigated to, and in one case, the one I found only allowed for charging at very slow speeds.

That changed when I tested a Tesla Model 3 in late September. Tesla’s Supercharger network made charging faster and easier than I’d experienced before.

Here’s what it was like, and how it compared to my experiences with the Bolt and Leaf.

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SEE ALSO: I drove the Tesla Model 3 and one of its biggest rivals, the Chevy Bolt — and the winner was clear

My first experience with electric-vehicle chargers came when I drove the Chevrolet Bolt EV last year.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

During my second day with the Bolt, I drove around New Jersey to avoid the traffic in Manhattan

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Read more: I drove the Tesla Model 3 for 2 days and used its most controversial feature — here’s why it made me nervous

I used Apple CarPlay to find nearby charging stations, and it appeared I had a decent number of options. But things went downhill from there.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Four of the five charging stations I navigated to weren’t visible from the street.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

I wasn’t able to find the first two. The third, pictured above, was down for maintenance, and the fourth was occupied.

See also: Apply here to attend IGNITION: Transportation, an event focused on the future of transportation, in San Francisco on October 22

It took about two hours to find a charging station that worked and had an opening.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

But the station I found had a “Level 1” charger, which mean it could add around 25 miles of range per hour.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

I would have had to wait at least three hours to add a significant amount of range and nine hours for a full charge.

I also had difficulty finding a charging station when I drove the Nissan Leaf a few months later.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

The Leaf’s navigation system had a feature that displays and provides directions to nearby charging stations, but it was ineffective.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

My first attempt at using it directed me to a Nissan dealership that appeared to no longer exist, and my second attempt led me to a large, multistory indoor parking garage without giving my any indication of where the charger was located. 

I eventually gave up and turned to Google Maps, which led me to an easily accessible charging station without any difficulty.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

The next day, I began using the ChargeHub app, which allows you to search for nearby charging stations and locate them on a map.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

The app also tells you the number of plugs at each station, where the plugs are located, the shape of each plug, how quickly it can charge your car, and how much it costs to charge. The app was far more effective than any other method I’d previously used to find charging stations. 

But finding and using a charging station was much easier with the Model 3.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Tesla’s Supercharger stations were easy to find using the Model 3’s navigation system.

I could immediately determine how many spots were open at a station before driving to it.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

The station I chose was tucked into the corner of a strip mall parking lot, but the distinctive appearance of Tesla’s charging stalls made them easy to spot.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

One small disadvantage this time was the fact that I had to back into my spot because the Model 3’s charge port is near the trunk, and the charging station’s cables weren’t very long.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

I used the touchscreen to open the charge port.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Tesla automatically charges the owner’s credit card for charging sessions. No need to pay at the station.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

All I had to do was grab the cable …

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

… and plug in. The car started charging immediately.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

Once it started charging, I could monitor its progress on the touchscreen.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

I arrived at the Supercharger station with 32 miles of range left. A little over 40 minutes later, I had 273 miles.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

The charging session cost a little under $18, much less than I’d have paid for gas.

Still, the time it took to charge was a little slower than I’d have liked if I was on a road trip. If I didn’t want to stop for a meal, it would have added an extra 30 minutes to my trip.

Thankfully, the vehicle’s 310-mile range (the owner of the vehicle I tested limited charging to 90% of its range to protect the battery) meant I only had to charge once during the weekend.

I used one of Tesla's Supercharger stations for the first time, and it solved the biggest problem I had when driving the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf (TSLA)

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