Electric Car Driver Left Stranded by Charging Company Incompetence

By · January 16, 2013

Blink charge spots

I used Blink's online app to locate the network's Quick Charge spots in Redwood City, Calif.

As PluginCars.com has reported, the Blink EV charging network (operated by Ecotality) has a checkered history when it comes to quality. I learned this the hard way last April, when I was stranded in my LEAF at a broken Blink Quick Charger in Belmont, Calif. So now, I always not only check the Blink Network map, but also call them, when I'm planning a trip that relies on one of their chargers—especially if it’s a Quick Charger.

Such was the case last Thursday morning when I had to commute from Berkeley to Sunnyvale—a 45 mile one-way trip that I make several times a month. Unlike many Silicon Valley office parks, my employer doesn’t have chargers—so I always stop at a DC fast charger on the way home. My friend Jared traveled with me to work on that day. It was his first day on the job for a three-week consulting gig, and his first ride in an EV. I wanted to make a good impression.

After checking the online map, and confirming that all systems are go by phone, I decide to stop in Redwood City to charge because there are two different Quick Charge locations close together: Evernote and Silver Springs. If one fails, the other will surely be working.

For the first leg of our 90 mile journey, we average a modest 62 mph. It's 45 degrees, so I play it safe by leaving the heat off, and only using the heated seats. At lunchtime, still worried about Blink’s reliability, I call to confirm again. Yes, both Redwood City DC Quick Chargers are online and open to the public, with no restrictions.

We left work at 7 pm, going from Sunnyvale to Redwood City (adding about 15 miles to the trip). To play it safe, I drive 55 mph on the way to Redwood City. I know the car well enough that I'm confident we’ll reach with miles to spare, but it gets hairy for Jared: as we limp into the Redwood City parking lot where the Silver Springs Quick Charger resides, with only 7 miles of estimated range left.

But wait, the Quick Charger is nowhere to be found. We call Blink and the technician digs into his notes. It turns out the unit is behind a locked gate, and is only open to the public during regular business hours. Okay, but I sure do wish Blink had told me that on the phone earlier. The Blink technician apologizes.

No problem. There's a backup Quick Charger at Evernote. I still have Blink on the phone, so I check if the Evernote facility is still up and running. The Blink rep says, “Absolutely. You will have no problem charging there.” So we limp on over with the car indicating we have a low battery charge. We laugh nervously.

Nissan LEAF low battery warning

Four miles of remaining range is not necessarily a problem, unless the reliability of the charging station at your destination is questionable.

The Hole Gets Deeper

We arrive at Evernote with 4 miles range left, and breathe a sigh of relief. As I step up to the first of two Quick Charge units, I notice that one of the LED screens is dark. Not a good sign, but there’s another one. It reads my RFID card, cool, but when I plug in it flashes this message in red: “Unable to Communicate." Damn!

So I call Blink for the fourth time that day and, lo and behold, this Quick Charger is indeed broken. The Blink technician apologizes. You can hear in his voice that he has been here before—many times before. And, as he searches his database, there's more: this charger has been down since December 21.

He recommends that I try one of the ten Level 2 240-volt charge points at Evernote. It’s far from ideal to use an L2 right now, but maybe I can add a few miles and then head over to the Belmont Quick Charger, which is only about 5 miles away. Whoops, Blink has it wrong again. It turns out the entire Evernote grid is down.

Nissan LEAF coming off truck

The worse possible predicament—entirely avoidable—for an EV driver. And it's the worst possible message to send to the public about EV viability.

So we call the tow truck, which took more than an hour to arrive. We froze our butts off. Jared took photos and made critical (but admittedly funny) comments about EVs on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, vowing to never rely on one again. This is what kills EVs. That, and the neighbors coming outside when we arrived home with the LEAF being lowered off the tow truck.

Blink’s Epic Fail

I have lots of questions. Why did the Blink technician not know that the chargers were broken until I plugged in and they failed? When he learned that one Quick Charger at Evernote was down, why was he clueless about the Level 2 units also being down? Why did I have to locate and read the serial number on each unit to the technician? Why does the Blink Network database not get a notification of failures? This means that Blink only learns about a broken unit when a customer finds out it’s not working—in other words, when someone is already stranded. And the big question: Who designed this system?

I'm an early adopter. I accept that there are going to be problems from time to time. This is intrinsic to new technology. But it does not have to be this bad. There are existing mature technologies, not related to EVs and charging infrastructure, that can solve this problem.

EV Failure Facebook Post

Blink's failure to maintain proper notification systems and customer service reverberates with negative EV comments on Facebook.

Not Rocket Science

What Blink needs to do is very straightforward: improve their own monitoring capabilities so that they get push notifications when a unit is down, and set it up so that consumers like me can get those push notifications on their mobile phones.

Blink already knows all of the chargers I use because they are tracking everything as part of the government-sponsored EV Project. So I should be able to turn on mobile notifications so that if any charger I have ever used breaks, I get notified by the Blink mobile app, a text or email, or even an automated call. Then, I can plan accordingly and go to a different charging station. Problem solved.

This should have been built into the original specs of their equipment and network. It should become mandatory for all charging service providers receiving state or federal funding, especially for any charging stations open to the public.


· · 2 years ago

IN the '60's Jetson's cartoon the running gag was that everything is futuristic, but Nothing Works. I always wondered why they called those things (ON THE ) Blink.

You'd think that if their billing module died, they would default to free charging until they got fixed. And those quick charger things are only Single Quadrant rectifiers anyway, so its hard to believe they can't get them to work.

More importantly, its silly products like these that we in the EV world have to tolerate, and such poor reliability of what should be dirt simple equipment is another reason for the gas driving public to shy away still longer.

Who would tolerate a gas pump where it told you it can't communicate with your car to find out what octane is required and whether the tank is empty enough? Its really that silly. And the silliness I realize was born out of manufacturer's greediness, but its still Silly.

· · 2 years ago

@Bill I couldn't agree with you more. Ha, yeah in their rush to market Ecotality didn't spend much time thinking though the name of their brand-to-be.

· · 2 years ago

That’s finding out the hard way why avoiding a micro range extender in an EV is actually playing against the EV. Even a 10 KW unit would have saved you from asking a tow truck.

Remember, the oilies aren’t afraid of 1 % pure electrics, but they are of 99 % almost all electrics. Especially if they also use bioethanol for the 10 % long trip miles that are left.

· · 2 years ago

Ironically you were about 4 miles from a Nissan dealer with 2 240V chargers when you were at the second station.

But as a Leaf leaser in a part of the country (Colorado, and not Denver area) with few public charging stations we just don't use our Leaf for those kind of trips. Of course this is a family with teen drivers and we have a pool of cars. The Leaf is everyone's first preference so it logs more miles than all the other cars combined. But, when we have a trip that will require a stop at a charging station we use the hybrid instead. You can't rely on a charging station functioning or that the stall won't be occupied.

· · 2 years ago

I said many times to skip this impossible battery recharging infrastructure and release hydrogen cars with an hydrogen electrolyzer inside the car for unlimited mpg without pollution.

· · 2 years ago


IN this instance hard to argue with you other than my slant on it is when Corporate Welfare is involved, this is the kind of thing that happens.. Heck, EcoTality might even make more money by billing we taxpayers for fixing their ON THE BLINK equipment. Maybe the crappy junk is designed into their 'rape the taxpayer' plan all along! Hence the name.

· · 2 years ago

One note: Silver Springs Network's Blink DC Quick Charger is NOT behind a locked gate like mentioned in this article... it's on the backside of the building along with many Blink L2 units. These are only enabled weekdays during their weekday business hours, however.

· · 2 years ago

@grommet Thanks for the correction!

· · 2 years ago

I just don't make trips like this. Of course, this doesn't absolve Blink from blame, but the current state of the charging network is so fragmented and uncertain that it is too risky. If you confine yourself to trips of 20 miles or less and recharge at home or at an employer, the Leaf is a fine car: economical, quiet, comfortable, fun to drive (in contrast with the Prius which drives like a brick), and super low maintenance. You need another car for going out of town (we have a 2008 Prius which I had converted to a plugin hybrid using the A123 system) so if you are single you probably would do better with a Volt.

· · 2 years ago

What is the logic behind disabling a charger outside business hours?

· · 2 years ago

I use chargepoint in Illinois and they are equally bad.There is one charger at Gurnee Mills that has been broken for more than a year. After I reported it for the second time I was accidentally copied on an e-mail from a chargepoint engineer saying that it would be great if one day they could get out there and fix all those broken chargers. Another time I used a chargepoint charger at a Walgreens and the unit did not work but even worse refused to disengage from my car. Eventually by sticking my keys into a 240 V charger handle I was able to wiggle it loose.

It is sort of chicken and egg here. Because public charging is not reliable people don't use it and because people don't use it there is no money to fix the chargers. Also you have to remember that using a public charger is about 20 times more expensive than charging at home ($0.02 Kwh nightly rate in IL) which is the equivalent to going to a $80/gallon gas station. At those prices you would expect the gas station to be pretty reliable and open when you need it.

· · 2 years ago

Clearly, these Blink issues never go away. After being criticized for showing so many down charging stations on their Blink website, it appears now it just shows everything is OK by default, no matter what the facts are (that they know).

Ecotality is a company that will continue to milk the taxpayer for cash, and off shore money is salivating to get this whole network for pennies on the taxpayer dollar. One has "invested" millions in Ecotality.

Don't worry, the folks who run the company get paid well. Nothing but the finest for your tax money.

· · 2 years ago

Knock on wood, I have to say what sparse facilities we have here in buffalo ALL

True, most are at Nissan Dealerships, but those Aerovironment things dish out a reliable, FREE 200 volts @ 30 amps.

Other free stations are at AAA
with a 30 amp 208 volt GE DuraStation, and

in downtown Buffalo if you pay for parking anyway, you get either a 200 volt or 240 volt (depending on the 1 of 2 lots) 30 amp GE DuraStation, which all work, and, like the Aerovironments are compatible with all EV's, and they're all free and the DuraStations are 24/7. The Nissans are dependent on Dealer Policy, but Mike Barney Nissan has his 3 public (and 1 service bay) chargers running 24 / 7 free.

· · 2 years ago

That is why Volt makes sense now and it is the "bridge" technology that will get us to the future. Leaf is from the "future". But the infrastructure is NOT ready yet.

Range Anxiety is real.

· · 2 years ago

According to PlugShare there is a new Blink QC online in Sunnyvale this week at Spirient Communications on Borregas. I wonder how long it will remain working...

· · 2 years ago

100% agreed with you Remy.

Re Blink / ECOtality, I'm split. They both help and hurt EVs.

I've myself been almost left stranded last month, same chargers, under very much the same circumstances, being directed to first then a second already-known-dead unit by Blink's very friendly but staggeringly clueless reps.

While this is unacceptable, I still need to give Blink credit for merely getting some quick-chargers installed. They fall way shorter than what they were supposed to deliver, but at least they've got a few here in NorCal, something, sadly, no other company can claim.
350Green imploded after having installed only one charger (an otherwise rock-solid Efacec unit). Nissan failed its customers by installing none thus far. ChargePoint may do even worse, calling "quick" (and billing accordingly) some underpowered half-speed Fuji units they have yet to deploy.

Blink QCs are wicked fast, plus they're dual-ported, allowing for continuous back-to-back quick-charges even if people take their sweet time moving their vehicles when ready -- an awesome idea. And, most importantly, they're here today.

@ModernMarvelFan: range anxiwhat? Never had a problem in 11k EV miles.
Charging anxiety, now, yes, at times -- until Blink accurately reports status, or some other QCs get installed.

@Bill: quick-chargers are vastly more complex than what you imply; still, only Blink has issues it seems. Worse, as you point out, it's the non-essential fluff (card-reader, touchscreen etc) that usually disable their units... which is all the more maddening as QC is free for now anyway.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O.

Range Anxiety is real b/c if you have to slow down significantly and NOT using heat just so you can get to your next "charging station". Combined with "charging anxiety" will give you some headaches.

Say what you will. Plenty of people at my work loves the idea of EV but they are afraid of it b/c so much of its range depends on the available spots for charging and how you use it.

Until we have a reliable fast charging network or "affordable" 200 miles range BEVs, BEVs are just cars with "limited" city roles...

I hope the $35k Blue Star Tesla proves me wrong.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O

I understand that the quick charger has to play games with the Lithium Ion Cell 'Charging Charcteristic', but the fact remains it still only operates in Quadrant One. They should be able to get these things working.

· · 2 years ago


What a crappy order of events! I know when a string of things go wrong it's hard to get out of it. I am curious though why you didn't just find a 110 outlet to plug into, or a local RV park to plug into either 110 or 240? It seems that our standard outlets are more reliable than the EV chargers, at least for now.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O.

I reread your post, and
Take issue with one of your statements: ".... quick-chargers are vastly more complex than what you imply.....".

So what's complex? The job they have to do is essentially just limit the current to protect themselves ( I didn't say it wasn't a 'controlled' rectifier), then just watch the initial to the final current, and shut off when the current drops to 3% C. Basic one quadrant design. The simplest elevator two quadrant drive has a more difficult job, and there are no circulating current issues such as in a 4 - quadrant design...

Maybe if you could get a little specific as to what you mean.

My point is all these things should just work. And one point I won't concede is a Level 2 unit, minus the rfid signalling baggage, is just a light switch, slow speed data link, and ground fault. They shouldn't have trouble keeping that thing working, even during a billing failure.

· · 2 years ago

Almost had the same issue with me, but with no L3 stations in the Mid-Atlantic region it was...Which L2 station will we stop for an hour to gain enough juice to limp home? I Skipped 2 stations as I believed I had enough juice left to get home and I was 3 miles from home when the dash quickly went from 4miles to - - -. I should of stopped and walked around a shopping center while getting a free charge to be safe. But the biggest thing I learned was, If there is any doubt you may come up short, Find the closest L2 (or L3) and stay for 45-60mins to gain a few extra miles (just a small buffer).

In the OP's case even though there might of been 30-50% left on the meter, I would of L3'd earlier (15mins i guess) and never had this issue. Either way, its good to educated and point out to all users of these apps, cant always trust them and always have a backup plan.

· · 2 years ago

Double-check that a charger is running, before walking away from it!

Case 1: We parked at a BMW place in Oakland (because open 24/7, when one I wanted use was closed). Attendant there connected it (his equipment, so he knows how to use it, right?) and we went off for dinner, believing that car would have plenty of power to get us home afterwards. BUT, he had hooked our FFE to a dead machine (with about 7 others available in the same garage)! (I shifted to a good one 5 feet away, and we did get home, much later than planned.)

Case 2: My wife plugged in at a parking garage, went shopping ... didn't realize that the car was set for "Value Charge" (i.e., only draw during "Off-Peak" hours) so got no power then.

· · 2 years ago

@ModernMarvelFan: drive an EV sometime, or ask someone who does, you'll quickly overcome your fear of the unknown. Range is predictable. Like for everything else in life, use common sense, know your limits.

Do people suffer from "grocery anxiety", constantly wondering whether their fridge contains enough milk for the day? No, they just know from experience.
And, if needed, one can just go get more at the local store anyway; sure it's more time-consuming than the morning delivery at the door, but it's totally doable.

That is the beauty of quick-charging btw. Being able to get more juice in minutes instead of hours changes everything. It surely offers great peace of mind.
Now if the stores aka QCs start closing at random times, this safety net all falls apart -- unpredictability sucks, and that's exactly Remy's point.

yes, in a sense, quick-chargers are relatively dumb power supplies. Like a $10 cellphone charger... except 100'000x more powerful.

Now, some 400V at up to 200A (and a lot more in a fault) can do some serious damage. Only trained utility workers ever handled circuits this large so far. Fires and electrocutions sometimes occur nonetheless.
QCs better not cause any, even when there will be millions of EVs on the road, and despite all the unavoidable implementation differences, hardware failures, user stupidity and more; hence their ton of safety measures, passive and active, including extra isolation, self-tests and cross-checks with the vehicle, faults detection (GFCIs, connectors temperature...), failsafes/redundancy (e.g. dedicated signals on CHAdeMO connector) etc.
[overview: http://www.evs24.org/wevajournal/php/download.php?f=vol4/WEVA4-4120.pdf]
Regulatory compliance, utilities will add their own requirements re safety, harmonics/PFC, EMI, demand response (load shedding) etc.
Not required but usually included: metering, user interface, wireless communication...

I'm not excusing Blink for not getting it right, as apparently other companies have no problem; I was merely pointing out that those systems wind up being more complex than just the PSU part.

you could have made it. The Leaf's range estimator (aka guess-o-meter) goes from optimistic when full, to very pessimistic. By the time you reach "very low battery" you still have ~7% usable energy left.
I found this chart very helpful: http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=101293
Or try and push your Leaf to turtle once, maybe by circling around your house. Make sure you have plenty of time :-)

What I learned is a bit different than you, and goes more like: "If there is any doubt, keep going, it'll be fine. Now if it's clear you're not going to make it, just lower your speed".
Unless you're already below ~30mph, slowing down will make more difference than L2. (otoh, if you have L3 handy, enjoy, just go full-tilt)

· · 2 years ago

Knock on wood, I have to say what sparse facilities we have here in buffalo ALL

True, most are at Nissan Dealerships, but those Aerovironment things dish out a reliable, FREE 200 volts @ 30 amps.

Other free stations are at AAA
with a 30 amp 208 volt GE DuraStation, and

in downtown Buffalo if you pay for parking anyway, you get either a 200 volt or 240 volt (depending on the 1 of 2 lots) 30 amp GE DuraStation, which all work, and, like the Aerovironments are compatible with all EV's, and they're all free and the DuraStations are 24/7. The Nissans are dependent on Dealer Policy.

· · 2 years ago

While this story sucks...and Blink needs to get their s*&t together, it's important to note that it's the exception. Many of us have had their Leaf's for over a year and charged lots of times at public places without drama. We're all early adopters and there will be issues, but for me, the advantages FAR outweigh the disadvantages.

I'm certainly not missing pumping $50+ of gas into my tank every two weeks...

Nice post Mr. O

· · 2 years ago

It has been my experience that Ecotality has been the most reported problem company (compared to the others out there) in the industry. I'm sad to say that they were really good at getting in line for the Fed handouts when it came time to acquiring money (and they got a tremendous amount of money form the government) but thy have failed in building a reliable system and customer service program. It's as if the actual providing reliable service part was not in their game plan.

I have heard many stories like this one and have had personal experience. Here is a video about how Ecotality's blink network is being used in my city. They have not responded or taken and steps to work with the parties involved to address the issue despite several offers.


· · 2 years ago

Range anxiety, it's all in your head.

· · 2 years ago

I too rely on QC occasionally but currently only have two AV units in my area but soon to have 4 Blinks and hoping that they do well. In the Seattle area, I hear about blinks "on the blink" EVERY week so their reliability around here is just as poor and worse, now getting signs of vandalism adding to the problems.

I think Nissan and Tesla's decision to implement their own national QC network is a very valid business decision and one that i feel will help push EVs over the top.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O.

Well, no offense, but plenty of people other than utility workers deal with 480 volts @ 200 amps, and the voltage on these things (DC) can be substantially higher depending on the car. There is the added complication of the shut - off point and the ground - fault, so in balance I'd say they are more complex than cell-phone chargers.. As far as fault current let-through, I would imagine Class-T, or Rectifier (K1) fuses would be used to protect the expensive diodes in the unit.

But this overexamination of minutia cloaks the fact that this supposedly "highly reliable" equipment apparently (from these distant eyes) is failing all the time. Almost like it was designed that way.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O

Thanks for the block diagram of the Ecotality ( I think you gave it to me, or else I stumbled onto it on their Website). I usually don't like to criticize someone else's design? but to me the thing is much too complicated. I'd tolerate that level of power conversion if there was any benefit, (transformer, then controlled recitification (for pf correction), then inversion and finally rerectification and rf filtering) but one transformer would be enough, and the thing Weighs a Ton anyway, so they are not gaining any weight advantage from the 40 khz inverter or whatever it oscillates at. And the efficiency is very poor, topping out at 90%. Heck, a Motor/Generator set would be a percentage point better, and be much more reliable since these things apparently break all the time, where as an MG set would need its brushes changed every 10 years, and provide a linear load to the power company and total isolation for the EV.

· · 2 years ago

@Mr. O.

As soon as I mentioned MG set in the last post I'm surprised GORR didn't chime in with a Natural Gas powered engine MG set fast charger for EV's, hehe. It also qualifies as "Alternative Energy".

· · 2 years ago

@Redleaf: "Ironically you were about 4 miles from a Nissan dealer with 2 240V chargers when you were at the second station."

I wouldn't be too confident about the availability of chargers at Nissan dealers. They've taken quite a hardling approach to their chargers and have gotten quite a reputation of refusing to let not only non-Leaf vehicles charge there, but even Leafs that weren't purchased from that specific dealership.

If that weren't bad enough, to ensure this hardcore policy, many Nissan dealers actually leave the chargers turned off and only turn them on when requested and it can be proven that the Leaf was bought at that dealership, as well as positioning the chargers in the most inaccessible locations imaginable. Nissan actually corporate supports this policy (I actually emailed and asked about it since the chargers are listed as 'free' on many websites). I would say that Nissan, despite the Leaf, isn't exactly an EV-friendly manufacturer.

· · 2 years ago

I'm sorry about your experience. I have used the Blink network dozens of times myself, never with any problems. I always check the online map plus my Blink smartphone app to see the status of the stations. You should have gotten better service. However, I checked the Blink network map myself and the first quick charger you went to at Silver Springs Network is clearly marked, "Available 7AM to 6PM M-F only for free public charging." Also, did you ever register your Blink network card through the Blink website? If you did not, it would explain the "Unable to Communicate" message you received.

I encourage you to try again, and also the check out Recargo.com to read the reports about the charging stations you intend to use before you use them. The report on the Silver Springs charger clearly states it is only available during working hours. A report on the Evernote station on December 29th indicates it is not working and the Blink network map shows it as unavailable.

· · 2 years ago

I live in Stockton, CA, where there is exactly ONE J1772 charger (at Walgreens). When I drive my LEAF to the bay area I'm always delighted at the plethora of J-plug and CHAdeMO chargers available. In addition to the Blink charger app, I have FIVE other charging station location apps on my iPhone. Some charging stations appear on some apps, some on others, but I have found that the Recargo app is the best overall. Needless to say, when I drive the 65 miles from Stockton to the east bay - I have a back-up plan (plan B, plan C, etc.) I have never been stranded.
That said, more chargers are coming. There will be EIGHT new CHAdeMO chargers in the Sacramento area by the end of this year, not to mention dozens of new J-plugs. And this doesn't count the recent commitment by Nissan to install CHAdeMO chargers at their dealerships. I drove to the Santa Rosa Nissan dealership a few weeks ago, where they already have a Blink CHAdeMO charger. After a quick lunch at the restaurant across the street from the dealership I was fully charged and on my way.
Call me an optimist....

· · 2 years ago


Thanks for your comment. You're points that I could have better educated myself and possibly avoided what happened are well taken, and I think they will be helpful for people reading this post.

With that said, none of this gives me reason to cut Blink/Ecotality any slack. It is still Blink/Ecotality's fault that this happened because the burden is on them to educate me on whatever I need to know in order to be successful using their product, even if that means encouraging me to use PlugShare and Regargo (this should not be necessary of course), or letting me know that there are broken chargers that I need to avoid. They have not been the least bit proactive about doing this.

Because the Blink app is known to be unreliable and often contains incorrect information, I figured that most reliable source of information would be a Blink tech support specialist – a reasonable assumption – and they are the folks who pointed me in the wrong direction multiple times.

I never received any email or other message from Blink telling me I had to re-register my Blink card (not that it would have prevented the problem from happening). I've had that card for 1.5 years (I have successfully used the network plenty of times), so if I need to go through a new reg process the burden, again, is on them to tell me BEFORE I get a disturbing message in flashing red.

· · 2 years ago

Now - Was NISSAN Putting those CHAdeMO chargers in only for LEAF's or will they be inviting the other guys (iMiEV's for now) to charge their, too? Also - if your are looking for a daily update of chargers (as listed on PlugShare) look here - http://bit.ly/X6ZwI5

· · 2 years ago

I have had similar issues in Tennessee. The most recent was a charger with a damaged connector. I called blink to report it and the tech told me there was an open case and they were waiting for someone else to report it before sending out a tech. I could not believe they would wait for another report. Luckily the right side was working after some struggle.

· · 1 year ago

This should have been built into the original specs of their equipment and network. It should become mandatory for all charging service providers receiving state or federal funding

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