Things have gone pretty well while we’ve had the Audi e-tron in the South of France. It’s an easy car to drive and although few public charging points exist near us, range anxiety was taken care of by the e-tron charger that comes with the car. This connects to a domestic power supply to charge the car, albeit slowly (think over 30 hours to charge from 40% to 100%). In any case, the time needed to charge doesn’t matter all that much because we usually recharge overnight.
Power Surge Causes Problems
And then we had a massive thunderstorm with lightening flashing down near the house. A nearby strike knocked out our Livebox (internet modem and router for the Orange France service), affected the control panel for the gas boiler, and blew the car charger.
When the charger is plugged in, its lights flash as it goes through a self-check phase before it settles down and charges the car. In this instance, the lights stayed red and the reset button didn’t work. In fact, nothing worked and no charge was delivered to the car.
The car handbook is written for people who drive e-trons in urban settings when a local Audi dealer is within easy reach. Being told to take the charger to a main dealer isn’t really helpful when you’re deep in rural France. Even if such a dealer was available, there’s no guarantee that they’d be able to help. The charger, as we later discovered, is a EUR 1,000 spare part, so it’s unlikely to figure in the inventory of most dealers. There must be a heap of electronics hidden in the charger to justify such a heavy cost, some of which were probably fried by a power surge caused by the storm.
Problem Solved, But Not a Long-Term Solution
To be fair, Audi has a good spare parts service and can deliver parts across Europe quickly, if the part if available. If all else fails, Audi Assist can recover cars and bring them home. But we needed a replacement for our charger to be able to stay in France for another few weeks.
Fortunately, the good people at Audi South in Dublin (our dealer) turned up trumps and removed a charger from a test car. My son collected the charger and flew with it to Nice and we collected it there (he was coming anyway). We were back in action within four days of the storm.
This is very much a one-off solution to an early adapter problem. Most people who buy e-trons won’t use them to drive across Europe. If they do, they’ll probably recharge using the public high-speed charging points located on autoroutes. But when you go off the beaten track, a 300 km usable range can be used up at an alarming rate, which means that a domestic charge is needed. And few people will realize that the charger provided with the car is a potential single point of failure that could leave them stranded.
I’m sure Audi will learn from our experience. Maybe all Audi main dealers will be asked to stock a replacement car charger, just in case someone needs it. Or perhaps they will bulletproof the charger so that it is less vulnerable to a problem caused by power surges. We’ve learned a lesson too: don’t leave a charger plugged in when storms are in the vicinity. You never know when lightening might cause problems.