Here’s our third 2021 Toyota Mirai update in a nutshell: The car is great but the fueling is painful, and this month was more painful than most. Allow us to regale you with the story of what happened with our long-term hydrogen-fueled EV during a week we’re calling the Hydrogen Fuelpocalypse. Spoiler alert: We did not punch the yutz in the gray Mirai, but damn, did we come close.
As usual, when our Mirai’s range-remaining display showed 100 miles, we started to think about fueling up. Checking the Toyota app, we saw that most of the hydrogen stations in and around the Mirai’s home turf of the San Fernando Valley were either broken or out of fuel. No big deal; such glitches usually resolve themselves within a couple of days, hence our 100-mile threshold.
This time, though, things weren’t getting better. True Zero Mission Hills, a beautiful four-pump station that always seems to be broken, stayed offline. The somewhat reliable Studio City station kept going down. Hollywood fell, then Fairfax. Horrified, we realized what was happening: Working stations were being inundated by cars and either running out of fuel or dropping from the strain.
As our range dipped below 50 miles, we glumly realized we’d have to visit Shell in Torrance, a pipeline-fed station that never runs out of fuel, via a 30-mile ride down L.A. ‘s infamous traffic-choked 405 freeway. It’s our reliable plan B—except now it wasn’t looking so reliable. The station’s web page warned of exhaustion from high usage and recommended waiting 15 minutes between fill-ups for the station to repressurize, this on top of the five-minute fueling time. Six cars ahead of us—a typical queue when other stations are on the fritz—could turn the 30-minute wait to two hours.
With 41 miles of range remaining and a flight to catch, we did the unthinkable: We parked the Mirai and took the bus to the airport.
We hoped everything would be sorted out when we returned to L.A. three days later, but it wasn’t. Most of the nearby stations were still down and Torrance still had issues. Luckily, nearby Studio City was back up with plenty of hydrogen in its tanks. (The Toyota app shows fuel inventory, helpful for predicting if a station will run dry before you can get to it.) We figured we’d wait out the daytime rush and fuel late that evening.
Bad idea. By nightfall the station was down again with mechanical problems. Woodland Hills, an Air Products station 10 miles to the west, was open with 59 kg of hydrogen, enough for five or six cars. We decided it was worth a try and made the drive with the A/C off, windows cracked, and cruise set at 55 mph. As our range dipped below 40 miles, a warning popped up on the dash: “Fuel level low. Refuel with hydrogen.” Yeah, no duh.
We arrived at 9:40 p.m. to find five Mirais and a Honda Clarity in line ahead of us. Another driver told us the pump shuts down promptly at 10:00 p.m., and with four cars still waiting, that’s exactly what happened. Several of us called Air Products and were (politely) told the shutdown was automatic and there was nothing they could do. (No matter—almost as soon as it re-opened at 6:00 a.m., the station ran out of fuel.)
What now? The Mirai driver we were chatting with said the 24-hour Thousand Oaks station was pretty reliable. It was online at the moment, despite issues earlier in the week. But it was 15 miles further west, and we had 30 miles of range remaining. If we got there and the station was on the blink, we might not make it home. (We assume the Mirai has some reserve when the range hits zero, but we don’t know how much.) We were sure Toyota Roadside Assistance would rescue us, but that could turn into a very long night. Instead, we drove home—slowly—and parked the Mirai, now with just 23 miles of range remaining.
The next afternoon Studio City popped back online with 500+kg of inventory, and we knew better than to wait. We arrived to find both pumps—actually both sides of the same pump—working, with three cars waiting on either side. Seasoned drivers were passing back the word to us newbies to let one side finish fueling before the other started, lest the station lose pressure. The Mirai ahead of us got a full tank after two attempts at fueling. Things were looking up.
We pulled up to the pump, patiently waited for the car across to finish, and started filling up—and that’s when the newly-arrived yutz in the gray Mirai pulled up and started fueling just after we did. Sure enough, after just 1.5 kg of hydrogen—about a quarter tank—both pumps stopped. We advised Mr. Yutz to wait and let us finish fueling before he started his pump, just as everyone in line had been telling him for the last half hour.
“I just put my card in again,” he said. “Do you mind if I try first? I’m almost out of fuel.”
This was when we began seriously contemplating violence. Surely the other drivers, informed that Mr. Yutz was the cause of further delay, would lie to the cops on our behalf.
“Everyone here is almost out of fuel, and we’re only having this problem because you can’t be bothered to listen to what all these other people have been saying, but sure, go right ahead,” we replied. Actually, that’s what we replied inside our head. What we said out loud was just the “Sure, go right ahead,” part, all the while imagining Mr. Yutz sporting a hydrogen fueling nozzle up his left nostril.
Happily, Fate frowned upon Mr. Yutz, giving him just a whiff of hydrogen before the pump clicked off again, and he gave up and left—but then Fate frowned upon us, too, and our second try yielded less than 0.2 kg. We decided that perhaps we, too, should surrender.
We started to leave, then thought better of it—why not try once more? We lined up for the opposite-side pump and waited, watching as another 2021 Mirai arrived on the back of a flatbed. The owner was down to three miles of range and had called Toyota Roadside Assistance.
We pulled up to the pump, and Fate had either changed her mind or was busy tormenting someone else. The Clarity FCEV on the other side was having trouble with his Honda-supplied fuel card (guess you should have bought a Toyota, bub!), and after several unsuccessful tries, he invited us to fuel ahead of him.
Mr. Clarity’s troubles had given the pump five much-needed minutes to rest up, and with hope blooming in our heart, we started fueling. Together with a knot of hydrogen hopefuls, we stared at the pump as if trying to mind-meld with it. One kilogram. One and a half. Two. She’s going the distance! Two point three. The pump paused—it often starts and stops, but not for this long—then started again. We high-fived the Mirai owner behind us. Two point five, two point seven, two point nine—and then the “Replace Nozzle” message. We’d done it! It took the better part of an hour, and we came as close as we ever have to assaulting a civilian, but we had a full tank!
We started the Mirai and peeled away from the pump with 321 glorious miles of range—a respectable fill from the troublesome Studio City station even on a good day. (We did go back to check on Mr. Clarity, and he got the pump working with a different card.) We got home, checked the app, and Studio City was down again.
We called our friends at True Zero, which owns most of the stations we use, for an explanation—after all, these issues were far less common when we had our long-term 2016 Toyota Mirai. True Zero has built most of the newest stations, and the equipment is still developing; corralling the universe’s smallest molecule is tricky. They’re still perfecting the equipment, but at the same time, Toyota and Hyundai are selling more hydrogen-fuel-cell cars. “We don’t want our customers to feel like guinea pigs,” he said. Unfortunately, that’s exactly how we felt this month.
It’s frustrating, because we like the Mirai and we like the ability to drive a zero-emissions electric vehicle even without easy access to a charger. We like the liquid-fuel-like refueling paradigm, and we know that with a built-out infrastructure, life with the Mirai would likely be as easy as life with any gasoline-fueled car. We’re not sure if hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and we’d really like to see it succeed—but right now we’re on the cutting edge, and we’re the ones getting cut.
Read More About Our Long-Term 2021 Toyota Mirai:
- Update 1: What Is This Car Doing To Us?
- Update 2: Hydrogen Horsepower
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