Electric car straight talk – Part 2

It’s been over two years since I posted “Electric Car Straight Talk – Part 1” and I have a lot more experience under my belt of what it’s like to own an electric car. In this post I update or add to what I covered in Part 1, so start there first if you haven’t already.

Additional Learnings

Iwill start by getting right to the point and offer pearls of wisdom regarding electric car ownership. Even though we drive a Nissan LEAF, what I’m about to share applies to electric cars in general.

  • Electric charge stations are just like copy machines — they let you down when you need them most. It’s very common to find charge stations that are offline or broken, and this can be very frustrating when you plan your trip around needing one — something I rarely do.
  • Even if the charge station is functional, there’s an good chance it won’t be available. Some people hate that charge stations double as primo parking spots and express their disdain by parking their gas cars in these spots. Fred Meyer is a local grocery chain in my area offering charge stations. When I complain to management about gas cars occupying the charge stations they’re unwilling to take a stand stating there’s nothing they can do.
  • Even if a charge bay is open, time to charge can vary depending on if other cars are pulling power. For example, the really fast L3 stations in my area only charge one car at a time, even though two cars can be hooked-up. So, You might need to wait 20 minutes before power switches over to start giving you a fast 20 minute charge (for a total of 40 minutes wait).
  • The vast majority of public charge stations are Level 2, meaning it takes about 4 hours to fully charge a Nissan LEAF (or about 80 miles for a 3,000 lb car). And just like the aforementioned L3 fast charge stations, power output can drop if multiple cars are pulling power. So, unless you find a fast charge station (few and far between), the charge station in front of your local grocery isn’t going to boost your charge much unless you have a lot of grocery shopping to do.
  • Due to people parking and leaving their cars in charge stations all day long (not cool), my workplace has implemented a $5.00/hr fee after 4 hours to discourage charge pigs from hogging up the stations all day long. Of course, it’s typically the same people that were doing this on a daily basis — apparently dependent on the workplace charge stations to get home. They probably shouldn’t be owning electric cars. Moreover, the new policy is effective in freeing up spots, put it’s put a cramp in the day for people who were using them in a manner consistent with the workplace policy of bing for emergency or occasional use only.
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Electric charge stations are just like copy machines — they let you down when you need them most. Also note, even when working this L3 charge station (also called DC charge station) can only charge one car at a time even though it has two ports. So, if there another car charging next to you then you need to wait for it to finish before your car starts charging. In other words, the 20 minute fast charge could end-up taking 40 minutes.

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An all too common occurrence — gas cars parking in the electric car charge stations slots. Store owners are unwilling to do anything about and laws are needed so police can enforce just like disabled parking spots. Getting to a charge station can mean going out of your way and there are times I chose to go to this store thinking I could get a charge instead of going straight home, only to find I couldn’t charge because of inconsiderate people like this car owner on the right or because the stations were offline or broken. This has lead a couple of nail biters getting home thanks to the extra miles to go out of the way and not get a charge.

I’m going to pause here because I’m making things sound pretty bad. Going back to what I said in Part 1, I strongly discourage anybody from getting an electric car if dependent on public charge stations to get by for normal day-to-day driving. Instead, think of electric charge stations as being for emergency use only. If you approach charge stations with this mindset, then you’ll be much better off. I use a public charge stations about once per month and I’m a very happy electric car owner.

I lady struck up a conversation with me while I was topping off the charge on my LEAF at an L3 charge station. She was waiting for my car to finish so her car could start charging. (Again, even though both cars are connected, the ChargePoint L3 station only charges one car at a time.) She commented that she lives far north and needs to stop at the charge station every day in order to make the trip home from work. IMO, buying an electric car was a really poor choice on her part. I’m guessing high gas prices and great lease deals wooed here into buying an electric car, but she’s running her life around an electric car when it’s supposed to be the other way around.

  • Cold weather affects battery performance, which can result in significantly lower range. At freezing temperatures (32F), the range on our LEAF drops from around 80 to 60 miles. The one and only time I ever stranded us on the side of the road was on a very cold evening coming home from dinner. What I thought to be plenty of charge for the trip turned out not to be the case, even with my nursing the car home feather-footed and well below my normal highway speed. On a related note, Nissan offers free towing if you run out of charge.
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Data from FleetCarma on Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt electric-car battery range variation with outdoor temperature.

  • Highway speed significantly affects range, as is true for all cars. No surprise here except the extent to which the LEAF has impressed this upon me and I view this as a positive thing. When I’m driving, my wife can feel when we’re low on charge based on my driving style. How driven makes a huge difference. On one occasion I succeeded in powering through an entire charge in just 20 miles — just under one-fourth of the LEAF’s rated range.
  • Installing an L2 charger at home has made a huge difference for us. We were very happy with the LEAF even before getting the L2 charger. So much so, it took me a full year to get around to installing what I had purchased the year prior. (In my defense, I don’t do anything half-ass so this meant pulling drywall to run the wire — in other words, a big job.) Having the L2 charger has meant never needing to use the gas car on the weekends when we do a lot more driving. We can run out in the morning, power through half a charge, come home, plug-in, and be bumped back up to near full in a little over an hour. Even though were able to get by just fine on weekdays with the L1 charger (standard 110v standard plug-in charger that comes with the car), the LEAF was often a one trip pony on weekends and having the L2 charger has changed all that. It might be the best $500 we’ve ever spent (purchased on sale from Amazon). With the L2 charger, range becomes much less of an issue because the cars almost always topped off every time we leave the house.
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The L2 charger I installed at home and the best $500 I’ve spent in a long time (on sale from Amazon).

  • We had no idea how much we were going to enjoy driving the LEAF so much. It’s one of the best cars I’ve ever owned, partly because it’s an electric car and partly because Nissan did a great job with the car itself. More on this below. We got into the LEAF as a toy to have since lease deal being offered was so stupidly cheap, and since getting it’s our go-to car that we drive 90% or more of the time. Looking forward to the 2017 LEAF.
  • Several years back, I dreaded the idea that electric cars might displace the good ‘ol internal combustion (IC) engine. Nothing can compete with the sound that stirs the soul like a Porsche flat-six being driven flat-out or that feeling that you’ve arrived at the gates of hell from a 1000 bhp flame throwing Lambo in your presence. And while this will always be true for me, I don’t dread the arrival of the electric car anymore. As humble as it is, the LEAF has taught me that I can have a lot of fun driving an electric car — as anybody who has driven with me will attest. The future of the electric car looks exciting.
  • If we were to have just one car, it would definitely be a gas car. Yep, sounds like I might be flip-flopping here but battery technology and charge infrastructure is not yet to the point where we could get by with just an electric car. Even though we drive the LEAF 90% of the time, there are still times where range and charge times can be an issue. For occasional road trips we could get by renting a car, but even around town there are times when we’re doing more driving than usual and range can become an issue. Even if we don’t need it much, having a gas car is like insurance that we won’t get stuck at home waiting for the LEAF to charge.

We Love our Nissan LEAF

Just the other day, one of the shuttle drivers where I work blew through a stop sign right in front of me and I needed to get on the binders hard and set my eyes on a path around him. I had a car full of people. I told my wife about the story and her instant reaction was “It’s a good thing they didn’t hurt my LEAF!”

To appreciate the significant of such a reaction, you have to go back to the day I called my wife to come check out the LEAF. I already knew she hated the LEAF because of being so fugly. There was no way in hell she was going to ever be caught driving a LEAF. I was on the Nissan lot only because I was checking out a used truck to replace the Land Rover Disco that had gone bad, and I wanted something that could tow this time around. The salesperson asked me if I was interested in a LEAF, which seemed stupidly random considering my reason for being there. But he got my attention when he told me the numbers on the lease deal. At $130/mo, it was a no-brainer as it would more than offset the fuel costs of using a truck for my daily driver, and this would be a great and inexpensive opportunity for me to experience the electric car. So, I called my wife and asked her how quickly she could get over to the Nissan dealer. “What? Have you lost your mind?” she asked, but I asked her to at least come along for a test drive — the worst that could happen is we both got to experience what it’s like to drive an electric car. She showed up 15 minutes later, but I knew she’d be a tough customer and she was.

Long story short, we ended-up taking delivery of our LEAF the next evening. (We never buy anything of significance without at least a day to think about it. No exceptions, including no matter how great a deal may seem.) I’ve driven a lot of cars and am pretty critical, but I knew immediately that I was going to love the LEAF. Just as immediately as I knew I hated driving the Dodge Viper after testing one of those several years back. With cars, it doesn’t take long to assess their character. My wife took more convincing but at one point she asked “How much again?” $130/month I replied. “OK, let’s get.” she said. I didn’t waste anytime getting over to the Nissan dealer to sign the paperwork.

Now you have to keep in mind, the LEAF was supposed to be my car but I also wanted my wife to like it so I encouraged here to drive it and she did so with an open mind. Within a couple weeks, she wasn’t even driving her 550 anymore. Within a month, it was her car. I like to joke she stole my car. Of course, we both drive the LEAF but its her primary car and I drive the truck when we need separate cars. Since getting the LEAF, her 550 has clocked less than 1,000 miles as it idly sits depreciating away in the garage. Poor ‘ol BMW. We just finally made the decision to sell it.

So, what is it we love about the Nissan LEAF so much?

  • It’s fun to drive because handles great and has good power for what it is. The good handling come from being light by modern car standards (just 3,000 lbs) and a low center of gravity thanks to battery packs being located in the floor boards (unlike conventional IC cars retrofitted to be electric cars). The electric motors get you off the line fast and — while not fast by sports or supercar standards — it accelerates much faster than your typical econobox. Everybody I’ve ever driven in the LEAF is surprised by how quickly it accelerates.
  • It’s quiet and acceleration is buttery smooth thanks to no transmission and a constant torque. Automobile manufactures have worked relentlessly over the years to achieve the same with the internal combustion (IC) engine, which has lead to dual camshafts with variable timing bolted to 7- and even 8-speed transmissions. Very expensive and complex, and still can’t come close to matching the smooth acceleration inherent to the electric motor. After driving an electric car for a while, getting back in an gas car feels crude by comparison. Sometimes this is good. People still ride horses today for fun and excitement, because they provide the kind of experience a car can never provide. I increasingly starting to feel this way about gas powered cars. I’m certain I’ll have a gas car until the day I die, but for daily commuting I’m sold on the electric car.
  • It’s small and compact on the outside, with lots of room on the outside. The Nissan engineers did a fantastic job. We can stick the car in the smallest of parking spots with nary a worry of door dings (partly because it’s small so leaves more room, partly because it’s not a really expensive car that we’d otherwise worry about getting a ding). I’m tall but can people can still fit comfortably behind me without my needing to adjust my seat, so it sits four very comfortably, and 5 people is still no problem. And there’s good cargo space in the back, with plenty of room for two golden retrievers. Yes, it may be ugly on the outside, but it’s great on the inside where it counts.
  • As I mentioned in early post, but bears repeating, not having to stop at gas stations is a really nice luxury. It’s one of life’s little annoyances that’s been virtually been eradicated from my life. Where I used to stop for gas 2-3 times / week (I would fill up for my wife too so she didn’t have to), now I only need to stop at the gas station only once every 6-8 weeks. (While big, a diesel truck gets surprisingly good gas mileage for its size, and I only drive it when we can’t carpool.)
  • The LEAF is a great value and it makes us feel good about our decision. There are other electric car options, but they can get really expensive and — frankly — at those price points there are other non-electric cars I’d rather have for the same amount of money. But for the way it handles and drives, the Nissan LEAF holds it’s own against other cars in its price point regardless of powertrain. It just happens to also be an electric car.
  • Finally, hey, we’re driving an electric car! How cool is that? It’s fun to be a part of a revolution instead of sitting on the sidelines. And while some people seem to hate electric cars (mostly older generation folks), we get a lot of thumbs-ups from people too (mostly younger generation folks).

Final Thoughts and Summary

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading and hopefully you’ve gotten some value out of this post. A lot of what I’ve had to say is opinion based on personal experiences, so please be sure to keep that in mind if you’re thinking about getting an electric car or are already an electric car owner and have had different experiences.

In summary, we’re very happy about our choice to get an electric car. The Nissan LEAF has exceeded our expectations in almost every way, and we see more electric cars in our future. At the same time, we wouldn’t want the LEAF as our only car even though it’s our primary car. Charge times are still slow by comparison to the time it takes to fill a gas tank, and charge stations have proven themselves to be undependable in our experience.

If you’re thinking about getting an electric car, think very hard about if range will be an issue given what I’ve had to say above. We live about 10 miles from work, but average 40 miles of driving each day when accounting an occasional lunch outing, dentist appointment, stop at grocery on the way home, an extra trip home because forgot something, etc. So in other words, don’t just double your distance to work and assume you’ll be OK if that fits into the range of the car you’re considering. That’s not a real-world evaluation. Also keep in mind range drops in cold weather and factor that in too.

Finally, the biggest advice I can offer is if having an electric car means you’re dependent on public charge stations to get by, then don’t get one. On the other hand, if you can get by charging from home for all but exception cases then an electric car is a great choice that gets my highest recommendation.

Thanks for reading and happy motoring!