…like a golf cart on steroids?

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Everything you’ve heard (assuming it’s positive) about driving an EV is true…

Imagine stepping into a reasonably upscale Japanese vehicle. The Smart Key you’re carrying in your pocket allows you to unlock the door by pressing a button on the door handle.

The doors make a satisfyingly heavy thump when you close them. The cloth seats are very comfy. The dashboard and controls (climate, audio, navigation) is all digital and aesthetically pleasing.

Nissan_Leaf_2011_Interior

The gearshift consists of a small silver and blue knob in the center console.

gearshiftYou press the start button, and some electronic tones play, the dash lights up… but there’s no engine rumble. Oh yeah, it’s electric, you remind yourself.

Battery is fully charged and displays an estimated 96 miles to empty.

You flick the gear shift knob into reverse, and the center console lights up with a video image of what’s behind you, thanks to ButtCam ’11. I’m not sure if that’s what Nissan calls it, but that’s what we call it. Due to the extreme quiet, you are also able to hear a faint beeping sound coming from outside the vehicle. Yeah, you’re making that sound. Electric cars going in reverse can be a hazard to pedestrians; you can’t hear them. Except now you can — it’s awesome! I like to pretend I’m driving a garbage truck!

Pop it into drive now, and you’re off. Like a shot! This car has one gear, so none of that combustion engine “gear shock.” Smooth and strong acceleration gets you up to speed in a hurry. Wow, it’s so peppy you keep flooring it just for the hell of it! Other drivers are staring at you wondering what your problem is, but you don’t care. The goofy grin on your face says it all.

You’ve connected your iPod through the USB port and the tunes are now taking you away. The climate control system in the car has the cabin at a pleasant 70°.

You glance at the dashboard and battery charge indicator… it says 80 miles to empty. Goofy grin replaced by confused, slack-jawed stare. WTF?? You haven’t even traveled a mile yet! Guess what, Leadfoot? The computer’s got your number. You wanna drive like an A-hole? You’ll pay for it in range.

That’s when you notice the “Eco” setting on the gearshift. Hmmm…wonder what that does? You flick the gearshift into Eco and immediately you feel a drag on the power, as if you have less of it, all while a water buffalo is trying to pull you back into its marsh.

Gone is the peppy vehicle you were just experiencing, but a glance at the battery indicator now reads 92 miles to empty! You are experiencing one of the very cool pieces of technology the vehicle offers: battery regeneration, using the kinetic energy and braking energy of your engine. Check this out:

dash

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The circles on the top indicate your power consumption or regeneration. If you’re flooring it, the circles to the right of the little gap will be filled in. Coasting downhill or braking? The circles to the left of the gap will be filled in, meaning that you’re recharging your battery. As I mentioned, the lack of power and extra drag might make you feel like your dearly departed grandmother is watching over you and influencing your driving habits, but it may mean the difference between keeping yourself out of trouble or not (I’ll let you define what “trouble” means to you).

You switch off the tunes to marvel at the quiet. At a stop light, you notice that you can hear other vehicles’ engines, but not your own. For a brief second you wonder if your car stalled, but then remember, Oh yeah, it’s electric! That actually happens a lot….

Care & Feeding: keeping your EV happy

We live in a plug-obsessed world, don’t we? Gotta be near one at all times; for your phone, for your laptop, for your iPad…and now for your car.

The Care And Feeding of a car’s Li-Ion battery is a tad different than that of your phone, however, and overfeeding or underfeeding could eventually cost you, in $$ and charging capacity.

To begin with, let’s talk about the methods of charging.

EXHIBIT A

Plug1

Your wall plug is known as “Trickle Charge.”

Pros:

  • You probably already have one.
  • It won’t cost you any extra money.
  • It’s the healthiest (for your battery) way to charge your car.

Cons:

  • It takes bloody forever to charge.
  • A full charge from empty can take 18–24 hours.
  • If the plug is on the same circuit as other appliances, prepare for blown fuses. (The geniuses who built my house had my garage plug on the same circuit as two bathrooms and the pond pump outside. That was fun in the morning, with my two daughters and me trying to get ready!).

EXHIBIT B

Plug2

“Normal Charge”

This is the doodad that the dealer will happily install for you, for a price ($1500–$2500, unless you’re “Harley,” in which case you’ll get it for significantly less).

Pros:

  • You can fully charge your vehicle in about eight hours.
  • It’s kinda cool looking.
  • The electrician, if he/she is not the one who built my house, will install it on its own circuit, so no blown fuses.
  • Possible tax credits.

Cons:

  • Aforementioned cost.
  • Inconvenience of having it installed.

EXHIBIT C

Walgreens_charging_station-623x389

Commercial “Rapid Charge” stations

Pros:

  • They charge relatively quickly. As noted in this Walgreen’s press release:
    “The charging stations will feature either a high-speed direct current (DC) charger that can add 30 miles of range in as little as 10 minutes of charging time, or a Level 2 charger that can add up to 25 miles of range per hour of charge.”
  • They are often located somewhere you wouldn’t mind killing some time (Walgreen’s, restaurants, etc.).
  • Sometimes they are free (like the ones at my dealership).
  • They are becoming less scarce over time.

Cons:

  • It is not recommended for battery health to use this method too frequently.
  • Not as plentiful yet as gas stations. But, they’re easy to find! Here’s a very nifty government interactive map showing where they all are. Your LEAF can help, too. Look at this:

charging1

Besides just providing an estimate of the number of miles left to empty, it even graphs it out for you, on a map, based on your current location. Kewl….

I’m not at my computer to access the government map. How can I find charging stations near me?

Start here:

charging3

charging5

Select a location, and then it will guide you there:

charging2

Pretty idiot-proof.

In regards to the care & feeding of your EV, it is suggested by those in the know (at least for the LEAF) that the battery only be charged up to 80% capacity most of the time. It will extend the life of the battery, one is told.

How do I do that? Do I have to get up at 2 a.m. to shut off the charger?

No, no you don’t. You schedule your charge, telling your Leaf what time of day to start charging (some places offer cheaper electricity at night), and when to shut off (either with a time, or a % of battery capacity), and what days of the week to do all of these fancy things.

charging4

Once you have scheduled it, you plug her in when you get home, and Gidget takes care of the rest. Ba-boom.

Scheduled Maintenance

The cost of a used Nissan LEAF is a steal…
It doesn’t cost anything in gas…
Electricity is a fraction of the cost of gas…

So… the catch has got to be in the maintenance, right?

Nope.

Here’s the suggested maintenance by Nissan based on whether you drive in “severe” or “less severe” conditions* (click photos to enlarge):

7500 maintenance

Rotate your tires, and inspect stuff. That’s it.

Gidget’s got no oil. Gidget’s got no belts.

But she does have an in-cabin air filter and brake fluid, so look out:

15K_maintenance

Watch out, here comes the 22,500 check:

22.5K_maint

You get the picture. It’s pretty much theme and variation on the above until 75,000 when it is recommended that you replace the coolant.

Owning a Leaf can be soooo boring. Not very much drama…

Next up: Operating costs thus far.

*SCHEDULE 1 (more severe operating conditions)
Use Schedule 1 if you primarily operate your electric vehicle under any
of these conditions:

  • Repeated short trips of less than 5 miles in normal temperatures or less than 10 miles in freezing temperatures
  • Stop-and-go traffic in hot weather or low-speed driving for long distances
  • Driving in dusty conditions or on rough, muddy, or salt-spread roads
  • Using a car-top carrier

*SCHEDULE 2 (less severe operating conditions)
Schedule 2 features 7,500-mile service intervals; with Schedule 2, fewer maintenance items are regularly checked or replaced than with Schedule 1.

Generally, Schedule 2 applies only to highway driving in temperate conditions. Use Schedule 2 only if you primarily operate your electric vehicle under conditions other than those listed in Schedule 1.

EV Math: Miles/kWh, or How Do I Know What This Is Costing Me to Operate?

Glossary of terms:

kWh = “The kilowatt-hour (symbolized kWh) is a unit of energy equivalent to one kilowatt (1 kW) of power expended for one hour (1 h) of time.”
Miles / kWh = Miles per kilowatt-hour
3.8 miles / kWh = What my Leaf has been averaging
8.4¢ / kWh = What electricity costs me in Denver

I drive about 275 miles per week.
275 miles ÷ 3.8 (miles/kWh) = 72.37 kWh used.
72.37 kWh x 8.4¢ = $6.08 of electricity.

So, 275 miles costs $6.08 in my Leaf.

Here in Colorado (as compared to the rest of the country), gas is relatively inexpensive at (currently) $3.59 per gallon (regular). In my Ford Escape, those 275 miles would have cost me about $53.36.

So, per month, gas would be costing me about $213. Electricity is costing me about $24. I am, therefore, saving about $189 per month, just on fuel (not including the savings on maintenance).

Dare I say how liberating it is to no longer be watching gas prices, paying attention to which stations have the cheapest gas? Dare I also say how smug I feel driving past those gas stations, giggling?

Gidget gets an A in math!

–> Also read part 1 of this series by Amy Lutz regarding her 2011 Nissan Leaf (bought used).

amy lutzAmy Lutz lives in the Denver metro area of Colorado, is married with two children, has several critters, an insatiable curiosity, and a love of all things technology.  When not writing entries in her blog (http://EVearlyAdopter.blogspot.com) she can be found exploring social media and toiling away the hours helping her marketing clients gain new business.


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