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Tesla Model 3 at Zion National Park, Utah
Arthur Frederick and his Tesla Model 3 at Zion National Park, Utah.

Cars

7 Years Driving Electric: Three Nissan Leafs & A Tesla Model 3

By Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory, and avid CleanTechnica reader

When Toyota introduced the Prius hybrid in 1997, I was fascinated by the technology and longed to own one — or better, one modified to run a few more miles solely on battery electric power. However, I had a great new Toyota Highlander, a Camry, and no extra money, so another car was not in the cards.

February 21, 2014
2014 Nissan Leaf SV

  • Range 80 miles
  • 24 kWh battery

In 2014, Nissan was offering the Leaf on a two-year lease for $2000 down and $200 per month. I figured it was a no-brainer, I would save at least $100 per month in fuel cost, so I would have a great commuter car for only $100 per month net cost. I leased it from the Ken Garff Nissan in Orem, Utah. I was told the 2014 Nissan Leaf had a range of 83 miles. I got a level 2 charger installed in my garage so that I could get the car fully charged in only four hours.

It was a very nice car, smooth as silk with great acceleration, but problematic for longer trips. SLC International Airport was 86 miles round trip from our house, so you couldn’t just pick someone up at the airport going 75 mph both ways. You would either have to stop and charge in downtown Salt Lake City at the Nissan dealer or drop your speed to 50 miles per hour. And forget about using the heat in the winter or AC in the summer. I spent many trips in the Leaf dressed in my ski boots, ski pants, parka, ski gloves, and wearing a balaclava to keep warm.

I was teaching Alpine skiing at Brighton Ski Resort 37 miles from our home in Lindon. The Leaf would just barely make the 4700 ft elevation change up Big Cottonwood Canyon, and I would limp into the resort on the last few electrons in the battery. The car would regenerate the battery on the way down the canyon, which would take me to the nearest Nissan dealer, where I would charge in order to make it home. Fortunately, later Brighton put in a L2 charger, so I was able to charge enough while I was teaching in order to make it home.

When it came time to go to Wisconsin for the summer, I loaned the Leaf to my son-in-law, who was very pleased to use it to commute to his job in South Salt Lake from his home near us in Utah County. The next summer my son used the car while we were in Wisconsin.

March 14, 2016
2016 Nissan Leaf SV

  • Range 107 miles
  • 30 kWh battery

In 2016, I got the lease extended on my 2014, but Nissan had just come out with a Leaf with 107 miles range and the lease wasn’t too much more expensive. I leased it from Josh Edson, Utah’s star Leaf salesman, at Tim Dahle Nissan on 4526 S State Street in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, I had solar panels installed on my house, so I was living the dream, driving on sunshine. With the longer range, we could make the round trip to the airport and the ski resort a little more easily. It was also easier to make the 86 mile round trip to Park City Utah, where my daughter lives without L1 charging at her house. However, it was still often necessary to cut the speed and turn off the heat and AC.

Unfortunately, after only two years, I was bitterly disappointed that the Leaf began to lose range, and making those trips into Salt Lake City and the ski resort were just as hard as they were with the 2014 Leaf.

Fritz and his Nissan Leaf, and bike.

May 2, 2018
2018 Nissan Leaf SV

  • Range 151 miles
  • 40 kWh battery
  • Extras: Technology Package, ProPilot Lane Assist, Smart Cruise, Winter Package

I was determined to never go back to a gasmobile and locked into Nissan for a decent deal to get out of my lease. So, I purchased the completely redesigned 2018 Leaf SV with the technology and winter packages. The new Leaf had a range of 151 miles. It was still easier to make the runs into Salt Lake City and the ski resort. We could now also make the 144 mile round trip to Mount Pleasant and Spring City Utah, where my great grandmother had immigrated from Switzerland in 1865. However, that was just at our range limit and we had to drive slowly to make the trip.

The 2018 had smart cruise control, ProPilot lane assist, Apple CarPlay, and a heat pump heater, so we were enjoying a state-of-the art automobile. It was wonderful to have a car that would heat up very quickly in the winter. However, the lane assist was pretty lame — it worked okay on the Interstate highways, but it would lose track on any tight turns. Also, it wouldn’t automatically slow down for tight turns.

Furthermore, I still had a major problem — I couldn’t bear to leave my wonderful new electric car in Utah when we went to Wisconsin for the summer. Even with 151 miles of range, it would have been a 10+ day odyssey to drive the Leaf, likely with some 8 hour charge stops where I couldn’t find a L3 charger. The only option was to hire a car carrier to ship the Leaf to Wisconsin. In 2018, I shipped the Leaf to Wisconsin for the summer.

I was spoiled by L2 charging in Utah, so I brought an electrician from Northern Lights Electric to my home to see if I had 220 volt service in my garage. 30 minutes and $130 later, I had a NEMA 14-50 outlet in my garage. Since the 2018 Nissan Leaf SV came with an EVSE charging cable, I was able to do L2 charging in my Wisconsin garage for only $130. That fall, I shipped the Leaf back to Utah. In 2019, I shipped my Leaf to Wisconsin for the second time. I spent that whole summer scheming on how I could drive the Leaf back to Utah. But …

More range, more tech.

October 22, 2019
2019 Tesla Model 3

  • Range 310 miles
  • 60 kWh battery
  • Extras: Dual Motors, Long Range, Full Self Driving, Superchargers Galore

By this time, my brother had purchased a Tesla Model S and my daughter had purchased a Tesla Model X. From my brother I was aware that Tesla Superchargers made long-distance travel practical in an electric car. If I had a Model 3, I could easily drive the car to Wisconsin. The Model 3 was now available, and with some innovative financing, I was able to swing a dual-motor Model 3 Long Range. As a technology nerd, I even sprang the extra $6000 for Full Self Driving. With my limited fixed retirement income, I knew I wouldn’t have the money to add it later. We drove the Leaf from Wisconsin to the Minneapolis Tesla dealer and traded it in for the Model 3, which we picked up in Salt Lake City after driving home in our Toyota Highlander. Sweet solution — it wasn’t necessary to ship the Leaf back to Utah.

Now we were really living the dream. Our granddaughter spent three hours in the car that first night playing with the infotainment system. The car launched like a rocket and the Autopilot would drive the car automatically up and down in Big Cottonwood Canyon, slowing down automatically for the tight turns. My wife’s favorite thing about the car is Dog Mode, where the car keeps the car at a safe and comfortable temperature for dogs and alerts a passerby that the temperature is safe and the owner will return soon.

All of a sudden, all of our range issues were a thing of the past. We could do the trip to the airport, the trip to my ski resort, and the trip to my daughter’s in Park City without a thought. We could even make quite extended trips into the mountains without a problem. Trips to Arches National Park and Zion National Park were also possible with stops at Superchargers in Price and Beaver. My L2 charger in the garage worked with the adapter and I set the charging max to 80%, because at age 79, I figured this would be my last car and I would keep it for at least 15 years. I want the battery to last.

That Thanksgiving we had a big family reunion in St George in Southern Utah. St George is only 40 miles from Zion National Park, and gorgeous rock walls of red and white petrified sand dunes and slick rock are everywhere. St George is 269 miles from our home in Lindon near Provo and a little farther from Salt Lake City. There is a lot of Tesla traffic between Salt Lake City and St George. That makes the Supercharger in Beaver halfway between a very popular location. We just got the 8th charging station and the next Tesla had to wait at least a few minutes. I was concerned that in the future, with more Teslas being sold every day, that the Beaver Supercharger would soon be overcrowded. In July of 2019, I marveled when Tesla installed a 24 station 250 kW Supercharger station in Las Vegas. It seemed a huge step up from the mostly 4, 6, and 8 stall chargers I had seen up to that point. When we traveled from St George to Salt Lake City in the spring of 2021, we were astonished to see that Tesla had installed 32 (250 kW) stations at the Supercharger in little Beaver between St George and Salt Lake City. No more worries! Tesla is obviously way ahead of the curve, at least in this part of the network.

In 60 years of driving, my only accidents were hitting a car in my blind spot when changing lanes. Now I could just push the turn signal and the car would change lanes automatically, with me knowing that 3 cameras were watching to be sure the lane change was safe. It was also great to have the car automatically pass slow moving vehicles on the freeway and automatically navigate Interstate highway interchanges and exits. However, on the 12 lane Interstate 15 where we live, the reasons for the automatic lane changes were often inscrutable. I would always use the automatic lane assist even in the city if only for a few hundred yards. I have also observed that automatic lane assist will only engage if there are painted lines on the road, but if they, end the car continues to steer automatically even without the painted lines. I also use the stop at stoplights and stop signs feature, but I am very annoyed that I have to approve going through a green light. I am very disappointed that the so called “Feature Complete” Autopilot on city streets is not yet released to me after Elon Musk has been promising it for years, months, weeks, and days.

Long Distance Driving — No Problem

When it came time to drive from Utah to Wisconsin in the spring of 2020, we left the Highlander at home, downsized our baggage to fit in the Model 3, and set off. We were very worried about travel with the Covid pandemic in full swing, so we were handling the Tesla charging cables with disinfectant wipes and wearing N95 masks when we couldn’t avoid going inside to bathrooms and our hotel rooms.

We had no problems with the Superchargers in Wyoming, and we made it to our usual stop in Lusk Wyoming with a Supercharger right across the street from our regular hotel. The second day, we made it to our regular stop in Worthington, Minnesota, again with a Supercharger only a mile from our regular hotel. The third day took us through Minneapolis, MN, and Wausau, WI, to arrive in Three Lakes, WI, in the same number of days as our gas car and with little inconvenience. At 79, I needed to stop every 100 miles or so and the dog needed a break, so by the time we got back, the car was usually charged and ready to go.

I purchased a big electric mountain bike in Tesla Model 3 and had it shipped to Wisconsin. It arrived in broken boxes and with several key components, including the charger, missing. I resolved to not ship the bike again. So, I went to my local hitch installer and had a 2” receiver installed in my Model 3 to use for my bike rack. The receiver works great. I’ve also pulled my 3000 lb ski boat, and with the famous electric motor torque, I can barely feel the heavy trailer behind me. However, putting the bumper back on after the receiver installation has left gaps a little bigger than I would like.

Calamities & Adventures

Our third daughter lives in North Carolina and we owed her a visit. We loaded up the Model 3 in Wisconsin with everything we would need for the trip to NC and then back to Utah, including the big electric bike on the Küat bike rack, and headed east.

Calamity No. 1

Only 50 miles en route, someone was frantically waving at us and pointing to the back of the car. We pulled over to see that my $5000 electric mountain bike had partially slipped back off the rack and the rear wheel was dragging on the pavement. It had worn through the tire and the back wheel was totally ruined. I had failed to fasten the front tire holder on the bike rack properly. I fastened it more securely and had it fixed in NC.

Calamity No. 2

It was now time to make the long trek 2/3 of the way across the country back to Utah. At the time, we didn’t even know it would be a calamity. As we were driving near my daughter’s house in Concord, NC, we had an intense downpour and flash flooding. We were driving at 45 mph with very poor visibility when we ran into water 12” deep. With the spray we looked like a speed boat, but we managed to drive out of the water after about 100 feet. The first hint of a problem came when driving on a back road in Tennessee when we noticed something scraping on the bottom of the car. It didn’t scrape when driving on the smooth pavement of the Interstate, so I foolishly ignored the problem. Later, I notice that the gap between the bumper and the car had expanded. Again, I foolishly ignored the problem. We were in Western Colorado when we went over a bump and then heard the scraping noise again. We stopped to see that the bumper was nearly falling off the car and part of the apron under the car was totally dragging on the pavement. One more bump or rock under the car and the bumper would fall off completely. Miraculously, right there in the middle of no place, a friendly mechanic was there to help us. We took the extension cord that I use for emergency charging and the mechanic’s belt to tie up the bumper, with the cord running through the trunk lid gap. That was enough to get us back to his home in Rifle, Colorado, and an auto parts store where he proceeded to jack up our car and buy enough bolts to refasten the bumper. We got home safely, but we discovered that we had also lost the two front hubcaps, presumably in the floodwater. Our insurance paid for half of the cost of a new underbody apron and bumper, which we had installed by Tesla Service in Salt Lake City.

Calamity No. 3

Driving west in Eastern Colorado approaching Limon we drove into a fierce windstorm. The winds were a sustained 50 mph headwind gusting to over 65 mph. Tumble weeds were blowing across the roads and we were dodging them like going through a gauntlet or obstacle course. Some were 6 ft in diameter and we were alternately braking and accelerating to miss them. I am always very careful about tracking the estimated state of charge at my destination and I always plan to arrive with a 25% battery reserve. Once we passed the flying tumble weeds, I looked at my estimated battery reserve. In the 50 mph head wind, it had dropped to zero. I knew that I would have to drop my speed to 15 mph to reach the charger in Limon. On the Interstate, with poor visibility, that would have been extremely dangerous. I found a big FedEx semi and drafted 15 feet behind him. We were extremely relieved to roll into the Limon Supercharger with 4 miles of range to spare.

Calamity No. 4

Ontonagon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is due north of us in Three Lakes, and only 174 miles round trip from us, so it is well within the range of our Model 3 Long Range. My wife loves to enjoy the beautiful endless sand beach on the South Shore of Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world. One time on the way home we noticed that the tire pressure in one tire was very low. In the boonies with no spare tire, it was time to get worried. None of the small UP towns on our route even had a gas station. However, in one we asked where we could get air and they directed us to the fire station, which had an air hose out in front of the station. We filled up and proceeded south, observing that we were losing a pound of pressure every 5 miles. We limped into the bigger town of Eagle River, where we filled it up again and easily made the last 10 miles to our home in Three Lakes. We grabbed our second car and drove the Model 3 five miles back to our local Greg’s car repair shop and left it where Greg could fix it even if it went flat overnight. It was a nail lodged in the tread which he was able to remove and plug. After that incident, we have been carrying an air pump in the frunk in case it happens again.

New Winter Home in St George, Utah

Our daughter purchased an investment home in St George, Utah, and made it available to us for Covid quarantining the winter of 2020–2021. Once again, there was 220 volt service in the garage, so the installation of a NEMA 14-50 outlet in the garage made it possible to have L2 charging for our Model 3 and our daughter’s Model X, since we both had EVSE cables for our cars.

We drove from Utah back to Wisconsin again in the spring of 2021 carrying the electric bike, but now on a Saris bike carrier that holds it more securely. With the bike on the back, we have noticed a significant loss of range. We now stop at every Supercharger on the Interstate, but only have to charge for 20 min to go on to the next charger. We were still able to make the Utah to northern Wisconsin trip in three days, though.

Electric Avenue at the 2021 Three Lakes 4th of July Parade

Twice now we have put together an electric car exhibition at the Three Lakes, Little Bit of Americana, 4th of July Parade. This year we had 6 Teslas: four Model S (Red, White, and Blue), one Model X, and my Model 3. Our electric golf cart led the parade carrying our Electric Avenue sign. The Model X pulled a trailer with a 110-year-old beautifully restored wooden boat formerly powered by steam, but now battery electric. I put my two electric bikes on my Saris bike rack to show off my e-bikes and to illustrate the utility of a receiver-equipped Model 3.

Summary

We are still nuts about our Model 3 after two years and almost 50,000 miles. Our only significant unforced repair has been to replace a squeaky joint in the front suspension system that was covered under the warrantee. We love the entertainment system, which we use to watch Netflix movies on the rare occasions that we need a longer charge. We also love the music streaming where you can ask for nearly any song you can think of and it will play it. We also frequently sing along using the Karaoke feature when we are traveling, using the fantastic sound system. The voice control is usually excellent: you can ask to navigate to almost anything, ask to change the fan locations & speed, ask to change the temperature settings and seat heaters. You can also use it to ask for the song you want to hear.

We are frequently given the thumbs up, usually by young people, and have spent many hours explaining the advantages of EVs to people we encounter. We also frequently exchange tips with Tesla owners we run into at the Superchargers. When we were newbies, other drivers would give us tips, and now we are the ones that share tips with new Tesla owners. When our 6 year old granddaughter is riding in the back seat with my wife, she says: Grandma, let the car drive itself! That’s what I do where ever I go, particularly on long trips. I sit there letting the car drive itself while I watch like a hawk for those rare cases that I need to intervene. It’s particularly nice eating a concrete mixer with a spoon when you need to use both hands.

Solar-powered home.

More info on Dr. Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler:

Former Leader: Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory

Research Meteorologist (Emeritus): NASA GSFC

Adjunct Professor: University of Utah Department of Meteorology

Adjunct Professor: Viterbo University On-Line Studies

PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor: Brighton Utah Ski School

 
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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

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