Driving an Electric Car

November 12th, 2015 - 

A recent email from the Union of Concerned Scientists reminded me of something…

I drive an electric car! Here’s why and how and what I think about it.

With a baby on the way, and Adam’s car payments ending soon, it seemed like a good time for our household to have a second car that I could drive.

Kind of a big deal considering I haven’t had my own car in 9 years.

I had one for awhile that was mine, then I shared it with my boyfriend (which really just meant he drove my car). When we broke up, I had no car, because he had already traded mine in for something else, which he kept. (That story includes more details than I’m listing here, things that still really make me mad, but it’s not worth getting into.) Anyway, when I started dating Adam, he had a car but I never really drove it.

So, I’ve been car-adjacent, but not really an owner or frequent driver for a very long time.

Another interesting fact is that I had never paid more than $2000 for a car before making this purchase. I didn’t really understand the idea of car payments and feared I wouldn’t be able to afford one over the long-term. The fact that we already had a car payment built into our budget, for Adam’s car (which was getting paid off in January) made the decision to go with a newer vehicle much easier.

Once we sold the Airstream, we used some of the money to pay off his car completely and use as a down payment for my electric car, a 2012 Nissan Leaf.

I never would have thought to buy an electric car, but some friends of ours had their car break down at the time I was looking for something and they mentioned a used 2012 Nissan Leaf was going for $11k. People around the table remarked that it seemed like quite a deal, so I took a look. They couldn’t get one in the end because they didn’t have a way to charge at their apartment. We had an outlet perfectly placed in our garage, and it all just seemed to fall into place. Now, having driven the car for 2 months, I feel like I have some decent insight into the EV driver experience.

A photo posted by Sarah Hansen (@smorean) on

THINGS I LIKE

  1. NO GAS :: One of the things I hate about cars is putting gas in them. Especially in the winter. I DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT NOW! Ever!
  2. TRAFFIC :: Highways are a power-suck but not in slight traffic! It’s so good for my mileage when traffic is moving under 40mph that I don’t even mind it. I relish it.
  3. SEAT WARMER :: My seat warmer seems to use no power at all. I love my seat warmer, so this is good news for me.
  4. FREE CHARGING :: There are a few free charging stations on campus and I love making use of them. Unfortunately, they’re in paid parking spots, so I’m still paying for something, but it’s nice to recharge my battery a little bit if I know I’ll be traveling quite a bit
  5. ACCESS TO THE TWIN CITIES :: I went to IKEA last weekend and back and made a few other stops along the way. I can’t drive all over the cities like crazy, but taking one big trip a day is totally doable, and it’s been heaven for running errands before baby.
  6. ELECTRIC ON A BUDGET :: I didn’t know how much additional power I would draw to run the car, and worried it would be as much as gas ($60 or more per month). But, at least for now, it’s really not bad at all because we’re on a budget plan with our electric company. Maybe our rates will rise slightly next year, but it’s “basically free” right now, which is awesome! Most days I just drive to work and back, which takes about 3-4 hours to charge. So I really only expect our bill to go up $20, max, per month once the billing is reset.
  7. THE NOISE :: I don’t really notice the “lack” of noise until I’m in another car, but EVs are very quiet. They don’t rattle or vroom. They do kind of buzz. It’s a nice, clean sound. I like it.
  8. CHARGING AT HOME :: I thought for some reason that I would have to buy a stand-alone charging station that would cost like $1k to install, but the car actually just came with a cord that plugs into the car and a totally normal grounded outlet. Very easy. People even pack up their cords and will plug them into “free” light poles and stuff, usually in big parking lots. I haven’t done this, I’m afraid someone will steal my cord and it’s annoying to pack up and move regularly, but in a pinch I might (or for peace of mind).
  9. MY DAUGHTER :: I guess I kind of think it’s cool that she’ll grow up with an EV? I hope she’ll be proud of us for transitioning to EVs early on. Adam wants his next car to be a Tesla, there’s some model coming out down the road he’s very interested in, but my car has to get paid off first, so it’s not like an immediate thing. But it’s nice knowing the whole family is into it.

THINGS I DON’T LIKE

  1. FORGETTING TO PLUG IN :: This has only happened to me once, where I totally drove down the battery at night then tried to take it out to work the next morning (for a big work event, mind you, of course) and found I didn’t have enough projected mileage to get to campus. Had to stay home an extra hour and that still only gets you about 3 miles more.
  2. ANYONE ELSE DRIVING MY CAR :: It’s “normal” to accelerate until you break. But when you do that in an electric car…you’re not being very economical with your power if you’re slamming the breaks all the time. It’s about “the sip” and it takes a little time to learn how to coast well, gauge traffic patterns, and even recharge your battery while you drive so you use the least amount of power to get from Point A to Point B.
  3. MILEAGE MEANS NOTHING :: Projected mileage really means nothing. I can drive 7 miles and use only 4. I can drive 18 miles and actually use 30. It just depends on how fast you’re going.
  4. HEAT AND FOG :: We’re just entering winter so I’m only starting to learn the ropes here. Basically, any time I have the heat on, my windows fog up pretty badly. When I use the defrost it seems to use a lot of power and take too much heat off my feet. I still don’t know how to negotiate this one. Basically, getting the heat right is a button mashing game.

THINGS I FEEL NEUTRAL ABOUT

  1. CHARGEPOINT :: I did not understand how this worked at first, it was very confusing. I thought maybe I had to pay money for a service? Chargepoint “owns” a lot of stations, and you need their card to use them. These are the free ones around campus, for the most part, and you can’t access the plug until you swipe your card or download the app and create an account. Supposedly the first time I use a paid station, I’ll be charged $40(?) which will go on the card, and be available for use after that like a pre-paid gift card or something, but that hasn’t happened yet.
  2. MAINTENANCE :: I haven’t had to deal with anything maintenance-wise yet. Evidently replacing a battery is like replacing your transmission, kind of pricey, but I shouldn’t need to do that for a few years. Overall, EV owners can expect to pay less in maintenance, is my understanding.
  3. DRIVING AN ELECTRIC CAR :: I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about being someone who drove an electric car. I felt *kind of* cool when I first bought the car and was able to finally attend some maternity yoga classes. It felt like playing yuppie. And I like seeing other Leafs, though I do sense some slight competition with them if I’m in an area with a charging station. One time I was parking and the guy next to me gave me a card to join a TC EV driver Facebook group, and I felt a little uneasy, but then I thought it was cool? I haven’t joined yet, I lost the card, but it’s neat there’s a little community out there if I had questions. IDK. I like it, and it works for my lifestyle, but anyone who would be embarrassed to drive an EV (is that even a thing?) would be kind of dumb.
  4. CAN’T LEAVE TOWN :: It’s a little risky to drive too far out of town, but we’ve pushed the boundaries a little when possible. We’ve driven as far as Bayport BBQ and that was a stretch. Made it home with barely a few miles left. Would not do again. But overall, it’s not a big deal at all that we can’t road trip in this thing, and it’s done surprisingly well just around the big metro area.
  5. GLOBAL WARMING :: This is a dumb thing to feel “neutral” about but I didn’t know where else to address this. I don’t do a lot to halt global warming but buying this car has made me think about it more. It honestly wasn’t a political or environmental statement to buy the Leaf. It was very economical and practical for me and when I hear things like “we need to expand EV ownership in the next several years for the technology to have a real impact on oil consumption,” I do feel like my choices were validated in other ways as well. I can’t be too haughty because I don’t really know how all the energy that makes it to our house is produced, but I did learn that through our provider CenterPoint I can elect “blocks” of our energy to come from renewable sources as well as choosing to go 100% renewable. But it is an opt-in process. I changed us to one block so far, just because I don’t yet understand what that means or how it will affect our pricing, but it feels good knowing I’m more engaged in this conversation than I was before going with an EV.

Would I recommend an electric vehicle? Hell yes. If you can do it, do it!!! Ownership of an EV is a very positive experience, that’s what I learned from blogs I read when I was doing my research, and it’s what I’ve found as an owner.

Maybe I’ll give a little update at the end of winter, too, when I have more experience driving the EV in bad weather or with a baby in the backseat. Stay Tuned.

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