My Leaf Chronicles: Why we’ve chosen to drive an electric car

I’ve grown so tired of the price of gasoline. Maybe I’m hopelessly spoiled, having experienced gas under $1.50 a gallon for most of my life. I even remember it under 1$. But gasoline in the U.S. blew past $3 a gallon a few years ago and there appears to be no looking back. A suburban house and a 14mpg average with our old, full-size SUV has meant a $400 per month gasoline bill. A inexpensive compact second car that averages about 24 mpg has helped a little. But that feeling of dread is always there when I stop at a gas station.

I didn’t feel that in years past. Gasoline was usually cheap enough that it never really grabbed my attention. It did a little during the 1970s energy crisis, although I was too young to care then. But now it’s different. I hate dropping $90-100 to fill a tank, I don’t now and have never felt good about spewing my share of carbon monoxide into the air, and I’m weary of a technology that I always dreamed we would have moved beyond by now. To be honest, as a kid in the 60s and 70s, I thought cars would fly by 2000, so my expectations were a bit off. But $100 in gasoline to drive 400 miles isn’t progress, it’s regression.

Leaf-PurchaseDay
L-R, Nick Bridgefarmer, Elizabeth Laningham, Mupoya Mutamba “Gino”

I’d heard about the Nissan Leaf a year ago. But a flyer from a local dealer caught my wife’s attention and she left it on the dining table for a potential conversation piece.

An all-electric car? Really? Can it go far enough to accommodate our lifestyle? Will there really be a savings at the premium cost for the car and the added hit on our electric bill?

Those were thoughts I’d always had when the subject of an EV crossed my mental path. But my early skepticism has been tempered by the fatigue associated with gasoline use and delayed innovation in my life. The Leaf flyer said 75 miles on a single charge, so I did a little math and realized, with some planning, the Leaf would handle 95% of our daily driving needs. I explored on the Web and read a number of user reviews. The expected bump in my electricity bill would put a small dent in the monthly savings we’d achieve by foregoing gasoline, but not enough to discourage us. My insurance premium would increase a little, but it would have with any new car. And we’d also save on all of the repairs our older car was naturally starting to demand.

So we decided to check one out, and drove over to Round Rock Nissan, not far from our home in Cedar Park, Texas. Gino and Nick were fun and enthusiastic to work with. Nick drives a Leaf to work everyday, so he answered any question we had. And Gino was the most unpretentious and pleasant car sales consultant I’ve ever worked with.

The Leaf was a joy to drive. We sampled a few other high-mileage gasoline cars. They were nice. But something inside said it was time for a transportation paradigm shift in the Laningham household. So we traded in the old tank and chose a Leaf, benefiting from the current US government incentive of up to $7500 off the sticker of a new EV. We’ve had it one week and we’re already learning how to plan around driving and adequate charging time, and how to organize, as a family, for less driving overall in order to make the Leaf our primary vehicle. We’ve located 240v charging stations near our home that allow us to pay for quicker charge when we need it, until we invest in our own home 240v charger (around $1000). Pay charging stations are relatively cheap, running between $2-$6 to bring it back to a full charge. The Leaf’s cool navigation system locates nearby charging stations for you, so you don’t have to fuss with Googling on your smartphone.

Has driving an EV made us rethink our schedule? Sure it has. Charging an electric car takes some time — at least 30 minutes on a 240v charger to have any substantial impact, and hours on the drip charger that comes standard with the Leaf. But, as I intend to share in future posts, driving an EV is already changing my life in ways I never expected. I’m looking forward to the gas savings, for sure, but the mental and behavioral shift it is causing in me is the greater gain. I’m enjoying, immensely, the experience of slowing down. I simply decide to leave a little earlier when I’m driving somewhere. I accelerate from a stop more slowly and smoothly and drive overall at slower speeds, to conserve battery life. I often opt for driving with the windows down and the AC off. That too extends the cars range when needed, and even in the Texas heat is not at all unpleasant on the short trips the Leaf is designed for. I find I’m far more aware of what is going on around me. If I get a phone call, a Bluetooth connection to my smartphone sends it right through the energy-efficient Bose sound system for complete hands-free use.

It may not be a flying car, but the Nissan Leaf has moved me and my family a great way along that illusive innovation curve I was lamenting. Driving home late one night this week, smiling as I enjoyed driving this quiet technological wonder with its low energy LED headlights, I pulled up to a red light and stopped. There was no one around me. The Leaf was completely silent. And I sat there listening to crickets and the sound of a Texas summer night. I think an EV is about more than being green or saving on gas. It’s about de-stressing, slowing down, quieting the mind, listening. We could all use more of that.

4 Comments

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    1. Thanks for chiming in. Yeah, I’ve seen the growing variety in what’s available. I was implying what seems to me an average if you consider installation, especially if you have to add a 240v outlet. But DYI can certainly get it down to well under 1K. I’ll write a post about it soon as I decide our course for a more powerful home charging solution.

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