February 14, 2022
Amid the high price of used cars right now, we’ve been looking off and on for either my daughter’s first car or a car for me so she can take my Honda CR-V.
At the same time, we’ve been thinking about gasoline costs and the costs to the planet, and do we really need a third vehicle with an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine)? We have a great and comfortable road car in our Volvo for long trips, and really, 99 times out of 100 my teen’s trips are just around town.
During my research, I started following this guy on Autotrader UK, who bought the cheapest EV on Autotrader. His videos have demystified used EVs for me (videos on running an EV all the way ’til dead, etc.) but there’s nothing like actually getting behind the wheel to get a sense of how they differ from ICE vehicles.
So after much searching and kicking of tires, we decided to take the plunge with (a) a Nissan LEAF with (b) a battery pack that’s still under warranty, (c) new enough to have the battery-temperature conditioning, and (d) have a range of at least ~70 miles on a charge. We found one in OKC and drove over yesterday to verify it, and actually bought it.
While I think our research was solid, my personal logistical planning SUCKED.
We concluded the transaction near dark, and the dealer charging was pretty slight, so we hustled up to our friends’ house in Edmond to plug it into their 110, and then go to dinner. In hindsight, we should have dined nearer to a DC fast charger and not wasted an hour getting a full charge from almost nothing. So here’s the late-night adventure timeline of getting a 2015 Nissan Leaf S from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, when temps are around 26 degrees…
We wander around north OKC and Edmond, trying to find a charging station. The ChargePoint station at the VW dealership that purported to be open 24 hours was behind a locked gate. In The Village, we found a Francis Energy charging station. Francis Energy is a local Oklahoma charging firm that appears to be everywhere in Oklahoma. I sign up, use the fast DC charging, download their app, and an hour later head toward the I-44 onramp near Penn Square with a 68-mile estimate. Only to find that the road is closed there, so we drive a circuitous route to Kilpatrick Turnpike — burning precious miles. I’m using D (drive) with Eco, which later I learned was a mistake for road miles.
So since I hadn’t done enough research on the best/most efficient way to drive a LEAF long distances between charging stations, I barely make it to Chandler, OK. As I approach the Chandler exit, my miles remaining estimate shows “—” and I have another 5 miles to get to the charging stations in the Atwood’s parking lot. Great to see the system has a seriously good margin on their estimates, but as I jockey the LEAF around to the right charger, it displays the message that “Motor power is being limited:” the indicator that the motor only has enough juice to tractor the thing slowly around a bit. I spend another hour and a half charging and reading up — watching YouTube videos from LEAF enthusiasts that my first leg settings were entirely wrong.
Another fact: I wore a light jacket, and my high-tops, which were great for the daytime temps but not so much for below freezing. Luckily we had a blanket in the back of the Volvo which I’m glad I tossed in before leaving OKC. It was still cold. I did waste too much time running the heater during this leg of charging, so it took until 1:40am before leaving, but this time the range is better: 72 miles! For this next leg, since it was so cold, I set it on B (not D), with Eco off, and cruise at 50mph. It shows me enough miles to make it all the way to Tulsa, and the regenerative savings on the downhills help a bit.
So I’m approaching Bristow, with 35 miles on the estimate. I could probably make it to Tulsa, coasting in on fumes, like I did earlier. But in case I don’t make it, I definitely don’t want to have to call home: the ladies have cruised on to feed dog and cat and are asleep. During my Chandler charge, I learned that the middle section of charging is the most productive: higher kW per minute in the sweet spot between 40–80%. So I think: “yeah; I’ll get off and spend 15 minutes going from 50% to 75%. Quick and painless.”
A great idea, but…after 15 minutes the touchscreen on the Francis DC charger isn’t working right, so I can’t disconnect. Sigh. I have to call and get support to remotely disconnect, which adds more time (30-40 minutes total) spent in the lot of Williams Grocery.
Aside: when you plug in your EV in these small towns after midnight, you’re invisible. You sit there, with your dashboard flashing blue LEDs, watching the local police and various night-time closers make their rounds. With no one noticing you’re there.
Most LEAFs have 24kWh 360-volt systems, and as they age a number of individual battery cells start to go south, which is why it’s now good for a city car. You can of course carefully plot your route with an eye toward charging stations, but that’s not really what you want with an EV — the new class of EVs from Chevy Silverado (200 kWh!) and Tesla (80 kWh) have significantly bigger battery arrays and much longer range to match. Later perhaps, when the Honda CR-V gets retired.
With my generous buffer, I felt comfortable for this last leg playing more with the radio, the heated steering wheel, etc., etc. I keep the speed conservative until I get to the 6-lane section west of the Kellyville exit, and then my driving behavior is more normal speed, meaning fast.
Because it was so cold, the last 2 miles away from home the LEAF beeped, telling me I had 15 miles left and “low battery.” No problem. From previous experience earlier I’m sure I could have coaxed another 10 out of it. This is the guy who regularly waits until it’s around 20 miles left in the gas tank to fill up at Costco, 4.5 miles away. Made it to the driveway by 4:00am, and plugged in the 110v charger. Later in the daylight, the full charge was 78 miles — it’s always better on the slower “trickle charge.”
So with all that, it will be fine for around-town driving, which meant two trips Sunday to the grocery to get things for Miss P’s valentine baking project and Super Bowl goodies.
But what’s it mean in cost savings? Well, they say this model is 126MPGe (equivalent), but here in Tulsa, today, my calculations are that each charge in our own garage costs ~$1.76 for 78 miles.
To compare further, if I were to buy just enough gas for the Honda to go 78 miles, that would be 3.5 gallons or $10.88 at last week’s local Costco price.
I always say that the real benefit of reducing carbon footprint is saving money.
For a family that normally holds cars forever, will this be another forever car? No idea; with college looming for Miss P, I can possibly see myself trailering this electron-sipper behind the Volvo to a school (I should have done that Saturday night, but where would be the fun in that?). It will be interesting to see the longevity of this new class of cars that don’t require oil changes, radiator fluids, etc. Just brake pads, tires, wipers, and washer fluid — if the batteries are cared for in the sweet spot.