If you know me moderately well, you know that the environment is one of my chief concerns. Its dilapidated state terrifies me. I do a lot of little things daily in an attempt to reduce, reuse, and recycle, to spread the word and lead by example, but sometimes it feels like I’m really just cancelling out some of the thoughtless or destructive behaviors of the people around me who don’t seem to care. It feels painfully, heart-breakingly Sisyphean. Well, this weekend I did something that will make perhaps my largest impact to date. I traded in my old car for a fully electric vehicle.
Understand, I loved my old car, at least as much as I can feel affection for an automobile. It was a 2008 Scion xD, my first crossover vehicle, dark royal blue (one of my very favorite shades of my very favorite color), and it had a back windshield wiper blade. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was my first car to have one, and I will never go back. If you don’t live in a semi-tropical place (like I do) that gets a lot of rain (like my city does), the appeal of the back windshield wiper may not be readily apparent to you, but just take my word for it: it’s awesome. This old car sat higher up than any I’d ever had, essentially ruining me for sedans in the future, and it had a decent back space but not an actual trunk, so I didn’t load the car heavily down carrying all kinds of useless junk that was out of sight and out of mind. It didn’t get quite the gas mileage of my Corollas, but I enjoyed this car just the same. The only problem it had – and I admit, it was a significant problem – was the road noise. This was a loud car. And admittedly, that sucked.
But I lived with it for six and a half years and then, this weekend, accepted the fact that it was time to trade it in while it could still command most of its blue book value, or I would have to choose to drive it until it died.
In order for me to get another car, it would have to be a real upgrade – and I don’t mean a fancy or expensive car (which I couldn’t really care less about), but one that was an improvement to my quality of life. My Scion was paid off and still working generally well. It was old-ish and loud and one of the door locks was sticky, but otherwise I had no complaints. And it was PAID OFF. Best quality in a car ever!
But one thing I’ve been wanting since the technology came out was an electric car. No more emissions, no more gas stations, no more oil changes, no more transmission concerns, no more belts to replace, etc. No engine. No fossil fuels. I considered a hybrid, but ultimately, I decided that if I was going to Be The Change, I was going to really make a big one. I’m a writer and a high school teacher, so I can’t afford a Tesla (which, by the way, is my dream car, and if you need to understand why, check out this hilarious and wonderful Oatmeal comic here, which might or might not be safe for work).
But I could easily afford a Nissan Leaf.
To slightly shorten this long story, I’ll tell you simply that we had done a fair bit of research online and determined that the only real anxiety I have about a fully electric car is the range. I have a long-ish commute (about eighteen miles each way), assuming there are no activities or lessons or birthday parties or errands or writers’ group meetings or haircuts, etc., to go to after school. When my husband and I carpool (which we can and like to do as often as possible), this adds more miles (probably under ten, though I admit I haven’t calculated that yet). After doing all kinds of math and considering lots of what-if scenarios and finally getting down to what’s actually realistic and probable, we decided that for our purposes, the range on this car is probably more than enough for my typical day-to-day needs. And if I get into a bind, there are five charging stations between my home and my job.
I can also simply plug in my car to any regular outlet in someone’s garage, which means I’ll have it plugged in whenever I’m at home, whenever I’m at my parents’ house, whenever there’s a need and an opportunity. When we looked at the realistic limitations of owning this car and the realistic solutions to those problems, we determined that – while this will be something of an adventure and definitely an opportunity to refocus my thinking and probably revise the way I drive and plan – this fully electric vehicle is a reasonable option for me.
Now, finances were a big consideration. Like I said, my Scion was paid off, and that is a glorious feeling. I’ve really enjoyed not having a car payment and was more than a little hesitant to give that up. But then we did the math. I was going to be getting a good deal on the Leaf because although it’s new, it was a 2013 model, and the dealership really wanted to get rid of it, now that we’re almost halfway through 2014. It’s a generous lease, which I normally wouldn’t consider because I prefer to buy outright, but on the Leaf, a lease is a good choice: this technology is still relatively new-ish and we don’t have a lot of years yet of knowing how the Leaf battery (just about the only thing on this car that could wear out, not counting brakes and wiper blades) will wear over long periods of time. So in three years I turn it in and get a new one, if I want it.
So I would be taking on a new car payment, albeit not a particularly big one. Okay, I still don’t love that, but let’s consider what I’m no longer going to be paying for: oil changes, routine engine maintenance, and (drumroll, please) GASOLINE. Now, if my husband and I make the effort to carpool more often so that he uses his gas-powered car less, we’ll be saving a LOT more on gasoline – and our toll road bill could potentially be cut in half or better.
Now, granted, there is the expense with the Leaf of the electricity needed to charge it. But it’s low. In fact, if I can convince my family to stop leaving the lights on in rooms they aren’t using, and if I relocate my phone charger so it’s easy to unplug from the wall when I’m not using it, that bill just might break even.
So when you put all these factors together, my car payment, in actuality, comes down to very little. VERY little, and definitely a fee I’m happy to pay to reduce my carbon footprint so significantly. I’m putting my money where my save-the-planet mouth is, but it turns out that it might not actually have to be all that much money, on balance.
On the way home last night from the dealership, feeling all good about my very adorable new electric car that is, quite frankly, dreamy to drive and even super cushy and nice just to sit in, I had my first moments of buyer’s remorse. I was on the highway and noticed that when I hit 70 mph, my range depleted quickly. This means that driving typical freeway speed is going to wipe out my extensive range.
Bummer. Most of my commute is on the toll roads, which move along at a pretty fast clip when traffic is light.
The lesson I get to learn from this is that it’s not enough to be more environmentally responsible. I have to be a safer driver, too. I wasn’t reckless before, but now it looks like I’m going to be really safe. The Leaf can get up to 90 mph, and I’m guessing from the way it drives that it can do so quickly and smoothly, but I predict I will never see that speed. (That’s okay, though: I never saw that speed in my old car, either. I’m neither a racer on a track nor an idiot on the roads.) Maybe if I drive more calmly, my commute will be less stressful. Certainly in this car it’s going to be quieter.
So, much like moving to a touch-screen cell phone made me less likely to use my phone in the car, I suspect that having an EV is going to make me a better driver. That’s my hope, anyway. After the car dealership, my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie (the new X-Men, which is good, by the way). On the way home after the movie, my buyer’s remorse had gone, and now I’m feeling quite good about my silent, ignition-key-less, cushy car. We’ll see how this continues. Tuesday I have a ton of errands to run all day while the kids are in school (I’m actually off that day), and I may be feeling differently about it.
We shall see.