So I’ve had my Leaf for about a week, and to say the learning curve has been steep might be overstating things. The car really has been fun and not all that difficult to work with. There have been a few things, however, that I wish I had been aware of before I’d bought it.
Even though my husband and I felt like we’d done enough research on this car, it turns out we could have done just a tiny bit more. I won’t get into the very lengthy narrative about the various dealerships we went to and the completely clueless salespeople we encountered; they knew very little about electric vehicles. What this experience taught me is that it’s really important to find a salesperson who really understands these cars, to be at least a little bit familiar yourself with the anatomy of an electric car before you go into the dealership (more on that later), and to get your old car (if you’re trading it in) appraised elsewhere – at Carmax, for example – before you go to any dealership where you have the ability to haggle over price. Getting a TrueCar certified quote on what you think you want to buy or lease – before going to the dealership – wouldn’t hurt, either.
I mentioned in my last EV Diaries post that the first night I brought my Leaf home, I had some buyer’s remorse for a couple of hours, worrying whether this was going to be a practical car for me. After driving the car around for a few days, I realized that wasn’t actually going to be much of a problem; what I had to reshape my thinking about was the idea of what a car represents.
Much of American culture is car-oriented. The open road, the freedom to go wherever you want, the disregard for anything but the wide expanse before you – cars have been sold to us as a modern representation of some subtle manifest destiny. Hybrids are a way to have the best of both worlds because they use gas and so can go long distances but also have an electric component that makes you feel better about your impact on the environment.
Fully electric cars, though – with the exception of the Tesla, whose battery can go over 200 miles on a single full charge – don’t really represent this same kind of open-road, travel-wherever-you-like freedom. You have to plan your day with a Leaf. You have to take into account where the charging stations around town are (and there are actually quite a few in Houston with more coming online every year). You have to think consciously about the way you drive and the routes you take. Does this mean I’ve had to make changes from my normal routine? Not yet, actually. I can still drive all the places I need and want to go. I haven’t used any charging stations around town yet (more on that later, too). The only place I’ve plugged in so far (since I can’t at work), is at my parents’ house once when I was going to be out all day and parked there for a couple of hours. Otherwise, charging at home overnight has been more than adequate. I’m paying better attention to speed limits and driving efficiently, but besides that, I really haven’t had to change my habits at all.
What I cannot do is, one day on the spur of the moment, take a day trip out of town. I have to plan that and trade cars with my husband if I want to do that.
And you know what? Okay. I’m fine with that. It’s not like I wouldn’t have discussed it and planned it with him anyway. *le shrug*
But there was a moment last week when I was worried that I’d suddenly taken on an impractical car for living in such a large city, that I’d made a horrible mistake. It was a day when I was testing the boundaries of what I could accomplish. I had a list of errands a mile long and had to do – like is common for me – a lot of freeway driving. I was planning to go to one of the charging stations near where I work and use the Quick Charge to replenish “fifty miles in fifteen minutes.”
The problem? When I got to the charging station I discovered that my car doesn’t have a Quick Charge port.
Here’s where it becomes important to know the anatomy of your EV before bringing it home from the dealership. The salesman we worked with had discussed with us at great length the benefits of the Quick Charge. He used those words and cited the statistic of being able to fully charge the vehicle in a couple of hours and being able to add fifty miles in fifteen minutes. This is, in fact, what Quick Charging can do. All of that was accurate. What he FAILED, EPICALLY, to mention was that the car he wanted to lease us DOES NOT HAVE A QUICK CHARGE PORT. It has what I now understand is a Level 1 and Level 2 port, but whereas he discussed the Quick Charge option as being something we would enjoy on this car, that is actually a LEVEL 3. That’s a different kind of port (DC vs. AC).
I found this out at the charging station when the Quick Charge nozzle wouldn’t physically fit onto my car’s port. I couldn’t use the Level 1/Level 2 charging station because another car was already plugged into it. I was not happy.
Many phone conversations with the dealership ensued. We found that we couldn’t have the Quick Charge port installed because that was a factory option that couldn’t be retrofitted. When I asked our salesman about this, he admitted this was true, and when I asked why he’d kept telling me the Quick Charge option would make this car so practical even though he knew that wasn’t going to be available to me on this car, he said he had just used that phrase (“quick charge”) to mean I could charge my car more quickly on a 240-Volt outlet than on a 120-Volt one.
Are you frakking kidding me?
He was not. To his dubious credit, at least he didn’t try to backtrack and say I must have misunderstood or something like that. He was pretty up-front about his lack of honesty.
This set me off on a two-day schnarf-fest of regret and frustration. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say that once I got over the feeling of being had, the feeling of stupidity that I hadn’t done enough research, and the feeling of wishing I could go back in time and never enter that grimy dealership in the first place, I looked carefully at my realities.
Reality #1: I still really like this car.
Reality #2: I’ve been driving all over the place and plugging the car into a normal 120-Volt outlet at home all night and having more than enough charge to get me through the next day.
Reality #3: A year into this lease, I can get out of it, and then if I’ve had a good overall experience with the Leaf, I can go somewhere else and get a new one with both kinds of charging ports.
Epiphany: How much was I actually going to use those charging stations around town, anyway?
And that’s the thing: I’m not sure how much I would have needed the Quick Charge port, ultimately. What bothered me most, when I really thought about it, was two feelings: first, that I’d been taken advantage of by the car salesman, and second, that my car wasn’t as practical or convenient as I’d thought it was. Well, so far, in this first week and change, it has been practical and convenient enough to let that feeling go. And as for feeling like my car-leasing experience wasn’t a good one, I know better and next time can avoid that guy, his dealership, and the same pitfalls I fell into this time around. (I’ll refrain here from saying f*** him and the gas-guzzling horse he rode in on. No matter how much better I’m feeling now, he is still an ass.)
There’s still a bit of a learning curve. And my little Red Ninja, so far, is a good vehicle. A really adorable and fun-to-drive vehicle, in fact.
Last week, when school ended, I needed to use my husband’s vehicle for a couple of days as I was transporting our kids and their friends around town. After driving around in the Leaf for that time, he – a long-time car fanatic – decided he wanted one, too.
“But we still need your car,” I reminded him, “for its size and its ability to take road trips.”
“Sure,” he said. “I wasn’t going to get rid of it. I meant we would have three cars.” And then he grinned.
Three might be taking things a little far. We still need to see how this Leaf performs in the long term. This summer I won’t have my usual commute, and we won’t be carpooling so much, but then come August we’ll be getting back to our more typical routine again. I’m looking forward to figuring out how the EV stacks up under those obligations.
Rest assured, if it’s noteworthy enough to post, you’ll read about it here.
To read the entire Electric Car Diaries series, in which you can experience vicariously the sometimes astounding and sometimes entertaining story of how I ended up with this car in the first place, what its features are (from a practical standpoint), and what it’s like to drive it, please click on the links below.