Now that I’ve had The Red Ninja for almost a couple of months, it seemed appropriate to discuss, for those of you following along at home, what it’s really like, from a logistical (and to some extent financial) angle, to own an electric car like the Nissan Leaf. If you’ve been reading the other Electric Car Diaries (here, here, and here), then some of this information might already be familiar to you.
I still love this car. It’s enjoyable and comfortable to drive, and every time I pass by a gas station, I smile a little to myself. (Not smugly, though. Nope, not at all.)
Whenever someone finds out I have an electric car, the first question is almost always about the range on the car: how long can I drive on a single charge? An excellent question. The battery, when fully charged, shows just over 100 miles available if I’ve been driving it efficiently the day before. If I haven’t been driving as efficiently as I could, it might show a full charge as having between 80-95 miles’ capability. I live in a big city and have to drive all over it most days. This involves a lot of freeway driving, too, because I live in the suburbs. And even though I’ve been driving my car all over the place, I’ve had to use the charging stations around town only four times, and one of those was at the airport the last time I flew somewhere, because I live so far away from the airport (about an hour driving at freeway speed on the toll roads) it takes up most of my charge.
Houston, in its commendable efforts to be a greener city, has actually quite a few charging stations around town. At the international airport, it has two dozen of them in various parking lots, all completely free of charge to airport customers. I plugged in, left town, came back four days later, unplugged my car, and drove home on a full charge.
The Quick Charge stations around town, with their super fast DC chargers, can ramp up your car’s range 50 miles in 15 minutes, and I’ve made use of those three times. These stations are often at places like grocery stores and pharmacies and libraries, so you can accomplish an errand if you don’t want to sit in your car the whole time. It’s theoretically not a great idea to use these DC Quick Charge stations every day, because they charge so quickly that they generate a lot of heat. And since battery life can be shortened by excessive heat, I’m playing it safe and not using the DC charging more than necessary – which, clearly, isn’t all that often, at least for me.
And then, of course, I plug my car in at home when I get back, and the next morning, it’s fully juiced and ready to go. You can plug into a regular 120V outlet, but we went ahead and got the 240V installed, which reduces the time exponentially.
Now as to the financial side of things: the costs associated with my car have been the electricity, the monthly lease payment for the car, the auto insurance, and the charging station at home. Eventually, I will have to replenish the windshield wiper fluid, and I may need to get new tires and maybe have the brakes done, at some point in the future over the life of the car – or the life of my lease, which is three years.
But that’s it.
Here are costs I no longer have to worry about with The Red Ninja: gas, oil changes, belts breaking, transmission maintenance, engine maintenance, spark plugs, other little mechanical doodads which like to go all pear-shaped.
When I sit down and do the math, the costs of charging the car up––even with the fancy charging station we had installed at home––added to the lease payment to Nissan, are well offset by the other maintenance and gas costs I no longer have and by the discount on my auto insurance for having an electric vehicle. You know what else is nice? Texas has an electric vehicle rebate program, which means the state is just handing out money to people buying or leasing electric cars. Once my rebate comes in, it will be the equivalent of several months’ worth of car expenses, including my lease payment. (This rebate program has an expiration date, though, so if you want to get in on it, I recommend doing so sooner rather than later.) And all of this is in addition to the massive federal rebate one gets for buying or leasing a new electric car from the dealership at the beginning of this process.
I’m not ready to say that I’m profiting on this car, since my old car had been paid off completely, but that’s the only reason.
Finally, how have my driving habits changed? Remember how at the beginning of this process I made the point that I was driving more conservatively? Well, I still am driving more carefully, but I’ve found that most of the time, I don’t really have to. Yes, I need to plan out my day to make sure I’m not wasting time and charge just cruising around needlessly––which is a good thing. But otherwise, I can drive normally. Of course, if I spend my whole day zooming along the freeways at 70 mph, with the air-conditioner blasting 60 degrees (because it’s Texas, y’all, and it’s hot here), and blaring the tunes from my iPod on the stereo instead of the radio or a CD or satellite radio (because the car charges up my iPod for me while it’s plugged in)… Okay, if I do all that, then no, I’m not going to achieve 100 miles on that range. It will be closer to 40 or 50 miles.
And then I will go home and plug in and get it all back for less than a dollar. The next full charge will tell me I have around 85 miles of range. I will drive normally again, and when I plug in and charge up the next time, my full range will list closer to 95. One more day of sensible driving, and my next full charge will read a range of 106 (so far, my efficiency record).
The downside to all of this, of course, is that if I want to pick up and drive to another city, I can’t. The Leaf is an in-town car and won’t be making any trips to the Hill Country or Los Angeles, sadly, unless the charging station infrastructure of the U.S. gets a whole lot more progressive. (And yes, the charging companies are working on that.)
On balance, I’m still happy with the Leaf. It will be interesting to see how much more our costs go down once school starts and my husband and I start carpooling again (in the Leaf), reducing the amount of gas needed for his car and cutting our toll road bill nearly in half. At that point, the Leaf may become actually profitable. I can’t wait to find out!
* The title of this post comes from the detail in certain mythologies that Valkyries consume electricity instead of food and send off lightning when they feel intense emotions. To date, my car has never shot off any lightning. It’s a pretty even-keeled little vehicle.