Nine months in, my electric car experience with the Nissan Leaf

Posted by on August 14, 2013

Back in late 2012, my friend James, Kim, and their family, was visiting my family. It started out all normal and innocent. Talking about things, our kids playing together, talking about homebrewing beer. Then he said some fateful words that I do not remember but continue with me anyway to this very day. He said something like:

I just leased a Nissan Leaf

And my world both ended and started. I have been wanting an electric car for I do not know how long. It’s almost like a flying car, but it doesn’t use gasoline, and doesn’t have wings, or doesn’t… you know… fly. What it is however, is awesome.

The rest of that weekend was talking to me briefly about it, then telling him that I wanted one, then he told me what he was leasing it for and doing some mental math I realized that I paid more in gasoline than I did for the lease price on the car. Then we were off, driving to a Nissan dealership and talking with a salesman about leasing a Leaf.

That was nine months ago. The baby is here, and has been for that whole time. I’ve loved it. It’s not all roses, as you will see. The benefits far outweigh the negatives, however.

Some points, both negative and positive. Since every cloud has a silver lining, right?

In winter, it’s cold. Since the heater runs on the same battery, I leave it off most of the time. Which makes for a cold nose some days. It also makes for some foggy windows sometimes. The plus side, I have a climate control timer on the car, so I can heat the car while it is still plugged in and I get into an 80 degree Fahrenheit cabin when I start my drive. Also, heated seats, front and rear. (Hear that Chevy Volt! Put them in both parts of the car! Also, both Nissan and Chevy, leather with heated seats, look into it.)┬áThe mileage is lower in winter so far as I have seen, though my driving habits have also changed so that may not be as much of an issue. More on that in a bit.

Cost is still lower. Gas prices, not-surprisingly, have not dropped through the floor to pre-2000’s levels of under a dollar a gallon. My break even point was around $3.50 a gallon for my old car, and with prices now I am saving money.

Wait, you say, what about electricity. Well, I don’t have my electric bill in front of me, but let’s assume a high of $0.14 per Kilowatt Hour (kWh). It’s not, but I’m assuming for this it is. The Leaf has a 24 kWh battery. So the math is simple. 24 * 0.14 = $3.36 to go from 0 to 100% battery. So if you get the perfect 100 miles out of my car, it costs me about $0.03 per mile. Now I don’t get the perfect mileage and I don’t know of anyone who does. I drive highway a lot, also not normal, and 51 miles door to door in the summer. I end up with about 30 miles left in the battery when I get to work. So that comes out to about 73% of what my actual gauge tells me, which really only gives me about 22 miles left.

Now, in the summer I run the air conditioning while driving. It, surprisingly, doesn’t drain the battery as much as the heat does in the winter. I’m sure there is a reason for that, so feel free to tell me.

When I first got the car, I had a problem charging it for getting back from work. While I had a plug at work (for which I am grateful and couldn’t do this without it) it is only 110v, and takes a long time to charge. I ended up going to a nearby casino which had free charging and valet service. Which was nice, but the dinner I had was way more than I would have spent for a few gallons of gas. I haven’t had to do that since then, mainly due to the home charging station.

Totally essential, that home charging station. It uses 220v power, and charges the car in less than half the time. To charge on 110V, it takes 13 hours to go from 0 to 100%, on 220v, it takes less than 6.

So let’s take stock before I start to go off and ramble. Good, super cheap per mile compared to gas. Not so great on the heat, or the mileage in winter, but heated seats and climate control timer help. Home charging station, a must for long distance driving daily.

Downtown Chicago seems to have an abundance of chargers, and the Kohl’s near my house has a complimentary charger as well. It’s not quite so useful, since it’s only a few miles from my home but I have used it from time to time. At work, there’s a great restaurant, the Great Escape, that has it’s own windmill and three 220v charging stations that they let patrons use for free. Also, the building I am in lets me use the 110v outlet there. Thanks to my company for letting me use one of the reserved spaces that they have in the parking lot so I can do that!

The 110v outlet is fine to charge with during the day, since I am at work 8-9 hours a day. Even with only 7, like on days I have to head home and deal with the non-ending deck saga, I have enough charge, though no extra to stop anywhere.

This wouldn’t be a problem however, if the Level 3 chargers, they put out over 400v and can charge from 0 to 100% in 20 minutes or less, along 394 were useful. The company evidently is in some trouble, and so even though I am willing to pay to use them, I can’t get a card or even hold of them on the phone or email, to use the chargers. I am hoping that changes eventually so more people can use electric vehicles, but it looks to me that it will be at least a few years before things change. If they do, I’ll let you know.

So… my verdict? Still loving my car. I recommend it to anyone who drives less than 30 miles to and from work a day; more if you have the ability to charge at work. The Chevy Volt does look like a decent car, and I’ve considered it since to replace our other car, but I haven’t looked too heavily at it, and I haven’t driven it.

Have I mentioned actually driving it? No? It’s great! Road noise has always been a problem for me with cars. It’s the major cause of the tinnitus that I have acquired over my years of commuting. The Leaf? So quiet. Is it like I am sitting still? No, but it is much quieter than any other car I have owned. No engine noise, at all. Just wind noise, and the people at Nissan have designed the car to reduce the wind noise. It’s why the headlights look so funky. They are shaped to carve up the air around the rear view mirrors so that they don’t make as much noise. I don’t have to crank the radio just to hear a podcast or words to the music anymore.

Now if only it would cure the tinnitus…