You may be asking “why a Leaf?” or better yet “why an electric car?” or you may be asking things like “how far will it go on a charge?” “what’s it like to drive?” or “How long does it take to charge it up?” or even “how could you spend so much money on a car with such limited range?” or “You know it still burns fossil fuels if you charge it up using the utility grid?” and “The construction of the car and battery is more damaging on the environment than a gasoline powered car.” and on and on and on…
Well, hopefully I can answer some of those question for you here in this blog and help to dispel some of the misinformation around electric cars (EV’s) and put the nay sayers and deniers in their place–the past.
So, just how did we end up with an all electric car?
Here’s the story in a rather large nutshell.
A couple of years ago my wife Marian and I started talking about the Leaf and the possibility of purchasing one someday. At the time it seemed way out of our budget so we put it on the back burner. Then, a couple of months ago we crunched some numbers and came to a shocking realization–between our two cars–a 1999 Toyota 4Runner and 1998 Honda CRV we spent around $350 USD per month on gasoline/repairs! We decided that for that amount plus the value of our trade in we might be able to buy a Leaf, lower our fuel costs significantly, replace our ageing Honda and drastically reduce our carbon footprint on our Mother Earth. In late July 2013 we started looking around for a car but could not find one locally in the Asheville, NC area. I got online and found two almost identical 2012 Leaf SL’s near Smyrna, TN–the home of the Nissan Leaf’s North American manufacturing facility. So, we made some calls and decided to check them out and then a couple of weeks later we jumped in the Honda with our little terrier and took a weekend road trip to Barr Nissan Company in Columbia, TN. Once there we met with salesman John who set up a test drive in a 2012 SL with ~1200 miles on the odometer–it had been short term leased by a Nissan employee who drove it as a promo vehicle and took great care of it so it was practically new. We were both happy with the car so we sat down with another employee to talk numbers and by 1:30 pm we were on the road in our “new” Leaf!
John giving me the keys to our new car! This was John’s first Nissan Leaf sale!
Marian, Tange and I getting ready to drive halfway across Tennessee in our new Leaf!
So we were now the proud owners of an EV…an electric vehicle. We were happy but a bit apprehensive due to the range being so low compared to a petrol powered vehicle–just how were we going to get home? My answer to this was the fact that Tennessee has a large concentrations of Blink fast charging stations along the route we had chosen to take home. These stations had been installed a couple of years ago in a partnership between Nissan, ECOtality and the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. A week or so before the trip I had called each Cracker Barrel to verify that the charging kiosks were functional–they were. I then called Blink and one of their technicians also verified that all of the stations I would be stopping at to charge were in fact good to go. I felt fairly certain that we would be ok…but there was still that little nagging “what if” feeling but I just brushed it off and jumped in the drivers seat and of we went toward our first charging station stop at Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro, TN 53 miles away. On our first drive in the Leaf as its owners drove it and “ran” great–it was comfortable and the A/C was nice and cold even though I didn’t turn it any lower than 68F to conserve energy. Normally, 53 miles is not a problem in a Leaf however, this part of Tennessee is hilly–with long grades and short downhills, it was about ~88 degrees F and we were running at highway speeds of 65-70 mph and we ran the A/C so when we pulled into Murfreesboro an hour or so later we had 21 miles remaining on the guess-o-meter (GOM)! –the GOM is a gauge on the right side of the main gauge cluster that gives you your estimated range based on charge level. Nissan does not call it the GOM but that is basically what it does so Leaf ownder have adopted that term. The new model Leafs (or is it Leaves?) have replaced the GOM with a %charge remaining and that seems more logical to me. Once at our first charging stop in Murfreesboro I walked up to the Blink fast charger to input my Blink code that I had gotten earlier by calling the Blink network (my Blink card had not arrived in the mail in time for the trip). The kiosk computer said that it did not recognize my number…hmmm…it seems that gremlins, leprechauns, goblins, sprites or Yokai had gotten into the inner workings of the machine and had a little party on the circuit board… so I called Blink for assistance. They had me reset the entire charging station and try again…still no luck. It was getting hotter and I was getting really bummed and really hungry…I really wanted to go in Cracker Barrel and eat some lunch while the car charged…but that was not going to happen. I believe that my wife was having second thoughts at this point and the dog Tange…she probably knew much more than she let on as she cooled off under the shade of a tree. The Blink tech said I should ask to use one of Cracker barrel’s Blink charge cards, I did and it worked! The machine recognized the card and after an hour of back and forth with Blink the car was charging!! Needless to say our first fast charging experience was not the best.
Unfortunately we had lost an hour and had no time for a sit down meal in the CB so I walked across the street and settled for an Arby’s wrap while the Leaf charged. By the time I finished my sandwich–about 20 minuets later–the car was ready to go with an 80% charge and the battery temperature had only gone up by one segment on the gauge. The battery temperature gauge–on the left side of the gauge cluster–is a bar graph representing the temperature of the battery. Frequent fast charging and higher ambient temperatures coupled with running at highway speeds can raise the temperature of the battery but so far we were good to go!
We hopped back in the Leaf and shot out onto highway 231–the Leaf has amazing pick up due to the direct drive and high torque–and were in Lebanon in no time. Once there we fast charged again–this time to 100% because we had a 51 mile trek ahead of us to the next charging station in Cookeville.
After charging up we zipped out onto interstate 40 east toward our North Carolina home passing big smoking semi trucks in our clean running little blue EV.
Soon we realized that the long grades on 40 were longer than the energy we could recover in ECO mode with regeneration and we started to sweat–literally–because we had to turn off the A/C to conserve power in the hopes of making it to Cookeville…now is where the real range anxiety set in. Running at highway speeds of 75-80 mph in the heat of summer alongside noisy, carbon belching trucks and cars while pulling long grades was not the best situation for the Leaf. As we watched the range drip away on the GOM the sweat dripped heavier on our bodies and the dogs tongue lolled out longer and longer…the Leaf is not a long distance highway car. We knew that when we bought it but this experience proves that fact. I soon realized that we might not make it to Cookeville 9 miles away so I opted to ere on the side of caution so when the GOM said 11 miles so I pulled off the interstate into a filling station for a trickle charge…yes, a trickle charge. There was no other option. At first the manager of the station was not going to let us charge–something about not letting anyone but employees use the outside receptacles–until I offered to make a $5 donation to the charity fundraiser they were running…then she said OK, I didn’t see you–whew! I don’t know what I would have done if she had said no. That was some real anxiety! So I plugged in, sat down, leaned against the wall and waited…and waited…and waited…for about an hour.
All the while as my Leaf slowly crammed electrons into its battery and people came and went from the gas station–filling their tanks, paying copious amounts of hard earned money into their tanks only to spew it back out again into the atmosphere. Many people asked all sorts of questions about the leaf while I was sitting there, the best being a group of frat boys from UT that were really intrigued by the Leaf and thanked me for buying it and “being part of the future”! I felt even better about our decision so I just answered the questions as knowledgeably as I could and waited for the battery to charge up a bit more.
Yes, I know that the electricity I was charging up my car with was generated by mostly the burning of coal…our precious mountaintops…but that is another story for another day. After about an hour of charging the GOM said we had 14 miles of range and since we only had 9 miles to go we took the chance and off we went on I 40. We made it…just barely…with 6 miles to spare…yikes…no “turtle mode” but close! Note how high the temperature gauge is on the right…and the day was getting hotter!
In Cookeville we charged to 100% at Cracker Barrel and headed to Crossville 30 miles away to grab another charge…however, once there we realized that our battery temperature was just below the red zone so we decided that before we charged the car again we needed to let the car cool down in the shade while we had a sit down dinner at the Cracker Barrel.
The only problem was that they didn’t serve dogs…crap…come on CB you should be more tolerant of other species, cultures and beliefs. Tange chilling in the back of the Leaf while we waited to find out if we could eat on the porch of CB. The management said OK so we used a checkerboard as a table and had a great “home cooked” meal. While it was nice of CB to let us eat on the porch I still felt like a second class citizen until I realized that the porch was clean, calm and not crowded with people like the restaurant.
Dinner was wonderful and relaxing but it didn’t give our car long enough to cool down so we opted to stay across the interstate in a La Quinta Inn for the night. To tell the truth we (and the Leaf) were done for the day. The next day the battery temperature gauge showed that all was well in lithium land so we headed over to the Cracker Barrel early to charge the car and eat a nice country breakfast only to find the below message on the Blink charging station… Bummer…the gremlins had apparently visited this Blink station as well…so I called Blink and they said that the station was out of order and had went down over the last 12 hours…interesting. Luckily they said that the level 2 charger should still be working so I plugged in, it worked and we went to breakfast.
After breakfast the car was still not charged enough to make it to the next fast charger 35 miles away in Harriman. It needed another hour and a half so I left Marian knitting on the porch of the Cracker Barrel and walked the half mile to the hotel to pick up the dog and a couple of things we had left in our room and check out. As I walked across the Highway 40 bridge I though about how ironic it was that I had just purchased an electric car and was now makin’ like ten toe turbo* and hoofin’ it down the road…I could only smile, laugh and soldier on. I picked up the pooch and bags, logged out of the hotel and snapped this pic as Tange and I crossed over the interstate 40 bridge…
*Ten Toe Turbo is a Jamaican term for walking and a great local band from Hendersonville, NC–check them out if you are ever in the area!
I believe that Tange was terrified at this point but she didn’t let me know it…such a trooper! Then as I passed Cracker Barrel I snapped this pic of the Leaf charging up at the Blink station and I could only smile at this amazing adventure we had embarked on–I live for adventures such as this! Finally, after 2 hours of charging, the Leaf was ready to go and so were we so off we went into the cool Tennessee morning. Once in Harriman we charged to 80% with no problems…
…and then headed on to Farragut where we plugged in the Blink fast charger for the last time and charged up the Leaf to 90% in 20 minuets and drove on to Knoxville.
Farragut was the last time we would be able to charge the Leaf because in the 149 miles between Farragut and home there were no fast chargers and we did not want to wait for 2 hours at each level 2 charging station so we rented a Uhaul and car hauling trailer in Knoxville and set out on the road once again.
It was not the most energy efficient way to get the Leaf home but it was a MUCH lower cost than having Nissan ship the car to us on a car carrier. The drive through the I-40 gorge between Knoxville and Asheville was a white-knuckle experience to say the least–it felt more like torture than a nice Sunday afternoon drive in the mountains. The weight of the car and trailer behind an empty Uhaul forced me to drive slower in order to be safe…but it did not feel safe…but we made it with no incidents. After arriving in Asheville we parked the Uhaul and drove the Leaf the remaining ~20 miles home. Once safe at home we had only 11 miles remaining on the GOM–another close one!
Well, we had survived the trip and despite the charging gremlins, battery overheating issue and range anxiety we both love our new Leaf. It is a beautifully designed car with only a few issues that we can easily get used to in return for virtually free (compared to ICE vehicles) commuting to and from work, running errands and to and from family and friends houses. After arriving at home we plugged in “Electra” to our house for the first time…
And by morning she had gladly accepted a full charge and was ready to go anywhere within range we point her.
Totals for the adventure:
Total petroleum powered miles driven on journey to get Leaf home: 475
Total petroleum costs for journey: ~$90.00 (Honda + Uhaul)
Total electric miles driven on journey to get leaf home: 265
Total electricity costs for journey: $27.00 ($5 x 4 fast charges + $5 trickle + $2 lvl 2=27)
Time spent charging the Leaf: ~5.5 hours! (This includes an extra 2 hours due to malfunctioning chargers!)
Time spent pumping petroleum into gas powered vehicles: ~30 minuets
Time spent driving the Leaf: ~4.5 hours
Time spent driving petroleum powered vehicles: ~8.5 hours
Total cargo carried by leaf in pounds: 457 (2 adults, 1 small dog, luggage)
That is the end of our first great adventure with our Nissan Leaf. Hopefully it has not served to scare you off from purchasing a Leaf because none of the problems with the operation of the Leaf save one–the battery overheating issue–were caused by the Leaf. The problems we encountered were due to our attempt at using the Leaf as a long range extended use at highway speeds on a hot day vehicle. It was not designed for this and our adventure proves that fact. The issues we faced were as follows:
Problem 1: 2 out of 5 Blink fast charging stations not working correctly–this was a Blink issue.
Problem 2: Leaf battery overheating issue. Caused by frequent fast charging and running at high speeds on hot summer days. When a Nissan Leaf is used as recommended by the manufacturer the battery overheating issue simply does not happen.
We have had the Leaf for one week as of today and during that time we have driven it 45-80 miles per day in mountainous terrain and charged it every night, at work and at a solar powered level 2 charging station and the battery has never left the middle range of the gauge. It has driven and operated perfectly and is an excellent vehicle if you do not need a long range high speed vehicle. If you drive in and around towns and cities and do not drive more than 75 miles per day and keep your speed below 65 for extended periods of time then you might want to take a Leaf for a test drive–you will be glad you did!
More on our continuing adventure of Leaf ownership is yet to come…