Technically Speaking…Turning over a new LEAF with an Electric Car

by Scott Baughman

For some time now we’ve all been made keenly aware that the future of the automotive world is tied to the electron. Electric cars aren’t just science fiction these days, they are here and you’ve probably seen more than a few sharing the roadways. Mother nature appreciates our burning less gasoline, and for me personally she sent a message I couldn’t ignore back in October.

Driving home from the game store one night, an emissary of the planet took the shape of a whitetail deer and ran right out in front of my 2013 Honda Fit. I crashed into the deer and it hobbled off probably to its great reward after delivering the message to me. That message? Stop driving an internal combustion engine (or ICE) vehicle.

The Fit was totaled, but thank the Lord I was fine.

As the deer limped away I called my beautiful bride to let her know I was ok but the car was history. Then I, too, limped home. For many years I had been telling people that the next car I was going to buy was going to be all electric. I just hadn’t expected to make that purchase quite so soon! But the timing was set as I needed a new ride and I wanted to go electric. Heck, even our Tar Wheels column from the previous edition of The Mountain Breeze was about how with electric vehicles everything old is new again.

In November, I became the proud owner of a 2016 Nissan LEAF. The Leaf has the reputation of being the most affordable all electric car on the market and when comparing prices for a used LEAF and a used Honda Fit to replace the one I had lost, it was a no-brainer. In the current used car market, the all electric Nissan costs just as much as the used ICE vehicle from Honda for the same year and close to the same mileage.

So how has it been for me driving an electric vehicle? At first I was a little trepidatious. Would it be like riding in an oversized golf cart? Would it be a rinky dink vehicle with little to no leg room or cargo room? Could I even make it to work and back? What about driving at night, would the headlights drain the main drive battery to the point of it being futile? But after the test drive, I knew this was the correct car for me. 

The LEAF can go about 80 miles on a fully charged battery so for my day-to-day journeys around town that was plenty of range. And size-wise, the car is bigger than my Honda Fit was. The cargo space in the back is enough to make my wife a bit envious with her 2020 Mini Cooper. I also did some research and hands-on testing to realize that things like headlights and windshield wipers were still powered by a conventional 12V automobile battery. The major differences in driving the car are only felt when you start or stop.

When it’s time to go, the LEAF just starts rolling, there is no ignition and no sense of “is the car on?” happening. It’s on if you power it up and it’s off if you don’t. It doesn’t idle. There’s no fuel/air mixture to worry about, no rumbling set of explosions that you feel in your lap.

When it comes time to recharge the car, if you’re at home you can literally plug it into any three-pronged electrical outlet. It won’t be a fast charge, as it usually takes about 20 hours to get from 0% up to 100% charge. But if you’re NOT at home things get a lot more technical.

First, you’ll need to find a public charging station. Fear not, dear reader, there are literally dozens of apps on your smartphone to help with finding the nearest charger. Some of them are free, provided by various municipalities and energy companies. But what you save in money you pay for in time. You can’t recharge the LEAF in as quick a time as you can fill up a standard ICE with gasoline. Plugged into a free municipal charger in Spindale it took me 4 hours to get from 0% to 100% charge. And that was NOT a simple three-pronged plug into a regular outlet. This was about the same size as a power outlet at home for a clothes dryer. And it cost me zero dollars so that was nice. 

Other 220V commercial charger networks do cost money, but so far the most I’ve ever spent was around $10 – or about 28 cents per gallon equivalent in gasoline. But the future is ever changing and even EVs are going through an upgrade.

 The new standard of charging isn’t 120V or even 220V, it’s the CHAdeMO fast charge system. The abbreviation is a play on words for a Japanese phrase that means “a quick cup of tea” – because that’s the amount of time you’ll need to recharge. We found one of these CHAdeMO chargers at a Nissan dealership in Gastonia and it was indeed done charging from 5% to 100% in about 35 minutes! Yes, just enough time to grab a quick cup of tea and take a break from the road. Now, the CHAdeMO system has a long way to expand before it becomes ubiquitous enough for us to take the LEAF on road trips longer than about 100 miles, but more stations are being built all the time.

While I regret the circumstances that forced my hand into getting the EV, I don’t regret owning one. And the price tag made it imminently affordable at a mere $13,000. So to quote Ferris Bueller – “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Until next time, download complete.

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