CategoriesGear

One Year With an Electric Car

I’ve now driven more than one year with an electric car. I want to share a few thoughts about what I’ve learned for people who are thinking about giving up their gas cars. I think you’ll be in for some surprises.

I live in the U.S., so some of this will vary according to where you live.

Using The Carpool Lane is Awesome, But …

One of the perks of driving an EV in Arizona is that you can use the carpool lane if you have the right license plate (you have to ask for it). The speeds in the carpool — or HOV Lane, if you like the bureaucratic version — stay a lot more consistent. When everyone slows down for whatever reason, the carpool lane mostly keeps humming.

There’s just one problem: Many people think the carpool lane is really the Drive as Fast as You Want Lane. This creates some dangerous situations. And many of these people don’t have the plates and are alone in their car and thus shouldn’t even be in the carpool lane anyway. I’m usually driving 70 in a 65, which is speeding. But these people don’t think I’m speeding enough. Things being what they are, they get away with driving 85mph+. Which is ridiculously stupid: It’s dangerous, obviously, and it turns their gas mileage to shit. And does it save much time? No, because they’ll still get stuck at traffic lights on surface streets.

You Don’t Need Charging Stations

For the first six months or so, I relied on charging at charging stations like ChargePoint, Blink, Volta and others. I favored the free ones, which are fairly plentiful (Blink is a huge rip off). I covered this adequately in an earlier post, so I recommend reading that post for more information, including my recent project to install a 240-volt line at my house.

Driving a Gas-Powered Car Will Suck

Sometimes, I have to drive my wife’s 2017 Subaru Forester. And boy, does it suck. Before getting my EV, I actually liked it.

But when I get into my EV and push the button, there’s no noise or vibration. There’s also no heat pouring off of it after I drive 20 miles. That noise, vibration and heat is inefficiency.

After a few months driving an EV, you’ll be disgusted by the lurching transmission shifts, the noise, the vibration and the slow acceleration.

I know car enthusiasts will argue this point with me. But here’s the thing: I’ve driven gasmobiles far more than they’ve driven electric cars. They have no frame of reference. They have never driven an electric car for months and gone back to their clunky gas jalopies.

Your Electric Car Will Save You Time

Think of all the time you’ve spent at gas stations and getting oil changes. Those days are over. It’s awesome to wake up or leave your desk in the evening to a "full tank."

Getting your juice will be as quick as plugging a cell phone into a wall. It’s weirdly liberating.

After one year of driving an electric car, all this time adds up.

You Can Do Anything You Want in an Electric Car

The top-of-the-line electric cars are getting around 300 miles per charge. The lesser ones get 150, but can re-charge to 80 percent pretty quickly. In the middle, you have some that are getting about 230 miles. That compares to my dear departed Subaru Forester, which got about 350 miles per tank.

one year with an electric vehicle
Great. She likes the Tesla Model X. Expensive taste …

But here’s the thing: How often do you drive that far? And how far do you ever drive without stopping to eat, drink or use a toilet?

My bet is about 100 miles or so. So the difference in miles traveled per tank or per charge is insignificant. The arguments against electric car range are for trips that constitute the tiniest portion of trips taken. Electric cars can more than handle your average daily commute, and many of the newer ones are great for road trips.

Still Good Reasons Not to Get an Electric Car

There are two things preventing most people from getting an electric car:

First is form factor. Americans love SUVs. And the only readily available electric SUV right now is the Tesla Model X. The Model Y will mark the beginning of the end of the gas engine, but it’s still a few years away. Toyota had a huge head start with its RAV4 EV collaboration with Tesla, and they squandered it in favor of hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. Pair that with their deceptively advertised "self-charging hybrids," and you have a brand in decline. The other electric cars are sedans and smallish wagons. Nissan is clearly milking gas engines for all their worth while paying lip service to electric vehicles with the compromised LEAF. If they were serious, they’d already offer an electric version of the Murano (with active thermal management to preserve the batteries).

Second is cost. Brand-new EVs are still a bit more expensive. The brands that still qualify for the federal tax credit definitely lessen that burden. But in most cases, car buyers have to front the cost and get their money back in April when tax return season rolls around (I wonder how that skews the electric car sales data -- if I were buying a new qualifying vehicle, I’d wait until December for sure). Still, cost will decline as battery cost dives. Which it’s done consistently in recent years.

Even One EV in Your Household Helps

Since getting my EV, my wife drives a lot less. Her work commute is pretty short, and I handle all the weekend driving. We’ll use her Subaru for long trips; my early-generation EV isn’t suited for the long distances and off-roading.

But one year with an electric car has cut down on our collective gas use. And I don’t see any way that there will be another gas-powered vehicle in our house in the future. They’re just inferior. Even ignoring any concern for pollution, they’re more fun to drive and way less maintenance-intensive.

People Have No Idea About Electric Vehicles

After one year with an electric car, I constantly field the same questions. Let me recap them with some quick answers.

I hear Teslas don’t really work.

In what way? I don’t drive a Tesla, but it is the gold standard in EVs. The software is ridiculously advanced. They are also extremely efficient if you measure them by kilowatt-hours to the mile. Used correctly, the Autopilot feature is mind-blowing.

And no, they don’t catch on fire more than gas vehicles. But a Tesla on fire is considered newsworthy. A gas-powered car? It doesn’t get any press. Ask yourself why.

Electric vehicles use "rare earth" minerals/pollute more because of how they’re built/are powered by coal.

There’s a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that debunks this all. It’s long, but well worth reading.

Global warming is a hoax.

OK. Let’s say it is. Forget global warming or climate change or whatever you want to call it. Think locally. What will happen if you have fewer tailpipes spewing emissions? How will that affect your local air quality? What if your streets become quieter because you don’t have a bunch of diesel trucks roaring? Does that sound bad in any way? What if you have fewer people going into a gas station and loading up on sugary snacks while paying for their gas? What if there are fewer tanker trucks on the roads bringing gas into your neighborhoods? What exactly sounds bad it this scenario?

Guayaki yerba mate chevy bolt
The Guayaki brand of yerba mate has its branding people cruising the streets in this Chevy Bolt. The driver loves it.

I just like the sound of an engine.

Surely there has to be better ways to get attention. I really don’t understand the fixation on noise. My EV makes enough noise to warn a pedestrian -- the sound is like listening to a taxiing jet fighter (but from a long distance).

Now, I know a lot of Americans don’t like to walk. But if you’re one of those people who walk, what would you think of a lot less engine noise? It sounds pretty nice.

Money is Behind the Anti-EV Rhetoric

The electric vehicle is upsetting a lot of corporate gravy trains. Dealerships won’t make as much money on maintenance. Oil companies will face falling demand for gasoline and diesel. And even convenience stores, like I mentioned: They’ll have fewer people making impulse buys while they put gas in their cars.

This is a huge shift. There’s still money to be made and jobs to be had with electric cars. They’re just going to be different. This happened before when we shifted from horses to electric cars. Not as many people need someone to shoe their horses? Hello, auto mechanic. This shift isn’t a problem: It’s an opportunity.

I can’t wait for a new generation of EV modders and mechanics to rise. It will be pretty cool to see how they innovate with a new platform!

Of course, the status quo doesn’t see it that way. They’d rather use their money to squash innovation. Just look at Chevrolet’s EV-1 debacle, and how they deliberately compromised the Bolt EV.

Wrapping Up One Year With an Electric Car

There’s just no going back for me. The smooth acceleration, low maintenance and cheap energy make me pity the poor gas engine. Its days are nearly over.

CategoriesGear

Lessons From 3 Months of Driving an Electric Vehicle

In early May, I starting driving an electric vehicle. I took the keys (or more accurately, the key fob) to a 2014 Toyota RAV4 EV. No, it’s not a hybrid. It’s not a custom hack job. It’s one of 2,600-ish of them made as a joint venture between Toyota and Tesla, who supplied the Model S battery and motor. It really is the compact electric SUV the world needs – the Nissan LEAF, the Chevy Bolt and most other battery-electric vehicles are all too small. Great for single people, not so great for couples or families, especially those with hobbies or work that includes hauling any gear.

Toyota RAV4 EV concept
Kind of like mine, but this early concept is a different color and a few years older. (Image via Wikipedia)
Driving an electric vehicle has taught me a few interesting things. Some are just little tidbits I noticed, while some are more important points for those considering an EV.

Driving an Electric Vehicle Can be a Lot Like Driving a Manual Transmission

My last car was a 5-speed Subaru Forester. I generally enjoy the manual transmission. And surprise! I can drive the RAV4 EV very much like a car with a manual. EVs can regenerate energy when they slow down – aka "regen." Each brand of EV seems to have its own approach to regen, but it generally works like this: You let off the gas, and you slow down without using the brake pedal. You slow down a lot faster than shifting into neutral -- all while putting a few watt-hours back into your battery. The RAV4 EV requires you to shift – using the console shifter – from D into B (see a few paragraphs below).

driving an electric vehicle
Here’s the shifter of a Toyota RAV4 EV. Notice two things: The B option, which engages regenerative braking, and the SPORT button in front of the shifter, which increases torque and top speed. It’s the RAV’s version of the Tesla Model S Ludicrous mode.

The 2018 Nissan LEAF has the most-aggressive regen I’ve experienced. Its e-Pedal can bring the car to a dead stop, where my RAV EV needs the friction brake to fully stop and stay still. I like the e-Pedal a bit better, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who shout at the clouds about it every time Nissan posts about it on social media: "Are we really that lazy? Cars should have two pedals! It’s gonna cause accidents! Do we want people too stupid for two pedals driving?" Granted, Nissan’s posts completely miss the point of explaining the e-Pedal, and people seem way too eager to wallow in their misunderstanding of the benefits.

driving an ev
“Dang kids and their regenerative braking!”

Regen is like downshifting a manual transmission. Let off the gas slightly in the corner, and it’s like dropping down a gear. Rather than using the clutch and stick to shift gears, I use the shift knob on the center console, with the occasional push of the "SPORT" button that boosts maximum speed and torque (awesome for merging). The knob moves the RAV4 EV between D (Drive), R (Reverse), N (Neutral) and B (regen braking). Within weeks, I reached the point where shifting is second nature. In stop-and-go traffic, I usually stay in B. The RAV4 EV won’t engage the cruise control in B, so you’ll want to be in D for long stretches without traffic.

I also do a lot of neutral coasting, which is great for squeezing even more range out of the battery.

Driving an Electric Vehicle doesn’t Require a Home Charging Station

First of all, I love online threads where people whinge about people driving an electric vehicle. One guy said "but I don’t wanna plug my car in at night!" Why, will you miss all those intellectually stimulating stops at the gas station? Yeah, who wouldn’t miss the smell of unleaded gas filling our nostrils?

driving an electric vehicle
Here’s a post-trip summary that goes up on the dashboard when I shut the RAV4 EV down.

OK, but back to the main point: Most cars come with a plug-in device called an EVSE, which allows you to charge from outlets – mostly from 240-volt outlets like the one on your clothes dryer. A 110-volt will give my RAV4 EV about 4 miles every hour, and a 240-volt could bump that as high as 25 per hour. Depending on where you live, you might have enough charging stations to delay getting one at home for while. I recommend checking plugshare.com since it includes a variety of networks – and even some friendly home EVSE owners who might let you get some juice.

Here in Arizona, we have enough charging infrastructure to meet the needs of the average person, who drives less than 40 miles a day. That’s well within range for anyone driving an electric vehicle. There are chargers near my office, my home, good local coffee shops and even a decent craft beer bar. I never go anywhere just to charge. I’m shopping, having a coffee, grabbing some dinner – every time I charge. I’ll eventually get a home charger, but I’m holding out for a Zappi, a cool charger from England, to make its way to the US. It’ll take power directly from my solar system.

UPDATE

Getting a 110-volt adapter from AC Works was a game changer. I started charging overnight at home (where I have a photovoltaic array). I started charging at work. This means I started spending even less on charging. Solar generation rates where I am are about 7 cents per kilowatt hour on average. It’s probably even less for charging overnight.

This week, Redline Electric installed a dedicated 240-volt line and outlet. This solves the problem of tripping a circuit breaker if we started pulling too much from the 110-volt circuit I’d previously used. And it’s also considerably faster. I’ll go from about 4 miles of charge per hour to around 12.

Charging Networks Matter – A Lot

Charging networks matter. Chargepoint is by far my favorite. You can start it up with a phone app, but that can be a hassle if you have a bad signal in a parking garage. I much prefer the little keyring cards. I also give serious props to Volta, which sells advertising space on its chargers to provide free charging.

driving an electric vehicle
Here’s a look at the Chargepoint smartphone app. Image from the Chargepoint website.

On the other hand, no network is as bad as BLINK. Their stations are often broken or have illegible screens. Here in Arizona, they charge by time instead of energy use, and the resulting fees are on-par with gas prices -- which is far in excess of the cost per kilowatt-hour. Even worse, BLINK has somehow weaseled their way into many government buildings and snagged exclusivity contracts. I will only use them in an emergency.

One more fun thing to note: When you’re charging on a network, you can usually view how long you’ve been plugged in and how much juice you’ve gotten through a smartphone app.

You’ll Notice Others Driving an Electric Vehicle by Their Habits

Being accustomed to driving a manual transmission, I constantly scan the traffic around me. And I notice the cars all around me that start slowing down early before traffic lights. Sure enough, when they get close enough, I notice they are EVs (usually Teslas). They take advantage of the regen. The Tesla regen is less-aggressive – to the best of my knowledge – than the Nissan, so they were carefully watching the traffic flow to start breaking early. Don’t waste those electrons.

EVs also accelerate differently. Put your foot down on the accelerator, and you’ll feel like you’re on a Japanese bullet train. But it’s more than speed: The lurch you’re used to when a regular car shifts is completely absent.

The quickness of EV acceleration has also helped me catch a few traffic lights I normally wouldn’t make – and generally without going much above the speed limit. It accelerates that much better than a gas car.

Driving an Electric Vehicle is Like a Video Game

EVs are big on giving drivers data. Mine being four years old, it lags behind the current generation. But I know exactly how many kilowatt-hours I’m using, how much I’ve regenerated and all sorts of other stuff. When I shut my motor off, I get a summary of the trip broken into average speed, current cruising range, average kilowatt-hours used and a few things I can’t remember. There’s also a neat map that gives you a range estimate, either for one-way or round trip.

driving an electric vehicle
Here’s the main infotainment console. I usually keep the energy monitor option up there.

You’ll also find that you’ll use quite a few apps for driving an electric vehicle. You’ll use them for finding charging stations, though you’ll eventually memorize all your favorites. But you can also monitor your charging status, charge to cost (which is sometimes free) and a few other odds and ends.

After Driving an Electric Vehicle, the Internal Combustion Engine Sucks

I had to rent an SUV for an out-of-town work trip. I put about 250 miles on a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Just sitting it in, the interior felt cheap and overdesigned; there was this weird cage near the center console that I can’t even begin to explain. Then there was the ICE. Noisy, slow to accelerate. Every few miles, I kept looking for a warning light that the emergency brake was one. Nope. The engine is just that crappy compared to driving an electric vehicle.

Hyundai is working its way into the EV space with a few entries, and everyone is pretty excited about the Kona. I just hope Hyundai is better at EVs than they are at ICE cars, because the Santa Fe Sport absolutely sucked. Its interior is noticeably plasticy and low-grade, and that’s coming from a guy who rarely notices that sort of thing. The RAV4 EV isn’t luxurious, but the interior is miles ahead of the Hyundai Santa Fe.

The feel of driving an EV is addicting. I can’t imagine owning an ICE car again.

Need EV Advice? Find Drivers’ Forums

People who drive electric vehicles are pretty enthusiastic, especially online. If you’re considering a particular model, join a forum for it. Read the threads, post some questions. You’ll find a lot of support. The people at the MyRAV4ev.com forum have been amazing, and I’ve seen that other boards are just as active and helpful.

Final Word: EV Tech is Already Here

Most drivers don’t realize this, but EV tech is here. It’s feasible and real. You can drive 250 miles on a charge, charge to nearly 80 percent in a half hour and keep going (you need to stop every so often to use the bathroom anyway).

Now, the car industry needs to put it together for most people to start driving an electric vehicle. My RAV4 EV needs a successor: an affordable crossover/light SUV that can go 250 miles and then suck up some electrons through a CHADEMO port and keep going a few times. It would be best to have liquid-cooled batteries, especially if you live in a hot climate. When this happens (and it’s not far away), the internal combustion’s decline will be fast and brutal.

Are there any other new EV drivers out there? What would you add to the list? I suppose you veterans of driving an electric vehicle can also comment. Let’s hear it!