Getting Older

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It’s funny how much we dream about growing up as kids, only to then wish we would stop aging as adults. Toys R Us used to tell us that we shouldn’t want to grow up, and the stuck for a little while, but not for long. There are just too many benefits to being an adult! I like to think of cars in the same way. They get older, and show their age, sometimes well and sometimes not. I still remember my ’81 Honda Civic. I’d probably still be driving it I could, probably would have turned it into an electric car!

There’s no need for any electric car conversions anymore, thankfully. I like to refer to them as EVs (electric vehicles). I’ve been driving them for several years now and I’m never going back to gas, at least for my personal car. As amazing as they are, EVs do have potential issues as with any car. The main and most important one is the battery pack, which operates like a gas tank.

Maintenance and refueling is much cheaper in EVs, but if you end up having to replace the battery it can cost several thousands of dollars. Thankfully there are warranties that cover the batteries in case they fail or have unintended problems. But after several years of use, eventually the batteries will need to be replaced and that is going to cost something.

The photo up above is taken from my used 2013 Nissan LEAF, showing my mileage and my battery range. In the photo, my car has 76% charge. This is also expressed on the bars on the right of the photo, the long rectangular bars that hug the range estimator at 52 miles. What’s important for this discussion are the bars on the right of those, what we LEAFers “capacity bars.”

These bars in the Nissan LEAF tell the owner how the battery is aging. The LEAF, as with most EVs, have two batteries. A traditional 12volt battery powers most of the electronics in the car while the traction battery handles the action motion. The traction battery is actually made up of many small batteries similar to AA batteries. As the packs are used and recharged, the life of the traction battery is affected. On my car, you can see from the picture that I have lost one bar. I should have 12 bars total, instead of the 11 I currently have.

This means that I have less range than when the car was brand new. I’d guess at a full charge I have somewhere around 70 miles, down from 84 when the car was new. That’s a significant drop in miles, though should I lose another capacity bar, the range will not drop as much. That’s because the first bar represents much more of the capacity then the other bars.

If you have a new EV or bought a used one recently, here’s a few things you should know:

  • Never leave the battery at 100% for more than 3 hours or so as the battery will degrade faster if it sits at a full charge. Instead, charge to 80% or leave the car at a low-ish charge if you aren’t going to use it for a while.
  • Heat is bad for the battery. Try not to charge the car in extreme temperatures. For the LEAF, don’t charge if the battery temperature indicator is 7 bars.
  • Try to charge before the car gets into a low power state. To be safe, try not to get an EV lower than 20% charge regularly.

Automakers have different ways to deal with heat. For example, Ford uses liquid cooling for their Ford Focus EV. Nissan decided to not use any kind of cooling technology in order to save money. Instead, the automaker has relied on developing heat-resistant batteries.

The current LEAF battery pack is supposed to be very good in hot climates thanks to the chemistry they use. That’s good news for people who live in those areas. However, heating up the battery isn’t great, which is more likely to happen with rapid charging or by leaving the car outside during a hot day for a long time.

The other day, I noticed something surprising, my mom’s LEAF lost a capacity bar! It was surprising to me since she only has about 15k miles on the car and it’s a 2016 model. I think the culprit is bullet point one, leaving the car topped up at 100% for too long.

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When the original 2011 Nissan LEAF became available, Nissan told customers how to charge the car. The basic advice was to only charge to 100% when needed and stick to charge to 80% most of the time. This was believed to help keep the battery healthy and make it last longer. In my car, I can set it to only charge to 80% or to 100% if I want to. However, this feature was eliminated in the 2014 model year in order to boost the EPA estimated range of the car. (A few other small features were removed in the 2013 model year, sadly).

Now most customers are told not to worry about charging to 100% regularly. While the newer batteries in the LEAF can probably be charged to 100% frequently, they shouldn’t stay at that percentage for many hours. It’s a good thing Mom’s LEAF is a leased car, so she probably wont be keeping it at the end of the lease.

Even if you have an EV that doesn’t have an easy option to stop charging, it’s obvious that you can still unplug the car before it reaches a full charge. That might be a pain in the but, but some automakers allow you to stop charging by the push of a button on a smart phone app. And most EVs that I know of have no easy way to tell you how healthy the traction battery is, unlike the LEAF.

Overall, I’m happy with the direction Nissan has gone with EVs. I think it would be great if the automaker put the 80% charge option back into the cars, but it won’t stop me from sticking with Nissan, at least until I can afford a Tesla (though I’ll probably end up with both).

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Why Not Buy a Used Electric Car?

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This Photo Picked with Mark Mushakian in Mind

The first electric car I got to drive was the 2011 Nissan LEAF. I was an early adopter and it’s hard to believe that was around 6 years ago. I reserved one for $100, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to convince my mom to help me get it. $100 didn’t seem like a risk and I could get the money back anytime I wanted. Well, we ended up getting it, and I drove that car a lot! I let mom drive it sometimes since at the time gas was expensive and she had a Honda CR-V.

Now I’m driving a 2014 Ford Focus Electric car. While I like the Ford, I’m likely to go back to a LEAF for my next car. In fact, I listed the car on swapalese.com to see if someone wants to take it off my hands. It’s mainly an effort to save money, and I rarely drive these days but also, I miss driving the LEAF.

The Ford Focus EV is a fun car to drive, and its great on the freeway with all the extra power you get versus other electric cars, but Ford put the battery in the trunk. That means you lose a lot of storage space. Nissan puts their battery under the seats. It’s a better design, but in Ford’s defense, the Focus wasn’t originally designed to be an electric vehicle (EV).

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My 2014 Ford Focus Electric

Now that electric cars have been on the road for about 5 years, their popularity is steadily increasing. While gas prices have come down, electricity is still far cheaper, especially in California. If you’re in the market for a new car, you might want to consider a used Nissan LEAF or other EV. I’ve seen several LEAFs on Carmax for around $10,000. Used EVs from other automakers are also pretty low-cost right now. However, used Teslas are still pretty expensive, guess I won’t be getting one any time soon. 😉

I’m excited that there’s going to be a more affordable Tesla coming out next year. I won’t be reserving one, since I’m planning on taking mom’s 2013 LEAF when the lease is up. Still, someday I’d like to support Tesla, because the company is thinking outside of the box. After all, buying a Tesla is not like buying a regular car. No haggling, no pressure, just like buying anything else.

Buying a used EV is a little risky since no one knows quite what to expect. EVs technically are more reliable than gasoline cars because there are fewer parts that can break down and electric motors last a long time. The most expensive part is the battery, but prices on batteries are likely to reduce over time. It’s all about mass-production. However, if you need a second car for driving to work or around town on errands, a used EV might be perfect for you.

$10,000 is not bad for a used car and with a sizeable down payment, financing one is easy. Even if the battery needs to replaced at some point, that should be after several years. Then, in the case of the Nissan LEAF, it’s only about $6,500 for the new battery assuming the price stays the same. Who knows, it might be possible to buy a batter with better range too. With an EV, there’s a nice savings on maintenance and fuels costs, plus there’s no need to visit the gas station.

Even if it’s going to be your only car, EVs can still fit the need for most drivers. And with the next generation of cars likely to have a range of around 200 miles per charge, more and more people might make the switch. After all, if all you care about is having something reliable for every day driving, electric cars just make sense.

Driving A Nissan LEAF

Driving a Nissan LEAF is much like driving any other car. I can listen to the radio or my iPhone while I drive. I tend to prefer the iPhone as it has all my music on it. Sometimes I like to drive without music, so I can listen to the electric motor. It sounds very much like a jet plane taking off when I accelerate! My car’s nickname is Jet Blue. I love my electric car!

LEAF stands for: Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Available, Family Car. It’s the first mass marketed 100% electric car. GM has the Volt, which I call a plug-in hybrid, because it uses both electricity and gasoline to power the car. Unlike most hybrids, the plug-in hybrid allows you to use only electricity for a short period of time before the gas kicks in. I do support these kind of cars, but the pure EV is what I prefer. That’s why I chose the LEAF over the Volt.

It is clear that the advantages of electric cars are quite attractive:

  • No more gas, ever. Switching from gasoline to electricity is not only better for the environment, but better for the pocket book. I spent about $20 driving my LEAF last month. That’s a little more than half the amount of money I spent on gas when I had a Prius! As gas becomes more expensive, people are going to look for cars that are more fuel efficient. EVs can’t be beat when it comes to energy efficiency.
  • Lower cost maintenance. Evs don’t need oil changes, oil filter replacement, spark plugs, and other parts that are involved with the internal combustion engine. There are still things such as brake checks, but electric motors have less moving parts and that means less things that can go wrong. Maintenance costs generally go up for gasoline cars as they age, but this is not the case with EVs.
  • 100% Torque From the Start. The Nissan LEAF accelerates from 0 to 40 MPG in about 3 seconds. That’s pretty good for a small sedan. EVs don’t need to warm up like an engine does.

Right now, EVs have a few disadvantages. The two main ones are range and charging time. Both of these disadvantages can be mitigated. For example, most EV owners charge their cars at night. All of my charging occurs while I sleep at night and I never use public charging simply because I don’t need to. The second point is that EVs have a limited range. Most people drive less than 50 miles a day. 100 miles is fine for most drivers. In the near future, charging times will get better and range will improve.

Finally, the cost of EVs right now are higher than small gasoline powered sedans. However, costs will go down as more and more cars enter the market. This year, Nissan will began to build the LEAF in Tennessee along with the batteries for the car. The plant will be able to build 100,000s of cars a year when it reaches full capacity. Nissan is really making an effort to help the electric car industry. I hope this effort proves fruitful.

It’s also important to point out that there are tax incentives, both federal and some offered by states, that reduce the cost of the car. Leasing a Nissan Leaf will save you $7,500, since Nissan can claim the tax incentive from the government since they will own the car for the duration of the lease. With these incentives, the cost of the car is more inline with a Prius, for example. The LEAF costs around $30,000 without the incentives.