From an objective viewpoint, I could see their concern. Why would someone consider trading a gas car for a 2013 Nissan LEAF with a max range of around 70 miles? The thing is, once I had been behind the wheel of an EV, no amount of “rational” thought could change my mind. To understand why I feel this strongly, we need to back the story up a few years.
In the summer of 2017, I was the first person to join an EV car share program at my company. I had always been interested in driving electric, but cars are a big investment, and I was not ready to risk reliable transportation for an experiment. Moreover, I lived 33 miles away from work: could I make a long distance commute with an EV? Will charging work at my home? I was not a risk taker by nature, and I had some serious questions, but I felt compelled to take my chance.
I’ll not soon forget the first day I drove the white LEAF named “Allie” Home. Even though I was aware that EVs didn’t make noise when powered on, it still took me a few minutes to get used to the shock. And when I pressed my foot to the peddle, the instant acceleration pushed my whole body back into the seat. This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. This is what driving was supposed to feel like.
When the program ended in July of 2019, I resumed driving my 2002 Honda Civic, which was beginning to fall apart on me. The smell of burning oil was oppressive. The leaking radiator was a source of worry. I had to stop at gas stations to fill up two times a week. After driving an EV, I was extra bothered by everything related to an internal combustion engine. The desire for a smooth, quiet ride was burning inside of me worse than the oil that was burning in my Honda Civic. I HAD to get back into an electric car! I scoured online car websites looking for liberation.
Since I couldn’t afford a new car, I was looking to balance the car payments for an EV with the amount I would save in gas. The older LEAF models seemed to be in a sweet spot. They had a lower max range, which scared away potential converts, and a divisive body style, which pushed away some EV enthusiasts. This made them more affordable than most of the other EVs out there. After about a month of searching, I managed to find a 2013 Nissan LEAF under 37,000 miles being sold by a college student for $5,500.
The LEAF was located in a small town around 153 miles away from me. I knew this car would not make it home on a single charge and that it only had level 2 charging capabilities. All that was fine for daily use since I would not be taking it on any road trips. And, I had set up transportation for the car to be brought to me. I only had to meet up with the sellers, test drive it, and then have it carried away.
But the day before, my transportation fell through
All other options for moving the LEAF were cost prohibitive on short notice, and if I couldn’t get the car, another buyer was already lined up.
When I started researching EVs, I came across an app called PlugShare, which helps drivers locate chargers on the road. It also has a rating system for charger reliability, and shows if internet-connected chargers are occupied. After playing with the app for an hour, I resolved that I would officially bond with my EV over a road trip… A SLOW road trip.
Leg One: The Journey Begins!
Starting charge: 88%
Ending charge: 22%
After the test drive, I had 88% energy left. Since I did not have time to perform a battery capacity test, I had no idea if the car would get a full 70 miles. My first stop was 51.5 miles away, directly on my route home, and was free. It also had great reliability reviews on PlugShare. Now, I just had to get there. With a little trepidation, I grabbed the steering wheel, lightly pressed my foot to the pedal, and was off.
During the trip, I was fixated on my battery percentage. Not only did the LEAF need to make it but I needed to set a baseline on how far it could go without any additional features draining the battery. To maximize the range, I used AC as little as possible, and drove a consistent 5 MPH under the speed limit. I had to perform a lot of math in my head along the way to make sure my energy usage was sufficient for the distance remaining. Once I realized I was getting great mileage, relief washed over me. Eventually, I pulled in at the charger, like it was a precious oasis in the desert. I had 22% left and the battery appeared to be in great condition for its age.
My initial joy was a bit overshadowed, however, by the first downside of the trip. Because this model of LEAF did not have a fast charging port, I needed to sit and wait while the level 2 charger worked its slow magic. I also learned that I could not have the engine on while charging the car. I grabbed my iPad, phone, and video game system, and parked myself on the concrete to make the most of my alone time. After about 2.5 hours of charging, the LEAF had 82%. Now that I had an idea of its energy usage, I felt confident enough to embark on the second leg of this journey.
Leg Two: The Trial Continues
Starting charge: 82%
Ending charge: 19%
I pulled into the second destination, which was 48.5 miles away, with 19% left in my battery. It was an outlet mall with plenty of options for resting, eating and shopping, which was a welcomed change from a closed medical center with a concrete sidewalk. This EVGo charger was also the first and only charger on this journey that required payment. This network has an app that would show how much energy I was receiving and the cost per minute while plugged in. Charging was slower this time; it took me around three hours to get my car up to 80% where as earlier it took around 2.5 hours. While I wanted a larger energy buffer, I still had one more stop and needed to get a move on. This next leg would be the biggest test yet, and I was prepared to make some sacrifices to preserve battery and get on the road.
Leg Three: Can I Make It?
Starting charge: 80%
Ending charge: 13%
This third stop was around 53 miles away. I had less charge than when my last trip began, and had four more miles to go. There are also some big hills between north Georgia and Chattanooga. Not knowing how much the hills would impact my trip, I was stringent with my driving. Even though it was 86℉ and sunny when I got in the car, I did not run any AC at all. I also drove around 10 MPH under the speed limit the entire time. I could see the energy ticking away and I truly was not sure if I would make it. Now this was range anxiety! When I finally pulled into the parking garage of my workplace, I had 13% left. Without the sacrifices I made during the trip, I may not have made it.
From the time I met up with the seller at 10:30 AM to when I pulled into my garage at home, my trip of 153 miles took just under 14 hours. Though I had a range of feelings throughout the day, one kept coming back: now that the LEAF was in my garage, I had achieved something that none of my friends or family had ever done. I made a long distance trip in an EV.
No one would envy the time it took to get home, but like life, the best lessons are not learned at the end, but along the journey.
As my trip came to a close, I was reminded of something from my past. My brain likes to relate experiences as if they were Sci-fi or Fantasy stories. I had been a Star Trek fan for many years, and got sucked into the show “Voyager.” Essentially, a captain took command of a new, unfamiliar starship, the crew got sucked into a wormhole in space, and the rest of the series focused on getting Voyager and the crew back home to Earth. If I am allowed to indulge in some whimsy, it is this: I too took a long journey that involved stopping at places I had never been. I traveled in a vehicle I didn’t know. I was forced to rely on technology that was foreign to me in order to get home. In honor of this day and all I had experienced, I decided to name my car “Voyager.” The future is bright and ready for many uncharted adventures powered by batteries. While EVs are not starships, they are still pretty cool.
In honor of this day and all I had experienced, I decided to name my car “Voyager.”
So, was it absurd to trade my gas powered car for an EV? Maybe. But if absurdity means driving a car I love toward a future I believe in, then I hope I never change.
Adam Collins is a fiber systems engineer, eternal optimist, and lover of all things nerdy. He is lives in Cleveland, Tennessee with his wife, daughter, Schnauzer, and, of course, Nissan LEAF.