Life with a used Nissan Leaf: Cold weather arrives

Nissan Leaf photo
CC BY 2.0 Sami Grover

Earlier this month, I wrote about my experiences buying a used Nissan Leaf. My wife and I have now both had a bit more time to rack up some miles, and have also gotten around to installing a dedicated charging point. So I thought it was about time for an update.

Range depends on how you drive
Given the laws of physics, it should be fairly obvious that how you drive will impact how far you can travel. That's true of any vehicle. But given the relatively short range of a battery electric vehicle like the Leaf, and given the prominent and tangible way that it translates battery charge into an estimated range of miles, this fact is a lot harder to ignore in the Leaf.

I have noticed when I get in the car—even when the battery is fully charged—there can be a significant difference in estimated range, with the Leaf's "guessometer" (as it has been sarcastically dubbed by some drivers) giving the total as anywhere from 65 to 83 miles depending on who last drove it, and whether it was driven on the highway or in-town. That's because (allegedly) I tend to drive like a grandma, whereas my wife "has places to be," or so she tells me.

I share this not to make any marital feuds public, but to remind folks that if they are considering an electric vehicle purchase, the current crop of (affordable) electric vehicles are much better suited to in-town driving by folks who do not have a lead foot. If you're uncomfortable driving on the highway at 65 miles per hour, and/or regularly drive more than 60 miles in a day—especially in highway miles—you might want to wait for the next generation.

Cold weather does have an impact
Yesterday morning was cold, by North Carolina standards. And lo and behold, despite a full charge, the range indicator was hovering around 64 miles when my better half got in—leading to a concerned phone call and much speculation about whether she could get where she needed to go. It turned out she had more than enough range in the end—getting home with 40 miles still left and a batter still half full—but given the relative newness of the car to us, there's still some understandable nervousness around how far you can actually go. Typically, in the slghtly-above-zero temperatures we've had this last week, I've seen somewhere around an 6 to 8 mile difference in estimated range if I turn the heater on or off.

The other factor of the colder weather, which I had not necessarily expected given reports of a wimpy space heater and its impact on range, is that driving the Leaf in the cold is actually quite cozy—at least compared to my clunky old Toyota Corolla. That's mostly because Nissan have tried to limit the need to crank the heating by providing little creature comforts like a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, actually prompting a little bit of squabbling about who is going to get the Leaf when the weather turns really cold. We'll see if that conflict still arises when it gets chilly enough to need the space heater—but for now, except for the slight uptick in range anxiety, I've been pleasantly surprised at the cold weather experience.

clipper creek charging point photoSami Grover/CC BY 2.0

Installing a charging point
One of the most common questions from friends and family about the car has been this: Where do you charge it and how long does it take? Many people are still unaware that you can charge from a regular wall outlet overnight. That's what we did for the first month. If you ignore the snaking extension cord we had running across our lawn, this worked fine for us—never once getting to a point where we had to be somewhere and had no charge. (Remember, this is our second car—we still have the regular gas burning car as backup.) For many folks who don't travel long distances and/or do have a second car as back up, I suspect you could get away with trickle charging without too much inconvenience—especially if you have a driveway or garage where you can park near a convenient wall outlet.

Eventually for us, however, we decided that for us it was time to install a Level 2 charger. These can take the battery from empty to full in about four hours (as opposed to overnight trickle charging from a regular outlet). There are times where someome has to take the car all day, and then we need to do an airport run or other errand in the evening. And I also confess that I found the ritual of digging out the charging cord and extension, and plugging in, kind of a pain in the ass at the end of the day. The option of topping up in an hour or two gives me an awful lot of peace of mind. Having considered all the fancy high-end charge points that include wi-fi connectivity and other bells and whistles (the Chargepoint Home did tempt me for a while), I listened to a friend's simple question: This is basically a power cord. Why do you need it wi-fi enabled?

He was right. The Leaf itself comes with a charge timer—so I can still plug it in and set it to charge later in the evening if I want to be conscientious to Duke Energy (utilities prefer you charge during off-peak hours, and some will even give you cheaper rates for doing so). And for folks shelling out a bit more money, the more expensive versions of the Leaf come with remote connectivity anyway. Considering that I would have needed to boost my wi-fi signal to even get it to reach the charge point, I decided to go with the simple, slightly cheaper and reportedly very robust Clipper Creek HCS-40 for a cost of $565.

Installation was not exactly cheap, coming out at $1,100. But given that I have heard of install costs as high as $1,500 to $2,000, it felt like a reasonable price—especially given that the job included a none-too-easy trenching job through my no-dig garden (sorry soil microbes!) and across my driveway. They even threw in a nice looking fence post to mount it on. Installation took a couple of guys (plus their grandsons doing the trenching) 3 to 4 hours. And now we basically have a filling station in our backyard!

Above all else, I can continue to report that the driving experience has been quite delightful—linear acceleration, instant torque, no engine noise—all the things that EV nuts enthuse about I can whole heartedly confirm. In fact, I have come to really dislike driving our gas car now (a 2010 Mazda 5), which feels clunky and old fashioned by comparison.

That's all I have to report for now. I'll be checking back in once the weather turns truly cold. As always, post any questions or comments you'd like me to address below.

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles

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