Experiences driving an EV22 Jan 2021
In January my partner and I bought an EV. At the time it was predicated on several things:
- In december our car was due for it’s MOT. We both knew it was likely to fail without some serious work, and it was already a 10-13 year old car, so would likely be more than the value of the car.
- We’re about the right age and financial position to stop buying crappy £500 cars and start buying cars that could last us slightly longer
- Neither of us really liked the idea of buying a “nice” petrol/diesel car because we want to help with the move away from climate change.
On the other hand, though:
- EVs are expensive to buy in full
- We live in a flat so expected to depend heavily on local charging infrastructure
- We’d done a calculation the year before into how long it would take before you get the pay off and with everything involved (insurance, paying for charges, etc) it didn’t originally seem like a good bet.
The real kicker was the MOT so we did our research and finally made the jump. I’ve tweeted and spoken a lot about driving an EV in the last year, so this can be considered my uber guide to how it’s going. I think it’s important to note this is an honest account, and my ownership of it is a bit niche. Take it with a pinch of sugar - I’m expecting most of the issues I have will disappear once I get my home charger.
Our car is a 2014 Nissan Leaf acenta. What that means in real terms is that we probably average around 80 miles of range on a full battery, averaged across the whole year. In summer it can last us up to probably 100, maybe a little more, in winter, it’s probably more like 65-70.
Things that affect range:
- How fast you are travelling! If you go at 90, your range will deteriorate rapidly. If you crawl along at 30, you’ll get much further. If you accelerate slowly and pay attention to how much power you’re using, you can make your range stretch further than what the car thinks you’re capable of. The range calculation is based on how well you drove it the last time you took it out, so if you tried to stretch it it will be higher, didn’t care and it will be lower.
- Hills, road quality, tyre pressure. Having this range constraint really makes you notice how hilly our roads are, and how a journey one way may take more energy than coming the opposite way.
- Temperature. Like I said, our range drops drastically in winter and goes up in summer. Since everything in the car is powered by the battery, this isn’t just the outside temperature - if you need to turn the heating on and it’s 1deg outside, it takes a good chunk of power for the car to heat up. Likewise defogging the windows which seems to need to be done a lot on our model. In other seasons when the temperature doesn’t plummet so much, heating costs less range. The worst I’ve probably seen it affect range is 9 miles less, the best is probably a mile or less. Do your research - the 2011 model of the nissan leaf is far worse for heating destroying range than the 2014 model.
How do you charge your car in a flat?
I could honestly go on all day about charging infrastructure and how much of a pain it is to low range EVs, but this is chiefly because our charging set up is…doable but bad.
When we first brought the car home on around the 3rd of January 2020, my partner took our long extension lead and dangled it out of our third floor bedroom window, by unwinding it all and then slowly lowering the power end to the ground. Our parking space is right next to our window, so we plug the 3 pin power plug that comes with the car into that.
I said “ok, but that’s only for emergencies”…a year later and this is our main form of charging it up. We typically use it a lot less in winter and get caught short more times as a result, since this is all dependent on leaving a window open overnight when it’s freezing cold, and our flat doesn’t keep the heat in with the window closed.
Over the summer we had a memorable experience of finally arriving at a charger with 0% battery, because this system broke - some builders had thrown the cables down onto the ground, the plug head broke off and though we teetered on with the pins barely holding onto the plug, one day I unplugged it and one of the pins was left in the plug socket. What followed was a day of house viewings which means a lot of driving, with one of the final viewings being in Biggleswade which for some reason does not have a rapid chademo charger.
“Why can’t you install one?” - typically chargers are installed on houses where your electricity (and yours alone) is accessible from the outside of your house, and you own the house. We live in a leasehold 3rd floor flat, so here’s problem number 1.
“What about lamp post charging infrastructure?” I have yet to see this materialise anywhere in the UK. Even if it did, to use a lamp post charger we’d need to get a permit, which the council would be hesitant to give us one as we already have parking available with the flat.
“Couldn’t your landlord get one installed?” leasehold means that the ground outside is owned by the leaseholder, and thus your landlord has limited power. In order to install one, you’d likely need agreement from all of the landlords in the block and the leaseholder, and somehow convince people to chip in for it to be installed. It would also likely need to be a somewhat public charger rather than plummed directly into our flat’s electrics which would probably be a pain to arrange.
It’s this sort of issue I would love to see local councils or the department for transport work to address. Charging at home is just so much more convenient and makes it so that your car can be ready for you the moment you need it.
What happens when you run out of charge / have you ever ran out of charge completely?
We actually managed to get to January 2021 before we ran out completely and were not at a charger at the time. This was due to 2 broken chargers on the way back home, with no more chargers following the broken ones until we reached home.
It turns out what happens when you run out of charge is nothing happens when you press the accelerator. This is not the same on all EVs and out of charge actually still should leave you with a bit of juice in the battery to ensure the life of it, which I believe you can activate if you twist the correct lever on the car (which we didn’t figure out at the time).
“So, what do you do?” Well, you can’t take a jiffy can to the fuel station and pick up just a bit. You can’t tow it, because this might damage the car’s motor. So your breakdown company should either bring you a generator, or put your car on a low loader and take it to home or the nearest charger, whichever is more doable. If you happen to be near a house at the time and have an extension lead and your 3 pin plug, you can also knock on a door and hope they’ll help you out, which is what we did :)
Going the distance
As I mentioned, range is variable depending on a number of factors, and to ICE car drivers, it will look dauntingly low. I remember turning up at my parents house and proclaiming that I had 18 miles to spare, proudly, and my family looking at me a little strange.
As the year has gone on we’ve got more and more trusting of our car’s range, and in summer we’ve typically allowed ourselves to go down to 5-9 miles range (about the time where the car starts to tell us we’re on very low charge) before feeling it was time to charge.
How we plan for this very much depends on the journey, but pretty much all of them involve getting in the car, checking the range against the distance on google maps, and making some decisions:
- Is there and back fully in range? If not, but we only need to go say 5-6 miles further than our range says we can make, then we can probably make it by going slowly, but we’ll look into charging infrastructure somewhere along the route if it’s above that, or if it’s close to that threshold in case.
- Are there chargers at the other end? If we’re in range for one way but not the other, and there are chargers (meaning more than one, in case it’s broken!), then this is totally fine. If not, we’ll look into the options along the route and make a stop.
Typically both of us are going, so there’s not usually a need to plan more extensively than eyeballing PlugShare, which is the main app for seeing where the EV chargers are. If I’m travelling alone and going on a long distance (well past my car’s range), I will typically:
- Have a minimum charge in mind before I stop. This is the amount of wiggle room I want to have in case the charger I’m aiming for does not work or has a queue.
- I’ll start a journey on google maps, look for my starting distance which is whatever my car reckons my range is minus that wiggle room, then find that point on PlugShare. There’s a high chance (particularly for M1 driving) that there will be a charger somewhere around that point.
- I will look up a conservative, medium and “squeaky bum” charger and add those points to my route on google maps. Typically when driving, I’ll get to the conservative point and I still have enough range to keep going. If I get to the medium point and the next charger is within range or slightly above, I can probably chance it by slowing down a heck of a lot and making use of my car’s power indicators.
Moving slowly is better than not moving at all
I mentioned that one of the reasons I have wiggle room charge is in case there’s a queue. If there’s a car at a charger, I don’t know how long they’re going to want to take - it could be anything from “just juicing it up a bit to make it the last couple of miles” in which case it will be minutes, to using the max amount which is more like 45 minutes. There will usually be another charger nearby within range, so we are better off moving on than waiting around for them to finish if we can.
Something else to note is that EVs will charge up to 80% in 20 minutes and the final 20% takes another 20 minutes because science. This means that any calculations beyond the initial charging stop should assume you’re charging to 80% not 100%, because you could be spending that 20 minutes moving a few miles further on.
The cases I’m discussing here are edge cases, and the vast majority of our journeys are fun despite some of the sacrifices. Here are some things I think are great about making the switch:
- They’re fun to drive. Not having the clutch makes it easier to get a handle on. I remember with ICE cars the biting point is different in a lot of cars, so every car I bought took some adjustment. Also there’s a mode on every car where you can have 100% torque when you hit the accelerator, whether you drive a tesla or not.
- They’re quiet. Aside from this generally making it more enjoyable to drive, I’ve been told less noise means less cognitive load, which means you don’t get tired as quickly as in an ICE car.
- The speed vs range element I think can make people drive more safely and slowly. It also makes you more considerate of how much power you’re using and whether there’s anything you can do to improve it, which is not something I ever would have really considered in an ICE car to be honest.
- They’re cheaper to run, both in terms of the fuel costs and in terms of maintenance. The only thing that’s had to be fixed during the year is the flap on the front got a little rusty, and when it came to my MOT I just needed to get the wipers replaced. Previous years have been a big chunk of the cost of the car every time the MOT was due, which is partially down to buying shitty cars but I digress.
- They’re a gateway to thinking about renewable energy. When we buy a house we’ll be getting solar panels so that most of our car’s energy will be directly controlled by us, and probably a car to grid charger which allows you to fill up on cheap renewable energy which you can then sell back to the grid when other homes need it and when you can make a profit from it.
All in all…
I talk a lot about EVs in an honest way because I know very few people who own one. I can probably count them on one hand. If you don’t know anyone who owns one, you don’t have any experiences to read or people to ask, so you may assume it’s impossible for you to make the switch. I’m here to advocate because I’ve enjoyed this journey and it suits my lifestyle, but I acknowledge that some people will not be able to make it.