In 1998 I acquired a Honda Civic called Sophie. She was a wonderful car, taking me many places: Watsonville, CA; Paducah, KY; Murfreesboro, TN; Hammonton, NJ; Gainesville, FL. We repaired her many times and never thought we would ever need another car. “Man,” I said one time. “I hope we can just keep repairing this car forever.”
Then a deer tried to kill me and we had to give Sophie up to the nice people at the insurance company. Suddenly in need of motorized transportation, I began to explore my options.
“Dear husband,” my wife said during the process, “behold this promotional information from our local electrical company.” She forwarded me an electronic-mail communiqué about a subsidy offer on the cost of an all-new 2016 Nissan LEAF electronic motor carriage.
“I do not think that will suit our many needs, dear wife,” I said. “Thank you for the information, but I would hate to be constrained by the myriad limitations such a transport package requires.” I began looking into used hybrid vehicles.
Then I reconsidered, as my hyperactive brain is wont to do. I realized that 90% of our automotive needs revolve around my daily 20-mile commute to and from the nearby town where I teach. How ever would we take road trips? I wondered. We were under some pressure — the electric company offer was set to expire in less than a week, and the insurance company was eager to snatch up Sophie’s remains. We made lists of pros and cons.
As I pondered, I was invited to join a Facebook group of LEAF owners. I was told I didn’t need to be an actual owner to join, so I did. I inquired about some details, perused the several-years-old Consumer Reports Buying Guides we had lying about, and finally decided to do the environmentally-proper thing.
Imagine never having to buy gas again. Imagine never needing another oil change. Then I realized we didn’t need to buy — in fact, I learned that 75% of those who drive electric vehicles (or EVs, as they are known) lease instead, due to rapidly improving technology. So I arranged for a test drive (it felt exactly like every other car I’ve ever driven), and then said “Okay, let’s do it.” So we did it.
One Story Ends, Another Begins
On my way to swap Sophie for the new car, I realized this was my last chance to play music through Sophie’s system. I put on a mix of very loud hip-hop (Public Enemy, Jedi Mind Tricks, Wu-Tang Clan) and turned the volume all the way to its maximum setting. I expected the speakers to explode or distort horribly, but nothing happened. And by “nothing”, I mean “the awesome music came out real loud”.
At school on the day of the lease signing, I realized I needed to play some appropriate music. Panicked, I checked my iPod Touch to see what I had. I was delighted to find “Electric Avenue” by dub-rock superstar Eddy Grant. “That’s it,” I said to my next-door-teaching neighbor. “His name shall be Eddy.”
I spent two hours at the dealership waiting around and signing paperwork, and then I drove out of the lot blasting “Electric Avenue”. It was a sonically perfect moment. When I got it home, I told my wife about the vehicle’s name. “Niels,” she said. “His name is Niels, like Niels Bohr.”
“No,” I said. “It’s Eddy, like Eddy Grant.” We settled on Niels for a middle name, and then I added “von Yectinbach” because of an awesome name I used once in a short story.
The car came with a standard-looking extension cord for what’s called “trickle charging”: slow electricity from a standard outlet. It can take the car from empty to full in 20 hours. Most days I came home from school, plugged the car in, and it was 85% filled in the morning.
Things got a little tricky when I had to do errands, or we went out in the evening — these things not only consumed more juice, but they cut down on the time allowed for trickle charging. I read stories about people who lost power on the road, and found themselves crawling toward a charger in “Turtle Mode”, a maximum of 5 MPH.
Fortunately, we located and acquired an alternative, in the form of a Clipper Creek HCS-40 EVSE 240V Level 2 EV Charging Station. Similar to the public chargers found in cities across the country, this baby allows us to go from empty to full in a mere four hours. (By the way, anyone looking to have electrical work done in the Madison area should contact Scott Kiel. He is friendly, quick, and professional.)
Even better, there are Level 3 chargers in some spots (including one in Madison and another in Sun Prairie, where I teach) that can fill an EV 80% full in just 30 minutes. (They’re expensive, tho.)
In the future, removable batteries will make life even easier for EV drivers like me. As it is, road trips aren’t really on the horizon. Our car has a range of 115 miles, so I don’t ever plan to take it more than 50 miles from home.
Heat and AC also affect range; as soon as I press the climate control button, the “Distance Remaining” gauge drops 10 miles or so. This isn’t a big deal for me, since I own a good coat and nice gloves. (I never really put Sophie’s heat on more than one notch anyway, except for a few times in the worst bits of February.)
Not Really Mine
The lease aspect has actually given me more pause than the electric part. I’m not used to driving a car that is technically owned by someone else. (This is a profound reflection of my middle-class privilege, I suppose.) I was nervous about applying bumper stickers, because they are sure to have an impact on the residual value. (This is estimated at the start of the lease period, and I pay the difference between the sticker price and the value of the car at the end of three years. Less the electric company subsidy, of course.)
Eventually I threw caution into the wind and bought three cool stickers from Northern Sun, my long-time go-to shop for leftist propaganda. I also found a wicked Public Enemy decal online, and popped it on the rear window. (The cool side effect is the awesome shadow it casts on the back seat.)
Eddy is perfect for us. The back area is a little too small to put Diane’s bike in (as I had hoped to do), but attaching the rack is easy, so it’s no different from Sophie in that respect. With the Level 2 charger I have no more range anxiety whatsoever. Even if I were to drain the battery, I can plug it in at night and it’ll be full in the morning, every time.
The other nice thing is the on-board computer, which recognizes my phone and starts playing music automatically. No more fiddling with aux cables. Hooray! (When I used an aux cord with Sophie, I had to constantly adjust the volume once I returned to headphones.)
Unfortunately, the dealership people didn’t activate something called the TCU, which allows me to connect Eddy to the Nissan App on my phone. As a result I spent several hours trying to sync it up, only to hear from the Nissan Tech Support guy that I needed to make an appointment with the dealer to get it sorted. Apparently it’s a process that takes five minutes, but the guy I spoke to said they wouldn’t have any openings after 4:00 until the end of December.
It doesn’t really matter, because the only reason I want app functionality in the first place is to start the car up in the morning while I’m still inside, and let it warm up while it’s plugged in. On the other hand, I heard recently that the Nissan App is woefully vulnerable to hacking, so maybe I should just leave the TCU unconnected. (Some of the news reports I’ve seen about people hacking into internet-linked cars are distressing. Cars just stop in the middle of the road and stuff.)
All in all, I could not be happier with Eddy. He’s a great lil’ guy, and he even has silly luxuries like seat warmers and a heated steering wheel. He’s kinda bulky, and I can’t wonder how much more efficient he would be if he were smaller. But he’s got really good pickup, and the keyless entry is more enjoyable than I ever expected. (I keep thinking about how nice it would be to abandon ancient mechanistic devices for other locks.)
Plus, we’re going to install solar panels on our roof someday soon. Then — as my lovely wife says — when I drive, I will be “farting out rainbows”. What a time to be alive!