The First Question People Ask About An Electric Car Is…

by Steve Hanley

Published on 31 October 2018

The First Question People Ask About An Electric Car Is…

In the three months since I bought my 2015 Nissan LEAF, I have introduced it to several friends and neighbors. To date, in my admittedly unscientific survey, the first question they ask is, “How long does the battery last?” Not some, not quite a few, everyone I have taken for a ride in the car has asked that question.

They usually follow that up by explaining they have to replace the battery in their cell phone on a regular basis, so they assume the same is true of the battery in an electric car. Only when we get past the “How long does the battery last?” question do we get to things like range, charging time, and regenerative braking.

That question highlights one of the barriers to electric car adoption that manufacturers are doing too little to address. If the typical customer is concerned about spending thousands of dollars every few years to purchase a new battery, that simple fact is going to make him or her skittish about jumping on the EV bandwagon. Similarly, most people considering the purchase of a used EV are going have similar concerns.

Most EV advocates have moved passed such basic concerns. Tales of people replacing batteries are not prevalent on the internet. I confess I have given the idea little thought. Nissan warranties the battery in my car for 8 years, so I have 5 years before I even need to start thinking about replacing it.

With the low demands I put on the car — less than 2,000 miles in the three months since I bought it — I feel pretty confident the car will give me 10 years of faithful service. That works out to about $1,000 a year based on what I paid for it. Even if I have to junk the car then, I’m still going to be money ahead compared to a conventional car with a gas or diesel engine. Why worry about things that may or may not ever happen?

No need to worry about battery life if the car is a Tesla. Based on the experience of Tesloop, 300,000 miles of driving is possible before significant battery degradation begins. Nissan is still living under a bit of cloud created by the early failure of the original LEAF battery in hot, dry climates like Phoenix. Urban legends die hard and those failures will live forever on the internet. But I have yet to see reports of second generation batteries from Nissan having similar issues.


Understanding The Guess-O-Meter

One of the features of an electric car that gets some getting used to is the range indicator, frequently referred to by EV drivers as the Guess-O-Meter. In fact, that sobriquet is appropriate. Part of the battery management algorithm tries to estimate how many miles of range are remaining based on a variety of factors, including temperature. When I unplug my LEAF, I always start the day with 89 – 94 miles. Turn on the heat and that immediately drops to 80 miles before a wheel turns. Same thing happens if I turn on the AC.

The range meter is truly just a guess. The car doesn’t know in advance whether I will be going uphill or down. It doesn’t know if I will be on the highway or city streets. All the driver can do is monitor the situation and be ready to find a charger or head for home when necessary. The range meter is a guide. The answer to “How far can you go on a single charge?” truly is, “It depends.”

Then again, the gas gauge in your conventional car is probably not that accurate either. Usually, they hang near the Full mark. lulling you into a false sense that your car is suddenly getting miraculous mileage. Then it plunges from ¼ to E in less than 10 miles, dashing your hopes once again.

I have found that the range meter tends to decrease fairly rapidly when I first start driving on a full battery, but as I get into the last third of the projected range, the miles remaining doesn’t seem to drop as fast. Just like that gas gauge, every range meter will have its own quirks and foibles that you will get accustomed to the more miles you drive.


Adapting To The New Normal

In my three months with the LEAF, I find it a joy to drive. I look forward to going places in it — as long as they aren’t more than about 40 miles from home. Fortunately, that covers the vast majority of my driving needs. I do find myself turning off the heat on chilly mornings once the cabin is warmed up. And I practice gentle starts and stops — just like they taught me in driver training way last century.

Here’s something else I discovered about driving an electric car I like. This morning there was frost on the pumpkins here in New England. My wife and I both had to go somewhere but in separate cars. The defroster in my LEAF cleared the windshield in about 2 minutes. She was still idling in the driveway, waiting for her car’s engine to start producing some heat. Sweet!

I do have one regret about buying an electric car. I wish I had done it sooner!

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