Dyer: Learning about EV from an “L” driver

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

I’ve had my eye on an electric car for a while now. I’ve driven four Honda Civics into the ground (and past 300,000 miles) and was intending to do the same, until I met Sarah Bond. Sarah is in grade 11 at Pen High. She’s learning to drive in an electric car, specifically a Nissan Leaf, and she’s an electric vehicle (EV) enthusiast, with the facts to back her arguments. You should know that Sarah is so enthusiastic, her teachers had to ban the topic of EV’s from further papers or presentations!

READ MORE: Myths blocking road to electric vehicle adoption

Sarah’s family has three vehicles: A 2013 Nissan Leaf, A 2019 Tesla Model 5, and a gas-powered truck to tow their RV. Sarah says that her family tries to do things that are good for the environment: they take glass to the bottle depot to be recycled, they compost in their yard (they do not yet have urban chickens but her mom wants to get chickens).

However, Sarah says the biggest reason they own two electric cars is because they are a good value. She told me a story about their last vacation: when they bought the Tesla, it came with six months of free charging, so they carefully planned to get maximum value for those six months. They took a vacation, driving down to San Diego, charging for free along the way and staying with relatives. The charging went completely without a hitch, but afterwards her father calculated how much it would have cost without the free charging. From Penticton to San Diego charging costs $80 CAD one way. They really didn’t need the “free charging” to make the trip.

From Penticton to San Diego charging costs $80 CAD one way.

I asked her about the car they had had the longest, the Nissan Leaf which was purchased used five years ago. What kind of repairs had they done? Sarah said “Tires and windshield wiper fluid”. I found this hard to believe. What about recalls? My Honda has had several in the last five years. Her mother confirmed: No repairs, no recalls.

“But this is why you have to buy an electric” Sarah explained with enthusiasm “you may think it would be better to have a hybrid, but electric engines are really simple. They are cheaper to drive and there are hardly any repairs — you don’t have to change the oil.”

You may think it would be better to have a hybrid, but electric engines are really simple

Sarah’s dad elaborated: “There’s no pistons, there’s no rings, there’s no muffler, there’s no clutch. In fact the engine is so simple, it doesn’t take up much room. The Tesla has a surprising amount of storage”.

It’s not just the engine itself that is better designed. In a combustion vehicle we take for granted the continual war between acceleration and braking. In my conventional Honda it would be most efficient to drive across town without stopping (although it might result in a trip to visit Sarah’s mom at the hospital). New EVs take the superiority of an electric engine and go one step further by adding regenerative braking: slowing down for a light actually charges the batteries.

Sarah’s father tells this story: (Note that in place of a fuel gauge, EVs report the range — how far they can drive on the current charge.)

“We drove this year to Lost Moose Lodge [2200 ft/635m elevation above Penticton ??]. When we got there the Tesla was down to a range of 40 km. By the time we returned home, regenerative braking brought that up to 80 km”.

Sarah chimed in: “We drove to up to Apex this winter, arrived with an 11 km range, and back home that night we had 80 km.”

READ MORE: The Kia Niro, best suited for all eco-minded buyers

I asked her about day-to-day charging. Sarah said “We have a normal charger [i.e. Level 2, 240 volts which which requires the same wiring as an oven or a clothes dryer] and the Tesla came with an adapter so we can charge that too.” But as a matter of fact they don’t do much charging at home. Sarah’s mom works at the hospital, where there are free EV chargers, so when a vehicle needs charging, Sarah’s mom uses it to get to work.

Sarah says they drive from Penticton to Vancouver (420 km) several times a year, something that would take planning in the 2013 Nissan Leaf. “With the Tesla, there’s one quick stop [at the Hope Supercharger] for lunch, which we would do anyway”.

Sarah’s dad ended with a stern warning: “Don’t go test drive a Tesla unless you are ready to buy.”

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: DIY energy audit with solar bonus material

About Kristy Dyer:

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

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