6 Things to Know Before Taking the EV Plunge
We know a thing or two about electric vehicles at EcoTours AZ. Our primary tour vehicle is a Tesla Model X, and we have a Canoo Lifestyle Premium on order (position 585 to be exact). We even drive a Nissan LEAF for the daily grocery getter. So, we thought we’d give some few tips on our experience owning EVs so you can have a heads up before you own yours!
Why do you Want an Electric Vehicle to Begin With?
The most important question you should ask yourself before purchasing an electric vehicle is: What are you going to use it for? EVs have very different capabilities and the batteries and motors have very different abilities. Do you want an EV that can blow the doors off a Ferrari the next time you’re driving down Scottsdale Road? Do you want an EV that can drive to Las Vegas without stopping? Do you need to haul a lot of cargo? The best EV for you will depend upon how you intend to use it and what you want to get out of it. For example, our Tesla Model X tour vehicle is great for medium distance road trips and transporting private tour groups, but due to its size, it’s a bit clumsy in the grocery store parking lot. Our LEAF on the other hand is perfect for driving into town or running a quick errand, but any trip beyond 100 miles out-and-back is too great a distance for it. And don’t think bigger is necessarily better. Even though our Model X is a large SUV, we can actually fit more cargo in our LEAF because of its high roof line. In fact, four full-size suitcases can fit in the cargo area. I’ve even fit sheets of drywall in the LEAF (well, cut in half long-ways) which garnered a few skeptical and impressed looks from some contractors at the Home Depot loading zone. Bottom line, just make sure you know how you’ll use your EV everyday so the model you buy can keep up with your expectations.
The Electric Vehicle Hierarchy
There’s a bit of an unspoken hierarchy when driving an EV out on the road. Sort of reminds me of when I lived in Germany back in the ‘90s. No matter how fast you were driving on the Autobahn in your Volkswagen, you would always yield to an Audi flying up behind. Audi yields to BMW, BMW yields to Mercedes, and Mercedes yields to Porsche. It’s the understood German rule of the road. I find the same thing happening here in Arizona when driving an EV. I can have the speedometer pegged in my LEAF, doesn’t matter. A Tesla will tailgate me all the way to my freeway exit or blister past at the first lane opening it can find. But, when I’m driving the Model X (a P100D, by the way), Model 3’s and Model Y’s – and pretty much every other EV on the road – will follow patiently behind the entire way. Just know if you opt for a LEAF, Bolt or any other “little” EV, your experience driving could be quite a bit different than if you opt for a Model S Plaid or a Mustang Mach-E GT.
It’s only a matter of time before you get ICE’d in your new EV. What is, “Getting ICE’d”? ICE stands for Internal Combustion Engine. Getting ICE’d is when you pull up to the EV charging station and the parking spot is blocked or occupied by an ICE vehicle. By far, one of the most blood-boiling things that can happen to you as an EV driver. I like to expand the definition loosely to cover an EV charging stall that is occupied by an EV that isn’t even plugged in. So what do you do if you get ICE’d? My first instinct is to park sideways directly in front of the clown so as to box them in, then start Facebook Living it from a couple spots away – but that’s not gonna win you any friends and might get you at least a couple deep key marks in your paint. Most jurisdictions have ordinances that prohibit parking in an EV charging spot for any other reason than to charge. So you could call the police and report the violation. However, that call will be low priority and doesn’t solve your immediate problem of being at 2% state of charge with your only charger occupied by a lifted Dodge diesel truck. I recommend charging at home or work for the majority of your daily charging needs. A road trip should always be planned to stop at a robust charging station with at least 4-6 connectors – and check to make sure it is operational before starting your trip. Any other charging should be done out of an opportunistic nature and not out of necessity.
If you’re not charging at home (or worse, you forget to plug your car in altogether), or you’re planning a long road trip, you will be at the mercy of the charging networks. These networks vary from EV manufacturer owned networks like the Tesla Supercharging network, to independent, albeit, random outlets on the side of the road you might find on the PlugShare network. Some are free to use like the Volta charging network. Others, like ElectrifyAmerica, cost almost as much as a gasoline equivalent fill-up would. Most of these charging networks require memberships. EVGo has several subscription plans that allow you to pay as you go. ElectrifyAmerica has a bank you fund and then you burn it down as you charge. Tesla bills your credit card on file with no formal subscription. I have run into some issues with the charging station NFC readers not working at times. Fortunately, most networks will mail you a physical card you can swipe if the NFC tech isn’t working. I keep these in the glovebox so we always have options. You’ll also want to download the apps for all these networks so you’re ready to go if your EV suddenly finds the appetite for a few Kw of electricity. And don’t rely on the charging stations loaded into the EV navigation. It will only tell you there’s a charging station somewhere (or at least as of the time the map was last updated). The network apps will tell you if the station is still actually there, if it’s operational or under repair, and how many connectors are being used, etc…. I’ve had a few experiences of driving to a charging station and checking the app enroute, only to find it was out of order. Having all the other apps on my phone made quick work of finding another nearby charging station that was actually working.
Electric vehicles can be a bit temperamental, but so can your dad’s carbureted ‘67 Chevy. Thankfully, you won’t have to make too many adjustments to make your EV happy on the road, but there are a few temperaments worth considering.
- Batteries: Air cooled versus liquid cooled batteries can be a real game changer depending on where you live. In the brutal Arizona summer heat, our air cooled LEAF really struggles. More than once we’ve been kicked into “turtle mode”, which is Nissan’s way of letting you know the car is about to explode, I guess! Our liquid cooled Tesla is much more adapted to the heat, but obviously this comes with a larger price tag. In temperate climates, this probably is a non-issue.
- Climate Control: If you live in Arizona, you will be cranking the air conditioning which will lead to a shorter range since the AC sucks up about 2-4 KWH when it’s on. However, the real range loss comes in the winter when you’re running the heater. This will draw more from your battery than the AC will. Solution? Make sure your EV comes with heated seats to keep your tush toasty without having to run the main heater. The heated seats usually use the 12v auxiliary battery instead of the main drive battery. Also, see if you can find an EV that recirculates the heat from the motor into the cabin. Newer EVs have moved to this technology as a way of increasing range in the colder months.
One thing every EV owner knows right away is the range computer is a horrible indicator of how far you can go before needing to charge. Just remember, if a manufacturer advertises a given range, you’ll almost never achieve it. I think most range estimates are bloated in an effort to fight back against range anxiety. I personally would rather have less range, but realistic estimates, than to be told I could go 400 miles and be left frantically searching for a charging station 250 miles later. A lot of factors contribute to range estimates: climate control, weight factor, your lead foot, outdoor air temps, elevation change, battery age, etc…. I ran a test of the range on our LEAF when writing this blog and found significant inconsistencies in range prediction. The test was a 35 mile out and back trip from our home office in Anthem to the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix. Full charge at start and a full recharge for the return leg. The Energy Usage dashboard showed a beginning max range of 108 miles (well below the rated 140 mile max range). 35 miles later, the range only went down 17 miles. Conservative? Or horribly inaccurate? Then I recharged back to 100% for the return trip. The starting range was now 127 miles. Better, but still below the rated range. Upon arrival back in Anthem, the range went down 54 miles! Bottom line, EV range estimates are pretty much – unreliable – at least in a LEAF. Our rule of thumb is to get to know your EV and come up with a range factor you can multiply the stated range by to get a real world range. In our LEAF, that factor is 0.5 and in our Tesla, it’s 0.7. So if the range computer says 100 miles, we would plan on getting a realistic 50 in the Nissan and a realistic 70 in the Tesla. Until range estimates get better, this is a solid workaround that has never left us stranded in four years of EV ownership.
We believe EV ownership can work for everyone. You just have to know how the ecosystem works. There are a lot of “tall tales” out there about living the EV life. Some of those tales are true and some are a bit cloudy. I’m writing this sentence on my iPhone while fast charging my LEAF at the Arizona Mills EVGo charger and sort of thinking how much faster it would have been to pump a few gallons of gas and be on my way. But the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. Hopefully this post gives a more realistic tone so you know what to expect.