We Went Green this Halloween: The Captain goes Electric with a New Leaf

This Halloween we went green, instead of orange and black. Well I guess more accurately we went electric blue. The lease on our 2014 Nissan Versa Note was about to mature and we had to make a decision. Ultimately we decided to buy a used 2014 Nissan Leaf electric car. This was not an easy decision and it caused me much stress and more than one sleepless night. However I am best pleased with our decision and feel confident that it was the right one… for us. I would like to share what I have learned about electric cars with all of you, to help you make the right decision for your personal situation. The short version is, because there is not a large market for used electric cars you can get them for very reasonable prices, our 2014 leaf was $10,000 out the door. Also there is no oil or transmission fluid to change which saves a lot of money on maintenance costs. Energy costs is about 2-3 cents per mile versus 6-7 for gas at 39mpg, we get a large portion of our power from solar. And because we use this car for short distance driving, the range is not a limiting factor. In fact we just drove the car for 2 days without charging trading off and using it for longer trips around the county, when I got home last night I plugged it in to the 110v outlet and it was ready to go this morning. For all the details read on! As always  please feel free to contact me about any questions you have, and share any wisdom on the subject.

Pros vs Cons

    Low cost of Maintenance vs High initial cost of new cars

Highly efficient vs Climate control reduces your range

Low cost of energy per mile vs Limited recharging options

     Significant reductio of green house gases vs Questionable environmental safety of LI-ion

                 Can charge at home vs Relatively long recharge times

Very low potential for mechanical failure vs Limited range

Low cost of used vehicles vs High cost of battery replacement

Purchases encourage clean energy vs Batteries sensitive to temperature extremes

Can always use car-pool lane vs ?

Tax incentives for new cars vs ?

Special parking spaces vs?

Can recharge at work (probably for free) vs ?

Regenerative braking provides “free” energy from inertia and gravity vs ?

The Long Version

Electric cars are relatively new to the consumer world in comparison to the internal combustion driven vehicle that we are all familiar with, but the electric motor itself has been around for a surprisingly long time. Here is a little tid-bit from Wikipedia on the subject  “Moritz von Jacobi created the first real rotating electric motor in May 1834 that actually developed a remarkable mechanical output power. His motor set a world record which was improved only four years later in September 1838 by Jacobi himself. His second motor was powerful enough to drive a boat with 14 people across a wide river. “ Thanks wikipedia! So although electric motors have been around for almost as long as the internal combustion engine, the problem with a transportable energy source was always their limiting factor. Liquid fuel was easier to store and transport than charged electrons. It is a shame that our fore fathers, and mothers, did not put more effort into this problem. The world would be a very different place had they decided to go electric early on, but it is the nature of our race to choose the easier path even if it is not to our benefit.

The electric motor has many advantages over internal combustion engines. The modern electric motor is about 90-98% efficient while the finest internal combustion engines are only 30-45% efficient, according to my brief research on the subject.  Electric motors do not produce power on a curve, meaning that you get 100% of potential power across the entire RPM range. This means that complicated transmissions are not required on electric cars because you don’t need to shift between gears to stay within the engines “power band”. The electric car itself doesn’t  produce any exhaust, but you do have to factor in how your electricity is produced when comparing electric and conventional cars. Electric motors also do not require oil to lubricate the multitude of moving parts found in a combustion engine, and there for there is no need for oil or transmission fluid. Because of the simplicity and lack of moving parts in an electric motor, they are very reliable and require almost no maintenance. In fact the maintenance manual with our new Leaf just lists component checks of the chassis every 15,000 miles or so, changing the in cabin air filter, and checking the batteries’ capacity once in a blue moon. However electric cars aren’t all good, there are some down sides too. For me, the biggest concern I had was Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR), or Electro Magnetic Field (EMF). There is considerable controversy related to the effect that both have on our bodies and health. There is no doubt that there are decidedly bad side effects related to EMR exposure, but the details are unclear. However after hours upon hours of scouring the web and sorting though the findings, I have come to the conclusion that the electric cars are relatively safe. In fact, my research showed that a regular gasoline powered car has higher EMF readings than some electric cars. This is because of the large quantities of electronics in modern cars and because of the spinning steel belted radial tires that produce relatively large Electro Magnetic fields. I can not attest to the design of other electric cars, but I did investigate the Leaf thoroughly, and between my research on shielding EMF and EMR and my investigation into the design of the Leaf, I came to the conclusion that they are relatively safe. I also found a great study recently done by the largest Scandinavian independent research firm on the subject of Electric cars and EMF/EMR . The basic conclusion is that exposure maximums are 20% of the recommended maximum at peak output at foot level, and 2% at head hight . The Recommended Maximum is 50x lower than the point at which behavioral disturbances where observed in animals.  Here is a link for more info on the study click here. I also read various accounts from individuals doing their own investigations, who found confirming results.

Now, one of the biggest problems for the average consumer is that electric vehicles typically have a limited range compared to their petroleum powered counterparts. Our Leaf is rated at 90 miles between charges, although the Teslas have always had significantly better range even from the beginning, I believe the first model S had a range of approximately 230miles. I had the opportunity to attend a private Tesla event way back when they first came out, and I even got to drive one around the hills of San Luis Obispo. The rep had told us in his presentation that they drove the two model S’s from their Plant in the bay area to San Luis on one charge, that’s 190 miles at least.  But the range of the Teslas was, and still is, reflected in the price tag. The rep also said that they had offered to share their technology with other manufactures, but none had taken the offer at that time.  However, now the 2017 models by more common manufactures have come a long ways from the 90 mile days. Chevy’s 2017 Bolt claims 238 miles  and Nissan’s 2017 Leaf 200 miles. The days of short-range EVs is gone! This Brings us to the Second, or first depending on the individual, Negative of electric cars..the price. A new Nissan leaf MSRP is between $30-$38 thousand dollars the Chevy Bolt EV is $36,620. That is a lot of money!!!! There are several incentive program offered by both the state and federal government amounting to a potential $9,500, but they take time to acquire and have some fine print involved. However in an effort to get the electric car market rolling manufactures are offering very attractive lease options. For example you can lease a new Nissan Leaf for $89/mth with 2500 down for three years. Other cons include the price of electricity for consumers on a tiered energy plan, and for those who’s energy is produced by less than ideal methods, like coal.  But many electric companies now offer special electric vehicle rates and plans, to help with costs, and certain areas with poor air quality (San Jauquin Valley and L.A ) have will literally pay residents to drive EVs. There is also the issue of the batteries losing their capacity over time. Replacing the batteries in our leaf would cost $5,000, but manufacturer warranties are 8yrs/100,000 miles, you can also get an extended warranty through Nissan for used cars that is pro rated, and will cover everything. We ended up buying it for $1950 because we had it in our budget, and I am a generally cautious Captain.  However if you treat your batteries right they should last a vey long time. Limit fast charging as much as possible and cycle the batteries between 80%-30% on a regular basis. There are entire websites out there dedicated to the art of batteries preservation. But the reality is that even frequent high-capacity fast charging, tho kind that takes 30 min for a full charge and is only available at commercial charging stations, only degrades your batterie life 1% per year. So don’t stress.

Here is an example of how cost of ownership compares, keep in mind that these are just projections because we have not owned the leaf for more than a few days now. Our previous lease, the 2014 Versa Note, was $108 per month including tax, with 2000 down for 3 years. That works out to be about $164 month over 3yrs, add on top of that fuel ($60/month @39mpg) and oil changes ($35/per) every 6 months = $229/mth or $2758/year. Over the course of our lease we paid roughly $8274  not including insurance and registration, and at the end of the lease we did not own it.  The new Leaf is also a 2014 we pay $164/month, including the tax and protection plan. There is no oil to change and so far energy has been free because of our solar. So far so good. If fear that I could go on for hours looking doing cost and efficiency ratings but instead I’ll direct you to someone who did a much better job than I could, click here.

To conclude If you are looking for  new car, consider an electric one. The market is changing rapidly and technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. Used cars are cheap to purchase and own . If you don’t want to buy, lease options are extremely affordable. So consider going Green… or Electric Blue I guess. As always  please feel free to contact me about any questions you have, and share any wisdom on the subject.


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