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Thursday, November 20, 2014

It Took 40 Years - But We Finally Bought A Real Electric Car

Nissan Leaf charging in our garage

In 1974 - when I was a science teacher back in Pennsylvania - I drove my first electric car. Lulu and I made the trip to the closest dealer - 5 hours away in Pittsburgh PA. Not only did I want one - I wanted to start a car dealership in my basement. I was so sure they would catch on - after all - the oil embargo had just pushed gasoline to 79 cents a gallon.

Citicar was made in Sebring FL

Lulu and I driving a Citicar in Pittsburgh in 1974. It went 25 MPH and had a range of 25 miles. It cost $2500. 

After 40 years of marriage and ownership of 67 cars - trucks - buses - campers - scooters - we finally bought a real electric car.

I have been searching for a battery powered car. We drove the world famous Tesla with its 300 mile range - 130 mph top speed - and lightning fast 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. But its $80,000 starting price could not be justified when we barely put 8000 miles on our cars in a year. Then - I went to the other extreme - for under $1000 - I could add the equipment to my golf cart to make it street legal. It needs headlights - taillights - turn signals - windshield - seat belts - and horn.

We visited the Tesla dealership in Casselbery FL. That one cost $100,000.

Lulu said I could do what I wanted - but she steered me toward the Nissan Leaf. We drove a new one - and it was really nice - but I could not justify $40,000 - and have two new cars sitting in the garage depreciating. We had just purchased Lulu's BMW convertible - and we were stuck with it because it depreciates so fast - we would have to take a big loss whenever we sold it.

Out of nowhere - Lulu found a two year old Nissan Leaf on Craigslist. It looked too good to be true - they were only asking $14,000 for it. We went to see it - the owner had the bill of sale - it cost new $42,000. The original owner died from leukemia and his family was selling it to settle the estate. After a little negotiating - I wrote a check for $12,700. My 40 year quest was over - I had a real electric car.

Pure electric cars are very simple. The have 3 basic parts - a big battery - an electric motor the size of a watermelon - and a controller to smoothly get the power from the battery to the motor. It is not rocket science - I am surprised it took this long to get it right.

In the early 1900s - there were more electric cars than gasoline ones. They were quiet - clean - and dependable. Range was the limiter. Women loved electric cars because you did not have to hand crank them to start them up. The electric starter doomed the electric car. For 100 years - gasoline was king - and it still is.

Numbers on the Nissan Leaf

The Leaf has a 24 kilowatt hour battery pack. You buy electricity from the power company in kilowatt hours. In Tallahassee it is about 14 cents per KWH with taxes - etc. The Leaf can go between 70 and 100 miles on a charge. 24 KWH times 14 cents per KWH = $3.36. That is how much it costs to fill a completely empty battery.

The Leaf can go up to 90 MPH! It has very snappy acceleration and can go from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds. That is faster than all of my 60 cars - except for 2 or 3.


I can charge my Leaf from a 110 volt outlet - or a 220 outlet - or on the road at a super duper 440 station. A charge can take up to 20 hours on 110 - 7 hours on 220 - or 20 minutes on 440. The charge costs the same - it just happens quicker.

My car came with an optional 220 volt charger. I ran a 220 volt line to our garage - and my car charges every night in a couple hours.

This is my 220 volt charging station in my garage

The charger has its own 220 volt circuit - the charger draws 16 amps when it is on. A full charge costs $3.36 - which will go 70 to 100 miles. 

Driving Review

With the exception of the super silence of having no engine - the car feels and acts like a regular car. You press a button to turn it on. You have two gears - forward and reverse. You have the go pedal and a stop pedal - notice I did not say gas pedal. When you want to park it you press P - and press off.


The Leaf has 5 doors. It seats 5. It is roomy on the inside - and small on the outside. The visibility is fantastic. The battery is heavy making this little car weigh 3400 pounds. It has air conditioning - power steering - power brakes - power door locks - power mirrors - power windows - alloy wheels - back up camera - disk player - radio - phone connection - heated front seats - heated back seats - heated mirrors - heated steering wheel. All the lights are LED so they last forever and use very little power. If you wish - there is even a little noisemaker to warn pedestrians you are coming. Lulu drove it to campus and she said people do not hear you and often walk out in front of you.

The lithium battery pack installs from the bottom. Like a toy - you take off the cover - removed the battery out the bottom - and replace it with a new one. The battery is covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles. They can replace individual cells if one goes bad.


Electric cars are not cheap to make. Nissan claims it cost them $16,000 alone to build the battery. The whole car is a loss leader at $60,000 to build. No matter how hard you try - you will never save enough money on gasoline to justify buying one of these things. Maybe some day if they make enough of them - the price will come down.

They like to call it a Zero Emissions Car. Forget about that. Here is Tallahassee most of our electricity is made with natural gas. 5% is hydroelectric power form Lake Talquin. So the greenhouse gases are just made elsewhere. America still makes half of its electricity with coal - followed by oil - gas - wind and hydro power.

Buying Used

This car cost $42,000 new just 2 years ago. The family sold it to me for $12,700. Yes - they got a $7500 tax rebate on it - but somebody lost a lot of money on depreciation. That is $21,800 in depreciation in 2 years. It is not very encouraging to someone that wants to buy one new.

Points to Consider

All the reviews talk about Range Anxiety. You are afraid you won't make it home. There is a big digital number on your dashboard showing you how many miles you have left in the tank. Mine usually starts at about 80 miles left - and as you go it goes up and down - depending on the roads - your braking - and your gentleness on the go pedal. Since we seldom go over 30 miles in a day it is no big deal. In traffic it is excellent - as you sit at a red light - the motor is off. Your heat or AC still works fine - but you are not losing miles.

If you need to travel long distances - this car is not for you. Even if you know where all the charging stations are - at 70 miles or so - you better find one. It usually take 20 minutes for a full charge - so it would be time to eat lunch. There are a lot of charging stations by Cracker Barrel restaurants. More will follow. If you buy a Tesla - they let you charge free. They have a national networked of charging points.

In California - electrics sell like crazy because the government allows you to ride alone in the HOV lanes. It saves people sometimes 2 hours a day by avoiding sitting in traffic on the freeway.

In England - they have tons of incentives. First - you can drive it in downtown London without paying the $16 a day congestion fee. They have free parking (save $25 a day) - and they have free charging stations. Still - there are only about 5000 electric cars in the town.

In England - the Waitrose grocery stores have super duper chargers. I saw a story on Youtube of a couple covering 500 miles in one day by going from Waitress to Waitress store. Each time they stopped 20 minutes for a charge and a tea.

My View So Far

We recently sold our 6 year old Prius when Lulu bought her BMW. I honestly have a bit of a phobia about driving around that sleek fast sports car - I guess it is old age. For so long I have skimped and saved - now I have a hard time overspending. We have had the Leaf for one week - and the BMW has not moved. I guess in my mind I am saving money by burning electricity rather than gasoline.

Our luck - as soon as we got an electric car - the price of gasoline is dropping from $4 a gallon to approaching $2 a gallon.

Follow along with us on this adventure. If you would like to take it for a spin - let me know. Keep an eye out for us - because you won't hear us coming.

The interior looks like a normal well-appointed small sedan.

The back seat is roomy and seats 3 people. The seat is heated.

When the gauge says you are down to 10 miles or so - you plug it in to "plug er up."

The large sill in the hatchback is part of the battery pack.

The dashboard is dominated by a digital speedometer - and a gauge showing you how many miles are left.

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