yduJ's Electric Car

Electric cars are the wave of the future. The future is finally here, after fighting its destiny tooth and nail. I recall in 1985 asking at a demo booth about availability and being told "three to five years." Well, after 30, they're really here.

We got tired of waiting and started watching the used market. The market was sparse; a lot of the cars we saw were in distant places like Toronto. Most of the prices were in the $8,000 to $10,000 range, which seemed reasonable. If we spent $40,000 on a current top-of-the-line car, we would feel really stupid in two years if a better car is available for $25,000. But if we spent $8,000 on a kind of random car that doesn't quite do what we want but is adequate for many purposes, then in two years we could upgrade to a better car, and still get some return from the original car, as the used market won't be saturated yet. Indeed, my theory for why the EV1 was only available for lease is that they feared other people will come to this same conclusion, and not buy them at all.

Along came an opportunity to buy a used conversion of a 1981 VW Rabbit for only $3,000. Now that's cheap enough that we should buy even if it doesn't do what we want. Which it didn't, really. We took possession on November 13, 1996. We drove it for 8 years, and sold it in February, 2005. Read more about it here.

So, once again it was time to go a-hunting on the web for cars for sale. We got a 1998 Solectria Force for $15K. A bit much. It's supposed to have a range of 50 miles, which sounded great! It was delivered Jan 22, 2005 the day of a blizzard! So it's first contribution to the family was the need to be dug out.

It too is a conversion, of a Geo Metro, but professionally done by Solectria. Unfortunately it turned out not to have the advertised range--we were getting something less than 20 miles. Eventually we learned that one battery had leaked acid all over the battery compartment, corroding and shorting out the battery heaters. The prior owner had believed the batteries to be only one year old, but investigation proved them to be four years old instead. He gave us a rebate for the batteries, and we had them and the battery heater replaced. It needed a few more repairs as well, but now it's a sweet little car.

It gets about 35 miles to the charge, less on the freeway, more in town. Electric cars like going slowly---there's no power wastage, while there is loss when taking power from batteries rapidly. We often argued about who got to take the Force. "I'm going 12 miles." "I'm going 20! I get the Force!" Sometimes we talk about getting another Force.

The Force is much more reliable than the Rabbit was; it did leave us in the lurch once when a loose connection in the DC-DC connector came out, but was otherwise good for many years.

We managed to get the license plate "NO GAS". This spurs a lot of parking lot conversations, and even some at red lights!

In 2013 we swapped this car for a 1999 owned by Ken's cousin, who was buying a Chevy Volt instead, because our first Force had begun to show its age. The 1999 was also showing its age, and we sold it in 2015, after buying a 2013 Nissan Leaf. At least we got to keep the license plate!

The Leaf was a real change from the Force. Even though it had 30K miles when we bought it and thus its battery was no longer perfect, it still got 50-70 miles on a charge. It charges a bit faster than the Force as well, and has the option for "fast charging" so if we go to a place with that kind of charging station we can charge in 20 minutes!

Time passed, and the Leaf got old, and stopped being able to provide a long enough range, dropping to 25 or so in the winter. Meanwhile our SUV (hybrid, but it never delivered better than 24 mpg) also got old.

After vast dithering we decided to replace the SUV with a Tesla model S. It actually is a pretty practical car. The cargo area with the seats down is quite large (holds my bicycle easily), the dual motor option gives you four-wheel-drive, and it is possible to get an aftermarket trailer hitch to tow our small boats. We got ours used. Even that was pretty pricey. We took possession in December 2021.

The drawback of the Tesla violating a bunch of the standard UI practices of other cars makes it somewhat challenging to learn to drive. (Like, not being able to turn it off.) At least with the S we get more controls on the steering wheel and displays in front of the driver's eyes; that's a thing we really didn't like about the 3 or the Y. The 3 is too small for our needs, but the Y would have been fine.

The stupid thing from our point of view is we ended up with a performance model. When you buy a used car, you don't get to pick the packaging; you buy what's available that has the features that you require, and put up with the rest. Anyway, it's always in "chill" acceleration mode.

We also signed up for a heart transplant for our Leaf. That is, there is a place that watches out for crashed cars whose battery pack is still intact, and installs them in your Leaf. There was a while to wait (it really is like waiting for an organ transplant), but one became available in Feb 2022. So the Leaf now gets range back to what we originally saw when we bought it used, and thus we hardly ever drive the Prius.

Ken is maintaining a set of electric vehicle links if you want to learn more about the resources on the net that can help you buy or build your own!