In 2015 when I was making a decision to buy a new car I was coming back into the car market from a completely fresh perspective. I had been living in and around my city riding a bicycle for years. So after moving outside the city it was time to finally start looking at getting a new car. Because I was looking at this new decision with fresh eyes, I had no bias and wasn’t used to driving any particular type of vehicle. So I weighed the options and thought about this for what seemed like a solid month. I thought about the idea of having to pay for expensive gasoline, the things the oil industry was connected to and the environmental issues its responsible for around the world. I inherently didn’t like the idea of being tied to any that and essentially funding those things every time I would pay for gasoline. So I decided to buy and electric car and unplug from that system.
After choosing that I was going with an electric car, there were a handful of choices but I narrowed it down to two. This was back in 2015 so there weren’t many options available. The Nissan Leaf had been around for 4 years. Fiat had the 500e. BMW made the i3. KIA had just come out with the electric Soul. And Tesla had a few versions of the Model S. The Model S was very expensive at the time but I took one on a test drive and absolutely fell in love with that car. In hindsight, I should have trusted my instincts.
I found out later on that BMW had just come out with the i3 and I took advantage of the weekend test drive program they had. I thought it was a neat car but after parking the car in the driveway and walking away what sounded like an engine came on. I only had the i3 for a few hours so I thought maybe I pressed a button on the key fob or had done something by mistake. After restarting and shutting the car back off it was still running. This is when I decided to investigate. I had opened the rear hatch started searching around where the noise was coming from. This is when I noticed the data sheet the car came with. It turns out the “hybrid version” of the i3 is designed to run the gas engine periodically (even when the car is off) so that the gas doesn’t just sit in there. (Gas engines have to be run if there is gas sitting in the tank otherwise things start to break). That same data sheet showed that the emissions rating for this engine was one of the worst in the industry. Something like a 2 out of 10 at the time. The i3 was obviously no longer an option for what I was looking for and I took it back the next day.
None of the other cars really interested me and I was super disappointed with the i3. So it came down to two choices. The expensive 2015 Model S or an affordable 2013 Nissan Leaf. After testing the Leaf it seemed like a great car because it was. Seats are really comfortable, has decent amount options, drives really well, super quick, easy to park and it was fun. The used Nissan Leaf was almost 1/4 the price of the Tesla Model S 85D at the time. So from a price tag perspective it made complete sense. But from a capability perspective they didn’t compare. I didn’t listen to my heart and I ended up buying the Nissan Leaf.
For driving around town, going to stores and nearby cities there are few cars better than the Nissan Leaf. Driving around in the city you can actually create more electricity from regenerative breaking than it takes to get there in some cases. This car is perfect for this type of use. But it wasn’t until I decided (on separate occasions) to drive to a music festival in the desert, a city in a nearby state and a National Park by the ocean that this car really had its limits and the amount of stress in these situations was something I didn’t expect.
The trip across the Cascade Mountain Range to the middle of the desert in Washington State had more up and downs emotionally than the mountain range had itself. After carefully planning every possible location I could charge at I set off. It was quite fun on the way there and had no issues going across the mountain range at all. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the desert at night with lower range than expected and no chargers in sight that I knew there might be a problem. After driving very slowly for what seemed like hours, convinced I was going to be on the side of the road at some point, I made it to the festival with basically no range left. I charged overnight using a regular wall outlet I found which set me up for the next 3 days ahead. The way back after the festival I made it to the top of the mountain range on a separate route with zero reading on the battery range. The rest of the way was all downhill and due to the regenerative breaking I had more charge than what the car is rated for at one point which I didn’t think was possible. Getting to the destination and back home was great but the in between driving was not the best experience.
The long distance trip to a nearby city is where I realized the charging network was no where near where it need to be to do the type of adventures I wanted. After coming back home at 3 in the morning which (was 4 hours later than I thought) I ran the round-trip I calculations. I spent a total of 4-5 hours charging on top of the 3 hours of driving. So when I realized I spent more time charging than I did driving I knew I messed up. Yes the car could make it, but this wasn’t the kind of adventure I had in mind. The charging network back in 2015 was in it’s early stages and needed a lot of work to get where it is today. I didn’t know this at the time and first hand experience was a hard lesson.
That National Forest by the ocean? Never got to see it. Its still on my list. After realizing this car wasn’t meant for really long distances and that the charging network was nowhere near what it needed to be I started to look at road trips differently. The route at the time only had two fast chargers and were really far apart. The previous city trip I decided to go on left a mark when I realize how much time was wasted. So I ended up setting aside my adventure to that National Park.
Keep in mind this is one of the few early electric vehicles made back in 2013. Electric cars had only been massed produced for around 2-3 years at that time. Early EVs were really meant for cities to solve the short distance drives which makes up something like 80% of most driving. It wasn’t until Tesla came out with the Model S and the Tesla Charging Network that people really started to consider electric cars for more long distance drives.
In my personal opinion, for my lifestyle and desires, I wish I had gone with the Model S instead of the Leaf. I honestly grit my teeth a little every time I think about this or have some sort of limit imposed because of the range of my Nissan Leaf. This is one of my very few regrets. I’m the type of person who would like to go on exploration trips and leave home for months at a time and just adventure.
This doesn’t mean that no one should buy a Leaf. If someone stays around the area they live and mostly only needs a car to go to the store and get groceries, then save $20,000+ and buy a Leaf. They are perfect for that. 2020 Nissan Leafs and newer have double the range that mine has which almost makes range a mute point. There are now a variety of affordable used electric cars to choose from so no one is stuck with the Nissan Leaf being the only choice.
I ended up never seeking my desired lifestyle, my desires and the things that I really wanted to do at the time simply because I made a “logical choice” at the time instead of getting what I really wanted. This life lesson ended up being way more expensive than the extra money it would have costed to have just bought the Tesla I wanted at the time. That Tesla Model S was the only car back then that had hundreds of miles of range. It meant that you could go almost anywhere. They were also expanding the Supercharger Network which makes going just about anywhere much easier.
The National Parks I never got to see, months long road trips and camping I never got to do, exploring and adventures I wanted to go on… it would have been worth the extra money to pay for something with long range. I missed out on at least 90% of those things that I really wanted to do. I thought I could make it work with the Nissan Leaf but after those experiences, the 1 time I ran out of range about a mile from the charger and the multiple times I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it on long distance trips… I stopped doing them. I had all these awesome fun ideas that I would do on electric road trips, most of which required something longer distance. But I never took those into account when buying that car. This took years of driving for me to realize the limits of that car in which life conditions changed and the Tesla was no longer a viable option.
I made the right decision to drive electric. There is zero doubt in my mind about that. I just chose the wrong electric car for me. So the moral of the story is to look at your lifestyle and what you want to do with it. Are you mostly driving to and from work? To the grocery stores and shopping? Then look at something with less range like a used Nissan Leaf and save a lot of cash in the process. But if your like me and want to do thousand mile road trips, go camping at far away locations and explore countries you’ve never been to using an electric car then spend the extra cash if you can on something capable of long range. It will be worth it. You’ll have years of memories and adventures to look back on. I don’t think there is a price anyone and put on that.
After 8 years, I can tell you that not living your dreams and desires by setting limits on yourself is the most expensive decision that no one can afford.