Tesla navigation display panel

By Kathryn Stocks

When I started talking to neighbours about their electric cars, I had two goals in mind: write about e-cars for readers who are thinking about buying one and convince my husband that this is the route to take next time. With two 12-year-old vehicles, it’s time to start planning.

There are a number of choices on the market right now, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt, Volkswagen e-Golf and Tesla. The federal government has a $5,000 incentive for buying electric or $2,500 for a plug-in hybrid.

My neighbours, Peter and Alison Harris, have a Nissan Leaf and my friends, Richard and Denise Bacon, drive a Tesla 3. They all love their electric cars and were happy to talk about them and give us a drive.

Peter and Alison described their Leaf as as “the perfect city car” and  Alison enjoys driving it to work at Danforth and Coxwell. When they first bought in November 2016, Peter had been doing research on electric cars for a long time and he wanted to try one.

The Leaf only has 100 hp so it can beat a gas car off the line, but gas-powered cars will catch up. “And by that time they’re at the next light,” Alison quipped. Gasoline cars drive farther on the highway while electric cars go farther in city traffic. “As you go faster, wind resistance is the biggest factor,” Peter said. “In an electric car, the engines are really efficient to the point where when you’re stopped or creeping, it’s not using any power.”

Their Leaf has a 30 kWh battery, which is perfect for commuting, but it would be difficult to get to the cottage. The official rating is 160 km. If you’re in the city, you can get up to 200 km. If you’re on the highway you might only get 140 km. The new Leaf has up to a 62-kWh battery.

They use a Level 1 base charger, which is 120 volts, and Alison plugs the car in every night in winter when the car uses more energy due to wind resistance, snow, running the heater, and it has less capacity because the battery’s cold. In summer, the car can go longer between charges. It takes 16 hours to go from flat empty to full. Eight hours gets the car to 70 percent. Topping up the last little bit is what takes the most time.

If they need a charge while they’re out driving, an app called PlugShare shows where chargers are located and whether or not they’re in use. It filters by the kind of changer your car takes. Level 3 fast chargers cost $15-$20/hour.

With their gas-powered car, Alison and Peter were paying $60-$80 a month for gas and with the electric car their hydro went up by $20 a month. They can set the charging timer on the car so if it’s plugged it in at 6 p.m. it won’t start charging until the lower rates kick in at 7 p.m. When they get in the car in the morning, it’s full.

Richard and Denise Bacon decided to buy an electric car for two reasons: “efficiency and we are environmentally conscious,” Richard said. “We wanted to help and there’s no carbon going into the air. It’s all nuclear here.” They bought the Tesla Model 3 because of the infrastructure of the chargers and the car’s appearance. Richard said it feels like a sporty car and there’s more legroom than other e-cars. 

They paid $1,000 to have a 240-volt Level 2 charger installed in their garage. It charges at 50 kmh. They only fill to 80 percent because it’s not good for the battery to charge completely every time, but they will charge it to the maximum when they’re going on a trip. They can go 370 kilometres on one charge but the most they’ve driven is 320 kilometres.

The charger goes on at 7 p.m. and it’s done in the morning. The level of charge shows up on their phones along with the location of the vehicle. Because their cars are being charged after 7 p.m. when demand for electricity is down and natural gas plants aren’t usually in use, both Richard and Peter say their vehicles run on nuclear.

“Whenever we go anywhere, we use the Tesla,” Richard said. “With a Tesla you always know where the next supercharger is.” They bought the car last April and they’ve only had to wait at a charger once. Tesla is the only major vehicle manufacturer that has spent the money to put in a charging network and has chargers between cities so you can do a road trip. For the most part, the other chargers are located in cities.

Richard said the Tesla is “just a great car to drive. It’s a quick, agile sports car.” It has six cameras that record all the time: two on each side and one at the front and the back. There’s no emergency brake. And it has memorized seats for the drivers.

With Tesla, your phone is your key. When you walk up to the car, it opens, when you walk away from the car, it locks, Richard said. “Just don’t leave your phone in the car!”

He also said the tires are expensive. It costs $80 to rotate them and Tesla wants owners to rotate them every 10,000 km. There are sensors in each tire that need to be changed when  they’re rotated.

The major benefits electric cars have over gas-powered vehicles are the fast acceleration, responsiveness, no play in the wheel, the brakes last a long time, you don’t need oil changes or gas and, of course, they are quiet and have no greenhouse gas emissions. Both the Tesla and the Leaf have a flat battery pack running from under the front seats to the back seats.

Would they buy another electric car? “Absolutely,” Richard said. And Peter said, “We like it so much that I’m never buying a gas car again.”