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Range Anxiety or Stupidity? Pushing an Electric Car to its Limits Page 2

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Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

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As the temperature dropped to just around freezing point and we crested the fourth consecutive grueling climb on our route we came to the realization that while our car seemed to be doing well we most certainly were not. 

So at the next town, we found a warm bar, willing to provide us with hot coffee, somewhere to drink it and more importantly, much needed power for our Leaf. 

But yet again, with no official 16A EVSE available, we were forced to wait an agonizing 40 minutes as the car added a further 8 miles or so to the range. Temperature it seemed, was slowing down charging too. 

We left as the bar closed and the witching hour approached. With an estimated 20 miles delta between estimated range and actual miles to go, we were set for the long drive to our destination. 

Late night driving it seems had one advantage: we were able to cruise at the speed we wanted, rather than risk holding up traffic. Slowly the miles dropped away, hills were climbed and we reached the highest point on our trip with just 18 miles predicted range left and 11 miles to go.

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Enlarge Photo

We had begun to think we were too optimistic, but the wonders of potential energy saved us. 

As the Leaf descended 5 miles of 10% gradient our predicted range increased. Little by little our destination came ever closer, even if our car was screaming for a recharge.

We entered the last mile with an estimated 15 miles to go. A celebratory last leg, we put the heater on high and snuck the car into D, driving as we’d have liked to on the whole trip.

Pulling into the destination our car told us it had enough range for an estimated 12 miles of travel, our last mile of frivolity costing us a massive 3 miles of predicted range. 

But that wasn’t important any more. We’d made the trip. 

So what can we learn from our admittedly risky trip?

Firstly, we didn’t run out of charge. With extremely careful driving and speeds which would normally have caused a tailback in the daytime, we had travelled 101 miles. 

Our indicated range of 11 miles was just shy of the 13 miles we’d put in en-route. But then again, arriving with no predicted range remaining wasn’t something we’d have wanted to do. 

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Long-Distance Electric Car Trips by Night

Enlarge Photo

Secondly, cold weather does affect range in the 2011 Nissan Leaf. We’d chosen a triple whammy of cold weather, long distance and no official EVSE stations, which we are happy not to repeat again. 

Finally and most importantly, we made it. Yes, it is possible to do a trip at the limit of an electric car’s range, but it takes determination and immense concentration to balance accelerator, brake and gear selection to make it happen.  And as we found, it also helps to be able to be amicable enough to source recharging points wherever possible en-route, even if they are little more than domestic outlets.

Is it really practical to do a long-distance trip in an EV? We’ve discovered that really does depend on the trip you’re planning. 

Obviously, without rapid charging, travel by electric car becomes more of a challenge. It is still possible, but requires planning and common sense. What you save in gasoline you may lose in travel time, unless you can work on the road while your car charges.

Our advice? For warmer weather, trips of up to 70 or 80 miles between charging stations are possible. In colder weather, aim for 50. Plan to keep a ‘backup range’ for emergencies, and if you must travel into areas without known charging infrastructure,  a level 1 EVSE is as useful as a chocolate teapot unless you want an overnight recharge.

Instead, carry a level 2 EVSE capable of providing at least 10A, or preferably 16A..

Finally, we recommend you carry a smartphone, complete with Internet connection, just in case you need to find that elusive power socket. 

In closing, we’d like to point out that this situation will change, and is already changing as more and more level 2 and level 3 charging stations are rolled out. But until charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas pumps or truly portable fast level 2 charging is possible we’d have to recommend, for very long journeys, you leave the electric car at home and find an alternative. 


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Comments (14)
  1. Range anxiety is real, LOL. We took a trip to Palm Springs last month, 300 miles total, with nary a care in the world. Love my Volt! #1756
     
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  2. I knew the small 24KWH battery meant the Leaf was for city driving and short distance commutes only but I'm still a bit disappointed about how limited it's real world range really is. Level 2 charging predictably adds very little to it but ample availability of level 3 charging along with double the battery capacity (which Nissan promised for the next gen battery in 2015) should give it some practical long range capability in the not so distant future. For EV's to really offer (almost)the same convenience as ICE's I reckon it takes triple the battery capacity along with the capability to recharge within 15 minutes. So:though good enough to start their long march to end the reign of the ICE EV's aren't ready to take over the world yet.
     
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  3. I really don't understand the point of these "experiments". If you want to understand the implications of a limited driving range, here's a data point for you: we've been using our LEAF as our sole mode of transportation for the past 3 months. We average about 30 miles per day and charge every night using the 240V charging station in our garage. How long does it take to charge? Don't know, don't care. All I know is I spend 5 seconds plugging it in as I'm heading into the house. Next morning I have a full tank of electrons. If we do decide to head out of town, the LEAF can easily take us to the car rental counter, where we can pick up a gas burner for the weekend.
     
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  4. I really don't understand the point of these "experiments". If you want to understand the implications of a limited driving range, here's a data point for you: we've been using our LEAF as our sole mode of transportation for the past 3 months. We average about 30 miles per day and charge every night using the 240V charging station in our garage. How long does it take to charge? Don't know, don't care. All I know is I spend 5 seconds plugging it in as I'm heading into the house. Next morning I have a full tank of electrons. If we do decide to head out of town, the LEAF can easily take us to the car rental counter, where we can pick up a gas burner for the weekend.
     
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  5. Trevor,
    Here's part of the reasoning behind it. We had a car, and it was cheaper to do the trip by electric car. But secondly, we did have the car and wanted to see just how it performed. Sure, we had to make sacrifices, but we proved with careful driving it was possible.
    Nikki.
     
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  6. Trevor,
    Here's part of the reasoning behind it. We had a car, and it was cheaper to do the trip by electric car. But secondly, we did have the car and wanted to see just how it performed. Sure, we had to make sacrifices, but we proved with careful driving it was possible.
    Nikki.
     
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  7. Noel: The volt is a great car no doubt, but there are plenty of people that do want a BEV, not a hybrid. Of course the volt can drive 300 miles and so can a prius, and the prius will use less gas than a volt will driving 300 miles to a destination.
     
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  8. #7 Michael,
    Well maybe, but I have driven my Volt 2800 miles and used 14 gallons of gas. Let's see a Prius do that. 90+% of my driving is commuting on battery alone. For the other 10% it's really handy to be able to shift to gas and not worry about stopping every 80 miles or whatever to wait around for 20 minutes for the Level 3 charge, which essentially does not exist in the US anyway.
    Honestly, if GM had chosen to build a BEV instead of an EREV, I would probably be driving one of them and using a gas burner for extended trips as Trevor suggests. No Nissans or Mitsus for me, thank you very much.
     
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  9. I now have my LEAF and have no plans for an excursion out of SOCAL until there are many more level 3 chargers available. I appreciate the knowledge gained by these real world experiments, however. Thank you Nikki.
     
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  10. I've read where the use of the level 3 fast chargers can harm the battery. How often would use of the L3 have to be to cause harm and how much harm would it do?
    As for using Volt, Prius, or Leaf & rental cars. It seems tpo me that question goes back to the adage that seems to get more and more use, "it depends on your personal driving needs and circumstances". For example If you normally make multiple 300 mile trips a week a Prius would make much more sense than a Volt in regards to fuel use.
     
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  11. I'm not a leaf owner, but been watching the development of ev. I'm always wondering... why couldn't we stick a portable generator into the trunk, at least as an emergency backup (leaf owners seems gasphobia). If we could do that on the go (don't have the generator running in your trunk!) we essentially convert leaf into volt, with larger battery pack on board!
    Also watched an interview with the ceo of 'Better Tomorrow', who came up with the idea of 'Swapping stations' where your empty cells pulled out and full cells pop in, in less than a minute. He indicated such infrastructure already built in Israel.
     
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  12. It seems to me that posts like are more likely to turn people off of electric cars. It is hard to imagine someone wanting a car that they drive 30 MPH on the highway with no heater and considerable anxiety about being stranded.
    The Leaf is a commuter car. Period. It is a rather good one. But using it for long highway trips is simply not advisable.
     
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  13. Hmmm, living in a cold climate these cars would be useless for about 6-8 months a year so I would need another vehicle for the colder months or even worse a bus pass. Too many negatives to deal with so I'll let the rich and famous pay for the R&D phase of these until the price is wayyyyy down and the cars are more useful.
     
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  14. "With only the radio for company" Great stuff. There's something definitely fun & pioneering about an EV road trip; sure, you could have taken the Volvo or borrowed a Volt but how much fun would that have been? I love the idea of pushing the tech.
    One thing that was very clear though; you didn't run out, you would never have run out, why? Because you would have found some power, somewhere; this electric stuff is everywhere, it just comes from small pipes today.
    Keep racking up those miles!
     
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