Turning Over an Old Leaf

 For a person who is not especially concerned with environmental issues, I’m surprisingly green.  Most of the books I purchase now are electronic; I’m very disappointed on those rare occasions when a book isn’t available for the Kindle.  So no more dead trees being turned into paper for me.

Several years ago, when our children were small and we were being sued for 31 million dollars in a wrongful death suit related to our foster son dying of SIDS (the lawsuit was dismissed in 2001), my wife and I were in need of new vehicles.  We wound up purchasing two used vans, an old Ford and an old GMC, both built in the 1990s.  Not to put too fine a spin on it, but they were both utter disasters for us.  At different times, each van had a front wheel fall off while we were driving along, which I can tell you is very disconcerting.  Also not cheap to repair.

The day that my lawyer called in the summer of 2001 to let us know that the lawsuit had been thrown out, my wife and I went out to celebrate at a local restaurant (one that was cheap).  On our way home from the restaurant, the transmission in the GMC van made a horrible noise and the van stopped moving. It was a twelve hundred dollar repair.

In 2004, when our finances had stabilized a bit we were able to trade in both our money pit vans on new vehicles: a 2004 Toyota Sienna and an 2004 Saturn Vue.  By then, we had vowed never, ever, ever to purchase a used vehicle ever again. Over the years since, the Sienna and the Vue have served us well and have never left us stranded; they have, of course, required the normal maintenance: oil changes, fluid changes, brakes, timing belts and the like.  But nothing like wheels falling off or transmissions exploding.

But one thing about both vehicles has become increasingly annoying: their lousy gas mileage.  Both vehicles average, at best, about 18 miles to the gallon (they both have six cylinder engines).  And with the cost of gas in California remaining (and recently spiking again) to four or more dollars per gallon, the economics of keeping them on the road has been painful.

For a long time I’d been enamored of electric cars, but their prices are high, with even the cheapest going for 30,000 or more, let alone the 80,000 that the car I really want, a Tesla Model S, goes for.

So replacing our now eleven year old vehicles didn’t seem a cost effective choice, especially with two children in college.

But then I read an article about how used electric vehicles are beginning to appear on the market—and about how reasonably priced they are. But I remembered our bad experiences with used vehicles in the past and so I was, at first, very hesistant.

But as I read more and more, I came to recognize that used electric vehicles have some advantages over used gasoline powered vehicles due to their inherent differences.  That is, electric cars have far fewer moving parts, no transmissions, don’t use oil, and no radiators or water pumps.

So, when I saw that used Nissan Leafs could be had for less than fifteen thousand dollars, I decided to look into it more seriously. 

Thus, in May, my wife and I purchased a used Nissan Leaf, a 2011 model, for less than eleven thousand dollars. The Leaf will never need a smog check, it will never require an oil change. The car has no transmission, no radiator, no hoses, no timing chain and no water pump.  Even the brakes last longer thanks to regenerative braking.  According to the car’s owners’ manual, regular maintenance on the vehicle consists of checking the windshield washers and the cabin air filter.  Eventually I’ll probably need to get new tires I suppose.  

After three months of owning the car, I find that I’m saving a lot of money.  Electricity costs a small fraction of what gasoline goes for, especially at its current high price here in California.  The fact that I also have solar panels on my house reduces my electric costs even more.  The added cost of electricity due to the car is about fifty dollars a month.  Given that I was spending three hundred dollars a month on gasoline, I’m saving about two hundred fifty dollars a month in operating expenses.

Is the range of a Leaf limited compared to a gasoline powered car?  Certainly.  For some people, that is a show stopper.  But given that the overwhelming amount of my family’s driving is local and amounts to less than 40 miles per day, the limited range of the Leaf works out fine.  Even better, instead of having to sit in a line at Costco to fill up with expensive gasoline, now we just plug the car in at the end of the day like I do with my cellphone.  In the morning, we have a full “tank” with no waiting and at a fraction of the cost.  If we do need to go further, we either use our remaining gasoline powered car or we plan our route very carefully and allow for charging time.  Someday, when I can afford it (when my daughters are done with college) I’m hoping to trade in my last gasoline vehicle on that electric car that I really want: a Tesla. Already, the used versions of the Model S are nearly affordable for me.

Oh, and one more thing: driving an electric car is fun; it is quiet, smooth, and quick.  A Leaf has nowhere near the torque of a Tesla Model S; but we still tend to blow the doors off just about everything at stoplights.