Happy Earth Day (one day late – internet issues while traveling!)! On this greenest of days, I thought I’d share one of the ways our family has been a little bit more environmentally conscious this past year or so.
This zippy little number, is my adorable all-electric Nissan Leaf!
We got it back in October 2014, so we’ve had it a year and a half now. When we originally got it, it was supposed to be Casey’s commuting car. His bus commute was sucking way too much time out of his already long work day, and the alternatives like Car2Go were adding up to be pretty expensive when used daily. It was also becoming more challenging to be a one-car family as the kids got older and schedules changed.
When we picked this car, there were Washington state and federal tax credits, so we got a really good price. We chose the base model without the extra options and upgraded interior. And so it was a really affordable way for us to transition from a one-car to tw0-car family – I believe our payment is $220 a month.
Casey drove the car for about a month before I totally fell in love with it. The first time I drove it I couldn’t believe how light and speedy it felt – with no heavy gas engine it just floats over the road, and it is completely silent. So silent, in fact, that it actually beeps when you back up. Feels a bit absurd, but safety first I guess.
For some reason I’d had it in my mind that a mom driving kids needs ROOM and SPACE. I always talked about needing a big cargo area for all the things I needed to haul. But what were those things? And did I ever actually do that? At the same time, I was the one driving all over the city each day exploring with the kids in a big SUV – using the gas and adding up the miles. Casey was simply going back and forth to the office – four miles each way.
Around this same time, Casey started traveling a lot. With his car just sitting there in the driveway half the time, I found myself strapping the kids into backseat of the Leaf more often than not. It was SO much easier to park in the city, and I figured there was no sense wasting gas and mileage if I didn’t need to. And after a few weeks, Casey’s new car became my new mom-mobile.
I realized pretty quickly that the hatch back was surprisingly roomy. I can fit my giant double BOB stroller, as well as groceries, scooters, my yoga mat, the huge Lululemon bag of beach toys, the dogs – whatever else needs to be back there.
The hatch opening is also great for diaper changes or wiggling kids out of sandy bathing suits. And like most cars, the seats can fold flat to accommodate bigger items if necessary.
The backseat isn’t enormous, but it is plenty big for our needs. And without carseats, it’s actually quite spacious. I have a Chicco Nextfit for Graham and a Diono Radian RXT for Cullen, and a plastic bin of books that sits perfectly in between them.
One thing I actually really like about having a smaller car is that I can reach most things if needed. I can easily pick up dropped books at red lights, or pass the kids their water bottles if needed. When we had the SUV, once something was dropped it was in no man’s land until we stopped,which usually led to screaming and tears. Everything in the Leaf feels close enough but not too close. My understanding is that with the right configuration of narrow-profile carseats, you can also do three across here, but we haven’t needed or tried to do that.
And as for the front of the car, it is roomy and has everything I need. Again, I think there are fancier options that can be added, but even with the base model we have heated seats, a heated steering wheel, bluetooth connections, push button start, a back up camera, and lots of cup holders.
Can you tell I am a maniac car cleaner? Usually once a week I pull my car all the way to the back of the driveway, and use the shopvac from our garage to totally vacuum and clean it out. Kids are so hard on cars – snacks, leaves, sand, dirt – where does it all even come from? A clean car brings me all sorts of type A control-freak happiness.
And so what about the most important part of all? The part that makes it so different – the fact that is has NO gas! I get so many questions about this, and I admit that when Casey first suggested it I felt skeptical. My naturally anxious nature didn’t like the idea of a car that could fizzle out on me. But I learned quickly just how awesome it is, and how easy it is to manage. The car itself comes with a basic charger that can be kept in this battery pack in the trunk.
And it plugs right into this charging port on the front of the car – so easy. (And yes, we desperately need a trip through the car wash!)
Would you believe that it charges with just a basic three-prong plug? Pretty cool. We used this charger for the first few months. Some of the premium models have super-charge batteries, but our basic model charged at regular speed. Using this charger it took about 12 hours to get a full charge of 90 miles. This was fine, but we hoped to upgrade it eventually to something a bit faster.
A few months later Casey’s parents visited us in Seattle, and so Casey and his dad installed this super charger on the side of our house. It looks just like a gas pump, and the charger itself cost about $500. It has the same type of electric hookup as a dryer (220V). I think it’s kind of hilarious and awesome that we have an electric car charging station on the side of our 1905 farmhouse.
When I first heard that the average driving range on a Leaf was 90 miles, my reaction was – that’s not very far. But in reality, 90 miles is a long way! Obviously it depends on where you live and how you drive, but it is the perfect car for a place like Seattle. While we are a big city by population, the land mass is actually quite small since we are locked in by water on most sides. And while you can sit in traffic for 40 minutes, you might only actually drive four or five miles. If the car is sitting idled, the range doesn’t drop at all (unless you are blasting all the internal systems of the car).
The range does drop a bit in the winter months, as running the high heat in cold temps uses a bit more electricity. But for us it only drops by about 5-10 miles overall – nothing too significant for a mild Seattle winter.
Most of the things I do around town are within five miles of our house. And even on days when we have trips planned further out, we are very rarely driving over forty miles each way. In fact, I tend to only charge the car every three to four days. Once it gets down into the 20/30 range, I usually plug it in, but otherwise I don’t worry about it.
There have been two or three times where I’ve cut it close, and in those cases you can option into “eco mode” in order to conserve electricity. The other cool thing is that in Seattle, there are actually charging stations all over the city. The airport, the local pharmacy chain (Bartell’s), most parking garages, and many more places all have electric car parking. The navigation feature on the dash also shows all nearby charging stations while you are driving around, which is helpful if you need it (although in two years I’ve never had to stop and charge the car, but good to know just in case!).
I think electric cars will be a big part of our future. In a city like Seattle, the Leaf and even the Tesla are seen regularly all over the city, and cars like the Prius and the Volt are offering some partial plug-in options. For us, its a great option for all the day to day city drives, and we can all load into the truck if we need to do a longer road trip.
It’s worth saying I guess that I have no relationship or partnership with Nissan or the auto industry in general. I just really love this car, and think it’s such a great choice – both for the environmental savings for the planet, and personal savings for reducing spending on transportation and maintenance. I’m excited to see how battery technology evolves and these driving ranges get even longer.
If you are someone who spends a ton of time commuting and money on gas, it might be a great choice for you. And if I left anything out or you have questions, please ask in the comments!
We just landed back in Seattle after an awesome vacation (that I’ll share next). It was a great week and we’re missing our family, but it also feels good to be home, snuggle with Indy, and get back into our routines! Have a wonderful weekend!