Our Crunchy New Car

By Emily Halgrimson

About two weeks ago my boyfriend bought a 2013 all-electric Nissan Leaf while I cheered him on. Steve had been driving a 2005 Chevy TrailBlazer he bought used at Carmax for the past eight years, and was tired of the $50-$70 in gas money he burned up each week commuting 26 miles each way on a semi truck-heavy stretch of I-94 in Northwest Indiana. I planted the idea of an electric car in his head months ago, and after lots of Internet research and discussion we decided to go test drive one. We were impressed with the surprisingly powerful acceleration, smooth handling, interior space and comfort of the car. After the dealer accepted a price just above our seriously low-ball offer, Steve decided to roll the dice and go for it.

It’s very exciting to get a new car, but we do feel the nervous uncertainty of being early adopters. The U.S. is definitely setup for gas engines, and stepping outside the norm means a learning curve, challenges and some sacrifice. People’s reactions have been fun to watch. Family and friends want to see it, look under the hood, and drive it, and few people try to hide their skepticism about if this was a dumb purchase.

The price of a used Leaf sounds too good to be true. Our 2013 with 22,000 miles was priced online in the south suburbs of Chicago for $8900. After our initial offer of $7500 was rejected we agreed to pay $8000. These cars sold in 2013 for $30,000-$35,000 in three trim models, and look and feel like $30,000 cars inside. Most new Leaf buyers lease the cars, which has left the used Leaf market flooded and the used car price unnaturally low.

Steve’s 2013 all-electric Nissan Leaf

A 2013 Leaf when new reportedly had a range of about 100 miles per charge. Our used Leaf shows 91 miles of range after being fully charged, so we’re already seeing some signs of battery capacity loss, though it doesn’t seem too bad considering it’s a four-year-old battery. This is the scariest part about the Leaf, not knowing how much battery capacity it will lose each year. There is some worry that we may be left with an un-drivable car that needs a $4000-$5000 new battery sooner than we expected. After reading hours of blogs and articles on the subject it’s clear the battery wear issue isn’t simple. A lot depends on how the car is driven, the climate the car battery is subjected to, and how it’s charged.

Driving a Leaf does mean a bit of a lifestyle change. The automatic noting of gas prices I used to do while driving around has morphed into a feeling of smugness I try to resist while watching people burn dollars at the pump. You also see your neighborhood in a new way, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling more than 35-miles from home without having a plan in place to charge the battery.

It’s surprising how many charging stations are around. Of course, there’s an app for that. BP is reportedly working on a network of quick charge ports at their gas stations, though there aren’t any in Chicagoland yet. We’ve already taken a trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park for a hike so we could try charging the Leaf at their free charging station while we walked the beach trails near Lake Michigan. And knowing there’s a charger next to our favorite farmer’s market in Chesterton, IN is exciting. Our local hospital and park have free chargers, and every Kohl’s store has a free charger too, info that has changed our opinion of the retailer notorious for its fake sales.

Charging the Leaf is a learning experience. The car comes with a Level One 3.3 kW, 120-volt charger that fully charges the battery in about 11 hours, which perfect for overnight when electricity is the cheapest. You can purchase an after-market Level Two 6.6 kW, 240-volt charger for about $500 that will do the job in 5 hours, but you’d need an electrician to install a dedicated line in your home. A public fast charge port can charge the battery to near capacity in 30 minutes, but these aren’t always free. It’s estimated that home charging a Leaf costs $2-$3 from zero to full, a quick-charge station can be up to $7.

Since we’ve only had the car two weeks the newness and excitement hasn’t worn off, we don’t yet have a feel for how well the car will work for us in the long run. The modest car payment is easily being covered by Steve’s previous monthly gas expenditure, so financially we should feel no worse off. And we still have my 2010 Subaru Forrester for Steve’s fishing trips and our vacations. But there is a small sense of loss of freedom, because the combustion engine lets you get up and go anywhere without much thought. Right now we feel it’s a positive move, but ask me again in a year and I’ll let you know if we’ve passed the real world test, and Steve has in fact sold the TrailBlazer.

Question 1: Would you ever consider buying an electric car?

Question 2: Tesla’s market value just surpassed Ford’s. Does this make sense to you?

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19 thoughts on “Our Crunchy New Car

  1. Mindy Mikami


    This was very interesting to me. I recently went online and priced a Tesla just for fun. Since my husband and I have 2 cars, but his is a company car that only he is allowed to drive, it kind of scares me to think of owning a car with a limited range (although Tesla’s range is more like 200+ miles).

    I don’t think we’re ready yet, but owning an electric car is definitely on our radar. Maybe if some of those people who put down $1,000 for the new Tesla change their minds, I might swoop in and buy one!

    1. Emily Halgrimson

      Mindy, the 2018 Leafs are rumored to have a 300-mile battery capacity… soon it won’t make sense to use gas, I’m hoping.

  2. Kiwibok

    So you’re paying $3 for 2 commutes vs one tank of gas with a range of what 520 miles -10 commutes .
    The magicians trick of this article is comparing a truck to a small car .
    Fill a small Toyota up with a $26 tank and it will cost very nearly the same as your electricity charge is my guess – without the hassle .
    plus the beauty is you will be producing plant food ( co2 ) – athough you’ll find the electricity you use is also produced with gas / coal – so also good , so pretty equal there .

    1. Emily Halgrimson

      No tricks, I’m not equivocating. We consciously downgraded the size of the vehicle, commuting in a huge truck is dumb. And you’re not being honest in your numbers. One tank of gas in the TrailBlazer is about 372 miles, not 520. Also, we don’t have to fully charge the car each night, so assuming $3/day of electric is inaccurate. Also, our local power company is highly invested in renewable energy sources, so in addition to coal we receive hydroelectric and wind power. The world is changing, best to get on board.

  3. Ben

    1. My wife and I both need 100+ miles range available every day without notice, and I need a truck bed for payload, so an electric does not yet support our needs. A hybrid could, though.

  4. Mike

    Still don’t see the point. The cost of electricity will go up. Its made with coal. The disposal of the batteries is far more damaging then commonly reported. And there is still no proof fossil fuel does anything to the environment. Look at the green house gasses from nature.. Volcano burp will put out 100 years of US pollution in seconds. yet the earth takes that every day. Of course you have to find this info yourself because its not reported by most sources.

  5. Josh

    I would absolutely purchase an electric car, but I would want something more like the Volt with a gas engine for back-up. If I had more money and didn’t have to worry about the reliability of my automobile I would purchase one in a heartbeat but all that said I have a reason to be wary of electric cars. I’m once proud owner of a Honda Civic Hybrid that will soon become an anchor tens of thousands of miles before it would have were it purely a gasoline engine. My 2008 civic with 170,000 miles on it has a failing IMA battery which would cost $3,000.00 to replace on a vehicle that blue books for about $3,000.00. I just can’t justify it to myself to put 3 grand in repairs into a car that’s only worth that much and is about to require other mechanical maintenance. A Honda Civic in my mind should be capable of going well over 200k miles, but the battery killed it.

    All said, everything else on the car was fantastic and in the 6 years that I owned it I never had to have any other component fixed which is a testament to Honda’s quality. I simply encountered the curse of being an early adopter. We bought a used Honda Fit to be our reliable replacement for our Civic Hybrid as my fiancee has a 30 mile commute and mine is .08 miles, I’ll keep driving the Civic for now.

    I do eventually think electric will be the future, but I’ll wait until it becomes a little more sound for now, or I have a larger income.

  6. Scott@GenSwiss

    Electric cars make their massive carbon footprint during the manufacture and disposal processes…but the user gets to feel good about themselves at least, though I commend your bravery wholeheartedly. There’s little chance I would buy an all-electric car for fear of major depreciation and battery failure. I think we will have combustion engines for the foreseeable future, just the fuel they burn might change. Algae derived ethanol maybe?

  7. Chuck Schultz

    Tesla’s market value is only the latest reminder that Wall Street runs on the greater fool theory. I remember a day in 2000 when the initial public offering of a software start-up in Pittsburgh pushed its market value above Alcoa’s. Six months later it was sold to a bigger software firm at a fraction of that inflated value and lots of paper millionaires were broke again. Pay no attention to the Jim Cramers of the world. Real wealth and value are harder to achieve than temporary illusions.

  8. Russ Ethridge

    In 15, maybe 20 years, all cars will be electric and using hydrogen to power 4 motors, one at each wheel, for the ultimate in driver suppored safety like yaw control, etc.
    I love petrol but this is the wave. The cycle will change with improved charge speeds. It will be part of the technology change to autonomous driving where we only use what we need for the 2 hours a day most of us need for personal transportation.
    Hauling a horse trailer for 500 miles may be different, but technology, not gas prices or the environment, will drive this.
    Plus, electric cars are wicked fast.

  9. Charles Merrill

    I have a 2013 nissan leaf. Love driving the car, just can go anywhere in it.
    best full charge reading I got out of mine was 81 mile range. true drive mileage about 70-65 miles. 3 years latter 2 bar drop 33k total miles.
    Now at best it says 75 mile range on full charge, Does not really do 70 its more like 50 mile. not using heater or air. Lucky for me my drive is 5 miles to work 5 miles back.
    Blue book Value drops faster they I can pay on it. low Blue book is about 4k
    1 thing is I bought mine in California which California has a 10 year battery warranty.
    Now California want to add $100 on registration fee for electric cars
    Now I want something else and can’t get rid of it. When you look at these it sounds great for the price. truth it’s not

  10. Misterchipster

    Would I own electric – no not in it’s current form, the numbers just don’t make “cents”
    The unpredictability of my routing and distance will at some point support a hybrid, but both technologies are not mature enough for the masses and the price tag proves it. Fossil fuels will be here for a long time yet as the ethanol farce continues consuming more energy and resources than it produces.
    As for Wall Street, Ford made 6 billion last year and Tesla made nothing, looks to me like there will be a major correction on the horizon when the emotion cools off and “no so” common sense kicks in. If you like to gamble it might be a great bet for a while but you better know when to fold ’em or you lose.

  11. Marc Klecka

    I had the opportunity to hear JB Straubel, Tesla Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, speak at last week’s Cleveland Advanced Design and Mfg. Show. After his speech I wanted to go out and buy a Model S. His passionate presentation was captivating. The 330+/- mile range is still too limiting for me, as I am on the road all the time, even though Tesla has made great strides in locating their charging stations nationally and internationally. When they bring someone like me onboard, there is no looking back. Note, the internal combustion engine is far from dead.

  12. Gordy

    I would love to get a Tesla, just don’t have the income for a 100k+ vehicle, regardless of what propels it.

    My reason is totally different though. The torque curve of an electric motor is the draw. 100% instantly at the wheels, no building RPMs, no turbo to spin up, no waiting for supercharger boost. 779HP and a whopping 920 ft-lbs of torque, NOW! Careful grasshopper, once you feel what a 10 second quarter mile feels like, you will want it all the time.

    Plus, when you look at all the moving parts, each of which I have fondled in the past on many of my cars, the electric has them hands down. A battery, a drive, a motor, and some cables. The simplicity makes me wonder what we would think if we all started with electric cars and later had the option of gasoline.

    Just remember the famous saying; “You can always have power you don’t use, but you can never use power you don’t have.”

  13. Seth Emerson

    Buying or owning an electric is highly dependent on your lifestyle. When my wife and I were both working, a plug-in hybrid, or full electric, would, with a bit more dedication to carpooling have provided us with virtually free commute energy cost, due to our California home solar generation, and our reasonable commutes. We would always have had another car or truck for any real trips. Now that we are retired, it doesn’t make as much sense. As far as the Tesla or other fully electric go, my brother and his extended family – also in California – have gone mostly electric. Each had a hybrid, or an older gas car in reserve for trips. That said, everybody I know who owns a Tesla – two relatives and two friends – they love them. One of our local Corvair club members just took an extended trip around the United States in his model S – No cost for fuel, as in zero. (Charging at Tesla outlets). Only one small case of range anxiety. Hurricane flooding closed, at the last minute, several routes down the eastern seaboard, making him backtrack a couple times before he got through. His car/(computer) helped him plan the whole trip and guided him along the way. As far as the stock value? Anybody who owned GM stock in 2008 would be paying attention. Stuff happens.

  14. Mike Birdwell

    Leasing a 2016 Kia soul electric now. Love driving it, quiet, good acceleration, heated and cooled seats, big screen for the backup camera etc. The clincher for me is the timed warmup feature where the car is warmed up with the charge cable ready to go even parked in the driveway at sub zero temperatures. With a normal commute the 80ish mile range is absolutely not a worry. Charging Is no more hassle than maintaining a cell phone, plug it in when I get home and forget about it.

    I believe that EV’s are ready for the masses now. All you need is an average commute and access to an extension cord where you park at night and you will be set. When people learn how easy to maintain and cheap to operate the electric cars are they will really take off.

    With a lease I have no worries about depreciation and look forward to the advancing technology that will make this car obsolete. And it was fire sale cheap at the local dealer.

  15. rick

    Glad I am late to the comments!
    Many have saved me a lot of ranting and typing. I will of course reiterate the high points and add my own.
    The car is useless for emergencies, due to lack of range and limited and L O N G “refueling” times.
    What about bailing out of an area with a power failure?
    As stated by others, it is only a feel good environmentalism.
    Sort of like beating your wife and making a donation to the battered womans’ shelter.
    Driving your electric car to save the planet, and plugging in at night so you don’t see the smokestack from the coal fired generating plant down the road, and all of the resources required to build the car, and future recycling costs.
    We still get 70% of electric from fossil fuel.
    (I commend Seth for the solar, but I doubt it is not direct. it goes in the grid and back to your car – they are getting you for a ton of fees I’m sure. And from my experience, solar charging is not that good at night – just saying)
    I will be ROTFLMAO in a few years when all these electric vehicles have a GPS tracking your every move and deducting your road use taxed directly from your account as you drive. tax increases will be so much easier to institute seamlessly and almost unnoticed until your statement – if you read them – shows up in your email.
    The next thing is as the EV use increases our grid will continue to deteriorate.
    enjoy the rolling blackouts as more charge their cars and coal plants are shuttered.

    As I have said time and time again, the environmental impact of wind and solar are significant!

    If you or I were to kill two bald eagles, we would spend at least a year in jail plus fines!
    these fines and penalties are waved for wind farms.
    so waivers are granted for those with the correct political leanings?

    Wind farms are the grand Cuisinart of eagles, bats and most other birds.
    No one speaks of the exploding mosquito populations DUE TO the decimation of bat and bird populations via wind farms. But we are endlessly warned of Zika and West Nile Virus.
    So we will allow this because of a politically correct agenda regardless of the consequences.
    Who will take care of all the handicapped “ZIKA BABIES” in years to come?
    But we will stand proudly exclaiming that we lowered the earths temperature .00001 degrees, based an false numbers and junk science.

    enjoy your toy cars, I’ll still be in my old V8!!!

  16. Bryan

    My co-worker has a Nissan leaf. Among many many other products, our company manufactures car charging stations. He got a great discount from Nissan, and a great deal on a car charger. His real world range on a cold mid-west winter day is about 40 miles. I briefly toyed with the idea of a lease when gas prices were high but the low winter time range is a deal killer. Emily, you purchased this car for the right price. Financially this makes sense if your commuting needs can be accommodate with . Buying a new electric car to save money is a financial boondoggle. But that is not why people purchase them.


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