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My Toyota is on life support

Uploaded: Oct 31, 2021
Is it just me or does it seem like a lot of people are looking at EVs these days? A neighbor of mine who got a Kia Niro a few weeks ago remarked with some surprise: “You know, people just need to drive one!” It’s no coincidence that my gas-powered Toyota is now on life support. The battery couldn’t withstand the long stays in the garage.

Ironically, my gas-powered car now stays plugged in.

After two new batteries and three or four jump starts, an auto guy took pity on me and introduced me to the concept of a “battery trickler”, which gently keeps a battery charged. He said that some high-end Porsches are sold with one because the cars are driven so rarely. My humble RAV 4 is now a member of that idled rich class.

I used to love my Toyota but now I take the EV (a Chevrolet Bolt) everywhere I can. That surprises me some. I was kind of underwhelmed by the test drive three years ago -- the Bolt just seemed like a normal car. It wasn’t that quiet (I could still hear all the road noise), and it didn’t seem that different on the highway. I drove it because it was low-emission but after three years I’ve come to really appreciate the differences. Here are some of the unexpected (to me) things that I like about the car.

1. It is cheap to drive. I didn’t appreciate how much cheaper the EV would be to drive. With the price of gas today it would cost me around $40 to drive my Toyota from here to Truckee. That same trip costs me about $11 in my Bolt, assuming a relatively low highway mileage of 3.8 miles/kWh. (If that 220 miles were driven around town, it would cost me just over $9.) (1) When you have an EV it’s like having access to a $1.00/gallon gas pump. A silent pump that doesn’t smell, conveniently located in your garage.

My home charger says it has served 4765 kWh to date and saved me $2642 based on my gas car’s mileage (25 miles/gallon), my EV mileage (4.4 miles/kWh), the price of electricity ($0.194/kWh in Palo Alto), and the price of gas (I’m guessing it has averaged $4/gallon over the past three years). That is over $70 saved every month, and people who drive a lot would save even more. (2)

2. It is convenient to own. It is really nice filling up the car without visiting a gas station. Plus there are no oil changes, no check-ups. (The Bolt is having a battery recall, but any time someone wants to install a brand new battery in my EV, I’ll take it.)

3. One pedal driving is super easy. The Bolt recharges the battery when it uses the electric motor to slow down. To encourage the driver to slow the car with the motor instead of the brake pedal, the Bolt offers a one-pedal driving mode. In that mode when you take your foot off the accelerator, the car slows down as though you are braking. You only need to use the brake pedal for emergency stops.

It doesn’t take long to prefer one pedal driving. It’s a very smooth braking action, plus you get better mileage and your brakes don’t wear out. The only downside is that when you need to drive a gas-powered car you might forget that you need to brake!

4. There is no exhaust. The EV never smells and doesn’t pollute the area where I’m driving. Whenever I see the layer of smog over the bay, it’s nice to know that I’m not contributing to it. Driving without polluting is a wonderful thing. Another nice benefit of no exhaust: I love heating the car up in the garage on a cold day and not worrying about exhaust building up. With the Bolt you just push a button on the remote to get the car nice and warm before you get in.

5. A big battery is surprisingly useful. As one example, you can cool your car when it’s not even running. I’ve used this to keep my dog cool in a parking lot when it was hard to find shade. The Bolt limits this non-operating temperature control to 40 minutes. Other manufacturers are not so conservative. The Ford Lightning pickup advertises its 9.6 kW battery as enough to charge power tools or even to power a tailgate party complete with projector, PA system, portable hot tub, lights, portable AC, refrigerator, and two blenders (per Business Insider’s review). I expect car manufacturers will continue to find fun and interesting ways to take advantage of a big battery.

6. Left turns onto busy streets are so easy. An EV goes when you want it to go, and quickly. If you want to go left onto a busy street, no worry. I recently had to rent a gas car and driving it felt very sluggish in comparison.

7. The EV is quiet. I don’t notice this often, but I do at low speeds. You can poke slowly and carefully and easily into a garage or carport, or any tight space, without worrying about car noise or smell. My daughter says this is her favorite thing about the car, the quiet at low speeds.

The range has been fine for me, about 220 miles on highway on average and 250+ around town. I haven’t noticed much degradation in the battery range of the car over the three years I’ve owned it, which is great. In fact, only a 6-8% decrease in range is expected after about 100,000 miles.

I’d say the one thing I’ve noticed that can be a problem is if a charging station just doesn’t work. Once I went to two in a row and neither worked. I still don’t know if it was the chargers or something with the car. The lesson I learned is not to wait until the engine is empty to charge. Leave a buffer in case you need to go to another station.

My daughter says the thing she likes least about our car is that I talk about it too much :) It’s true, I charge it midday and I can’t get over the joy of driving on (mostly) sunshine.

I’d love to hear what you have discovered about your own EV, whether you’ve had it for a while or are still new to it.

Notes and References
1. This is at the Palo Alto “Tier 2” rate of $0.194/kWh.

2. I think this same lesson is going to play out with heating in buildings.

3. I am impressed with the sheer number and variety of EVs to be released in the next few years.

Current Climate Data (September 2021)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

One more thing...
Take a look at this great short piece by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic about what we stand to gain or lose from the machinations in Congress on climate funding. I particularly appreciate his first paragraph’s many renditions of “It has to pass!" I agree.

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Posted by Rvengosh, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Oct 31, 2021 at 8:44 am

Rvengosh is a registered user.

My Model Y is supposed to arrive in January. Can't wait!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 1, 2021 at 1:48 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Just as a reminder, I am removing comments from far outside of this community that misrepresent their location and are designed to be provocative.

Posted by Bruce Karney, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Nov 2, 2021 at 3:50 pm

Bruce Karney is a registered user.

I'm under the impression that one pedal driving doesn't improve a Bolt's miles/kWh compared to using the brake pedal as long as you break gently. I believe the Bolt uses regenerative breaking whenever you slow down unless you really jam on the brake in which case the mechanical braking system is also activated and the energy that could have gone back into the batteries turns to heat and is wasted. If I'm wrong about this please let me know.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2021 at 4:27 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Bruce: Thanks for the question. AFAIK using the Bolt's brake pedal always engages the physical brake. I'd be surprised to hear otherwise, but lmk. I think this writeup has a helpful description of how the Bolt's braking works. To summarize what they say, removing your foot from the accelerator will always do some regenerative braking, but only in "L" mode (one-pedal driving) is it strong enough to bypass the physical brakes entirely (well, except for emergencies). Interestingly, there seems to be some consensus that the Bolt's implementation of one-pedal driving is better than Tesla's. That is true for range estimation as well. (The Bolt's is more context sensitive, which people seem to trust more.) It's interesting seeing the different choices that are made.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Incidentally, while I'm commenting, I want to highlight an effort by the EV Charging Access for All coalition to make it possible for all residents of new multi-family buildings to own EVs. That seems like a no-brainer, but the latest draft of the 2022 building code mandates only that 40% of parking spaces in these buildings have a charger. Buildings last a very long time, and EVs are the future (the near future!). It is hard to understand why we are make it so difficult for 60% of these lower income residents to own a less expensive (and cleaner) car. A simple standard electrical outlet, wired to the electric meter for a potential EV rate, can suffice.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2021 at 5:18 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Also, to give you a sense of how quickly EVs are being adopted, a full 11.49% of all new light-duty vehicle sales in California in 2021 were zero-emission vehicles. Wow. Everyone should be able to own and charge one of these, not just people in single-family homes.

Source: Veloz

Posted by Robert+Neff, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 2, 2021 at 10:59 pm

Robert+Neff is a registered user.

We love our old LEAF, too.

For that last chart, I wonder how many of the off-lease cars that are not Tesla are still out there. I think most old Nissan's were taken back by Nissan after 3 years and ?? salvaged ?? Crushed ?? Some manufacturers would rather get the EV credit for a new car than resell an used, off-lease one. Not so green.

Posted by eileen+, a resident of another community,
on Nov 3, 2021 at 9:28 am

eileen+ is a registered user.

@Robert So glad you asked. I am driving a 2016 Chevy SparkEV which I bought used with 300 miles after its having been a very short lease attempt by the dealer. Prior to that I leased a 2014 Spark EV which I sadly returned because the post lease purchase price was absurd. It was resold. The SparkEV is discontinued but some of us owners are still happily driving them. Now to vent a bit. Why do mainstream articles about electric vehicles only talk about Teslas? There are a lot of choices out there, including the new long range Leaf! Some associate Tesla with snob appeal and that is not the association we want with EVs.

Posted by kbehroozi, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:01 am

kbehroozi is a registered user.

We love our Bolt for many of the same reasons. It's also surprisingly roomy, with a more comfortable backseat for adults than our old Subaru Outback and decent trunk capacity as well.

I will say that the battery recall and charging restrictions around it have made us a little less comfortable, and that the hypothetical drive to Truckee that you mentioned wouldn't actually work for us (and not just because current charging guidelines recommend not allowing the charge to drop below 70 miles remaining).

Our experience: the car made it from Menlo Park to San Luis Obispo only by coasting all the way down the hill and using regenerative braking. And it didn't make it home, even when we set it to cruise at 55 mph and turned off the AC. (Highway speeds are less efficient, especially with uphills and headwinds.) Charging infrastructure is also unevenly distributed around the state, including many of the places we'd want to go on a road trip. So we keep our old Subaru around as a loaner car/hauler/occasional road tripper, and use the Bolt and bikes to get around town.

BUT�"this is fine. Many people make the mistake of buying more car than they regularly need for the edge case (a drive to Tahoe, that one time a year when the grandparents visit and you want a third row)--and then they end up paying for it in gas and emissions. When we ran the numbers, it turned out to be much cheaper to own an EV and rent a minivan for a long road trip with bikes�"or an AWD vehicle for an occasional trip to the snow. (Putting a bunch of money into the Subaru when all the systems failed at once probably wasn't as cost-effective--but it keeps an old car functional for longer, which is also good for the environment.)

As they say...drumroll...your mileage may vary.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2021 at 10:09 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Robert, I can't find any record of a big buyback by Nissan. Most of what I see is about various ways to recycle the old Leaf batteries. Recurrent Auto reports that they see some old Leafs that still have great range. I don't get the sense they are all crushed, but I welcome pointers!

I totally agree with your point that we need a thriving used EV market. FWIW, one of the things I'm pretty excited about is the Build Back Better Act has a $2000 credit for used vehicles! You can read about it on page 1260. But people will need to be able to charge these. Is an outlet in each parking space too much to ask for new construction??

Posted by Disabled Resident, a resident of Mayfield,
on Nov 5, 2021 at 7:13 pm

Disabled Resident is a registered user.

I have a question. When this happens: "In that mode when you take your foot off the accelerator, the car slows down as though you are braking." Do your brake lights come on? I was behind a car recently that kept stopping, but witout brake lights. I didn't notice what make/model it was. But now I am wondering if it's an electric car that can be operated by a single pedal that acts like a brake, without using lights like a two-pedal car with brakes would.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 5, 2021 at 9:06 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Disabled: For the Bolt, the brake lights do go on when it is "braking" via one-pedal driving, at least as long as there is a 0.2G deceleration (from what I read). But when it's done braking and it's at rest, for example at a stop light, the brake lights are not on.

@kbehroozi: FWIW, I just did the drive to/from Tahoe, so here are the stats in case you are interested. For me it was a 233 mile drive.

On the way there I used 65 kWh (3.6 mi/kWh) and charged at Dutch Flat, though Nyack would also have worked. (There are fast chargers every 10 miles or so on this part of 80, so it's pretty easy.) On the way back I used 44 kWh and got 5.3 mi/kWh.

The main reason for the difference is it's uphill on the way there, downhill on the way back. But I also used "D" mode for highway driving on the way back, whereas I used "L" on the way there. I've heard "D" is the way to go for highway driving, though I don't know how much of a difference it makes. In both directions I used cruise control at 65 for most of it.

Below are some photos from the end of the trip home.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Nov 6, 2021 at 10:16 am

Donald is a registered user.

The charger for your Toyota is a "trickle" charger, not "tickle". It is a small charger that keeps your battery charged with a trickle of current, as opposed to a charger that could charge a dead battery and would need to supply a lot of current. With lots of people working from home there has been high demand for trickle chargers. Some use small solar panels that go on the dashboard, others plug in. Search Amazon for "trickle charger" to see tons of models.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 6, 2021 at 1:32 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Oh no! I like "tickle" way better :) But I fixed it in the post. Thanks.

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