Cost-saving confessions of an electric car owner

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Electric Car Charging Pavement Marking // Image courtesy of Paul Krueger

Electric cars first captured my imagination in the 1990s, when GM was experimenting with the EV1. Unfortunately, that program ended, and interest by the auto industry faded for nearly two decades. Then Tesla created quite a buzz with its electric roadster, and GM got back into the electric vehicle (EV) business by announcing the Volt project. Since I needed more of a family-type car, I knew the Volt would be my choice. It was to be released to the public in 2010, and I placed my order as soon as I could. I would have to wait almost six months for delivery.

I had never before bought a car sight unseen, let alone one that was a radical departure from the norm. During the wait I heard from so many skeptics about what would or could go wrong with the car and how early adopters would bear the brunt of all the technology problems that would inevitably arise. The greatest fear was battery life.

The battery itself cost an estimated $10,000 at that time. What if it went bad? GM minimized that fear with a 100,000-mile, eight-year warranty. But after that, how short would the range be as the battery aged? Would the electrical system develop glitches and problems like our computers do? Cars are more like rolling computers now anyway. Would the system that allows the car to switch seamlessly from electric to gas power have unforeseen problems?

My new car was delivered on Jan. 6, 2011. It was the 478 Volt off the assembly line, and the first one in the state of South Carolina. I knew this was an experiment, and I was ready to see if it would live up to my hopes. I found a few things about the car that could be improved, like leg room in the back seats, and the slowness of the heater to warm the car up, but I was thrilled with the handling, silence, instant acceleration and the mileage of the car.

The Volt is an electric car equipped with a gasoline generator that extends its range beyond the stated electric range of 35 miles. Based on questions I get, this is one of the most misunderstood parts of this car. Many people think that the car can’t go beyond the stated range of the battery, and the car would be almost useless if that were the case. It would only be good for in-town trips. But with a fully charged battery and full gas tank (10 gallons), the car has a range of over 400 miles. If you have to go farther, pull off, fill up and keep going. I average filling the tank once every two months. I plug the car in at work and home.

I’ve had the car now for five years and five months, and recently passed the 100,000-mile threshold. To date I’ve used 282 gallons of gas, an average of 355 mpg.

There are always nay-sayers to new technologies and ideas, but five years into this experiment I think we can say that this is a technology that has arrived. There have been a lot of advances in EVs in the last five years, and we have some long range EVs out now with the Tesla S, X and 3, as well as the new Chevy Bolt. Newer batteries will allow the range to increase and charge times drop, making these cars compatible with the expectations of gas drivers. The big benefit to all will be the lack of need for regular maintenance. Tesla recommends but doesn’t require their cars be brought in for an annual inspection. That’s it.

The final benefit is clean air. EV drivers can breathe easier knowing they are making a difference.

If you haven’t thought about an electric car before, give it a thought. If you have been interested, but were concerned about the cost, there are a number of used Volts, Leafs, and other plug-in hybrids available at very low prices. Do a search. I think you’d be impressed and pleased if you switched.


GaryDavis-HeadshotGary Davis serves on the Green Ribbon Committee for Mobility for the City of Greenville. His interests include organic gardening, hiking, bird watching, running, travel and flying.

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