Two nights ago, Jesse and I decided to take the plunge and buy a Nissan Leaf. For the record, we are not hippies– we don’t compost (yet), we don’t have solar power (yet), and we don’t exclusively buy things local and organic. We still visit the doctor, and we aren’t afraid of hospitals.
But…come to think of it, we have been moving in a direction where we are more environmentally conscious, striving to minimize when we can, save, reuse, and consider things. It doesn’t hurt that most “environmentally friendly” habits are also money-saving habits. In fact, out of the things I’ve mentioned, we do most things in order to save money, with the other as a side benefit.
We’ve talked about buying a 2nd car for a few months now, mainly because we share one car at the moment that has 172,000 miles on it. This hasn’t been so bad, since Jesse works half a mile away and whenever I need to get somewhere I use the DART public transportation system or ask him to get a ride with a friend. But we are finishing up a few things for our MA degrees next semester, which will require a 30 min. commute each way a few times a week. If something were to happen to the car, we wouldn’t have any recourse, and doing things out of distress and panic is never good, financially or otherwise. Our savings fund is needed for all of the repairs we’ve had to do on our house in CA (long story for another time!)– if we had to add massive car repairs for a 10 year old car, things would get bad pretty fast around here! The car also gets only 18 mpg, which kills me just to say it out loud. NOT the best car for long distances.
Originally, we were looking at the Toyota Camry, to be quite honest. They are offering some great deals on financing right now– 0% interest for 6 years, along with low low prices. We even walked into a dealer last week, fully prepared to walk out of it with keys in hand, but didn’t end up purchasing it (I’m a tough as nails/cranky negotiator, guys. Hopefully you don’t ever have to deal with me in that context!).
As we talked more about it with my family throughout the week, a suggestion came up. Why not consider the Nissan Leaf? This car was not even on our radar before this, but after I looked more into it some things started clicking and making sense. Cutting our gas bill out of our budget almost completely pays for the car on a month to month level, especially once we start commuting to grad school. End of the year price cuts, zero maintenance, no gas bill, insane tax rebates and tax credits…..the reasons started to pile up.
Our biggest question, after exploring the practical and logistical side of things was, did we even LIKE the car? We’d never seen one in person, let alone driven one.
So, Jesse and I picked the coldest night in over three weeks and headed to the dealer (we should’ve picked a different day cuz’ it was in the low 30s!). We test drove it one at a time so that the other one of us could stay in the lobby with the kids and the oh-so-sparkly-and-fun-to-
break-touch Christmas tree.
And you know what? We LOVED it. The ride was smoother than the Camry, and the interior was almost as spacious. Heated seats and steering wheel, bluetooth radio and calling system, surprisingly large trunk, and a smart key system where you don’t have to manually use the key, so long as it’s in your pocket.
Since there weren’t any base models available (anywhere in the metroplex, turns out) we drove one that was middle of the line instead, which meant it had a back-up camera as well. We found out that this model had some features that we would’ve really kicked ourselves for ignoring, such as the ability to “fast charge” in under 30 minutes (480v stations only). The 4-11 hour wait time for charging was one of my biggest fears about purchasing or leasing an electric car, so this feature was a definite upgrade I was willing to pay for.
As far as the tax credits, I can only speak for our situation here in TX, but we did a “mock-up” of our taxes before hand to realize that the federal tax credit promise of $7500 (yes, really!) wouldn’t help us much in our particular situation. But others should definitely know that this incentive is out there, especially if you are self-employed or pay a lot in taxes!
Then there are the state incentives. In TX, the sales tax on a lease drops from 6% something down to .6% something, which saves a lot if you’re doing a lease. In TX, instead of tax credits, they actually cut you a rebate check to arrive within 4-6 weeks– $2500 if you buy or lease for more than 4 years, $1850 if you lease for 3 years, $1250 for 2 and $600 for 1. That’s money that you get because the dealership sends in a form, in no way linked to your taxes! In other states, however, it appears to be just an additional tax credit, so make sure to check with your tax professional (this site lists all the different states and the electric car incentives).
Since we live in Dallas, there are around 40 different stations that we can charge at for 3-4 hours, including a dozen or so that we can get the “quick” charge at in under 30 minutes. Other areas of the country are not so fortunate (TX pride, ya’ll!), so before considering an electric car you should do yourself the favor of checking out this website to see the charging stations in your area. When all else fails, however, they give you a free “trickle” charge cord that you plug into your garage (or, in our case, the back of the townhouse since we have a carport). For around $20 extra dollars a month, a specialized electricity company will install a 240v station in your home, charging the car in 3-4 hours.
Also, a single charge can take the car between 80-120 miles, depending on driving habits and whether the a/c or heat are on. This is also why the car has heated seats and steering wheel– the heat drains the battery more than anything, so you can program the car (with your smart phone!) to heat up 10-20 minutes BEFORE you get in it, while it’s still plugged in. When you get in a toasty car, there’s no reason to crank up the heat in a hurry, draining the battery quickly. Since there is no exhaust pipe, there’s no danger in the garage either.
Many people might think that you replace your gas bill with electricity cost increases, but from the research I’ve done the average user only adds $10-12/month onto their electricity bill. But every buy or lease from Nissan comes with a 2 year free-charge card, so you can get free charging from any station anyways. So essentially, it truly does deliver the “free” part of the travel expenses (especially when you factor in the fact that you’ll never need another smog check or oil change!).
Of course, because I had to, I asked “what happens if you run out of charge while driving?” I was thinking about how I may or may not have played with danger for years by getting the gas tank super low….his answer was surprising and encouraging. There is a toll-free number that you call, and they have two trucks in our area that will come and GIVE YOU a fast charge, or tow you to the nearest station– FOR FREE. You could call them to rescue you every single day, and while that would be inconvenient since you’d have to wait for them, it still wouldn’t cost a penny!
One of the only downsides (that I can see) about this car is that it is not fit for long road trips. Not only are charging stations scarce once you leave big metropolitan areas, but the “quick charge” 20 min. solution shouldn’t be used more than once or twice a day since it heats the battery quickly and can damage it if done a lot. Add onto that a hot TX summer day, and it’s basically a no-no (although the car won’t let you break it at that point– it will simply sense that it is too hot and shut off). As technology increases, the battery will get stronger, and perhaps road trips will become possible.
Another drawback is that the mileage goes down significantly if you exceed 60 mph, so for some, that would be a lifestyle change 😉 And it is more “computer” than “car”, so since it’s only been around for 2 years, no one quite knows what some of the long term issues are.
BUT, all things considered, I hope more people look into buying or leasing a Nissan Leaf. Fun fact: Tessla (the super expensive electric car!) buys their engines from Nissan! Anyways, I am excited about the prospect of all electric transportation, especially considering what that would mean for the global economy and our reliance on foreign oil.
But enough about me! What experience have you had with electric or hybrid cars? Are we crazy for doing this, or have you considered it yourself? Let me know below in the comments!
Our New Van
what do you think?
A Busy Mom’s Thoughts on Sustainability