By on May 31, 2013

2014 Fiat 500e, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Because of my RA (Range Anxiety), I drove Zippy Zappy gently on day 1, plugged the EV in immediately upon arriving at home and nixed my impromptu drive to the beach. (I haven’t named a car since I was 12 but the garish orange hue and pill-box proportions have made the name stick.) Thanks to my prudence (or was it fear?) I awoke to a 90% charge. According to Fiat’s computer, that was good for an 87 mile journey, plenty for my 52 mile one-way commute. Of course, it was after I started climbing up the mountain pass that separates my home from civilization that I asked “how am I going to charge today?”

You see, [for me] planning is something you do after you meet a problem, then you back-date the plan so you can claim you were prepared all along. As a result, I decided to turn off the heater in the car to save mileage, after all it was “only” 43 outside. The heater is thing most people don’t think about when it comes to EVs. In your gasoline car, you use the heater all you want and don’t run the A/C to save gas because heat is a “waste” product of combustion engines. EVs turn this logic on its head. Since there’s very little heat happening under the hood they have to use resistive heating elements to heat the cabin. According to Toyota, heat pumps would be more efficient but they cost way more and add a great deal of complexity and weight. Running the A/C in the little Fiat consumed about 1.5kW of power while the heater on medium sucked down nearly 8kW. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I decided the heated seat wasn’t cutting it and I needed to be more realistic so I set the climate control to 68. Let the future be damned!

Once on the freeway I realized my RA had returned. I decided to set the cruise control to a decidedly pokey 59 MPH, a speed that even tractor trailers don’t stoop to in California (even though their speed-limit is 55). At this speed I was able to commune with other EV drivers on the highway  (the ones I normally fly by in the left lane.) When I drove a BMW Active E, I got waves and thumbs up from the LEAF drivers. I decided to try the same in Zippy Zappy but the lack of decals announcing the Fiat’s electrification caused confusion in the LEAF drivers and just made them swerve wildly thinking I was some crazy person out to get them. My bad.

2014 Fiat 500e Charging Illegally, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

55 miles later (I decided to take the flattest and shortest route) I arrived at work where I discovered my RA was unjustified. I had 45% of my battery left. Charge time at 120V was 12 hours and 45 minutes. Electrical codes in the USA limit the 120V EVSE plugs to about 12A which isn’t very fast. Logically 8 hours at 120V would be more than enough to get me back home, but since I work in an area that has only street parking, things had to get creative. Extension cord plugged into the outlet in the hall (the breaker that wouldn’t trip), down the hall, through my office, out the window, across the lawn, over the sidewalk and into the street. I don’t recommend trying this in San Francisco, I’m sure an ADA compliance mob would stone you to death. (If you are meter maid in the Bay Area, I deny all knowledge of the picture above. It was someone else.)

After a few hours, I bothered to look into charging stations. After all, I did sign up for a ChargePoint account a while back. Low and behold there was a charging station just around the corner charging $0.49/kWh. Looking at the map it’s obvious what a year has done to the EV landscape, there are easily three times the number of public EV charging stations in the Bay Area than there were a year ago. Because I’m selfish, what mattered was there were now EV stations near ME.

2014 Fiat 500e, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ll digress for a moment. People call the thing on the curb with the cord and plug a “charging station” but that is something of a naming error. All modern EVs have on-board chargers. That thing that you connect to your car is an over glorified “smart” extension cord. The purpose of the “charging station” is to tell the car what kind of power is available (120/240 V) how much current the car is allowed to draw and to provide some safety mechanisms to protect the person plugging in. All the magic is happening *in* the car. As parts are getting cheaper and more widely available, faster chargers are being integrated into EVs. The first LEAF’s 3.3kW charger took 9 hours to fill the battery at 240V, barely 2.5x faster than at 120V. A year later most EVs use a 6.6kW charger that completes the task in 1/6th the time. Good news for me. Since I’m supposed to be getting more exercise I drove a few blocks, plugged in and walked back. Two hours later I had for the first time in my life, a full EV battery and I have a picture to prove it.

Drive Route With Topo

Feeling like an ePrisoner eLiberated from their eBondage, I renewed my pledge to test drive Zippy Zappy like any other car. That meant taking Highway 35 home. If you aren’t familiar with the Bay Area, the coastal mountain range separates the population from the sea. At some point a brilliant highway engineer decided to put one of the most scenic highways in the state along the ridge of the range. The trip (shown above with an elevation profile) takes me from sea level to 3,157 ft, then down to about 400 ft with plenty of ups, downs, sweeping curves and corkscrews. If you haven’t driven it and live nearby, shame on you.

About the time I reached that first 2,000+ foot blip on the left of the graph, I had a mild panic attack. ZZ said I wouldn’t reach my destination. Had I bitten off more than she could chew? No, because the software in the car is only using your past record for future range. By climbing rapidly, it assumed the next 40 miles would be on a similar incline. Don’t blame the software. Blame me. The driver is in control so I had to take my (limited) experience into account. I decided not to bail (and charge in Palo Alto). I pressed onwards. (But I set the cruise control to 50.) In the process I snapped some cool photos.

2014 Fiat 500 Electric, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


My faith was rewarded as I neared CA Highway 17 with a battery still 40% charged. I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit downtown Los Gatos. The EV gods smiled upon my diversion and without looking for one, I stumbled upon a brace of EV chargers. One was occupied by a decidedly non-EV BMW 760iL, which I briefly considered putting a door ding in “accidentally” as I got out.  One expensive carrot cake and a 1.8kWh charge later I headed home.

Since I didn’t make it to the beach yesterday, I decided today would be the day. Thanks to my nifty iPhone app from ChargePoint I found that there was an EV station operated by the City of Capitola By The Sea just two blocks from my favorite beach dive restaurant. A quick numbers game in my head told me that 2 hours would not only power me back up the hill to home, but also put me in a better charge situation. There was just one problem. OK, two. The EV station had one broken charge cord and some douche in a LEAF had occupied the other for 2 hours over the parking limit and counting. What would you have done?

Columb ChargePoint Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I sat in the car and contemplated my options. 1 unplug him and plug myself in (not on his dime, the sessions stop when you unplug). 2 leave him a nasty note and hunt for another station. 3 wait him out. I waited for 20 minutes at which point he had been over his 4 hour parking limit (clearly signed) by almost 3 hours (according to the charging station). I thought: lave a note explaining why I had unplugged his ride so that he (or maybe she) wouldn’t retaliate by unplugging me when they returned. No pen. I took the high road and moved on to an EV station 7 blocks away.

After a stroll along the beach and dinner, we walked by the LEAF (still plugged in) and left him a more tactfully-worded note than I had planned. I reminded the driver that the spot clearly said “4 hour limit” and that there are other EV drivers out on the road that need to charge. I may or may not have indicated that I would unplug his shiny red LEAF with “NOGAAS” license plate should I see it there for 4 hours again. Or maybe not. Is this the start of “plug rage” perhaps??

Upon returning to ZZ, something else crossed my mind. This EV station is new, and like others is no longer in a prime parking area. Instead they jammed it at the back of the parking lot. Preferential EV treatment may be starting to end as early as it started.

EVs in the mist, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day two and 155 miles ended with a 68% charge.

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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54 Comments on “Living With an EV for a Week – Day Two...”

  • avatar

    For what they’re charging for this thing, the Nav computer could be built right into the rearview mirror. Toyota offers that – I can live with it.

  • avatar

    Now that is how you do it and get your value out of owning an EV using it 1.5x or more than the basic range.

    So the question is how much did you spend on charging away from home?

  • avatar

    Trapster app also highlights EV stations.

    I could see the TV crews hanging out and looking for EV Road Rage.

    • 0 avatar

      And this problem will only get worse as more EVs are out on the road.

      NEW APP NEEDED: One, which not only tells you where the EV chargers are, but which ones are currently (oh, the punanity) not being used.

      NEW HARDWARE NEEDED: Smart extension cords that can be used with public chargers. For use when (insert bad name here) non-EV drivers park in the EV-only spot.

  • avatar

    ” As a result, I decided to turn off the heater in the car to save mileage, after all it was “only” 43 outside”

    Oh, the horror! How his royal highness did suffer! Such a superior person should never have to be be so inconvenienced. I routinely ride motorcycles in colder weather, but I am but a peon.

  • avatar

    Do you think people park non-EV’s in EV parking bays for the same reason people park their Suburbans in compact bays?

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, yes. It’s just a matter of being selfish I guess. At least that is what I tell myself when I go to the supermarket and park in the “Parking for cars with Infants” space…

  • avatar

    EV road rage LOL.
    My buddy’s daughter bought a Tesla S and gets “free” juice at work.
    However another guy bought a Volt and now they’re squabbling over who gets the plug every day.

  • avatar

    I am glad you didn’t put a door ding in the BMW. While the other driver may have offended you, damaging his property is wrong and expensive to fix.

  • avatar

    I guess for “plug rage” you could always pull the plug from the other guy’s car and fill up his charging port with krazy glue. (You didn’t hear me say that though)

  • avatar

    Nice write up. I don’t have a problem with moving charging spots to the far ends of the lot. Prime spots should be short term so the maximum number of people can enjoy them, rather than an EV that needs to sit for 3 or 4 hours charging. Plus, putting them further away removes the temptation for ICE drivers to poach the space.

    Interesting that there are so many more charging stations compared to last year. For a technology that many on this site and others were sure would never take off, infrastructure seems to be coming along pretty well.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. ALD does a superb job of writing about his experiences by maintaining his objectivity and leaves out the typical snarkyness that all too many automotive writers think is clever and entertaining.

      Until the proper infrastructure is in place, the new EV technology requires a learning curve, along with a degree of flexibility and willingness to adapt. Is it for everyone? Certainly not at this stage. But it’s good there are decent writers willing to give it a fair trial and report the experience in a non-judgmental way.

  • avatar

    In the coldest of western PA winter this year (~ 5F), my Leaf’s heater never consumed more than 5.0 kW, and it would level off at something like 3 kW. I kept it at 62 F all winter, which is quite comfortable. The A/C seems to peak around 1.5 kW but level off around 0.5 kW or less. These numbers seem way more efficient than the Fiat.

    Your ‘plug rage’ story is totally foreign to me. There are no alternate chargers 7 blocks away in this area. In fact, I never even see other EVs, so the use of a public charger is easy. However, I don’t intend to ever pay for it elsewhere, especially when my home rate is $0.054/kWh. That $0.49/kWh is highway robbery.

  • avatar

    To me, this story is a tragedy, Alex. But someone has to say the emperor has no clothes.

    Look at the amount of thinking and planning and worrying and finagling you had to do just to drive 60 miles one way (according to your distance map).

    Give me a little ICE car over this thing any day. I don’t care what it burns. Just fill it up and go for God’s sake, — with heater full on and the windows open for fresh air, with my right foot planted happily on the floor and with high double-digit speeds as the soup de jour, passing little EV-ophiles at random. I mean, maybe 300 miles later I would consider (mind you, consider) looking for fuel if the spirit moved me.

    Besides that: where is the “vrooooom”? It’s gotta have “vrooooom”. My primordial self needs to feel little molecules exploding and mechanicals humming happily around me. Fire. Noise, Clicking. Snapping.

    And where is the manual transmission? It’s gotta have a manual transmission. I want to select dramatically different torque options for specific torque needs, not a one-size-fits-all torque delivery yoked slavishly to vehicle speed. I want to downshift for different overrun options depending on braking requirements and anticipated acceleration needs.

    Gee, I can’t wait to read what “Day Three” will be like. I’ll get my heart medication prepared ahead of time.


    • 0 avatar

      1. Nobody should be driving an EV with an 87-mile range 60 miles one way. But Alex is entitled to try it, since he seems to be swimming in charger stations. I wouldn’t do this in my Leaf, so hence I suffer little range anxiety.

      2. I love a nice internal combustion engine as much as the next guy, but I’ve also repaired all those wonderful parts that click and hum. The beauty of an EV is an order of magnitude fewer moving parts. For example, Nissan has a nice ad that shows hundreds of ICE parts missing from the Leaf.

      3. Transmission? Most EV’s don’t need them. Max torque is available at 0 rpm. The throttle response beats any ICE/transmission you can find. No more revving, clutching, torque converter unlocking, gear changing, etc. That stuff is fun, but it wastes time and wears out.

      Sounds like an EV isn’t for you if you only have one car and randomly drive 300 miles at a time. But if you drive one, you might like the experience.

      • 0 avatar

        1. 60 miles one way with access to a charger at work is the optimum use of an EV with an ~80 mile range. Enough to have a reserve in case of a detour but still actually penciling out to save money vs a gas car.

        3. All EVs on the market currently have a transmission, there aren’t any with in wheel motors. You need some way to get that power to the wheels and you need a differential unless you’ve got 1 wheel drive or 2 motors.

        • 0 avatar

          The biggest issue with having the dedicated ability to plug-in an EV at work are the non-EV co-workers who, for whatever reason, be it economic, political, etc., will whine and complain to company management that someone is getting their work transportation gratis and want some sort of equivalent compensation.

          There have been more than a few instances where the employer, rather than slam these few uninformed turds, has capitulated and cut-off all EV charging, even when the person needing to use the charge has offered to pay for the electricity they’re using.

          Then there’s always the potential of vandalism by jealous co-workers…

          • 0 avatar

            And those co-workers would be right. Why should you get an extra benefit from our employer by virtue of what you choose to buy for personal transportation? How does your EV make you more productive to the business? And it’s probably an untaxed benefit to boot. I buy my gas with after-tax dollars, you don’t even buy your electricity at all.

          • 0 avatar

            In some states the chargers mean that the business gets a tax break as does providing bus passes to your employees. Don’t drive an EV then you can have the bus pass.

            In this case however the car was plugged in at a commercial charger that did cost him money and there is no reason that a employer couldn’t have one of those companies install a charger so he didn’t have to walk a couple of blocks.

          • 0 avatar

            I’ll worry about my co-workers bitching about the electricity used to fill my (potential) EV up at work when they get rid of the space heaters under their desks. The office is always between 68 and 72. There’s no need for a 1500W space heater to keep your legs warm.

            Until they get rid of them, I think it’s fair game to charge an EV.

          • 0 avatar

            This is sort of like the people who smoke getting to take 4 or 5 10-minute smoke breaks every day, while I sit and work since I don’t smoke.

          • 0 avatar
            Japanese Buick

            @CoreyDL I don’t smoke and I don’t like cigarette smoke. And I noticed as I came into work in the morning, the smokers were out there. As I left in the evening, they were also out there. What this tells me is: they got to work before me and left after I did. My lesson: don’t judge someone’s workday by the breaks you happen to see.

    • 0 avatar

      “Besides that: where is the “vrooooom”? It’s gotta have “vrooooom”. My primordial self needs to feel little molecules exploding and mechanicals humming happily around me. Fire. Noise, Clicking. Snapping.”

      There’s two way to solve your problem:

      1. Baseball cards in the wheel spokes.

      2. An RPM variable electronic sound sythesizer hooked up to the stereo system with pre-recorded engine noises. You could press a button on the gizmo and switch the engine sounds from a 472 Hemi, a Ferrari F-1 car, a ricer with a fartcan, or a tugboat engine. There’d even be an option for a Waring blender sound, so it’d sound just like the cars in Gran Turismo.

  • avatar

    These stories remind me of the bad old days, when I had to drive an Elcat EV at work. First you had to turn off the heater, then the lights, and finally just pray you could limp home in the -20c weather.

  • avatar

    The round digital gauge cluster looks extremely douchy. I understand that digital instrument displays are the wave of future, but why make it round then? This alone would stop me from buying this car. Make it square, rectangle, oval, or something more logical.

  • avatar

    Great story! I love reading your reviews Alex, especially the video reviews. I just got a Leaf thanks to one of those spectacular lease deals. What do you think of the Leaf vs. the 500? The Leaf is a great commuter car but is the 500 more fun to drive? BTW, one thing I like about the 2013 Leaf is the new lock on the charging port to avoid situations like the one you were in at public chargers.

  • avatar

    I don’t believe that a heat pump would add unnecessary weight/cost/complexity. It should be no worse than the existing AC, and in fact could be integral to the AC. If that resistance heater is actually pulling that much current, it would seem that a heat pump would easily pay for itself in range & charge time.

  • avatar

    Nice story.

    I have to disagree on the heater/heatpump issue:
    “According to Toyota, heat pumps would be more efficient but they cost way more and add a great deal of complexity and weight.”

    since the car already has AC (which essentially is a heatpump, it just heats the outside), they could convert that to a heatpump with reversing valve. this barely adds any weight. some cost, though. At 43°F, you likely still have a COP of 3-4, so you only need 25-33% of the electricity to heat. However, at very low temps, you need the resistance heat since the heatpump at 0°F doesn’t really do much.

    Toyota even had heatpump in their German Avensis (not sure if they still do) just to heat up the motor faster (it is a IC car).

    all it takes is a reversing valve, some more piping etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      The Prius plugin prototype we had used an experimental heat pump system and for some reason it didn’t just use a reversing valve, it had a secondary evaporator and a small additional condenser, lots of plumbing and a whole lot of other stuff going on under the hood. I guess someone crashed one of the prototypes and thanks to the cost of the one-off heat pump system they totaled the car. Just going by what the car companies are saying for not including a heat pump.

  • avatar

    I don’t really see why it would have been rude to unplug the Leaf if he was over his time limit and had to be fully charged anyway by then. I do think it is pretty “douch-ie” to leave his car there for 7+ hours and I would never do that. But it seems it would be better to just foster a sense a camaraderie among EV drivers: his Leaf is fully charged now, you saved him the trouble to leaving whatever fun activity he was engaged in to move his car by simply using the charger while parked next to him.

  • avatar

    Great article. Gotta be similar to the 20’s out west when every mom and pop had a diner & gas 25 miles down the gravel 101 highway (in my area of the west). How many tires you could pack probably limited range.

    Range anxiety is a custom Harley with a peanut tank.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen. I had a Honda Superhawk that game me about 120 miles per tank. That so modified my behavior that in my current bike, I’ve never run it below half a tank.

  • avatar

    I find all this making me feel like a dinosaur, in my day a proper Fiat had a couple Weber’s, a lumpy cam, ported head, loud exhaust and still delivered the MPG’s mostly with the top off or down.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I liked the discussion of EV rage. I had wondered about this during the flap over the reporter who dove the Tesla S on a road trip in the NE…what if you come to a supercharger on your road trip and someone is already hooked up? And someone else is already in line for it? Triple your charge time.

    Alex, in your case you would have been completely justified unplugging the Leaf. Who knows what happened. Maybe the owner is a selfish douche. Or maybe he got taken to the hospital in an ambulance from a nearby restaurant after having a medical emergency. Maybe there was some other unplanned reason he overstayed his four hours. In the latter cases I’m sure he wouldn’t mind you unplugging.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t see EV rage being much of an issue with the dedicated Tesla superchargers:

      1. There aren’t exactly a lot of Teslas on the road (the only vehicles that can currently use them) so the possibility of such a scenario is rather remote (at least for now).

      2. According to Tesla’s website, the supercharger can supposedly charge 50% of a battery in 30 minutes. It’s rather unlikely that the battery was completely depleted by either of the first two Teslas in the front of the line, so we’re talking a wait for the third guy of maybe 60 minutes, then another hour (max) to recharge the third car, for a total wait of 2 hours. Not exactly the same as fueling up at a gas station, but not quite as bad as it would first seem, either.

      Plus, if the supercharger was located strategically near shopping/restaurants…

      • 0 avatar

        Your scenario only works if the first two Tesla drivers have stayed with their cars so they’re moved out of the way as soon as they’re done being charged (see anecdote in story about a-hole Leaf driver…).

        “And if the supercharger is strategically located near shopping/restaurants…” And what if it is? Because you or one of the people in your car will have to stay with it during the two-hour wait, moving it forward at some point (and you don’t know when that point will be reached) to the on-deck circle, and then moving it forward again at some point (and you don’t know when that point will be reached, either) from there to the actual hookup. So only when you finally have your car hooked up will you finally be able to toddle off to eat or do some shopping.

        “…for a total wait of 2 hours.” No, for a total wait of 3 hours, because it’s going to take YOU an hour, too.

        Also, note that in the case of the a-hole Leaf driver, it was a 2-bay charging station…but one of those was out of service. Which of course will never happen again in EV-futureworld. Oh, no.

  • avatar

    Doing all the juggling and consideration about when/where to charge, whether the space will be open, if someone put their douche-BMW in the spot, running cords all through the grass…

    Those things would ruin my day. I’d of been stressed and in a really bad mood, not to mention it took at least 2 hours longer to get things done than it normally would have. When it’s hot and potentially raining, I don’t want to walk 7 blocks to the restaurant, or go out on my lunch break to see if the charging station is available.

    I do understand that southern CA is a good venue for the EV, but many other parts of the country are unsuitable for this sort of hullabaloo every day.

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