electric frownEVs in the real world

This post is actually a comment we left in response to an article that appeared on seattlepi.com. The article references a family running their LEAF out of electricity on the way home from the Seattle airport at night. I’ve linked to the short article above if you wish to read it first.


New technology is not always easily understood, even by those that think that they may understand it. People driving gasoline engine vehicles don’t generally use their “distance to empty” computer (if they have one) to determine their range. They normally use their gas gauge. On the LEAF the “distance to empty” (large XX miles display) unfortunately is as prominent as the “available charge” gauge (12 bars equivalent to a digital gas gauge). And since the “distance to empty” is a number, people tend to take that as accurate. The problem is, whether gas or electric, this is based on past driving, not future driving.

Based on the above example, when leaving the airport, the LEAF had at least four passengers (kids – plural) plus luggage for at least one person. This was likely not the load condition for the driving that occurred previous to this. One adult (150 pounds plus) and luggage (30 pounds plus – likely light on both counts) adds significant weight. If previous mileage was with only one person in the car, the “distance to empty” is not going to be anywhere near accurate. But even if the kids were in the car on every trip, there is still a significant difference in load. What electric vehicle (EV) drivers (others (once they become available) as well as LEAF) need to become accustomed to is the fact that load impacts driving range, as does speed, temperature, topography and driving style. In this case, driving at night was likely colder than driving during the day, in addition to everything else. LEAF drivers need to focus on how many bars show on the “available charge” gauge, and plan on being home before they all get used up. Most people don’t drive their gas car until it’s on fumes. How do you know how far you can go on one bar (there are 12)? Observe your day-to-day driving. Too much work? Perhaps an electric car isn’t right for you just yet.

Wait… I hear you saying. I thought the LEAF was a real car? It is, but even “real cars” have limitations. If you overload an F-150, you will stress the frame and suspension, and it may fail prematurely. If you drive a Ferrari around an offramp faster than physics allow, it will crash. And if you drive a gasoline engine vehicle until you run out of gas it will strand you on the side of the road. I wonder how many people that happened to on the same day as this that didn’t make it to MSNBC or seattlepi.com.


  1. Well said!! The lesson I take away from this is if I get to the last 2 bars, I had better be real close to home or I need to find a public charger quickly. Since I live close to I-5 North County San Diego finding a charger should not be a problem in the future. Let`s get them built Ecotality!!

  2. Driving to work today, I heard on the local traffic report that a car ran out of gas and was blocking the right lane on one of the bridges. It was waiting for a tow truck to push it to the side. My first thought was thank God it wasn’t an EV or there would be an outcry to ban them from the freeways and bridges. Your advice is very sound. Watch how your EV reacts to changing conditions, plan ahead and never let the gage go below a safe level.
    Thanks, John

  3. Wasn’t one of the very first two chargers installed in the Puget Sound region by The EV Project right there at Sea-Tac Airport?

    1. M – welcome to Living LEAF. In reviewing the Sea-Tac site, what I found was this:

      Electric Vehicle Plug-Ins
      There are six spaces on the fifth floor of the garage in General Parking that provide free electric charging.

      The site itself can be seen here. So, although no Level 2 charge station may be available just yet, one can plug into 120 using the EVSE supplied with the car. (Or if there is an ECOtality charge station, it is not published on the Sea-Tac site, nor the EVProject site).

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