Living with Leaf: Is an all-electric car really viable?


First, let me say I really like the Nissan Leaf. I like its quirky styling, impressive ride quality and amenities. If you want to read a full review of the Leaf and its inner workings, follow this link.  What I’m going to cover in this missive is my experience with the car to see if America is ready for automotive electrification.

I spent four days with the Leaf as my primary vehicle, and while that stretch is not enough to compile data for a government study, it was plenty of time to test how it fits my lifestyle.

Day One

On my first day with the Leaf, I puttered around my local area running errands. I drove normal speed limits and did not use the climate control system, mostly because the weather was decent, and the energy information screen told me if I did I would lose about 8 miles of range. I have a 110-volt plug in the front of my house, and plugged in the Leaf whenever I was home.

Side note #1: plugging in is easy since the charger is in the Leaf’s nose. I also like the foolproof charging feature that if you neglect (or forget) to turn off the vehicle (since you can’t hear it running), it won’t charge. After checking plugs and plugging and unplugging, I finally got inside the car and realized it was never shut down (not my fault, I swear). Once I shut it off, the charging started immediately. I also like the blue lights on the top of the dash so you can tell from outside that the vehicle is charging.

Day Two

I had to drive from my home in Sherman Oaks, California, to my radio show Drivers Talk Radio ( in Lancaster, roughly 60 miles one way. It was cold and raining, so I had to use the wipers and occasionally the defroster. I am always cold (what woman isn’t!), but still refused to turn on the climate control for fear of losing mileage.  The trip is all freeway, and on a Saturday morning it’s always wide open, so no stop-and go traffic where I could regain mileage through regenerative braking (again, if this is a new concept to you, check out John’s review).

I stopped to pick up our producer Jay Dalton at a predetermined spot about six miles from my house so we can carpool. When I left my driveway, the range read 96 miles. By the time I got to Jay, the range was 72. I had driven one freeway onramp plus a small uphill climb to that point. I kept the speed around 45 to 50 on a 55-mph speed-limit freeway, plus it was raining and I was really trying to conserve. I was also really cold, but refused to turn on the heat.

Jay saw the Leaf and automatically suggested we park it and go in his Acura. I convinced him that we could make it, and this was part of the experience. He reluctantly agreed and got in. Our trip to the Antelope Valley high desert is pretty much a solid uphill climb. We started again on the 405 North.  By the time we transitioned to the 14 (roughly 10 miles), our readout was at 42 Leaf miles. With 30 minutes more climbing to do, windshield washers on steady, defroster on intermittently, we made the decision to turn back. Range anxiety got the better of us, and being stranded in the rainy cold environs of nowhere land made it an easy choice.

Admittedly, with the downhill trip back to the gasoline-powered, heated Acura, we ended up with 65 miles range before we parked the Leaf. We were both convinced that we would not have made it.

Side note #2: Jay looked up charging stations on his home computer around the area of our recording studio (yes, we looked them up in the Leaf, but it only showed Nissan dealerships, not other possibilities), and found a handful at local unified school district buildings. After our show we went searching for the station just to see if it was there and working. It was, but it was a ChargePoint station, where you needed to swipe a prepaid card in order to plug in and get juice. There was nothing else in the lot but the charge port. No amenities, no restrooms, no nearby restaurants.

I am assuming if you owned the vehicle, you would have been informed of this by the dealer, but I have learned over many years to never assume anything!

Day Three

Husband and I were invited to a business brunch in Altadena, roughly 20 miles from our house. Again, all freeway miles, mostly uphill, and no traffic. No rain, either. The readout showed a range of 101 miles right after we unplugged from a full night’s charging (on 110 power, a full charge is about 19-20 hours). The mileage dropped instantly to about 96 as soon as we left the driveway and turned the corner at the end of the block. I let my husband drive so I could track everything, and had to admonish him that this was not a 370Z, so we had to watch the range. We set the cruise control for 56 mph, and set out for the mild but continual climb on the 134 freeway. Spouse, who is accustomed to staying with or ahead of the flow of traffic, was miserable, since everyone else was going around or passing us by at least 10 to 20 mph. At this legal yet abnormal pace (for LA, anyway), combined with the climb, range anxiety reared its ugly head again. Still no climate system on. We made it to our destination with 45 miles range showing. We did not plug in at our location since we weren’t comfortable asking acquaintances if we could borrow a cup or two of electricity.

Side note #3. While on the way to our brunch destination, we spied a film crew shooting a Fiat 500 commercial on a closed side street. There were three red 500s, and one had a camera mounted on the front, so keep your eyes out for that video!

Coming home from brunch, I let my hubby go his normal speed since it was pretty much a solid downhill drive. He took full advantage, averaging 76 mph. Got home with the readout at the 29-mile range. We plugged in, and the Leaf charged for about two hours on 110v before I had to run a quick errand. When I got in the vehicle after two hours, it read 41 miles range.

Driving around town, doing errands at 30-35 mph speed, lots of stop and go, the range fluctuated from 40 to 41 miles, driving a total of 10 real miles. Returned home and plugged in for the night.

Day Four

I wanted to spend more time with the Leaf, but an unplanned trip to Detroit changed that. Before heading to LAX, I had to drive to Torrance. This was the morning scenario: rain and lots of it. Cold. Rush-hour traffic 405 South. Uphill to Mullholland, then downhill or mostly level to Torrance, 32 miles one way, with a 110v outlet waiting at the destination. Because an accident on the uphill side of the 405 was discovered ahead of time, I chose to drive up Beverly Glen (one of the many north/south canyon roads that allow Valley people to crossover to the west side). I had the wipers on intermittent, fresh air on climate but no heat, and no defroster. Once again I was freezing, so I compromised and turned on the seat heater and the heated steering wheel. Watching the ancillary power usage not change much because of it, I kept my heat buddies on for the whole 60-minute drive.

Started at 100 miles range. Drove conservatively up the hill, braked as much as I could, and with the traffic, made it to the crest with 70 miles showing. The downhill portion got me back to 95, where it stayed until the traffic lightened up enough to average speeds of 58 mph in the rain. Made it to my destination with 60 miles showing on the readout.

Lessons Learned

1. The Leaf is a lovely vehicle.

2. The Leaf is much better as a second vehicle. As a primary ride, better renew your Xanax prescription since you’ll suffer anxiety the entire time you’re on the open freeway if the trip is more than 40 miles.

3. Battery technology is nowhere near where it needs to be to make electric cars a reality.

4. The government continues to force feed its ridiculous expectations on an automotive industry that is valiantly trying to comply with demands by people who know nothing about reality.

5. A hybrid vehicle is still the best choice for those who feel they must drive something electric.

6. The Nissan Leaf is expensive. Our test car was $38k and change.

7. The infrastructure to support this technology is as far away from reality as the Sun is from Jupiter.

8. What happens to resale value when it comes time to sell any electric vehicle 8 years from now when battery technology is so far advanced today’s vehicles are worthless?

9. It’s not fun unplugging an electric vehicle in the rain and drying off the cord and plug before you can get in and drive.

10. The electric vehicle is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there…yet.