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My Thoughts After 3 Years of Daily Driving EVs

So I have been driving EVs (electric vehicles) for the past three years now, and during this time I’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to own and drive one in day to day life. And so here I am to share my experience for anyone may potentially be interested in buying an EV, or just anyone who’s interested in general.

To provide a bit of context, this all started in 2017 when my parents bought a used 2015 BMW i3 to replace the family sedan for commuting (my dad’s daily work commute is 80km round trip) and running errands on the weekend.

In March 2019, I bought a Tesla Model 3 (long-range rear-wheel-drive configuration), my parents sold their gas-powered SUV, and our garage has been exclusively electric-powered since then.

Why electric?

Well, to put it simply, electric vehicles are the future.

Up until maybe a few years ago however, it seemed that an EV future was still not very clear to many people (and I don’t mean this in an offensive or condescending way) as there were many valid doubts about the viability, economics, and infrastructure necessary to support mass market electric vehicles. However, in 2020, it is undeniable that electric vehicles are not only viable, but they are the only viable method of automobile transportation for a sustainable future.

Since I’ve already paid the early adopter tax to get a glimpse of this EV future, I want to share my experiences so that you can get a bit of an idea of what that future is going to look like, and what are some of the challenges that are preventing us from getting there faster.

Now I should mention that, of course, there are always going to be people who are against electric vehicles for various reasons.

Some are inherently resistant to change (the same people that would’ve preferred horses over cars 100 years ago), some don’t believe in the benefits (I believe this is due to misinformation), and some may simply prefer the feeling of driving an internal combustion engine powered car, which is actually a perfectly fine and valid reason. I’m not going to try and convince anyone that electric vehicles are objectively better in every way, because they’re not, and there are still some serious obstacles to owning one. But just like everything else in the future, some (hopefully most) will be good and some will be bad, and it will take an adjustment period, but we will get there.

Range

By far the most common question and concern about EVs is range. How far can you drive on a charge, and what happens if you run out?

In 2020, almost all of the popular and mainstream EVs have 350km+ of real world range. That’s enough to comfortably drive from Vancouver to Seattle non-stop, at highway speeds, with passengers, AC on, and still have enough range to drive around in the city before plugging in at night. The higher end vehicles have over 500km+ of range. In my Model 3, which is rated for 523km of range, I’ve driven from Vancouver to Seattle and back on one charge.

In fact, after going on several road trips ranging from a 1000km Christmas getaway to Portland to a proper 4000km road trip to California along the Pacific Coast Highway, I’ve never been in a situation where the car needed to charge before the driver needed to rest. In reality, even 350km of range is around three hours of driving at highway speeds, by which time most drivers will need to stop and stretch their body, go to the washroom, and eat some food before continuing on.

With current battery size and technology, the range of an EV is almost never going to be the limiting factor, even on long road trips. Most drivers will need to recharge before an EV does.

One of the things I learned about range however, is that it can be significantly affected by temperature. Even in the relatively mild winters in Vancouver, both the i3 and the Model 3 had reduced range, around 20–30% less, depending on climate controls. Winter range loss is definitely something important to keep in mind when choosing an EV. Generally, it’s best to get as much range as you can reasonably afford, and when it comes to selecting options, range should always be prioritized over upgrading trim packages and other add-on features.

That being said, any modern EV should still have more than sufficient range for a being a daily driver, even in the winter.

Yet despite this, people are still fixated on measuring EV range down to the exact kilometre; whereas for traditional gas cars, range is not even listed on the spec sheet.

Of course, this is because nobody cares about range in a gas car, and they don’t need to (efficiency is far more important), since there are more than enough gas stations to quickly fill up whenever needed. So you see, the problem is not really about range at all. It’s more about how quickly and how conveniently you can replenish the range when needed — which brings us to the next topic.

Charging

Like electrical charge, there are positives and negatives when it comes to charging an EV. Whether it’s better or worse overall is going to depend on each person’s unique situation and use cases, but it’s important to be well informed on both sides, and to understand that charging an EV is fundamentally different from filling up a tank of gas.

Despite the name “Supercharger”, it’s actually technically a charging station

Minor pedantic detail: the thing that people typically refer to as a “charger” is not the actual charger. It’s technically a charging station (aka EVSE — electric vehicle supply equipment). The actual charger itself is inside the vehicle (built in) and regulates the power input to make sure the vehicle charges safely and efficiently.

All EVs come with a small portable charging station that can be plugged in to either a regular 110v outlet (this is called Level 1 charging) or a higher powered 240v outlet commonly used for large household appliances such as stoves, dryers, etc. (this is called Level 2 charging).

If you have access to an outlet at your parking spot at home, charging an EV is generally going to be much more convenient and pleasant than refuelling a gas car. Just like your phone, you can charge your EV overnight in the comfort of your own home instead of having to drive out to a gas station (often in the middle of doing something else), selecting “no car wash”, “no receipt”, swiping your airmiles card, tapping your credit card, unscrewing the fuel cap etc. — only to get mildly frustrated when you see another gas station $0.01/L cheaper on the way home. As you know, I’m not a fan of these kinds of micro stresses.

Anyways, back at home, a 240v outlet should be able to charge around 35–60km/hr (to clarify: the units here mean you’re replenishing 60km of range per hour of charging, not to be confused with 60kmh speed) while a 110v can charge around 7-10km/hr. The exact charging speed will vary based on the specific vehicle (and the capability of its onboard charger), the amperage of the charging station, and the power of the electrical outlet. Most EV owners will want Level 2 charging at home, and this may involve installing an additional 240v outlet in your garage if you don’t already have one. The cost of installing a 240v outlet is largely dependent on the distance from your new outlet to the nearest electrical source because the raw material cost of the electrical wiring is by far the most expensive component. Luckily, the garage in my house already had a 240v power source, so the cost to install a receptacle (the actual socket) was under $50. However, my neighbour has a detached garage at the back of his house and needed to run wiring from the front of the house, which ended up costing over $1000.

There is also another option of installing a hard-wired charging station into the wall, which means it’s a permanent installation. This will look a bit cleaner, since you don’t need to plug anything into an outlet, but otherwise doesn’t provide any other benefits. I would recommend installing a 240v outlet and getting a portable charging station. It will charge at the same rate, is easier to replace if necessary (if a hardwired charging station breaks, you are basically screwed), and you can also take it with you on trips or if you move to a new home.

Pro tip: when contacting electricians to ask about installing a 240v outlet in your home for an EV charging station, make sure you know what amperage you need, and do not tell them it’s for a Tesla. They will straight up inflate the price even though there is literally no difference in the materials or labour involved (confirmed by me and my neighbour when we were both calling around and asking for quotes).

Regardless of which option you pick, make sure to keep an eye out for government rebates and subsidies for EV charging station installation, which can save you up to 50% of the costs.

Speaking of costs, charging an EV is also going to be significantly cheaper than paying for gas.

Charging my Model 3 from 0 to 100% (~500km of range) at home costs between $6.78 and $10.17 depending on BC Hydro step rates. In comparison, 500km of gas would cost me $45.09, assuming 7.1L/100km fuel economy (from a 2020 Honda Civic) and $1.27/L gas price (average for Vancouver in June 2020).

That being said, I very rarely actually charge from 0–100 overnight, because I rarely drive that much in a day. Also, always charging the battery to 100% is actually not good for long term battery health, so I follow the recommended guideline of topping up to 80% every night.

So this all sounds wonderful, and it really is, but charging can also be equally annoying for some people. While charging at home is great, those living in apartments, or even some older houses, might not have access to an outlet near their parking spot. This makes owning an EV quite inconvenient and potentially even unviable. You basically need to rely on public charging stations, or charging at work if your workplace is fancy enough to have charging stations.

Charging at work is actually very viable (even better than charging at home, since it’s free!), as long as there is sufficient availability. However, relying on public charging stations is less ideal. While there are a lot of them now (fun fact, Vancouver has more public EV charging stations than gas stations, check out PlugShare!) and most are free, they still only charge at ~45km/hr and realistically most people are not going to be spending hours at a public charging station. For all EV owners, public charging stations are great for getting free electricity and convenient parking spots at many public places such as malls or parks, but I wouldn’t rely on them as your only way of charging. Availability is definitely becoming more of a problem as EV adoption rate outpaces the rate of infrastructure growth.

In summary, refuelling at a gas station is always going to be faster than recharging an EV, and there are still places with gas stations but no EV charging stations yet. But 99% of the time, charging at home is going to be easier, more convenient, and way cheaper — as long as you have access to an outlet.

But what about road trips?

A common charging related question is how does it work on road trips. The answer to this is heavily dependent on which particular EV you have. If you buy into the Tesla ecosystem, you have access to the Tesla Supercharger network, which covers nearly all of North America, Europe, and most parts of eastern Asia. It’s the most extensive charging network in the world, and you’ll be fine on all but the most extreme road trips (such as venturing out to unexplored region, the North Pole, Newfoundland, etc).

This is the current map of the Supercharger network in North America:

There are enough Supercharger stations to drive nearly everywhere in North America

On my 4000km roadtrip to California in the Model 3, range and charging were never an issue. Superchargers are specifically planned along major highways to enable cross continental road trips. The car’s navigation will automatically add charging stops along your route as needed, and it will even precondition the battery for supercharging to ensure the fastest and most efficient charge possible — the beauty of vertical integration. At 250kW on the latest V3 Superchargers (which are installed along the entire length of the Trans Canada Highway), charging speed is not an issue either; it’ll be done by the time you come back from the washroom or finish customizing an order of Chipotle.

Supercharging at 1700km/hr

For all other EVs that are not Teslas, there are also companies such as Electrify America/Canada building out fast charging infrastructure, but in my opinion, they are not quite ready yet and probably won’t be for several more years. There’s simply not enough charging stations installed in the right places, most EVs don’t have built in integration to find those stations, and they don’t charge fast enough (roughly half the speed of the fastest Tesla Superchargers).

Until more companies invest in charging infrastructure and make more progress, if you want to go on long road trips, you pretty much need a Tesla (because the Supercharger network is exclusive to Tesla). Shorter road trips are totally doable with all EVs if you plan well.

To summarize my thoughts on range and charging, I think much of the discussion and comparison around charging an EV vs filling up at a gas station is due to what we’re used to, which is really just a huge bias. Just because “things have always been this way”, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. To move forward and to improve, we must be willing to abandon the old way. The only reason gas stations can be considered more convenient than charging an EV is because the network of gas stations has been built up over a century. And this impressive network of gas stations today also once had to go through the barrier of people who used to say “your car has to drive all the way to the gas station on the other side of town to refuel, but my horse can just stop on the side of the road and eat some grass”. Over time, EV charging infrastructure will be built out, probably even overtake gas stations, and charging a car will become as second nature as charging a phone. And yes, wirelessly too.

Convenience

As you’ll already know if you’ve read my first story, convenience is something that I value very highly. Most modern cars have pretty good technology and convenience features to make driving easy and comfortable, but there are just some things that are only possible with EVs, and after experiencing and getting used to them, I can’t imagine ever going back.

I should note that there are a bunch of Tesla-specific features not mentioned here that are very cool and handy, but since this article is about the experience of EV ownership in general, I will only mention the benefits and differences that apply to all EVs.

Right off the bat, one of the most convenient things about EVs is being able to drive in HOV lanes by yourself. The amount of time I’ve saved by being able to drive right past the congested highway lanes on the way to work cannot be overstated.

On a similar note, many parking lots have EV only parking/charging spots, which are usually located in convenient areas close to the entrance.

Besides that, there’s also some useful quality of life improvements in the car itself. For example, being able to operate the car’s functions without an engine. Many newer cars (actually, even older cars can be retro-fitted with this) have a remote start feature, which turns on the engine and allows you to preheat or cool your car to make it more comfortable — a lifesaving feature in winter or summer. But the drawback to this is, with a traditional gas powered car, it wastes gas, generates unnecessary pollution, and creates toxic fumes, which is especially problematic if your car is in a garage. An EV can do all of this without the waste and pollution, and it can do it much more efficiently too, since there is no engine that heats up as it cools (which is pretty ironic if you think about it).

There’s also some pretty interesting interior differences in an EV vs a regular gas car. An obvious one is that EVs makes very little sound while driving. The only sounds actually produced by the car are a faint electric whir from the motors during rapid acceleration, and an equally faint pedestrian warning hum on the outside at low speeds. The lack of engine noise has two noticeable effects. At low speeds such as on normal city roads, driving is much quieter and more peaceful. At high speeds however, you will hear the wind and road noise (from the tires on pavement) much more audibly without the drone of the engine to drown it out. For those who enjoy the sound of a proper sports car engine, I’m sorry to say that your ears will be very disappointed if you drive an EV.

A less obvious interior difference, and potentially an unexpected one, is that the windshield sits much further away from your face. This is again because there is no engine in the front of the car, which allows both the windshield, and the interior in general, to extend farther forward than in a similarly sized gas car. The result is a more spacious and comfortable interior, which makes even smaller cars feel quite roomy on the inside.

And on the topic of space, a small but underrated quality of life improvement found in EVs is the rear seats. You know how most vehicles typically have three seats in the rear, but can really only seat two people comfortably because of that hump in the middle? EVs don’t have that.

No need for the middle passenger to awkwardly straddle the hump in the back.

My personal favourite convenience feature though, has to be one pedal driving. This might sound ridiculous, but every time I drive my car, I typically use the brakes no more than once or twice for the entire drive, whether it’s 5km to the grocery store, or a 300km leg on a road trip. This is because of regenerative braking, a feature that truly revolutionizes the way you drive.

And lastly, another major benefit that everyone can appreciate is reduced maintenance. There’s no regular oil changes or even any recommended routine checkups — the things that most cars typically require maintenance for simply don’t exist in an EV. Pretty much the only maintenance required is refilling the windshield washer fluid, rotating/changing tires, and…cleaning. Even the brake pads don’t need to be replaced that often because they don’t get used nearly as much thanks to regenerative braking as mentioned above. And below.

What is it like to actually drive an EV?

As with any vehicle, gas powered or otherwise, the driving dynamics of every EV is going to be different with each specific model. For the most part, driving an EV is just like driving a gas car. However, there is one key difference that applies to all EVs.

Regenerative braking fundamentally changes the way you drive.

The basic explanation of how regenerative braking works is that the same motors that drive the car (by receiving electrical power from the battery to turn the wheels) also act as electrical generators by slowing the car down and storing the energy as electricity instead of dissipating it as heat (like a normal friction brake does). In practice, it means that as soon as you let off the accelerator, the car’s motors will automatically begin to reduce speed quite noticeably until it comes to a complete stop, and this will recharge the battery slightly. While driving downhill, an EV will actually gain range.

One pedal driving can definitely take a while to get used to, but once you’re used to it, you’ll find that driving becomes much easier and smoother. Depending on the car and the settings, regen braking can be roughly as powerful as normal friction brakes, so you can still come to a stop safely, gradually, and from a normal distance.

However, one consequence of regen braking is that there’s no such thing as coasting in an EV, because again, as soon as you release the accelerator, the car will begin to slow down immediately. So on long stretches of road, such as a highway, in order to maintain a constant speed, you will either have to apply slight pressure to the accelerator at all times, or use cruise control.

For some people, having to constantly keep your foot on the pedal can be quite annoying or even tiring. In my opinion, this is definitely the biggest difference in driving an EV vs driving a gas car, and I can see some people never being able to get used to this. Luckily though, most EVs allow you to adjust the level of regenerative braking, and at lower levels, it should make acclimatizing much easier.

For me personally, I’ve long gotten used to regenerative braking and it’s no longer something that I think about at all while driving. I also use Autopilot whenever I can, which removes this problem entirely (while introducing some other ones) but that’s another story.

The weirdest part about regen braking however, is driving in reverse. For example, when reverse parking, I think most people are used to letting the car slowly creep backwards by itself with the transmission in R and using the brakes to control the speed. In an EV, you’ll need to step on the accelerator very gently instead. Again, this one will take some time to get used to, and I can see some people not liking it at first, but once you eventually adjust, it actually makes driving much easier. And it saves your brakes.

Other than regenerative braking, everything else about driving an EV is the mostly same as driving a gas car, just without the engine noise, and also with no gear changes (unless you’re in a Porsche Taycan, which has two gears). The performance and “feel” will vary from car to car, and how much you like it is completely subjective. EVs are typically a bit heavier than comparable gas cars, thanks to the battery, but that same heavy battery also lowers the centre of gravity. But again, the overall feeling will depend on the specific car.

On the note of performance, it’s important to point out that another thing all EVs have in common is instant torque. So however much torque the car has, all of it is available any time you step on the accelerator — no waiting to downshift gears, no ideal RPM zone. This means that in day to day life, you will never feel that an EV is too slow or that performance is inadequate.

I do find myself driving probably a bit faster on steep uphills, and I think this is because unlike in previous gas cars that I’ve driven, I can’t hear or feel the engine struggle while climbing the hill. Even in our previous SUV which had more than enough power, I remember the engine would still growl loudly while going up hills, which would in turn deter me from going any faster. But in an EV, there’s no engine noise or struggle from the motors at all, so it’s very effortless to just step on the accelerator and go.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge on driving dynamics. In summary, regenerative braking is a major shift and will take a while to get used to, but in combination with instant torque, EVs are generally pretty easy and fun to drive. I can’t comment much on track and racing performance (other than straight line acceleration is very good in the Model 3) because I don’t have any first hand experience, but I’m sure the high end performance focused EVs can hold their ground pretty well on the track.

Environmental impact

As I was doing my initial research on EVs, and even throughout these past few years as I occasionally read and hear general discussions about EVs, I’ve seen an alarming amount of “reports” and comments from people that suggest that the net environmental impact of an EV is actually worse than a traditional internal combustion engine gas powered vehicle.

This is unequivocally false. It has been thoroughly debunked by numerous credible scientific sources and it is not controversial.

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you are interested in the subject, I implore you to do some quick research and you’ll quickly find that even in the most skewed hypothetical scenarios against EVs, they still come out ahead on environmental impact/benefits. And in most normal circumstances, they are far and away better for the environment, and our health and wellbeing.

Here are a couple sources to get you started.

It’s difficult to overstate the environmental benefits of switching to EVs. A lot of people have the despondent attitude that their solitary actions are ultimately futile if everyone else doesn’t also participate, but in this case, even just one person switching from a gas car to an EV will have a considerable difference on that person’s health and quality of life.

For one, you no longer have to visit gas stations, and so you avoid much of the direct fumes and gasoline smell from there. And even at home, eliminating exhaust from gasoline powered vehicles lessens the strain on your HVAC system and lowers carbon dioxide levels in your garage and the surrounding areas. At the very least, you don’t need to breathe in your own car exhaust ever again!

And if everyone else does also join in, the effects can be extremely drastic in an impressively short period of time.

Safety

Similar to the above, it seems like there is also a lot of misinformation about the safety of EVs. I do understand the general sentiment that there is always an element of risk that comes with any relatively new technology. However, fear of risk is mostly caused by lack of knowledge, and fortunately, there is plenty of science to explain the safety and the dangers of vehicles, both battery powered and gas powered.

The short of it is, an EV is no more likely to spontaneously combust than an internal combustion engine vehicle (in fact, it’s less likely — despite all the sensationalist news headlines telling you otherwise), and when a battery catches on fire, it usually spreads slowly instead of exploding instantly.

On a Tesla specific note, the Model 3, S, and X (in that order) have the lowest probability of crash related injury out of every passenger vehicle ever tested by NHSTA (open the attachment to view the calculated overall safety scores in column O on the last tab — lower is better).

Life pro tip: this, along with “do you want to poison our kids with CO₂” is a great way to convince a spouse/SO/family member to buy a Tesla.

Economics

EVs are still quite expensive. There’s no two ways about it. And it’s a major downside.

While there are many government incentive programs to encourage EV adoption, there are still way more cheaper options for gas cars compared to EVs, even including all those incentives. EV prices are starting to come down slowly, but as of 2020, the cost of entry for EV ownership is still relatively high, and unfortunately out of reach for many people.

The only potential economical benefit of EVs is long term cost of ownership. It’s much cheaper to operate an EV compared to a gas car, because of significantly reduced maintenance and cheaper charging vs gas. Basically the farther you drive an EV, the more savings you will realize. Based on my driving habits, I save around $2000 in gas per year — which is a lot, but not enough to justify buying such an expensive car.

One important bit that I think needs to be clarified is, contrary to popular belief/fear, you don’t need to replace the entire battery pack in an EV after a few years. And it’s not nearly as expensive as you might think. Usually when there is an issue with the battery holding charge or losing capacity, it is only a specific cell that is affected, and not the entire pack. Although EVs in general are still quite “young” and there isn’t enough long term data, the empirical data that we do have indicates that even the early batteries (which are much less advanced than modern batteries) are holding up very well. Also, warranties exist.

Conclusion

It’s 2020 now — EVs are no longer just a gimmick for tech enthusiasts or an expensive toy for the rich. Millions of happy customers and billions of kilometres driven have proven the viability of EVs, but there are still some obstacles to overcome before EVs become suitable for everyone.

In my opinion, the single biggest thing holding us back from wider and faster EV adoption is misinformation, or lack of information.

All of the other problems, such as the high up front cost and insufficient charging infrastructure, will be solved in due time by technological advancements. Battery costs will come down, we can earn more money (🙂) and we can build more charging stations. These things can all happen relatively quickly — within the span of a few years. But none of that matters if people don’t buy in to it. The far bigger problem is, a lot of people dismiss even the thought of owning an EV simply because they think there’s still a lot of unknowns, and that lack of knowledge makes the idea of EV ownership seem daunting. And unfortunately this isn’t helped by car dealerships who, in my experience, are equally uninformed about EVs, and are also heavily incentivized to continue selling more gasoline cars instead, because they are much easier to sell and more profitable.

The reality is, there is a ton of information out there about real world EV ownership, and hopefully my small contribution can help add a bit as well. Once you get past all of the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, hopefully you can see that the future of transportation is not so distant after all. As I said in the very beginning, not everything about EVs is perfect, but it is still going to be the future — gasoline cars are literally being legislated out in many parts of the world.

It’s pretty cool that we are currently living through a major inflection point in the history of transportation. During this transition period, we have a choice. You can either continue holding on to the twilight years of the past, or you can embrace the future today — as long as you have a 240v outlet at home.

Oh, and like any self respecting Tesla owner, I can’t just write an entire article about EVs and not shamelessly share my referral code, so here it is. Unfortunately as a resident of BC, I as the referrer don’t get any rewards due to this stupid law that we have here, but you can still use my link to get 1500km of free supercharging.

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