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My Nissan Leaf life: Want a plug-in car? Consider your lifestyle.

Buying a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle is more than just buying a car. It's choosing a lifestyle.

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A major bonus: Tuttle let me drive his Volt. The surge from the instant torque was quite real, I discovered.

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traces the triumphs and trials of Monitor reporter Mark Clayton, who made the move from a gasoline-powered Honda to an all-electric ride in early 2012.

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Conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, require little or no lifestyle change. They have big gas tanks and small batteries, which make them less expensive than a Leaf or Volt, but they also mean a bigger fuel bill.

Plug-in hybrids – like the Volt or the plug-in Prius – demand a bit more change. You get a small gas engine and a bigger battery that you have to plug in. You might want to install a pricey charging station in your garage to speed up the recharging process. But a plug-in hybrid also means bigger fuel savings than the conventional hybrid – and, more to the point, it gives you the option of cutting your gasoline consumption to zero, depending on how much you drive.

Electric-only cars – like the Leaf, the new Ford Focus Electric, the Rav4 EV, the Mitsubishi I, and the gorgeous but luxury-priced Tesla and Fiskar models – mean the biggest lifestyle change. You definitely need to install a charging station (otherwise, it takes too long to fully charge these big batteries). You also have to think, at least a little bit, when you go out about how far you're going to go – and whether you might need a charge along the way.

Electric-car owners have different ways of coping with this “range-anxiety.” Bill, the Nissan Leaf owner, has a svelte gasoline-powered Lexus that gathers dust most of the time, awaiting the rare long-distance trip beyond the Leaf's 100-mile range. It helps to have a second conventional car to fall back on for long trips if you go all-electric.

The point is that buying a plug-in or all-electric vehicle is not just about buying a car. It’s about reexamining your lifestyle. You have to do your research, find out your options, talk to owners, and test drive the vehicles so you become comfortable with the technology and knowledgeable about what it might mean for you.

And you can read these occasional posts on how the owner of a 14-year-old Honda Accord and an eight-year-old Odyssey van made his leap into the future of driving. Here's my previous installment.


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