My Nissan Leaf life: Perks of driving gasoline-free

A Nissan Leaf lets us drive 1,000 miles a month for $36 worth of electricity. That's a quarter of the monthly cost of gasoline for our van.

Junji Kurokawa/AP/File
Nissan Motor Co. employee Kazuhiro Fujibayashi demonstrates the electric recharge plug-in process of the company's latest Leaf in Tokyo last month. The upgraded Leaf electric car from Nissan can travel further without recharging, comes in a cheaper model, and tells drivers how much battery life is left.

– Sixth installment in an occasional series

One month after my wife and I ordered our Nissan Leaf, it arrived.

The ride home was blissfully quiet – and it was fun accelerating away from gasoline-powered cars when the lights turned green. I passed a few Priuses along the way and discovered a new-to-me phenomenon: my very own Leaf-superiority complex. I'm sure Prius owners will say I'm nuts. But I felt faster and cleaner and smarter than a Prius owner.

Even though we got home with plenty of miles on the battery – about 75 remaining – I flicked the release lever on the plug-in port on the nose of the car, jumped out of the driver seat, and grabbed the pistol-grip charger out of its slot on our new 240-volt charging station at the front end of the garage.

After clicking the charger into the Leaf's receptacle, the car chirped twice – happy to be slurping electricity. We were happy, too, at the prospect of an end to regular gas station visits. What would it be like not plunking down $50 three times a month for the privilege of driving?

Nine months later, I can report back that it's a great feeling. Gas stations are becoming a distant memory.

The Leaf’s lease was a big stretch for us, so we're probably not saving money overall – at least not until gas goes to $4 to $5 per gallon (see my earlier blog post for a cost-breakdown). Those who held out for a better deal may come out ahead with a Leaf, since Nissan has lowered the monthly lease substantially to move inventory. For us, we were getting the trade-off we had paid for upfront: very low-cost fuel and operating costs.

The cost of electricity to drive our Leaf 1,000 miles each month is about $36 (15 cents per kilowatt hour multiplied by 240) a month, basically equal to filling up the battery 10 times during the month. Driving our van at 22 miles per gallon would have cost us about $160 for the same miles – a big savings.

There's comfort, too, in knowing that the New England power grid is relatively clean – roughly 20 percent natural gas, 20 percent nuclear, and 40 percent coal – in terms of emissions. We know, too, that over time that grid will be getting cleaner as renewable energy becomes a bigger percentage of generation.

There’s another perk to owning an all-electric plug-in: extra range at no cost. We got a taste of that on our very first day of Leaf ownership.

Now that we had an electric car, we wanted to drive it. We spent a few minutes on the computer looking up a site called chargepoint.com that lists charging stations across the nation. We already knew there were a number of charging stations in the area; we soon discovered we could charge up and eat out at the same time.

So that evening, we hopped into the Leaf to go to a Chili's restaurant about 10 miles away. We pulled into a parking spot with a charging station and discovered we didn't know how to get the plug off the charging unit and plug in. So I called the toll-free number from my cellphone and the call center unlocked the charging station, promising to send a little tag for my key chain to swipe next time.

We came out of the restaurant an hour later. Our Leaf's battery had received nearly 4 kilowatt hours – about 60 cents worth of electricity. The food was good. But the free electricity was even better.

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