LEAF Road Adventure Can Be Smooth Sailing, Too! How We Turned Our 2012 Nissan LEAF Into An Offroad Beast
Earlier this summer, I posted here the story of our little Nissan Leaf Mima Mounds adventure. The ensuing discussion was rather lively, most of it nice and constructive 🙂
What alarmed me about the discussion, is that I might have helped reaffirm the notion (usually pre-conceived) that First-Gen Leaf road trips (or with similarly-capable BEVs) are a nightmare for all except masochists, hard-boiled ideologues and make-a-point type projects.
In two words: Not true.
So in this post, my goal is to encourage those Leaf drivers who are still hesitant to get on the road for QC-assisted trips. I know where you’re coming from, because we’d been exactly these people for an entire year! We got our first Leaf in August 2012 and paid $2k extra for that QC port (and whatever else was included in the 2012 SL), but except for one demo charge session hadn’t put it into real use until September 2013.
That first experience was eye-opening, and we’ve been coming back for more ever since. So here, I will –
- Set the record straight regarding that Mima trip;
- Briefly describe our other QC-assisted day trips with our 2012 Leaf;
- Explain the rationale and capabilities of normal, convenient Leaf day-trips and road-trips.
In a follow-up post, I will describe even more ambitious adventures with the 2014 Leaf that has since replaced our 2012.
Generally speaking, whenever I write “Leaf” it really means “80-ish-mile-EPA-range BEV, with a viable QC option”.
So…. About That Mima Trip
Charging-wise, that Mima affair in May has been our worst Leaf road-trip experience to date. Instead of roughly 30 minutes in each direction (on top of ~1.5 hours driving time), our charge-related additions to trip duration were more like an hour going there and 1.5 hours going back. Most of the extra delays were due to issues at our first QC stop in Tumwater, exacerbated by the paucity of QC stops along the Olympia-Seattle I-5 corridor. As detailed in that post.
But consider this:
- It was still a good experience! All of us enjoyed ourselves, not out of masochism but because we did have fun.
- We had multiple back-ups and fall-backs, some of which we had to use, but we were still very far from being stranded, or having to languish in the middle of nowhere until morning. This, despite not taking the simplest precaution of leaving home early 🙂
And this was in a 2012 Leaf, while the vast majority of QC-equipped Leafs on the road are the superior 2013-2015 models.
Other Day-Trips with our 2012 Leaf: Sultan Sultan!
As Tyrel Haveman nicely explained in this post, the Pacific Northwest, at least west of the mountains, has (compared to most parts of the country) a relatively solid skeleton of QC stations along major highways, thanks to the “West Coast Electric Highway”, funded by the Federal Stimulus. In particular, the scenic US Highway 2 crossing the Cascade range northeast of Seattle, has such spots situated ~30-50 miles apart, starting with Sultan, a small town some 30 miles of Seattle.
On a beautiful “Indian Summer” weekend in September 2013, I figured out we can use the Sultan QC spot as a launching pad to get our Leaf to a trailhead fairly deep in the mountains, and hike to Greider Lakes. That’s 50 miles each way, the last 7 miles of which are on gravel roads. We stopped at Sultan in both directions, although in retrospect only the return charge-stop was necessary. We took advantage of the 15 minutes stop on the way there, to get acquainted with this small town (and get some cookies). On the way back it fit perfectly with our need for a dinner (we finished the hike at dusk), so Sahara Pizza it was. Not surprisingly, the Leaf had filled itself up long before we finished filling up on food.
As to driving on gravel, surely Leaf is not an off-road vehicle, but reasonably-maintained gravel has worked fine for us so far. In general, if ordinary ICE vehicles can get there, the Leaf can get there too. The energy consumption per mile is a bit higher than on paved roads, but not dramatically.
Anyway… we returned from that trip with appetite for more, but unfortunately soon afterwards the weather had turned. Barring exceptions we are fair-weather hikers, which in Western Washington limits us to May-September plus the occasional non-terrible weekends the rest of the year. Regardless, in November-April you don’t usually venture too deep into the mountains for ordinary hiking, because trails and dirt roads are covered with snow.
Early this summer we managed to squeeze in two more Sultan-anchored hikes before returning the 2012 lease in mid-July. Here’s a map showing all three:
Another nice thing about the US-2 corridor infrastructure, is that there’s a second QC spot at Skykomish, about 30 miles up from Sultan. In principle even a 2011/2 Leaf can get there directly from Seattle, enabling
- hikes even farther into the mountains;
- trip over Stevens Pass into Leavenworth, with only a single charging stop;
- a fall-back option if your hike is somewhat down-road of Skykomish, but you fear you won’t have range to return to Sultan.
We haven’t tried any of these yet, but sooner or later… A third nice thing is, that people can rarely drive over 60 MPH on the windy two-lane US-2. With the Leaf, if you need to squeeze out range, you really don’t want to go over 55 MPH for substantial stretches. Simply put, speed will eat up your range. On US-2 you are less tempted to do that than on an Interstate.
An Enjoyable Leaf Day-Trip: The Basics
Here’s where I come from to the EV world:
I see ourselves as participating in an ambitious social-technological experiment called “Mainstreaming the EV”. The idea is to have ordinary families – not hobbyists or serial early-adopters – use EVs as their main vehicles, functioning both as ambassadors and as Beta users for automakers. The experiment’s, or rather project’s, grand goal is a market transition from ICE vehicles to EVs – which, as I explained here, could be a major coup for global-warming mitigation, and generally good for society as a whole.
In my humble opinion, it is an immense privilege to be able to participate in this project, at little to no extra cost compared with the ICE alternatives. My role is to try and electrify as much of our driving as reasonably feasible.
So: when I drive 55 MPH on an Interstate because I need optimal range from that particular stretch, I don’t feel it’s The End Of The World As We Know It. When it takes me 30 minutes longer than ICE/PHEV/Tesla to get to a place like Mima Mounds or Lake Dorothy, I don’t feel like an idiot (even though I do laugh together with our friends, at their jokes about it).
As to the practicum… the principles are simple.
- Plan ahead the charging availability and range – plugshare.com is the best site to use nowadays. Don’t just spot a QC location, read up the latest user reports. Consider altitude gain and loss. Think about your back-ups and be sure to have at least one.
- Try to arrange whenever possible, for your stops to coincide with stuff you would do anyway. For example, if we return from a hike mid-afternoon to early evening, we like to top it off with a coffee and ice cream. If we return later, we can have dinner on the way back – it saves the scramble of making one later at home.
- It might sound silly to spell it out, but don’t forget take a portable 110V ESVE with you (on one outing with our 2014, I was so complacent I actually forgot to take it! Fortunately there were no mishaps).
- Prepare the kids that this is part of the deal. Surprisingly, our drives to QC-assisted hikes were overall more pleasant than direct ICE drives of the same distance. Kids love stopping, getting out and exploring.
- While driving, mind the speed. On some segments, especially the home stretch, you can usually let it all go and drive as fast as the road and/or the law allow. On other segments, speed-discipline will be the difference between getting there a few minutes slower than ICE – and eating up big time for an extra charging stop, or even worse – ending up stranded.
- Last but not least: know and respect your own mental limits, and proceed gradually. Contrary to what some people write here, there is such thing as range anxiety. Just like with, e.g., rock climbing, some people have no fear/anxiety whatsoever and just love taking those risks – while others hardly dare drive out of their fixed routine, and feel really bad when they do, no matter what. Think about the whole “Doing it with an EV” thing as an additional adventure on top of your main trip adventure. If the affair involves other people, make sure your and their first experience is a positive one, and take it from there.
- ….oh, and try to leave home early.
So… if your EV has that QC port but you’ve never used it on a substantial trip, and your region has at least one useful QC spot in an interesting direction – do give it a try. And then rush over here and tell us all about it!
Questions? Concernss? Thank you.