(Continued from Part 2. This concludes the article.)
When the Battery Dies, You are Getting a Flatbed Tow
Speaking of your electric vehicle turning into an inert hunk of metal, I have run out of juice twice on my vehicle. Both times required a flatbed tow truck to bring my vehicle back home. [Editor’s Note: Never use a traditional tow truck, since there is no “neutral” gear position with electric cars, and damage will occur.] Fortunately, both times I was only a couple of miles from home, and just did not have that last bit of juice needed to get there. Also, both times occurred because my “plan” did not go as planned. In one instance, a public charger I normally used was out of service at a meeting location. My normal hour of charge time I had there didn’t happen and it turns out I really did need that extra charge time to get home. The second time I had an unexpected need to get to a meeting and pulled off a charger sooner than I normally would. That loss of charge time was enough to strand me at the freeway off-ramp three miles from my house.
Once the battery runs out on an electric vehicle, that’s it. No walking to a gas station, buying a gas can, and walking back to the vehicle. No calling home for someone to bring you a jerry can from the garage. In theory, you could bring a generator to the vehicle and charge it that way, but then you are running the generator and burning gas for an hour or more just to get the electric vehicle to go a couple of miles. Whether a tow truck, or a more informal tow in a WROL situation, that vehicle is not moving unless something is pulling it.
Without a Charger the Car is a Paperweight
Electric vehicles come with a Level 1 charger that plugs into a standard 120-volt home outlet. These chargers can fail. The one that came with my vehicle eventually did. Fortunately, it failed “slowly” in that sometimes it would charge and sometimes it wouldn’t. Before there was a catastrophic failure, I was able to easily purchase a refurbished Level 1 charger on line. I have kept the old, partially working charger as a backup. Following the old “Two is one, one is none” maxim, have a backup charger available at your home. Whether that is a Level 2 charger installed in your garage and the Level 1 charger that came with your vehicle, or an extra Level 1 charger stored in a box, have at least one extra. If you don’t have a functioning charger, whatever you have in your battery is all you will have available before your electric vehicle is a glorified paperweight.
Although I would not recommend it, if your planned backup is a publicly available charger somewhere, make sure the charger works with your vehicle. There are at least three commonly used charging port configurations out there. On more than one occasion I’ve rolled up to an electric vehicle charging station only to find out that it did not have a charging port that worked with my car.
Batteries are Very, Very Heavy
You may ask, “Why not push a dead electric vehicle to an electrical outlet and charge it.” Tried that. Not happening without a crew of strong folks. Even if you can get your particular vehicle into neutral when the battery is completely discharged (when the battery is dead, everything shuts down, and everything is electric), batteries weigh a lot, a whole lot, a whole lot more than an engine block. I’ve pushed a lot of vehicles in my day, and my little 2-door is a heavy chunk of vehicle, even for its small size. If you have carried a standard 12-volt lead-acid battery, you know how heavy that is. Now imagine enough of those to cover the entire floor of the vehicle. Then add an engine and all the other vehicle accouterments. Electric vehicles are heavier than a similar-sized gasoline vehicle.
I’ll provide a real-life example, illustrating the weight of an EV: A few years ago I was rear-ended on the freeway. It was stop-and-go traffic so the other car wasn’t going at a very high speed. No one was physically hurt, but both cars were damaged. I didn’t see the other car coming, but I felt the “bump”. My little two-door barely moved. Although the classic type of accident to generate a “whiplash” neck injury, there was not enough movement of my vehicle for me to be hurt. I got out and there was some cosmetic damage to my rear bumper, but nothing that would keep the vehicle from operating. In fact, I have never gotten anything repaired from that accident. The other car was a different story. Although a bigger car, a 4-door sedan, the front bumper was folded up, the hood was compressed and had a bend, and the radiator had some minor damage. That 4-door sedan hit a vehicle with greater mass, and it showed.
It May Also Have An Old-Fashioned 12 Volt Battery
Speaking of 12-volt lead acid batteries, your fancy electric vehicle with its own giant battery bank may also have a 12-volt battery. On three occasions I have accidentally left the keys in the ignition of my electric vehicle overnight with the vehicle “on”. Turns out that a 12-volt lead acid battery runs all the electronics and when I left the vehicle “on” those electronics drained the 12-volt battery. This was quite a surprise the first time it happened because everything in the vehicle was dead and I couldn’t figure out why. The car was a lifeless lump of metal and plastic, with no lights, no radio, absolutely nothing. I knew the battery bank was charged, so why was nothing happening? I don’t know the specifics for my particular vehicle, but apparently the battery bank does not charge the 12-volt battery when the vehicle is parked. To add insult to injury, the ignition key also would not release. The key would turn, with absolutely no response from the car, and it could not be pulled from the ignition. After trying various ways of plugging in the charger and finding no help in the owner’s manual, it was time to check the on-line owners’ forums. Found out that the vehicle computer and much of the internal gauges, lights, functions, etc. are powered by a standard old 12-volt battery tucked under the hood and hidden by a very nice plastic cover. Recharged the battery and things went back to normal. Lesson learned. Also found out that unhooking the 12-volt battery can reset the onboard computer, which can be handy for certain issues with this specific vehicle.
You are Going to Save Money
Things aren’t all problems and challenges associated with electric vehicles. If you own one, you are going to save money compared to a gas vehicle. The cost per travel-mile for electricity is less than the cost per travel mile for gasoline, even with a very fuel-efficient gasoline vehicle. The amount of savings will vary from region to region based on the prices of electricity and gasoline, but there will be a savings. You will also save on maintenance. With an electric vehicle there are no oil changes; no tune ups; no replacement of timing belts, starters, water pumps, and a score of other parts needed in a gasoline engine and not an electric car; and no transmission rebuilds. Although this oversimplifies it, you pretty much have the batteries and an electric motor. Over the 50,000+ miles I have driven my car, the only maintenance has been tires, brakes, and wiper blades. Given the challenges with all-electric vehicles, I have found used all-electric vehicles to be fairly reasonably priced. If you have to have a second or third vehicle, filling that slot with an electric vehicle can be an economical choice, leaving funds available for other purposes.
Electric Vehicles are Fun to Drive
Don’t let any potential ties to the Birkenstock wearing, avocado toast-eating, urban hipster set make you think that an electric vehicle is only for those looking for their vehicle to provide a non-threatening “safe space.” Electric vehicles can be fun to drive. If you have heard someone describe the quick response when pushing the accelerator on an electric vehicle, it is completely true. When you hit the accelerator on an 8-cylinder muscle car, that engine needs to cycle through all eight cylinders getting the maximum amount of fuel before the full power of the engine is reached, and that power needs to be transferred through the transmission before the tires rotate as fast as they can. In an electric car it’s like hitting a switch…accelerator depressed, signal to battery, power to electric motor, wheels spin fast. Even my little boxy sensible 2-door can squeal the tires when I floor it from a stop. There are now car clubs that are putting more and more powerful electric motors in muscle car chassis with amazing results. If you have heard of a diesel-electric locomotive, that runs by a diesel generator on the engine powering an electric motor. So, the power available in an electric vehicle all depends on the power of the electric motor installed. An electric vehicle does not necessarily mean a “weak” vehicle. However, you can still make fun of Prius drivers as a Prius is a hybrid and not all-electric.
Electric Vehicles are Stealthy
If you live somewhere where electric vehicles are common, you have probably experienced one sneaking up on you in a parking lot. With no real engine noise at low speeds, they are very quiet. I have unintentionally startled more than one person with my vehicle, including a police officer. Even when “flooring it” the engine is pretty quiet, and definitely quieter than a gasoline engine. At higher speeds, the majority of a vehicles noise is generated by the tires contacting the pavement. There is nothing to be done about this. However, an electric vehicle, overall, is still much quieter. Going back to a TEOTWAWKI scenario, this could be very beneficial for obvious reasons. However, for a real-world example, down a canyon from our retreat and about three miles as the crow flies there is a two-lane paved road. With some effort we can hear the engine noise from many of the vehicles that go by, but not the tire noise. If a vehicle going down that road becomes a rarity, we will know when most vehicles go by (as will others), but not electric vehicles.
If you are worried about heat signatures, electric vehicles have almost none. No tailpipe to get rid of hot exhaust. The hood doesn’t get warm no matter how far or fast you drive.
That covers some of the potential pros and cons of the electric vehicle platform. As functional as my electric vehicle is for me, I have real concerns about how one might operate in a cold climate. With the combination of reduced battery performance and the need to use the battery to heat the interior, there just doesn’t seem like there is going to be a lot of energy left for moving the vehicle down the road. However, if you live and operate in a mild climate, the platform can be very useful. In either case, plan, plan, and plan further regarding your battery usage and charging time, particularly in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Do not end up in a scenario where you think you have enough charge because conditions were ideal, but then you need to drive fast, with heating or AC on, and uphill and your vehicle stops rolling while you are still miles from home.