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When ice collected inside the charge port, the connected EVSE did not delivering the expected charge. A hairdryer soon came to the rescue. (Michael Bettencourt)
When ice collected inside the charge port, the connected EVSE did not delivering the expected charge. A hairdryer soon came to the rescue. (Michael Bettencourt)

Living with the Leaf

Living with the Leaf, Part 3: Fuel bills and range anxiety Add to ...

Our maximum observed winter range over January and February has been only 80 kilometres, using the heater pretty much constantly. This is exactly half of Leaf’s commonly espoused 160 km range.

This was shocking to me when I first observed it – and worth considering if you’re contemplating a Leaf and have a daily commute of 70 km or more. But there are a couple of important points and qualifiers to that surprisingly low range number to keep in mind.

We rarely drive more than 42 km a day, so we haven’t found total range an issue at all. Therefore, we rarely hold back on using the heat or highway driving, both of which are serious range punishers. The heated seats and heated steering wheel, which draw minimal but still some juice, have been on pretty much since we picked up the Leaf.

We also rarely use the Eco mode, as it makes the Leaf painfully slow – though it works well as a brake-free “downshift” for extra regenerative braking, and is an ideal winter mode on snow or ice.

The reduced power nicely reduces wheelspin, plus the regen braking helpfully slows the car on slippery downhills, or when the fuel efficiency-focused tires scramble for ABS-assisted grip while coming to a snowy stop.

We have never run out of juice, nor have we reached the dreaded “turtle” mode yet, when top speed is capped to 40 km to save power for the remaining kilometre or less of “fumes” you have left.

When the dash’s distance-to-empty figure reaches 20 km, a large warning shows up in the message centre about the low battery charge level, a yellow fuel light comes on, and you get a voice warning to get to a recharger soon after.

This is the cue for the dreaded range anxiety. It’s not a comfortable position to be in. Once you have 10 km left, the warnings become even more prominent.

One cold evening, we cut it close after driving 80 km – upon our return our Leaf told us there were six kilometres left of range, which would have put the total available at 86 km. Temperatures varied between -10 and -15 C that day, with some highway driving. We had the car well loaded with three or four people for many of those kilometres as well, and weight is another enemy of range.

There’s a story behind how we unintentionally let it run so low. After running some errands before going through an automatic car wash at the local gas station, I plugged in at home for a few hours, knowing that I’d need some more juice for a party later that evening with the family back downtown.

What I hadn’t realized was that ice had collected inside the charge port, and the connected EVSE was not delivering the expected charge. I perhaps could or should have noticed, as the charging light throbs when the plug is connected but the charge is not flowing, such as when the charge timer is set to start the power flow at off-peak hours.

But we only realized this just as we were all heading out to the party, gifts in hand. The gasoline press car I happened to have that week was a not-so-family-friendly two-door Scion iQ, which is bigger than a Smart car, but barely. So we hopped in the Leaf, put it in Eco mode, and used the heat judiciously there and back to nurse it safely home.

Once plugged in again in our garage, we immediately saw that it still wasn’t accepting a charge. We tried the 110 volt connector for the first time, in case it was an issue with our EVSE or its cord, and even plugged into a regular outlet, but that didn’t work. So we left it plugged into the EVSE, as we consulted the owner’s manual, keeping an eye on its charge status from inside using the Leaf’s handy iPhone app.

We hoped our unheated but attached garage would be warm enough to combat the -15 C temperatures outside, but when that didn’t work after an hour and a half, we contemplated calling roadside assistance.

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