Reader Rides: Two Years With a Toyota RAV4 EV Teaches Me Silence is Golden

If you’ve ever driven a car with a large engine, say a truck with a 454 cubic inch engine, you’ll remember the powerful, noisy commotion.  That noise is something you get used to, and some find it satisfying.  I completely understand: I had a BMW motorcycle back in the 80’s and loved the throaty rumble it made cruising down the highway at 4000 rpm.

But let’s stop a moment and think about what’s going on inside those engines.  You punch the accelerator, gas is delivered to the engine block where it is burned in an explosion that creates smoke, heat, gas, a whole lot of noise, and finally movement.  And let’s not forget, those are explosions.  Mufflers are needed to muffle the deafening roar coming from your engine.  Case in point: ever heard a motorcycle with straight pipes from a mile away?  Exactly.

Those noises from the tailpipe are addictive -- but there's another way.

Those noises from the tailpipe are addictive — but there’s another way.

Now that car with the big block V8 will get you moving, and maybe get 15 miles per gallon.  Over the years the efficiency of gas powered cars has increased slowly.  The national average in the US is now around 25 mpg.  Automakers keep tinkering around the edges, providing a bit more power here, a few more miles per gallon there.  But it’s like rearranging deck chairs on a cruise ship: small incremental changes that don’t change the century old design of gas, explosion, smoke, heat, noise, exhaust, and finally movement.  It’s not a very efficient way to travel.  70 to 75% of the energy released by burning gas in an internal combustion engine is wasted.  So 25 to 30% pushes you down the road and the rest is gone, leaving nothing but a trail of smoke in the air.

The gasoline powered cars that get the best MPG actually have small electric motors that help power the car.  For example, the current-generation 2015 Toyota Prius has an EPA-approved combined gas mileage rating of 50 MPG.  The technology is interesting, but it has nothing to do with the power of a 454 cubic inch monster.

Enter the electric car.  Electric cars can deliver that same thrill, but in a much more efficient package.  In comparison to gasoline engines, electric motors are powerful, silent, and much, much more efficient.  90% of the energy stored in the battery pack is used to drive you down the road.  I’ve been driving an electric car, a 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV, for over two years (see my past reviews here and here).

Since installing a data logger I've driven about 3,500 miles and have used 235 Wh from the battery pack for each mile driven - the equivalent of 144 MPG - in the 4000 Rave EV. Talk about efficient! The battery health estimate is encouraging after 2 years of driving.

Here’s the data from my Toyota RAV4 EC as logged by MyEV since installing it 3,500 miles ago.

I’ve logged 30,000 trouble free miles so far and love this car more than any I’ve ever driven – except for that Tesla Model S test drive, but that’s a different story.  Three months ago I bought a data logger that plugs into my EV’s electronic circuits and monitors, among other things, how much energy is used to drive a given distance.  Since installing the data logger I’ve driven 3,500 miles – 2/3 highway and 1/3 city streets – and have been getting the equivalent of 144 MPG.  From a 4000 pound Rav4 EV that has the aerodynamics of a brick!  Granted, I’m a slow driver, but the same style of driving gets me 53 MPG from my ‘efficient’ Prius.  This is strong testimony to the efficiency of electric cars.

But don’t let that efficiency lull you to sleep.  If you need the full power an EV can deliver, it’s there waiting for you.  Punch the accelerator and BAM!  Immediate torque, immediate power.  The energy stored in the battery pack is not wasted in heat-generating explosions.  It’s delivered to an electric motor that instantly propels you down the road.  It feels effortless.  In general I don’t drive fast, but it still amazes me when a light turns green and I silently pull away from other cars roaring with noise and laboring furiously to get moving and keep up.

My son likes driving around in our Toyota Rav4 EV because it doesn't make "poshushun" (his way of saying it doesn't have a tailpipe!).

My son likes driving around in our Toyota Rav4 EV because it doesn’t make “poshushun” (his way of saying it doesn’t have a tailpipe!).

Here’s a real world example of how you might use the power of an EV:  Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that your son’s daycare calls you and says, “Steve, your son Jimmy, I mean your hypothetical son, has bumped his head and I think he needs stitches…  an ambulance is on the way to take him to the local clinic!”  Before they hung up I was in my EV flying down the road, perhaps slightly over the speed limit.  But 10 minutes later the daycare called me back and said, “He was acting funny, the paramedics think he might have a concussion so they’re taking him to the children’s hospital.”  Which was in the opposite direction.  Talk about alarming.  I turned around and in a matter of seconds was doing Speed Limit X 2 on Interstate 80.  Now, I don’t recommend driving over the speed limit, but it is good to know that when you need it, EVs have the power to drive you safely and quickly where you need to go (ps: Jimmy is fine, no concussion!).

So back to all that noise.  Do I miss the rumble of gasoline engines?  The noise of explosions under the hood of my car?  Not at all.  I don’t need the noise to remind me that my EV has some serious power under the hood.  After driving gas powered cars our whole lives, we’ve become accustomed to that noise, it’s just background noise.  But the minute it’s gone you realize that your ears, and your mind, are getting a break.  I enjoy the silence of driving my EV, the daily commute is more relaxing.  One way to describe what it’s like, is to imagine that you’re in a night club where the music is just too loud.  Maybe you’re in there having fun with friends, but the minute you step outside you are struck by the silence, and might feel relief!  For those who crave noise, the silence of an EV actually allows for all sorts of possibilities.  In the digital world there’s not much stopping you from driving a car that sounds like George Jetson’s car, a Star Wars Tie fighter, or a Harley Davidson if you prefer.  In fact, artificial noises are already used by the auto industry.  Ford, BMW, and maybe others, pipe fake noise into the cabin of some of their cars – ‘augment’ is the word they use – to make the cars sound like they have a V8 under the hood.  To each his own.  But perhaps you could just enjoy the silence.

Disclaimer: The author has no financial interest in companies linked in this article.


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  • Michael Thwaite

    And, I’d like to add that I don’t want this silence to end! I’m very concerned about potential legislation in the US that might lead to the installation of noise makers on quiet EVs.

    • Chris

      I don’t see a lot of EVs unfortunately, but when I do see one I pay close attention to the noise compared to other cars, and it sounds about the same. Most of the noise you can hear from any modern car is road noise.

      Only at very low speeds is there any real need for artificial noise, but even then, I think people overstate the difference between EVs and engined cars.

      Having said all that, I would like the option to have different types of sounds you can switch between or turn off completely, depending on your mood. They don’t have to be audible outside the car really. I just want to be able to enjoy that if I want to. Like personalised ringtones for your car.

      • Stephen Noctor

        Hi Chris, you’re right that modern cars are much quieter than they used to be. When you’re driving, road noise from tires etc is often very perceptible. But just stand next to a regular gas powered car in a parking garage when it starts up, and next to an EV…. the difference is big. And then you have your cars, trucks and motorcycles with minimal mufflers – for some reason I have lots in my area – and the difference is huge. I’m also with you on the idea of different noises… I’ve been trying to convince a friend to put together a circuit board with say 5 – 10 choices to suit your mood for the day just like you’re saying! Thanks for reading.

    • Mark Benjamin David

      I’ve always appreciated quickly getting to speed smoothly over loudly. I’ve never been impressed with big loud V8s. I was impressed with the japanese carmakers getting V8 power out of 4 cylinder engines. I also did not like (nor “get”) the whole cherry bomb muffler thing going on when I was in high school.

      I don’t think it’s “potential”, it’s more a matter of when and how it will be implemented, unfortunately. I think electric cars should be allowed to be quiet. I think the legislation is more backlash from those against EVs.

      If it must have something for noise, perhaps a sensor would be allowed so the noise only comes on when an object or person is approaching the vehicle when it is stopped or below certain low speeds. That would be acceptable to me. I do not appreciate car noise.

      Toyota already put a noise in the Prius in “EV” mode, starting 2012, I think, ugh.

      • Stephen Noctor

        They included that same strange UFO-type noise in my 2012 Rav4 EV. It’s on at slow speed, maybe up to 15 – 20 mph, and very very strange. In my opinion it does not make the car more noticeable in parking lots etc. There is a fix for that weird noise….. the plug is visible under the hood. 🙂

        • Michael Thwaite

          I applied the fix to both our i-MiEV and Smart Electric Drive… To date, I’m 150,000+ miles into pure EV driving without the nearest hint of an incident… Even when I’ve deliberately tried to sneak up of friends they still notice!

        • Mark Benjamin David

          It is a strange sound, I’ve driven Prius’s, but, nice you can unplug it! …I’m jealous BTW, if I could have, I would have picked up a Rav4 EV myself…I’m not into sedans at all and, with one exception for 2015, I don’t care for the car designs of most of the battery electric cars out there. Although, the VW eGolf could be ok (that was the one exception). …I’ve driven cars for a Toyota dealership, so, I do like the Rav4 somewhat.

          I also wish they would stop with pumping fake driving noise in the cabln. If anyone working for a carmaker that makes BEVs is reading this, please do not make artificial noises in or out of the car, I like quiet cars!

      • Ad van der Meer

        Maybe the “noise” for EV’s is something we have to accept for now. If that noise reduces the resistance to EV’s I am fine with it. Once EV’s have a higher market share and the streets get more quiet with fewer ICE powered cars, it will be easier to get rid of the artificial noise.

  • Surya

    Nice article. And I agree.
    I also have the myEV logger (just like Nikki, but it seems she hasn’t uploaded anything lately) and get 158MPGe with my ZOE (213Wh/mile)

    • Arthur

      All of you nice folks forget to divide your 144 MPGe or 155 MPGe number by a factor of 5 to compensate for all the “upstream” losses that take place before the e-juice makes it into your battery. Then you will also have additional losses that will depend on the age of the battery, ambient temperature, etc. For example, operating your EV in 20 degree F and with 60,000 miles on the battery will require twice the energy compared to a brand spanking new EV operating in 70 degree F weather. As a result, expect the correction factor to your MPGe to be as much as 10 in cold climates and older EVs, so your 144 MPGe is actually 14.4 MPGe, which makes your EV much worse for the environment than a Ford F150, and that’s not even considering the toxic battery.

      • Surya

        Your math is all wrong.
        First off, upstream losses for electricity are at most 50%, but that is only if the electricity is sent over long distances. If I have solar panels and a battery, that loss can be as low as 10%.
        But more importantly, you forget that gas also has upstream losses. Those are not calculated into your MPG or emissions at all. And those are far worse. Building oil platforms, transporting oil, refining oil, transporting oil to your gas station, detours you have to make to got to the gas station… If you take into account all of these, the MPG on the sticker is off by a factor of 2 to 4, depending on the source you go on. So your 20MPG car might actually be a 5MPG car. Which makes that 14.4MPGe you came up with (that is completely wrong) a good number.
        As for cold climates: EVs don’t use more energy to drive, the battery capacity is simply diminished. Gas cars on the other hand do indeed use more gas. Up to 30% more than in warmer weather.
        So the fact remains: EVs are simply far more energy efficient.

        • Arthur

          “Your math is all wrong”????
          Are you one of those liberal arts major master debaters?

          How can you say “upstream losses for electricity are at most 50%”???
          Typical power plant efficiency is 36%, so you’ve got 64% loss before the e-juice even leaves the power plant. Then you have power transmission and distribution losses (the socialists at the EPA love to falsify this number, but it is typically 15% to 20%), and a 10% minimum charging loss if you fast-charge your battery. However, manufacturers recommend that you slow-charge the batteries so they last more than 600 charge cycles, so typical charging losses will be considerably more than 10%.

          Then you make a complete fool of yourself by stating the following about conventional autos: “So your 20MPG car might actually be a 5MPG car”. Oil refiners buy oil at about $1 per gallon and it is sold as gasoline at about $2 per gallon, including about $0.50 average in Federal and State taxes and considerable profits to everyone along the way. More than 10,000,000 American families depend on oil and gas industry for income, but according to your math the refiners would be losing $3 for every gallon of gas they sell. Please explain to us how is that possible?
          Then you keep saying “fact remains”….try googling “cold temperature electric vehicle battery efficiency”….perhaps you will learn something….or you could just live in your own made up liberal arts world where the laws of physics do not apply.

          • Surya

            1) I have a friend that works for a major high voltage service supplier, he informed me about the losses involved in transporting electricity. Since my electricity comes from renewables, there are no losses during that production. I don’t know where you get that 36% figure, but it sounds off.

            2) I was talking about energy efficiency in ICE engines and energy lost in producing the fuel, I don’t know what prices have to do with that. I never claimed they are making a loss, the are clearly making a lot of money. But energy is used to produce oil. The amount of energy used in producing oil and refining it to a usable fuel is not insignificant. Part of that is energy used in building the production sites (and moving those), transporting the fuel halfway around the world, refining the oil, transporting it again… It is an energy intensive process and depending on the source, that process uses somewhere between the amount of energy stored in the fuel and 3 times that amount.

            The simple fact is: ICE engines are less efficient than electric motors (about 90% compared to 35% for ICE). Big power plants are more efficient than small engines in cars. The grid can be made clean by getting electricity from renewables. Oil is not clean and while small efficiency gains in engines and the production process are possible, it cannot ever become as clean as the grid, which is getting cleaner every day. You can’t tell me an EV running on solar power is more dirty than any ICE car, let alone an F150. It is cleaner and uses less energy. Those are facts. I don’t understand why you don’t get that.

            3) I’ve tried googling that and I find stuff about the 12v battery, and articles saying the range of EVs decreases in cold weather, they don’t mention how much more energy they need in cold weather. From experience with my own EV I do notice a drop, but since that amount is already calculated into the final average reported by the myEV app, we don’t need to take it into account again when calculating efficiency, it’s already been taken into account by the app. So if my app reports 152,7367 MPGe (as it did when I just checked) that is already taking into account the higher energy use in winter.

            4) You haven’t addressed my point about the lower efficiency of ICE cars in winter. How convenient, only responding to the points you want to attack.

            5) I don’t do liberal arts, I don’t even know what that is or what it means. I’m not making personal judgements about you based on your statements, I only look at your statements.

          • Arthur

            So, you have no clue what the term “liberal arts” means but you know all these other things. Interesting.

            Here we go again:

            1. Where do you live that you can confidently say that all your energy comes from renewables?

            Did you know that the #1 renewable (by far) in Europe is burning wood? I would rather they keep the trees and burn natural gas that really does us little good when it’s in the ground. There are also all these doomsday scenarios when mother nature releases large amounts of methane from the ground…so it is actually better if we gradually release it first and put it to good use. Natural gas, especially after it has been liquefied, burns cleaner than just about any other fuel source available in large quantities. Folks use natural gas in their homes all over the world, and it burns so clean that there is no need for vents.

            My 36% figure applies to power plant efficiency the USA and Canada. If you want I can give you the figure for Europe. In the USA, over 70% of electricity is generated using fossil fuels. Most of the rest is from Uranium (what a disaster that has been for the world….Fukushima is still leaking radiation into the pacific…did you realize that there were four nuclear power plants affected?? Fukushima I had six reactors and a bunch of stored radioactive material that got washed away…NICE…meanwhile, no one knows where the corium from Unit 2 is). Also, we used up vast resources to build dams in the USA to get hydro. Now we will use up billions of gallons of diesel ad gas to deconstruct all those dams with the hopes of restoring the fish and wildlife habitats that the dams destroyed.

            2. In the USA, we get most of our oil from the Americas, so your “transporting fuel halfway around the world” is false and does not apply to America or to Europe (Europe is very close to the Middle East). You are using generic statements from the socialist playbook. You should be more creative. You’re also trying to make all the steps in getting gasoline to the gas station sound like huge energy sinks.

            So, again, just your battery charger in your garage is 10% loss minimum. A typical gas tanker truck uses no more than 100 gallons of fuel to transport 10,000 gallons of fuel, and it is usually much less than that. But even if it uses 100 gallons, that’s only a 1% loss compared to your charger’s minimum 10% loss.

            Right now, the share of solar power is so small that you can’t practically consider it when comparing the energy sources for typical BEVs to typical ICEs. Also, I hope you live close to the equator because in the northern parts of the USA and Europe, a PV panel will take years and years to make enough electricity to compensate for all the energy that was required to make it. Also, the waste products that result from PV panel production are worse than Asbestos. Did you want me to talk about that Lithium battery that is also rich in Nickel?

            You’ve been doing this for a while, so this one should be easy: How many liters of fresh water containing Lithium need to be evaporated to make one Tesla battery? Is it:

            A. 400,000 liters

            B. 300,000 liters

            C. more than the above

            Did you know that water vapor is our #1 greenhouse gas? Did you know that CO2 actually settles as it is denser than air? Did you know that the trees you cut down in Europe to get your #1 renewable energy source actually love CO2?

            3. Really?? You cold not find anything significant about temperature effects on batteries?

            Here is something from a liberal media site (the socialists love their precious BEVs, so the following is probably optimistic):

            From USA TODAY: “AAA: Range of electric cars cut in cold, hot weather”

            “The range of electric vehicles can be greatly reduced, by up to 57% … – at 20 degrees Fahrenheit – and by 33% ….a(t) temperature of 95 degrees………we did not expect the degradation that we saw”

            As far as your BEVs economy, again, your MPGe does not account for all the upstream losses. I just hope you don’t get most of your electricity from nuclear….did you know that no source of energy heats up our lakes, rivers, seas and oceans faster than nuclear? Nuclear is also responsible for two of the worst environmental disasters, but I think the terrorists are planning on something even worse.

            4. “Colder conditions produce a measureable increase in engine (ICE) power” I got that from one Physics site, I can give you a thousand more references. When I had my Turbo S in Montvale NJ in December of 2014, I could definitely feel the difference a nice cold day makes. Economy is better also.

            5. So, you don’t have a clue about liberal arts, but you make statements such as:

            ” /Filmcast Ep. 345 – Macbeth (2015)
            Surya • a month ago
            Who had heard of Hayden Christensen before AotC? Well, me for one. I had seen Life as a House and he was pretty good in that movie”


            “I loved her in the movie. I wouldn’t mind her being back. I wouldn’t mind her not being back. It all depends on what they do with the character. They shouldn’t just bring her back because we love the character.”
            You should really use a different alias when discussing the types of things that liberal arts majors love to discuss…..and who the hell is Macbeth??

          • Surya

            Not knowing the definition of liberal arts – not being a native English speaker – doesn’t prohibit me from claiming to have knowledge about certain things. I had no idea a main stream things like movies are considered liberal arts. I thought they were more of a capitalist tool to make billions. But that’s an other discussion.

            I’ve decided not to respond to your reply. I also happen to have looked at your previous messages. Your stance on EVs is pretty clear and I’m not going to waste my time trying to set straight all your claims.
            I can only say this: peer reviewed studies have shown that EVs are cleaner cradle to the grave, even in states with the highest amount of coal power, though maybe not by much. But in most other states they are decidedly cleaner. So that being said I believe there are only two valid complaints about EVs: they cost a bit more and don’t go as far on a single charge. All the rest is based on misconceptions or wrong information.

            Feel free to reply to this, or not. In any case, I have no desire to spend more time as I won’t be able to change your mind anyway. And you won’t be able to change mine, as there is no possible way that cars running on solar, wind and hydro are dirtier than cards running dead dinos.

          • Arthur

            That’s fine, you do not have to reply…if you continue you will turn the conversation into….”well, 50 years from now when….” That’s usually how these conversations end up.

            Regarding: “doesn’t prohibit me from claiming to have knowledge”…..I’m sorry…did I prohibit you from something? Also, your attitude towards capitalism definitely has a lot of socialist flavor, which is typical for liberal arts master debaters in the USA…so my apologies for falsely placing you in that category, but this article did originate from the USA. Your command of the English language is very good…I realized later that you were not from the USA.

            By the way, you should be consistent in your comments, otherwise you lose all credibility. For example:
            You wrote as a comment to one article: “I pump electricity directly from my solar panels in to my EV battery with minimal losses and on top of that I get to put some green electricity on the grid for other people to use.”

            But in response to a different article you wrote: “Don’t be ridiculous. I installed a PV array. It cost me €7000 and it provides me all the power I need for both my home and my EV. Any extra power I need comes from my local utility which only produces using 100% renewable sources.”
            Do you see the conflicting information in your two posts or do you need me to point it out to you?

            You were also wrong about the simple things….such as the very significant and deleterious temperature effects on batteries. The more complex topics I would rather discuss (and I have) with engineers and scientists with PhDs. It’s not because I do not want to discuss these other topics with you, but rather it is because it makes me look very bad as the onlookers would realize that I am taking advantage of someone who is not an expert in science and math, and that’s not fair. As far as your comment on how coal is cleaner than natural gas…you don’t want to know what will happen to the air quality(as bad as it is) in places like Shanghai and Delhi if all cars switch to BEVs in those cities polluted by outdated coal powerplants…there are no fewer than 18 coal power plants in Shanghai…but you already knew all these things considering you have been an extreme supporter of electric cars for at least two years now (judging by your 500+ comments on the subject) and so you know many of the issues. China and India have huge deposits of coal, and people like Musk realize just how bad for the environment BEVs are in countries with grids fueled almost exclusively by coal….but they don’t care.

            As far as my other comments to different articles that you may have read, especially about the dangers of EMF and children being exposed to powerful dynamic fields for long durations….that’s all old news also (honestly I thought proving the negative health effects would be the most difficult part, but the EPA and others seem OK with sacrificing children and the liberal socialist media will continue the evil cover up). The entire EPA cannot prove me wrong and they just continue the child experimentation knowing that the oil and gas hating liberal judges will protect them. Also, all the ex-NASA scientists working at Spacex cannot prove me wrong….and they’re very smart…much smarter than me.

            You seem to have a lot of hatred for oil and gas also, especially for Volkswagen….and you have been at it for at least two years. You know, Car and Driver recently compared VW to ISIS. When I was at CES in Las Vegas last week, I made sure VW knew about it. I have no clue why the auto industry would want to keep sending their cars to Car and Driver after that publication compared a major manufacturer (one of their own) to ISIS.

            Toyota, #1 in the world, is making petrol ICE engines that are 40% efficient. Toyota has also completely abandoned the BEV. Diesel engines are between 40% and 50% efficient. The EPA attacked VW because they saw diesels as a huge threat to BEVs once the truth comes out about real BEV efficiency. It’s going to be tough enough comparing a 20 MPGe BEV to a 35 MPG petrol ICE, so a 45 MPG diesel will destroy all BEV sales except to people who want to make a political statement….and this is what Musk figured out….how to get rich from people’s hatred of oil and gas…it had nothing to do with the environment.

            The best apples to apples efficiency comparison of an ICE to a BEV is a CNG Honda Civic to a Soul EV. The cleanest significant energy source for the Soul EV’s electricity will be natural gas. The Civic obliterates the Soul EV in terms of efficiency (how much fuel is actually used), and that’s using the same fuel source. Then the Soul EV also has that big battery with lots of carcinogenic Nickel.

            So as the EPA is going full speed ahead with their Child Experimentation also known as Tesla, they realize that I will destroy the public opinion of everything and anything that the socialists at the EPA hold precious, and I know exactly what is precious to them. You know, when I was younger I wanted to get a PhD in Nuclear Physics.
            Finally, it is easy for me to make all these statements because I am fortunate enough to live in a country that has more fossil fuel than any other country on the planet, but we will try to take care of our friends. We have hydrocarbons more under New York and Pennsylvania than all of Saudi Arabia, but you knew that, especially after reading some of my other comments. What is most important is that we have a lot more than that in Alaska, and all we need to get it out over there is CO2. Imagine that, using all the waste CO2 from all the other manufacturing processes to tap into natural gas in Alaska, many times more abundant than all the oil. So now you know why the socialists and the liberals in the USA continue to oppose any gas pipelines from Alaska….that would be a real nightmare for them…..a clean fossil fuel supply with no real environmental impacts that will last a millennium or more.