Reader Rides: After Life as a Transport Evolved Staff Car, Hiro the Nissan LEAF Keeps Going Strong

[ED:] As regular readers will remember, earlier this year, the Gordon-Bloomfield family — and Transport Evolved’s head office — emigrated a third of the way around the world from Bristol, England to Portland, Oregon, USA. As a consequence, we had to bid farewell to our very first Transport Evolved Staff Car — a 2011 Nissan LEAF we’d decided to call ‘Hiro Nakamura’  — replacing it with a used 2013 Nissan LEAF we nicknamed ‘Micah’ when arriving in the U.S. 

Second Life: Hiro the Nissan LEAF carries on exploring the UK with his new owner.

Second Life: Hiro the Nissan LEAF carries on exploring the UK with his new owner.

At the time, we said that Hiro’s new owner intended to use the car primarily as a way of commuting the short distance to and from work every day and if we’re honest, we didn’t expect to hear anything more. But luckily for us, Hiro’s new owner has caught the Staff Car bug and has happily provided us with our first report on how our high-mileage LEAF is doing in its new home. 

So without further ado, please welcome Hiro’s New owner, David Goodwin, to the Transport Evolved Reader Rides fleet!

I bought Hiro the 2011 Nissan LEAF in Aug 2015 with 80,700 miles on the clock and two out of the twelve capacity bars missing. While most of my daily driving is local (work is just 4 miles away) I do drive to Kemble airfield once or twice per month, a distance of 28 miles each way. I also visit friends in Poole, Dorset (80 miles from home), Chichester (130 miles from home) and family in North Wales (190 miles away). I have not yet plucked up the courage to drive a return trip to and from Kemble from home yet without plugging in, partly because Kemble is a few hundred meters higher than my house and when I arrive my car’s guess-o-meter (GOM) says I won’t get back by a few miles. I will try it one day without the top up as the journey home should use far less energy — but I think that I will wait until the weather is warming before trying. 

I’ve really enjoyed my first few weeks as an electric car owner and know that I’ll never buy an internal combustion engined car again. Although I bought Hiro with the full knowledge of its realistic range, I do crave a few more miles range.

Hiro managed to get us to the lovely Bodnat Gardens in North Wales.

Hiro managed to get us to the lovely Bodnat Gardens in North Wales.

Why buy a used electric car with two capacity bars gone and limited range? I’ve been looking at buying an electric car for some time and I was planning to buy one when the real world range went past the 100-mile mark. However, Hiro’s asking price was so affordable that I was convinced to jump into the world of electric cars early and live with the range constraint for the next few years or so. Already, I know I’ll be keeping my eye on the second-hand price of 30 kilowatt-hour, 2016 Nissan LEAFs when they start entering the used car market.

As I’ve already said, my daily driving needs are fairly modest, but since the end of October is School Half Term time in the UK. I decided to take some time off work for my daughter and myself to go on a little adventure. That adventure was taking Hiro up to North Wales to visit my Mother for a couple of days.

As I have learned, using the GOM, the real range of Hiro on the motorway at 60mph seems to be around 45 miles, especially with the heater on. Although one thing that has confused me is that the most electricity that I’ve managed to charge Hiro with is 14.1kWh. I am aware that out of 24kWh, only 21 kWh is usable. Hiro has lost 20% of that and so I should have around 17kWh available. So, is there another 3kWh of range available that would get me another 10 miles when the GOM goes to Zero? I haven’t tested this as yet, but I will do one day, especially as a Nissan salesman recently told me that there’s around 15 miles left in a standard Leaf when the GOM reaches zero, so that leads me to believe that Hiro has another 10 miles or so hidden.

...and while we enjoyed the watermill, Hiro enjoyed a free charge.

…and while we enjoyed the watermill, Hiro enjoyed a free charge.

In my few weeks of ownership I have become very aware of the planning required for a 195 mile trip to North Wales in 40 mile hops. I have found ZapMap and Plugshare are indispensable for planning my stops.

I initially planned to go up the M5 from Bristol, then take the M6 and then the A55 to reach North Wales, as this would take advantage of the Ecotricity Rapid Chargers located at most of the motorway and trunk road services. As anyone who has driven through the Midlands will tell you however,  the M5/M6 interchange and the M6 are a nightmare for traffic. Noting the CHAdeMO DC Rapid chargers located at Telford and Oswestry, I planned a shorter and quieter route that cut out most of the M6.

Having checked Plugshare and the Ecotricity sites, I was as confident as I could be that the rapid chargers on my route were all in service. I collected my daughter after my morning at work, topped off the charge of the car and packed it up ready for the journey. We set off mid afternoon for Gloucester services with me watching the GOM recalibrate its range predictions based upon motorway driving versus town driving. I was slightly worried about getting to my second charge point at a Nissan dealership in Bromsgrove, Birmingham before they closed, however. I needn’t have been as I was straight on the Ecotricity charger at Gloucester (32 miles) and on my way again after around 40 mins.

I arrived at the Nissan dealer in good time (40 miles, 22 GOM) and was straight on the charger. It was then that I made my first mistake in long distance electric car driving: I started a conversation with a few people at the dealership. This meant that I missed the end of the charging session and spent more time post charging getting the next part of my route sorted out. I made a last minute decision to bypass the M5/M6 interchange at rush hour and take a more direct route via the ‘A’ roads to Telford and this required a little planning.

The trip required some meticulous planning due to the limited range of this 2011 LEAF.

The trip required some meticulous planning due to the limited range of this 2011 LEAF.

The journey to Telford (38.2 miles, 9 GOM) went well and we were soon on another Ecotricity rapid charger. The next leg was to Oswestry via the A5. I was getting frustrated by the car satnav as it insisted that I take local roads to the service station and I assumed that it was because it was going for the shorter but slightly slower route. As I knew better, I joined the A5 for Oswestry. As we neared the destination and ignoring many prompts by the satnav to leave the A5, I discovered that the A5 was closed for resurfacing works. I was diverted around some local roads and was starting to get a little worried as the GOM went to single figures. Eventually, the diversion ended and I made my way back to the services for the next top up (37.7 miles, 5 GOM). It looks like the sat nav knew best after all this time.

Oswestry to Pensarn is 57 miles so just out of Hiro’s range at cross country speeds so a final charge was required at Holywell (37.9 miles, 4 GOM) before the final 20 miles along the A55 to Pensarn. Because of the multiple rapid charges — and the fact the battery heats up with continued rapid charges one after the other — I kept an eye on Hiro’s battery temperature. Luckily, while it did register a temperature increase by a few bars on the display, it did not come close to the red zone.

The journey was around 196 miles, took around eight hours and I needed five rapid charges along the way. By comparison, it used to take me around three and a half to four hours in my old Skoda Octavia with no traffic delays or rest stops. Then again, it also cost a lot less in fuel. 

Friday dawned not to bad weather wise so we decided to head to Bodnant Gardens managed by the National Trust. My decision was somewhat influenced as much by the onsite charger as it was looking forward to the seeing the autumnal colours in the gardens. I called them up fist and confirmed that the charger was serviceable. I managed to eventually find the charging post in the car park, and hooked Hiro up to the 7Kw charger, left my mobile number on the dashboard and we entered the gardens. We spent a good few hours exploring the gardens and after lunch I had an e-mail from carwings saying that Hiro had stopped charging, so, as I was nearby, I disconnected and moved Hiro into the main car park just in case another electric car required the post.

Ecotricity's Electric Highway was essential to making the trip a success.

Ecotricity’s Electric Highway was essential to making the trip a success.

We pottered around on the Saturday and I topped up at the local Ecotricity Rapid Charger at Bodelwyddan, a couple of miles from my mother’s home, before plugging Hiro in with the 2.3 kilowatt portable Nissan EVSE charging him back up to 100% ready for the return journey the next day.

On the Sunday, I had arranged to drop my daughter at her other grandparents in Birmingham on the way back to Bristol. Just outside of Birmingham, there’s a snowdome at Tamworth, so I booked a two hour skiing slot for my daughter and myself to get a bit of practice in. I planned the route with charges at Chester and Keele Services and a Nissan Dealership near Tamworth. I was a little worried about my first leg as the A55 gets quite hilly on its way back into England.

It all worked out though as I pulled into the services (43.6 miles) with 6 miles left on the GOM. Whilst waiting for the rapid charge to finish, I had my first experience of an internal combustion engine car parking in an electric car charging bay — a term known as ICEing by EV owners. After the driver got out, I decided to have a friendly word with the passenger highlighting that they had parked in an EV bay.

The next leg to Keele was all motorway and the M6 did not let me down with a couple of traffic jams around where the Manchester traffic joins the M6. I was starting to get a little anxious as the GOM steadily declined. I eventually pulled into Keele Services (43.7miles, 0 GOM) and thankfully connected straight onto the rapid charger.

I had enough range to get to the Tamworth Snowdome and then onto the rapid charger at Hopwood Park on the M42, but I was running early so we stopped at a Nissan garage in Cannock (27.9 miles, 26 GOM) to top off, with the hope that after Tamworth, I’d be able to get straight to the Hopwood services on the M42. My ex-wife was staying with her parents and so met us at the snowdome for some skiing as well. After the skiing, my daughter left with my ex-wife and I prepared to complete my journey back to Bristol.

I purchased Hiro with 80,700 miles on the clock and two capacity bars gone.

I purchased Hiro with 80,700 miles on the clock and two capacity bars gone.

I popped the Hopwood services into the Satnav and set off. I was immediately served warnings of insufficient range and was a little spooked by the 0 miles GOM reading at Keele, so I decided to divert into the Tamworth services for a quick charge boost (21 miles, 26 GOM).

I hooked up for 11 mins and my battery was boosted from 54% to 73%. The M42 was surprising free flowing and I was soon at Hopwood Park services (28.1 miles, 14 GOM). From my planning, I believed that the next leg to the M5 Gloucester services was going to be a stretch and so I planned a top up diversion just in case.

Because I had planned the route using Google maps and the listed post codes for each charging station from the Ecotricity website,  I hadn’t realised that Google maps had plotted the route to the services on the other side of the motorway and so was expecting me to travel up beyond the services I needed and loop back up to the motorway to the ones on the opposite side.  What I thought was a 53 mile journey was in fact 47 miles. In the end, the GOM said that I had 4 miles remaining.

Luckily, there were no queues for charging on the 500-mile round trip.

Luckily, there were no queues for charging on the 500-mile round trip.

What did spook me however was the fact that on arrival, one of the two rapid chargers was obviously broken — and the one which was working was only working in DC CHAdeMO mode. Since that was the mode I needed, I was lucky. After this charge it was the final uneventful leg home.

Over the four days. I drove over 500 miles in my four and a half year old, Gen 1 Leaf. I was blessed that I didn’t have to wait for a charger once and that at a number of locations, where there was only one charger installed, it was in full working order. The situation at Gloucester services was gentle reminder that this may not always be the case. Unfortunately, with such a small realistic operating range from an 80% rapid charge, my journeys will invariably need to be planned to the extreme of Hiro’s range, at least with the original battery pack on board. 

I’m sure that one day, I’ll be calling the AA to pick me up from an unserviceable charger. At the moment, the Ecotricty and Nissan Chargers are free to use, so this whole trip didn’t cost me anything, so perhaps I can’t moan.

I found the Nissan dealerships were very accommodating, although I always called them up first to make sure that the charger was serviceable and that they’d be open. I get the feeling that they get annoyed by locals that keep calling in for a free charges but they were fine when I explained that I was on a cross country trip.

My daughter was a little bored after the eight hours up to North Wales and she definitely wants to go by train next time. We’ll probably do that next time if we’re time constrained. 

But will I do this trip again? Yes. Although the next time that I do, I’ll make sure that my daughter has her portable DVD player with her and I’ll be smarter at getting off the chargers and on my way again. Although the trip was a long eight hours, I find driving at 60mph on the motorways rather than 70mph is a little less tiring and stopping every forty minutes or so does allow you to stretch the legs. Planning an activity half way up may also be a good way of breaking the journey up and making the most of the day.

So even with a limited range, and degraded battery pack, Hiro is still racking up those miles!


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