Keith Beckley's electric car with canoe

Six years ago, I took delivery of my fully battery electric car – one of the first in Canada. It was a leap of faith into the future and came with a lot of uncertainty. When I first ordered it, there were a number of questions on my mind. Would I run out of charge? How and where would I charge it? When would I have to replace the battery? Would the car last? How would it be in the winter? How would I get it serviced?

Six years on (and 178,000 kilometres driven) every one of these questions has been answered in a positive manner. In fact, most were answered in the first month of ownership, by which point I realized I would never own a gas car again. Electric is simply too compelling.

Would I run out of charge?  Nope. The truth is you charge your car every day at home (~10 seconds to plug in) and leave with a “full tank” (minus the tank) every morning.  My car can go well over 350km on a 90% charge. My daily commute is about 25 kilometres each way; if I run around a bit doing errands I might use up to 100 kilometres in an average day. I plug it in when I get home and the car is full three hours later (unless I tell it to wait for the cheapest overnight rates). When we first got the car there were so few places to charge (it will charge on a normal 120V normal plug, but fairly slowly) that you really had to plan if you were going long distances. Now there are high speed chargers everywhere, and often they are the best parking spots. We don’t even think about it. The car will even tell you where the chargers are. This past winter we drove to Florida and back, and the trip was incredibly easy. Often, chargers are placed outside restaurants, so the car was ready to go before we were. After three or more hours of driving, I’m usually ready for a short break. Most incredibly, with the option I got with my car, the total price of ‘fuel’ for the entire trip was $0. Florida and back for free.

When would I have to replace the battery? This was a big concern before I bought the car.  I even thought about getting battery insurance. When I first got the car, it would travel 420 kilometres on a full charge. Today a full charge will take me 390 kilometres. That is an amazingly small drop over six years and 178,000 kilometres driven. Most of the drop happened in the first year. In cars sold today, the battery chemistry is an improvement on the chemistry in my car. Clearly, my battery will outlast the car itself. In fact, I believe my battery will still have value when the car is done. Even if it has only 70kWh of energy capacity left, that is enough to run my house for almost 2 days! I find that amazing.

Would the car last? A typical gas car has more than 2000 moving parts. My car has 20. The drive train has no transmission; it’s simply battery to inverter to motor to wheel. That’s it. Recently, an electric drive train from Tesla ran for 1,600,000 kilometres (yes, one million miles) and when taken apart it looked like new. Electric motors have been running for a lot longer than gas engines in factories. What’s missing in an electric drive train compared to a gas car? How about: gas tank and fuel pump, oil pump, radiator, transmission, cams, valves, belts, exhaust and a bunch of smaller parasitic parts. In this case simpler is much better and much more reliable.

How would it be in the winter? Turns out, also amazing. One thing that is true about batteries is that they are heavy. That helps traction in bad weather. Electric motors also respond near instantaneously, so torque can be applied or removed much faster than a gas car, making the traction control is fantastic. One drawback is that due to many factors, range is reduced in the winter. I have learned that my range is reduced by up to 20% if the battery starts while very cold. Fortunately, you can for very cheap, ask the car to preheat the battery while the car is plugged in so range loss for that reason is highly reduced. Finally, with the bottom of the car being perfectly flat and protected, salt corrosion is highly reduced.

How would I get it serviced? The simple answer to that is: what service? I take it in once a year for inspection, but besides that I only have to replace/replenish wiper blades, tires, washer fluid and the cabin filter. That’s not to say there have been no issues, however. This was an early car from a brand-new company, but all items have been covered by the eight-year warranty. The biggest issue I’ve had is after not going to a gas station in six years, I had to buy my own squeegee to get bugs off in the summer. Even the brakes last much longer, since by taking your foot off the accelerator pedal the motor runs backward and recharges the battery by slowing the car. It is well known that traditional dealerships make the majority of their profits from servicing your car. How they’ll deal with the electric future, I have no idea – a new business model for them is needed.

So, it turns out that none of my worries came true and I came to realize that everything is better with an electric car. In fact, it is such a superior way to go that my wife decided to get an electric car too – we now do all our miles on electric.