I’ve noticed a slight problem with my blog posts so far. They all seem to be rather technical and involve a bunch of numbers and don’t seem to touch on life with an electric car. How are they for grocery shopping, commuting, hauling kids around, and all of that stuff? I know I beat the horse over and over with how efficient and cheap they are to operate, but what is different about them in everyday use?
The quick answer is nothing. The only differences between a gas car and an electric car are the type of fuel used, refueling times, and the perceived struggle to use them. Outside of those aspects, the car is exactly the same to drive as a gas car! There isn’t anything really different about them once you hop in and drive the thing. It’s a car, an electric car, but it’s still a car. But here are 7 things I could think of that are difference between a gas car and electric car even if they are stupid and miniscule!
Electric cars are quieter than gas cars, that’s for sure. When you start the car it doesn’t give any sound or vibration or anything to let you know that it’s on. This is shocking at first but you get used to it after about a month. I’d take my dad shopping and upon stopping in the parking spot and shutting the car off he’d ask me “is it off?” Yeah dad, the car’s off. You can get out now.
The car is a bit louder once you’re driving thanks to road rumble. It’s when you’re driving that you forget the quietness of an electric car. It still doesn’t vibrate or make any noise but the tires on the road make a familiar sound that gives you something to listen to other than utter silence. This can surprise you upon stopping at a red light or stop sign: the car is suddenly and eerily quiet and you think perhaps it has died. Despite not making any sound the car will reliably accelerate once you step on the “gas” pedal. It’s still on it’s just really quiet!
One caveat about this though: in a parking lot it’s really easy to scare pedestrians. The car is so quiet no one really notices you if you creep up behind them. They’ll turn around and have an “oh shit” moment as they realize a car somehow appeared behind them. It’s not a big problem but it’s kind of funny sometimes. I do feel bad scaring people though.
Acceleration is another difference between an electric car and a gas car. Gas cars generate torque based on the engines rotational speed (RPM) and start off rather sluggish at low RPM and only once the car reaches a few thousand RPM does it accelerate quickly. (For a detailed description look up “power band”) Attempting to quickly accelerate once up to speed also a complex and jerky affair as the car must downshift to a lower gear before letting you really speed up. You might not be aware of all the downshifting and upshifting your car does as you accelerate, but they’re there.
An electric car, having a single transmission, just goes when you step on the accelerator. It doesn’t hesitate and it doesn’t shift anything: you push on the accelerator and you go faster. Like I said, you might think your gas car does this but there’s a slight pause and only by driving an electric do you really understand “instant acceleration”. The car is very spritely when it’s up to speed because as soon as you give it power it immediatly speeds up. This makes dealing with needlessly aggressive and fast drivers rather fun as the tiny Ford Focus Electric can quickly and surprisingly out-accelerate them at a moments notice.
A gas car, deriving heat from the engine via coolant, has to warm up before the heater actually provides warm air. When you hop in a gas car and it’s zero degrees outside the coolant is also at zero degrees and will only provide heat once it absorbs it from the engine. This can take a while because, by definition, coolant has to hold a bunch of heat taking longer for it to warm up. You can drive for five or ten minutes before you have usable heat that will defrost your windshield.
The electric car (obviously) has an electric heater. While this is a downside in terms of range it’s a plus in terms of how long it takes to be usable. Think of a toaster or a hair dryer: nearly as soon as you turn the thing on it gets hot. The same is true of an electric car’s heater. It can be warm and defrosting the window within a minute or two of turning it on. This makes frosty mornings and nights a lot nicer to deal with. While others are our warming their cars up and scraping the windows I can hop in, wait a few minutes, and be ready to go with no scaping needed!
I don’t know if this is unique to my car, a Ford Focus Electric, or most electric cars. So far it seems to be nearly universal: electric cars are small. Think of the Leaf, the Volt, or the new Bolt. These are small cars and while the Tesla Model S might have tons of storage space, most others cars don’t.
This is about the same as with using a small gas car though. I’ve found most people overestimate the amount of storage they actually need and use (my mom wants a pickup truck “so she can haul stuff” even though she might buy a piece of furniture once every year or two…). If you’re running to the store by yourself or with a few others you can always toss groceries in the backseat if the hatchback won’t suffice. The car has doesn’t have tons of space and while you might have to pack things it it does little to make the car “unusable”.
Another fun (not fun) thing about the Focus Electric is that part of the battery is stuck in the hatchback area, taking up about 5 square feet of storage. It’s also a pain to stack things around it, further limiting the useful space. It’s doable though.
If your gas car gets low on fuel you drive to a gas station and fill the thing up. You instantly get the vehicle’s entire range available to you in a few minutes. This is not the case with an electric car!
You charge your car overnight and you have 40-80 miles of range depending on the season and if you’re blasting the heat or not. Immediately there’s a difference between your car and a gas car because you actually have to think about where your driving and how far away it is. Gas car drivers can blindly go wherever and not think about range as gas stations are everywhere. Hell, they can drive across the country at whim if they really want to.
This sounds like a pretty big difference but you adjust to it! Most people also don’t need to randomly drive across the country and if you do don’t purchase an electric car. With an electric you also don’t have to stop at gas stations at inconvenient times: when your gas car is almost empty you have to stop and you have little say when that occurs. The electric car charges at home and at night so you never feel like you have to stop for fuel. But considering everyday differences between a gas and electric car you do become quite a bit more aware of how far you can go and how far you need to go.
With an electric car you have little to no upkeep so you never have to haul the car anywhere for an oil change. The brakes are mostly regenerative so those don’t even get used a whole lot. There simply isn’t anything mechanical on the car that will wear out as quickly as on a gas car!
I’ve had the car about a year and when I have some downtime on the weekend I have this itching feeling to do something with it, like change the oil. This is a leftover instinct from when I had gas cars. Given some free time I’d want to be productive and do the maintenance required on them. I’d have to change the oil, change the brake pads/rotors, something. The cars were also getting older so there were things to repair: radiator hoses, brake lines, exhaust pipes, there was always something breaking on them. Now there’s nothing.
So I sit around bored on the weekends because I don’t have to repair anything. I don’t have to change the oil. I don’t have to do anything. It’s really nice but I get antsy sometimes.
The Price of Gas?
I also realize I never know what the price of gasoline is anymore. Sure I drive by gas stations everyday and I look at the prices, but I just don’t care anymore. It’s easy to remember numbers if gas goes from $2.50 to $3.50 because you’re personally screwed over (or helped) by the change in the numbers. But since I don’t use gasoline anymore, it just doesn’t stick in my mind. If people ask me about gas prices I simply have nothing to say because I just don’t know.
It’s kind of a shock when we do have to fill our gasoline van up though. It’s got a big 15-17 gallon tank so when it’s empty and I fill it up (maybe once a month) I’m shocked at how much cash is going into the tank. We also have to get gasoline for the lawnmower and my little motor bike and then I get some taste of gas prices, but for most of the time I’m totally unaware of them.