Dear PoPville – Practical to Own an Electric Car in DC without a Garage?

Charging Station 14th and U St, NW

“Dear PoPville,

We’re thinking about ditching our ’97 Oldsmobile. We’d love to get an electric, like the Nissan Leaf – we’ll avoid fuel costs and auto repair bills. Only one problem: we rent, and our building doesn’t have a carport or garage. So we can’t get a home charger installed.

I’ve been reading for a couple of hours now and the results seem mixed, so I’m hoping you’ll put it to blog readers: is an electric car a good idea under these circumstances? What is the public charging station situation like in DC? Anyone already have a Volt and have any experience with this?”

You can charge up at 14th and U St, NW. What do you guys think – would you get an electric car without being able to have a home charger? I guess it depends how long it takes to recharge?

39 Comment

  • No, I wouldn’t get a 100% electric vehicle without a garage or secure parking space with a charger. I’d recommend the Chevy Volt otherwise – you can drive it for up to 40 miles on battery power only, then the engine will kick in automatically. Then you could top off the battery at the public outlet, or when you visit a friend or relative with a garage. Or, just get a Prius…

    • +1 too risky for this reader without a home charger. It takes 30+ minutes to charge at a 480 volt fast charger, and 7-20 hours at home depending on how your setup is wired.

      On the other hand, I have never seen a vehicle at the U street charging station, but imagine if you planned on using it and someone had just pulled up?

      I think until the infrastructure is more established you need to have a dedicated spot at home to charge your vehicle. Until then, stick with a VW TDI/Prius/Civic

      • That’s why Mr. T’s suggestion is perfect. Chevy Volt (as opposed to the leaf) can run on gas on the rare occasion someone pulls up to the charger you were planning on using.

  • seems like a really bad idea to buy a car that requires charging if you don’t have a charger.

    • Correct. I can appreciate the desire – but it’s a bad decision.

    • me

      Ditto. And every time I pass the charging station at 14th and U, there is the same car parked there, hogging the station. I swear, it’s plugged in constantly.

  • Get a Jetta TDI wagon instead. Cheaper and gets great mileage. Plus when the movie “Blood Electric Car” comes out – you’ll feel better that your car isn’t contributing to wars/unrest/political manipulation in Africa.

    • +1. have the jetta TDI…powerful ride with great mileage.

    • I don’t necessarily disagree, but you think oil doesn’t contribute to “wars/unrest/political manipulation” to?

      • I tried to hide that hole in my arguement/logic – It was nice you didn’t fly 747 in it just poked it with a small finger.
        While I embrace moving away from oil for envirionmental reasons we shouldn’t repeat our mistakes. Until we can make green batteries or at least acquire the metals needed for the batteries in a sustainable way – my next car will be a diesel – bio diesel.

        • Please, the impact of batteries is far smaller and less harmful than biodiesel.

          • I mean, nothing out there is perfect, but that was a pretty bold statement for something that is not well documented. Have a source, or are you just making stuff up?

            Biodiesel has great benefits over petroleum use and I’m not sure what the harm you’re referring to is coming from.

            Both batteries and biodiesel will have unintended negative consequences for sure, but they are still better than petroleum, and I don’t think you can say batteries are less harmful than biodiesel without giving some explanation as to why.

          • I didn’t cite specifics because the results vary greatly depending on where, what, and how it is grown, but generally the feedstocks used to produce biodiesel cause significant water quality, water use, and land use impacts, the latter of which often causes deforestation, significant carbon emissions, and increased food prices as a result.

            On the other hand, lithium ion batteries for PHEVs are quite benign. Lithium is plentiful in a variety of forms in nature, and the extraction process has a relatively small impact. Here’s some discussion here:

    • Canada and Mexico are the #1 and #2 sources of petroleum consumed in the United States, respectively.

      Canada now supplies the United States with nearly three times as much petroleum products as Saudi Arabia does.

      Of the top 15 nations supplying petroleum to the U.S., only two are in Africa – Nigeria at #5 and Angola at #10, and 2011 YTD imports from those two countries are below 2010 YTD levels.

      Food for thought.

  • Oh and I wouldn’t factor “avoid fuel costs and repair bills” into the equation.

    You will still have the cost of the electricity to charge it (unless at a free dock), and that warranty is only 3 years…

    Plus you have mandatory ‘battery maintenance’ every 12K that is only covered by Nissan for the first 24K miles…after that its on you or you risk voiding the warranty.

  • or you can string together enough extention cords to charge it from your appartment.

  • How are you avoiding auto repair bills by replacing a gasoline engine with an electric one? A flat tire is still a flat tire – a dinged bumper or chipped windshield is still a possibility.

    • I drive an electric scooter and compared to a gas scooter, the electric version is much less prone to breaking down. I assume this is similar to the situation with an electric car. All the lost energy in the form of heat is absorbed by the moving metal parts of an engine. With electric vehicles, the motor is often sealed and the likelihood of needing a repair is lower. Tires are a different story – but much less important than the motor.

    • PHEVs have a lot less wear on the brakes, transmission, and the gasoline engine if it has one.

  • “Avoid … auto repair bills”

    You still have basic maintenance costs – tires, breaks etc.

    I doubt the battery is covered (10~15k) – Not to mention when something breaks out of warranty…..

    • Agreed — I’ve had to fix all kinds of things on my car/s over the years. I can’t remember ever having to fix something with the fuel system though. Battery, yeah, but that’s only $90-$100. And once I needed an alternator. Once, in almost 15 years of having a car.

      All my stuff has been muffler, new brakes, new rotors a few times, air conditioning, new tires, new windshield, etc.

      • I was referring to the electric car’s battery – those are a lot more hefty, expensive and complex then a regular auto’s 12v 😉

    • I’m guessing they were comparing the auto repair bills to those of a 1997 Oldsmobuick. Which are probably astronomical.

    • This is a very good point: check what is covered and know how much it will cost if you have to pay yourself. Read the warranty carefully on these new technology cars. I’ve loved my hybrid Ford Escape, but the “hybrid system warranty” is absolutely worthless. Two repairs, both on parts that are unique only to the hybrid system, neither of them covered, $2100 out of pocket.

  • What everyone else says. I’m not even sure I’d get a Volt without a place to charge it at home. Until then get a hybrid or the TDI. Do you really want to hang out for hours at 14th and U waiting for your car to recharge? I mean, there are a lot of bars nearby, but still…..

  • I feel like I read someplace that one of the downsides to owning an electric or hybrid car is the high repair costs. Since the technology (at least in cars) is relatively new, compared to fuel consuming cars, the repair costs tend to be higher. Don’t know if that’s still the case, but might be worth looking up on Google or something.

    In any case, I certainly would disagree with OP’s statement that “we’ll avoid fuel costs and auto repair bills”. There is no such thing as avoiding auto repair bills, no matter what kind of car you drive.

  • Wait a second. Electric cars have no “auto repair bills”? Someone alert the laws of physics that the Nissan Leaf has defeated entropy.

    • Someone alert Jimmy Crack Corn that they are clearly comparing the auto repair bills of the ’97 olds to a new car.

      • You won’t “avoid” auto repair costs with a new car–things break down. Hopefully, you’ll need repairs less frequently compared to a ’97 oldsmobile, but the repairs are probably now going to cost more when you do need them.

  • To own a Nissan Leaf, you have to have a home where a charger could be installed. Nissan does not sell the Leaf to anyone who does not have a home or a car port without access to a 220-240v outlet where a charger is installed.

    I looked into it when it was launched and I don’t think they have changed the requirements since then.

    You should probably buy a Prius. It is also rumored that all 2012 Prii will be Plug-in Hybrids – Like the Chevy VOlt, so you might be better of waiting and buying that, since its a hybrid, and whenever you have access to a power outlet (Charging station/at work/friend’s place etc.), you can use electricity to charge your car.

    • I would be incredibly surprised if all the 2012s would be plug-ins. In fact, I’d bet a large sum of money against it, especially considering that the 2012s should be hitting the market sometime in the next few months and Toyota is only rolling out the PHEV in 15 states (MD is one, if anyone’s interested).

      I also don’t know if it makes any sense to buy a PHEV–even one with a limited range like the Prius–without a dedicated spot to charge it now or in the near future. That’s another $5-8k of technology that you may not be able to use; not small change for most people. You’re probably better off getting a standard Prius and waiting until your living situation changes–or until DC allows you to install a charger on the street.

  • Can you talk the city into giving you your own spot with a charger in front? if it.

  • COG is forming an Electric Vehicle Coalition to work through issues related to infrastructure for charging. There is lots of interest in this across the region. DC is one of the big markets for rolling out EVs nationwide.

    Places like Houston and Chicago have this deal where for $60-80/month you can get unlimited charging at a huge network of charging stations run by the company offering the deal. They guarantee you’ll never be more than 5 miles from a station. They also will provide you with home charging (unlimited as well).

    Until the infrastructure is really set up, go with something like the Volt which also has a small on-board generator that runs on gas. The Volt dealer I met said he’s run up like 3000 miles driven on less than a gallon of gas! I drove the car, it was quite nice. EVs rock.

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