Sixteen months with an electric car
I wrote about my initial experiences with the BMW i3 after a few months, but what's it like over a longer period?
Well, I've come to know just about all the ins and outs of owning an EV for well over a year so I thought it a good idea to share those experiences.
Our first generation BMW i3 we've found to have a real-world range of around 90 miles in the city, this drops a little bit if it's used on long sections at high speed on motorways. Our model has the range extender (a generator in the boot which uses petrol) to provide another 70 or so miles, but we don't really like using this unless we have to. 90 miles is basically good for most things. However, that's in the summer, when the air is warm; in winter, things change a bit. With the battery now much colder, it runs less efficiently. Much less efficiently as it happens. On the coldest, icy winter days, our range drops to just over 50 miles. At this point it becomes a little annoying, because unless there is 100% charge, we can't drive the commute to Guildford without using the range extender. Now, if you have off-street parking to charge at home, this isn't really an issue, because leaving it plugged in overnight will precondition the battery, heating it to an optimal operating temperature and keeping the range much closer to 90 miles. On the way home it's not a problem because I'm able to charge at work, preheating the battery ready to leave and get back with plenty of charge to spare. But on a cold on-start, it's not an ideal situation.
Winter driving with no overnight charging is one of the biggest disappointments and frustrations. Over time, as batteries become larger in capacity, this issue will diminish, but on these first generation cars with 21kWh batteries like the i3, it's a bit of a problem.
I've made two trips to Cornwall, over 225 miles, one of which was pleasingly all-electric (three charge stops). Figuring out the charging networks available over longer distances is a bit of a homework task but Zap-Map makes it quite straightforward.
I've clocked up 12,894 miles over the 16 months.
We purchased the car second hand for £17,000. Ever since we got the car, I've kept an Epic Spreadsheet™ and recorded every single fuel payment we've ever made, be it rapid charge, slow charge, charging from a home plug or even, ew, petrol for the range extender. We've spent £419.37 on fuel (£108.95 of which was petrol), meaning our average cost per mile is 3.2 pence. This is pretty good considering that we've been using public chargers, if we could charge on a home energy supply that would be even less.
Our previous car was a Mini Clubman D, purchased new for around £19,000. We owned it for three years and spent an average of £111.74 on fuel a month. We travelled about 200 miles more a month in the Mini, as we commuted to Guildford more often, but the average cost per mile over the three years, using average diesel price data from AA, was 12.5 pence. So, that's a pretty big saving of £1192 over the 16 months we've owned the i3.
There have been other costs, all recorded on that Epic Spreadsheet. Early on, I made the mistake of reporting squeaky brakes to the garage and they replaced the brake pads at costly expense. Top tip: Electric Cars don't use brakes anywhere near as much, so the brake pads may squeak or make funny noises because they don't get used very often. Although a little worn, they were still usable it was just the noise that was annoying. Replacing them fixed the noise, but a few months later the brakes are squeaky again from infrequent use. I got a Rolec Wallpod charger installed at my mums house, which cost a few bob. And we needed some new tyres when they wore out. The tyres on the i3 are rather unhelpfully totally unique to the vehicle, so they are not cheap, we replaced two worn ones and then needed a third after a puncture. There were a handful of small service fees but that was about it.
I have records for all servicing on the Mini so can run a direct cost per month comparison over the lifetime of each vehicle. With depreciation, fuel and maintenance costs considered, the i3 has been cheaper to run than the Mini Clubman since May 2017 and currently the total amount saved is £1599. Great!
So, with no off-street parking at home, charging has had to be on mostly public chargers. This isn't always easy, and it exposes you to not only the costs of the charge networks but also the reliability of them. Reliability is the biggest issue, whether it be frequent "ICE" cars parking in bays and not charging, or hardware faults with the charge units - if these things happen on a day when you need to charge your car, it can be infuriating. Nonetheless, after 16 months we're still going strong.
We used Charge Your Car for the first year but I've recently switched to Polar and we now pay them £7.85 a month. This works out marginally cheaper, so long as we charge more than 8 times a month (CYC charges a £1 connection fee, Polar doesn't, just the subscription cost).
I'd say the overall charging experience is generally poor around 25% of the time. Brighton doesn't have the best charging sites, but things will get better as demand increases and the hardware improves.
There are a few little niceties to owning a EV that you very quickly get used to, but are reminded of every so often.
Most EV's have some sort of remote functionality. With the i3, I can tell it what time I expect to leave and it'll precondition the interior to either nice and cool in the summer or nice and cosy in the winter. This never gets old! The mobile app also lets you see current state of charge, where you parked the car (useful when you share a car with another driver), see your fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide savings and do things like check the car is locked or lock/unlock it (useful once in a blue moon).
It's naturally very quiet and this mostly isn't a problem, it makes me more aware of pedestrians when I'm driving because I'm sensitive to the fact they may not know I am nearby. Sometimes people walk down the middle of quieter streets, and on a few occasions I've come up close behind them, and not wanting to startle them with the horn, I've wound down the window and politely said "Excuse me". That's been a little odd, but I am always amazed at how many people simply don't look when crossing/walking along streets (seeing with their ears?).
It's had its ups and downs but switching to an electric car has been great. It's cheaper to maintain, cheaper to fuel, more fun to drive and just better. Like digital vs analog. I can't see myself ever driving a petrol or diesel car again, in fact when I get in one now, it kind of feels like getting on board a steam train. It's almost quaint and feels like something of times gone by. I mean, I'm trying to not sound snobby about it but this is genuinely how it makes me feel :)
I still have a Model 3 pre-order and can't wait to upgrade to a vehicle with a battery 3+ times the size. I'm expecting it to reduce any charging headaches as although I will have to charge for longer periods, I will have to charge far less frequently.
Now, roll on 2019!