By Sean O’Callaghan

In this Series, Sean will tell us the 8-year story of his Nissan Leaf, from the purchase till the replacement of its battery.

… Continued from part 1

Around the end of April, we were driving home from DCU and decided that while we were passing, we might as well take a trip to Hutton & Meade for a look at the Leaf in the flesh, and maybe a test drive. So we drove on over, parked up and got talking with Alan Clarke in there. I don’t remember the entirety of the conversation but I do recall a moment where Alan, having found out that our annual mileage was in the region of 50,000km, attempted to dissuade me from the Leaf saying that it wouldn’t meet our needs. The moment which followed is one that he informs me he remembers vividly, but I’m a little fuzzier on. Whatever it was that I said amounted to informing him that he was incorrect. It was a moment that burned us into his memory, and I still send him snapshots of the milestones as the car hits them.

He took us for a test drive and was eager to emphasise the instant torque the car could produce, demonstrating the point quite effectively and encouraging us not to be gentle with it during our turn. The car did indeed handle reasonably well – coming from the civic it was a bit ‘roll-y’, but superbly planted with its big 205 section tires and low center of mass. It was the refinement of the ride that got me though. No clutch and no gears, but at the same time none of the sluggishness that goes hand in hand with automatics. No vibration. No hesitation. Serenity in the cabin.

On top of all that it had a full color touch screen in the center of the dashboard, reversing camera, cruise control, Bluetooth integration, voice recognition(~ish)… a list of mod-cons which I’d never experienced before and which were really only just making their way onto the mainstream offerings. It was space age!

I could instantly imagine doing my commute with cruise control on the motorways, and no need to hold down a clutch and shift gears constantly in traffic. No engine noise competing with the radio. It was going to cost me my full leather and chrome interior, my heated seats, and …well, basically having a good-looking car, but it was still a compelling argument.

By the time we’d gotten back to the dealership, it was really just a question of how much I could get for the Civic. I’d based my numbers on us taking on no more than €420/month in finance. This meant that I had to get the Leaf for under €20k to be able to take on another €6k to clear the finance on the Civic. So out we went to take a look at my car. My lovely Civic IMA. My little piece of luxury. The car that I’d cared for lovingly and thoroughly enjoyed for the past 2 years. …The car that hadn’t stopped long enough for me to give it a wash in about 8 weeks! Wet, miserable weeks at that. Before we got to the car I’d already told him not to judge based on the outside of it, that I hadn’t intended to come in talking business that day.

He looked it up and down and made a call – then asked me what I thought it was worth.

I knew what they were being advertised for on the market, but I also knew that they were niche. It had taken me quite a bit of effort to find that one, and I’d gone looking for it. So I laid it out straight at €6000 and to my surprise, he just agreed. So that was that – it got us to where I needed to be to make it work and we went in to talk about finance and delivery. Delivery, it turned out, was pretty long so I enquired about taking the demo car. It turned out this was an option, and we agreed it would take another €1000 off the cost.

So, paperwork all sorted out and finance arranged, we got our home charger ordered and fitted (free with a new registration), switched to a dual rate meter and tariff, and on the 16th of May we drove in the Civic, drove home the Leaf, and the adventure began.

‘Adventure’ wasn’t long about announcing itself either. It’s 70km from Hutton & Meade to Killucan, and we stopped in to both of our families to show off the car on the way home, taking the whole trip to a little over 100km. In my excitement I hadn’t really factored this in and by the time we were on the final leg, not yet knowing how to interpret the GoM (Guess-o-meter), I was sweating a bit. Lou was in the passenger seat, oblivious, and in my head was this dread that if the car ran out of charge on our first trip I’d be getting it in the neck!

We got home – with three bars flashing on the GoM which is the Leaf’s way of telling you ‘you’ve got less than 10km left but that’s it!’, I plugged the car in and spent the evening reading through the manual getting to know all the various buttons and menu’s.

The very next day we tried our first commute and, despite being the exact same journey, it was altogether more relaxed. My test drive vision of the experience wasn’t a patch on the reality. Everything was better. The extra weight in the car made it smoother on the road whilst the absence of a clutch, and the roll-on when you release the brake made the bumper-to-bumper bits far less tedious. We got in, parked up in TCD, did our day’s work and then went to the fast charger at Park west on the way home for a 15 minute top-up.

This became the standard mode of operation for the next few months but, in the meantime, I’d started talking to TCD about on campus charging. For various reasons it wasn’t something they were open to dedicating spaces for (and still aren’t to this day). After some chat I came up with a proposal to use a plug in charger (or ‘Granny cable) instead of a fixed unit if I could find a suitable parking spot for its use. I would then pay a service charge to the college based on a log of my use of this facility (an honor based approach). I subsequently found a spot where I could run the Granny cable from a socket to the car without causing any hazard to pedestrians, and got their blessing to use it.

At the time however, these ‘Granny Cables’ weren’t readily acquired in the Republic of Ireland. Despite being standard issue kit with the car pretty much everywhere else. The reason for this, insofar as I could ascertain one, was that there was concern among the regulators regarding the standard of domestic wiring in the country. The concern was that there were likely to be cases where the domestic sockets to which these chargers could be connected could become a fire hazard if asked to deliver 10A for a protracted period. Accordingly, the unit wasn’t being provided with the car, or for sale, in Ireland. Happily, I was able to find a workaround (and it’s worth noting that today those same domestic charging cables are both standard kit and readily available).

This was a game-changer. No more need to stop on the way home. Drive in, park & charge, drive out. All I had to do was log and report my use, then settle the account periodically. Logistically this made everything even better than a conventional car as there was now never a need to stop for fuel during the commute. Things settled into a rhythm and we stopped thinking about it. We felt it though – an immediate difference to our finances. €50/week will do that.

After a few months I was able to begin to extrapolate a running cost from our home energy bill. It was about €40 a month more than it had been, and I was logging about €20 a month in work. Moreover, we had all but stopped using the Megane. The Leaf was doing everything – not just the commute. The Megane only got a look in if we were each going different directions at the same time; hadn’t enough time to charge the Leaf; or needed to go long distance in a hurry – and it was amazing how infrequently any of that was happening. The spreadsheet had been conservative. We were doing better than I’d dared hope.

To be continued in part 3