Westward Leaf Roadtrip

Preparing for Cross Country trip in Nissan Leaf

I have a Nissan Leaf SV Plus (purchased in June 2019), which Nissan tells me has a battery range of 226 miles. However, my experience to date suggests that if I drive conservatively, and am willing to leave the AC off, the range is actually closer to 250.

My daughter, her husband, and my 17-month-old grandson live in San Francisco. Since the young one was born, I've tried to visit them as often as I can. It's been a little while, so I'm planning a visit in September to help my daughter during an intense time with her job.

In my continuing efforts to reduce my carbon footprint, I've decided to drive the Leaf to SF instead of flying.

After a successful trial run from Boulder up to Steamboat Springs for our 40th anniversary (which google tells me is 165 miles one way), I'm ready to  give it a shot.

In preparation, I've been trying to find a route that will allow me to charge at convenient points along the way. I'm hoping to do it in two days of driving, but we'll see if that works or not.

I also have to take into account the restrictions on quick charging: specifically, that frequent quick charges can damage the battery life, so the car will proactively make the quick charge less "quick" if it senses that the car was recently quick charged.

I'm retired, and so have the luxury of time to give me some buffer.

 

I'll be giving updates throughout the trip.

 

Mapping my route

So, I've mapped out my route to San Francisco next week.

Here's the map:
https://goo.gl/maps/38DGSquC9tDMcDb6A

and here's the relevant section:

As shown, I've decided to go the more southern route (70 west from Denver, north to Salt Lake City, then west on 80 through NV to CA) rather than the more northern route (north on 25 to route west 80: CO->WY->UT->NV->CA) because of the better Nissan Leaf charging along the southern route. The northern route is an hour shorter, but Wyoming has only Tesla-proprietary Supercharger stations (thanks, Elon!). 

The rest of the post is for those that want to nerd out on the charging details:

My Leaf Plus has the larger 62kWh battery, with an official range of 226 miles on a full charge (vs. the standard Leaf has a 40kWh battery with a range of 150 miles). But you should know that I was an annoying hyper-miler in my Prius, getting mid 60’s MPG in the summer, so, as I mentioned before, I’m hoping to be able to extend that range.

The Leaf has two charging ports, shown here:

 

 

The one on the left is the “quick charge” connector called CHAdeMO (mothers, don’t let your engineers grow up to name things), and the right connector is called J-1772.

Actually, according to Wikipedia, the name CHAdeMO: “is an abbreviation of "CHArge de MOve", equivalent to "move using charge" or "move by charge" or "charge 'n' go", a reference to the fact that it's a fast charger. The name is derived from the Japanese phrase O cha demo ikaga desuka, translating to English as "How about a cup of tea?", referring to the time it would take to charge a car.”

For the Leaf Plus, the CHAdeMO connector supports a “Level 3” charge (the highest), and can charge the Leaf Plus battery 80% in 60 minutes (subject to battery temperature, which I talked about in an earlier post).

The J-1772 connector supports “Level 1” charging (using a standard American 120v AC outlet plug), and “Level 2” charging (using a standard American 240V Nema 14-50 plug, like those used for electric ranges, or in RV parks).

I’ve found different numbers on charge times, but Levels 1 and 2 charge times seem to be in the range of 4-5 miles/hour of charge (i.e., about two days to go from 0 - full charge!) and 20-25 miles/hour of charge (about 9-11 hours to go from 0 - full charge) respectively.

 

As you can see, Level 3 charging is the way to go for this trip, and with more Level 3 options, the southern route it is!

 

We're off -- and a Portal into the cake-like lie that is estimated range!

Let's talk about the Leaf display that shows you the expected range based on the current level of charge in the battery.

Here is the Leaf console as I was about to start my trip. Notice the amazing 280 mile range available to me:

Let's talk about the highlighted parts of this display, which provide trackable data for this trip. The two on the right need no explanation, but the two on the left reflect the Leaf's evaluation of the current battery state. The bottom left is pretty obvious, but the big number in the middle is interesting.

Or should I say: This number is a lie. Similar to a pattern that would repeat throughout the trip, when I started driving (conservatively, mind you!) out of my neighborhood, and at some point I didn't catch, the range suddenly dropped to 260 miles. It was as if the 280 mile range was some sort of maximum of the range probability wave, but when the wave collapsed, the eigenvalue was always 260. In other words, 280 miles was only available if I didn't actually drive the car.

Driving west on 70 from Golden, CO was an uphill climb to the continental divide. The range dropped precipitously, losing almost 100 miles more than the distance I had driven. Here is a snapshot of my console at the Eisenhower tunnel (the divide). Notice that the 110 miles range and the 64.3 miles driven is 170 total miles. Not quite the 260 (let alone 280) miles promised at the start:

 

This is where my previous Steamboat Springs trip gave me comfort. I knew that the very effective regenerative braking of the Leaf would recover much of the lost 100 miles on the way down the western slope.

And here is my console when I reached the charging station in Eagle, CO. I hadn't recovered the full 100 miles, but I'd driven almost 70 and my range had dropped only 1.

 

I plugged in, then made myself some breakfast and ate it while it charged. This is also when I realized that I had forgotten to bring my guitar for just such charging sessions. When breakfast was done about 50 minutes later, the charging station showed that my battery was at 95% ($3 is not bad!): 

 

Which my car translated to 269 miles (the range is a lie!):

 

If the rest of the trip goes this smoothly, this blog is going to be pretty monotonous (I drove, I stopped, I charged...).

 

Made it to Grand Junction

Well, I made it to the Grand Junction library charging station.

Here's my console when I stopped:

 

If you'll recall, when I left Eagle, CO, my miles driven was 132 and my available range was a factually-challenged 269, for a total of 401 miles.

As you can see above, the sum of the two is now down to 335 miles, this after an elevation drop between Eagle and Grand Junction of over 2000 feet.

 

The Grand Junction charging station looked more "industrial" than the more commercial one in Eagle, and it took several times through the six step process (about 15 minutes, total) to get the charge started. Once started, I went in to the Grand Junction library next door and worked on my laptop.

At this point, I should highlight a wonderful phone app provided by Nissan that allows me to monitor the car remotely. Here's a screenshot:

 

As you can hopefully see, it provides the charging status, the car's interior temperature, and the somewhat fictional mileage range for the current charge. This allowed me to keep track of the charging session from the comfort of the public library.

At the end of the charging session (about two hours because, remember, the car slowed the second charge to protect the battery), my car showed this:

 

Because of the issue with quick charges in rapid succession, I started monitoring the temperature of the battery (note the white edging towards the red):

 

My next charging station was in Price, Utah, a distance of 165 miles, so the 218 mile range seemed like a good buffer to get there.

 

Reaching Price, UT in a pool of sweat

I made it to Price,  UT!

My console showed that I arrived with a remaining range of 29, but there were times on this leg of the journey where it was just 13 miles more than the remaining distance (remember the 53 mile buffer I started with?):

 

Because the range seemed precariously low, and the fact that running the A/C drops the range between 5 -8 miles (too close for comfort, vs. too hot for comfort), I drove the last half of this leg with my shirt and the A/C off, and the fan blowing on high (it was 100 degrees, so it's debatable whether the fan was helping or hurting).

Here's a screen capture of my Leaf app shortly after I started charging. Notice the interior temperature of the car to the right of the car image (between 103 and 113):

 

 

Knowing that the range recovered a bit by the time I got to Price,  next time I'll run the AC.

After the charge, my car showed this:

 

And here's the battery temperature -- a little cause for concern:

 

I decided to move my first overnight stay from my original plan of Wendover, UT to Sandy, UT, just south of Salt Lake City (in part because of the battery status and part because the day was a bit longer than expected). This meant I was just over 100 miles from my first break -- on to Sandy!

Overnight near Salt Lake City

I finished the first day of driving at the Sandy City Hall, right across from my hotel.

My car said that I still had over 80 miles left:

 

 

If you remember (or even if you don't -- facts are not dependent on your memory!) I left Price, UT with 165 miles of range, having driven 412 miles to that point. Added together, that represented 577 total miles. The total shown above was 600 miles, so I gained over 20 miles on this leg.

Driving between Price and Sandy, the total miles varied by about 50 miles, which illustrates to me that when I'm done with this trip, I should work on a formula for how elevation differences affect the true range.

As you can see, my first day of driving was just over 500 miles, and because I started off just after 6:30am, spanned just over 14 hours. My spreadsheet showed that this trip totals 1289 miles, so I had to face the truth that my dreams of a two-day trip were unsurprisingly dashed.

My battery temperature was improved, but because I was staying overnight, I connected to the slower level 2 charging station anyway (it doesn't stress the battery).

When I woke up the next morning, my console showed me this:

 

In addition, my battery temperature was back to normal.

Next stop: Wendover, Utah, about 130 miles away, so an expected easy first leg for the day.

 

Trouble in Paradise, or Have you ever been to West Wendover, Nevada?

Late morning I made it to Wendover, UT, or West Wendover, NV, or both, I wasn't sure. The two towns blend into each other, and the seemingly arbitrary boundary is only marked by where the casinos start or end on the main drag.

My console said I had 50 miles to spare, so I was feeling pretty good:

My app with EV charging stations showed two options in (West) Wendover: a KOA RV park, and a gas station with a truck-stop charging area. Neither supported the quick charge, but it was early in the day, and my next stop was Elko, NV which was only 109 miles away, so the prospects still seemed okay.

Then, the woman at the KOA would not let me charge. She would not even let me rent an RV site to charge. She was basically resistant to helping me in any way (though she did wish me a nice day as I left!) -- I'd call this strike one, but the three strike metaphor is not nearly sufficient for this tale.

Next, I went to the gas station, and none of the three employees on duty had any earthly idea what I was talking about with regard to charging stations. But, they did point me to the local electricity cooperative a couple of miles away, which had a charging station out front. However, none of my charging network credentials worked on the charger (I have several), so I went in and asked for help. I was informed that only employees could use that charger (this was clearly a swing and a miss, but I won't use the "S" word).

I went back to the gas station and drove around back, and found a truck-stop area the size of Montana with the charging area along the outer edge (I guess all of the employees who were mystified at my request for charging stations were new that day?). This seemed promising at first, but the charging stations had three outlet types: a normal 120V outlet (your standard wall outlet, 120V gives you about 4 miles of range per hour of charge), a TT-30 120V outlet (which I had never heard of, and hope to never hear of again), and a 14-30/208V outlet (I think this is mainly used for electric clothes dryers, and, apparently for semi-trucks). Here are those last two:

 

The plug that comes with the leaf is a 14-50:

 

If you look at the 14-30 socket on the right above, and the shape of the 14-50 plug in my hand, you could be forgiven for thinking that the plug would fit the socket (at least I'd forgive you). And you'd be as wrong as I was -- see? this would already be strike three!

I wandered the city looking for another place to plug in (desperately dropping my range as I did). Not finding any good options, I resigned myself to using a 120v outlet and spending the next 20 or so hours in town. After a bit of a search, I found an outlet outside the very back of the Nugget Casino. I surreptitiously plugged in and went inside to wait out the charging time required to get me to Elko, NV. The casino had wifi, but you needed a room number for access. At this point I figured if I’m going to sit around for 20 hours, I should find a place with wifi.

I found a coffee shop near Wendover High School, the latter of which had a 120V outlet accessible outside. There was no one around (school wasn't in session on that Thursday), but a school is a public building, so figured I could plug in and go to the coffee shop. I left my phone number on my dash, and started walking. Before I even got to the coffee shop, I got a call saying that they had unplugged my car, and that I needed to move it or they would probably tow it. Probabilistic threats not withstanding, it turns out the school was deserted because it was on lockdown. They were very upset that I had just plugged  my car into an outlet on private property. After some unproductive phone debate about whether a school constitutes private property, I walked back and moved my car.

At this point, I went back to the 120V outlet at the truck stop, called the vendor of the charging station, and started my painfully slow charge.

I’m not a huge fan of casinos, so Wendover/West Wendover was not my ideal place to be (and September at 100 degrees, it was not an ideal time). I went up to the gas station to sit it out (and mention to them that they had a truck stop out back with the charging stations I had mentioned earlier in the day). One of the women pulled out a pamphlet on the charging stations and said, "Oh, you mean these?"

While I waited, I rechecked my EV charging app, and found that a previous Leaf owner had unsuccessfully tried that very truck stop charging station, but had found the Nugget Casino RV park just to the south (literally about 20 feet away). The RV park is actually a sad, sad, almost completely unmarked parking lot, with RV sized parking spaces and odd looking five foot poles coming out of the ground at regular intervals.

RV outlets are of type 14-50, so I was able to plug in and enjoy the fact that my 20 hour wait just dropped to closer to 3.

I walked back to the Nugget casino, and sat in their Starbucks enjoying their wifi (the wifi was free at this end of the building) and their A/C .

Two and a half hours of charging later (and almost seven hours since I reached this gambling wonderland), I had enough miles to drive the 110 miles to Elko, NV:

 

And of course, because it was a slow (did I mention it was slow?) charge, my battery temperature was in much better shape than I was.

 

Maybe the baseball metaphor works after all -- I just had to hang in there and foul a few off before I could get a good one I could hit.

Relieved to be in Elko, NV

Less than two hours later, I made it to Elko, NV. It was pretty uneventful, especially compared to earlier in the day.

I apparently forgot to capture an image of the console when I got there, but I wrote down that I had 30 miles of range left when I arrived (which translates to around 10% of battery left). I also noted that the range had gone down to a buffer of 6 miles in the first half of this leg -- causing me to sweat a bit even without the 100 degree heat.

 After 55 minutes of charging, my car console showed this:

 

It was 124 miles to Winnemucca, NV, the next stop, so 42 miles of buffer seemed sufficient. The battery temperature was warm, but not in the danger range.

 

I should note here that Nissan engineered the Leaf to cool the EV battery with ambient air (Tesla uses liquid cooling, and has actually done quite a bit of work improving it -- the Model 3 cooling system is a complete redesign from previous generations).

 

The clock told me that Winnemucca, NV looked to be the place to sleep the second night.

My second overnight, this one in Winnemucca, NV

I reached Winnemucca, NV just before 10pm. I had started this leg of the trip with 40 miles of buffer, it had gone down to 13 during both the first and last thirds of the trip (a little nerve-racking, but I'm starting to get used to this), and finished back up around 30: 

 

My best-laid plan was to plug the car in for an overnight, battery-friendly slow charge. However, the charger was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel in a Walmart parking lot. The hotel receptionist recommended that I not leave my car plugged in overnight. Her words were something to the effect of "This isn't a high crime area, but leaving a new car unattended overnight in a Walmart parking lot is a lot to ask for any city."

My revised plan was to wake up early and try to sleep in my car while it charged.

 

I woke up around 6am (that's early for me -- don't judge). It took several times to get the charge started, with a couple of credit card rejections, and multiple aborted charges with a charging session error:

 

I finally got the charging started and tried to take my nap: 

 

Sleep was not forthcoming, however, as the charging session error happened several more times, causing me to have to restart each time, and even needing to call Electrify America, the owner of the charging station (I should point out that the three separate customer service reps I talked to were very pleasant, if not very helpful). In every case, I just kept retrying to start the charge, and eventually accumulated enough chunks of successful charge for 211 miles:

 

Reno was 166 miles away, so the buffer seemed safe. My battery was a little warm, but not a problem yet. 

 

On to Reno, Nevada!

Charging in Reno

I arrived in Reno with 20 miles of range left, but during the second half of this leg, it had wavered between a 12-15 mile buffer. Due to an extended downhill near Reno it recovered to 20 by the end:

 

The charging station was in a parking lot off to the side of a Save Mart store. There was a guy sitting on a bench with a large  carrying bag and a bicycle, looking the worse for wear. I started the charge and started breakfast. After about 5 minutes I noticed that the charge had “ended” (no error message, it just looked like I had stopped it when I hadn’t), and so restarted it. This happened a second time, but after that things seemed to settle down, so I felt comfortable walking around a bit.

After breakfast I walked a couple of blocks south to a nice park at Virginia Lake:

 

There was some exercise apparatus (no, not apparati, it's a fourth declension noun, not second declension!), and a nice 1.1 mile path around the lake. I exercised for a bit, then started a walk around the lake. When I reached the almost exact furthest point around the lake (of course), my phone got a text from my car telling me that the charging had stopped. I jogged back to the car, restarted the charge, and decided to stay for the duration.

I started a conversation with the gentleman (still) on the bench. He was from Oregon, and had come to Reno to pick up his ex-girlfriend's car that she was offering to him. Now, she was not answering her phone. He said he was a bit of an itinerant musician, and pulled a guitar and amp from his carrying bag and started to play. After a bit, he handed me the guitar and I played a bit as well. We talked about music, traveling, and girlfriends who don't answer their phones. I bought him a Gatorade at the Save Mart and avoided answering his request that I take him (and guitar, and Bicycle!) to Sacramento.

Finally, almost three hours after I arrived at the charging station, I had enough miles to get to Sacramento. Actually, because Reno is 4600 feet in elevation, and SF is basically sea level, I possibly had enough to get all the way to San Francisco (coincidently, also 219 miles away).

 

I was feeling pretty optimistic, if a little weary, that I was nearing the end of my journey.

Arrived in San Francisco

I did make it all the way to San Francisco with 20 miles to spare:

 

Throughout this leg, my range varied from 45 miles below what I needed (1st 1/3), to 63 miles above what I needed (2nd 1/3), to mid teens the rest of the way.

 

Final thoughts:

It's possible, in 2019, to do a cross-country trip in a Leaf-Plus, although it probably entails more hardship than most people are willing to put up with (or should be expected to). The balance of driving time to charging time is also problematic, especially as so many of the charging stations are in places that I would otherwise not be inclined to spend time. Put charging stations in all of the national parks or other places of interest, and the calculus changes significantly.

In my phone calls to resolve charging issues, I was told that these companies plan to put charging stations every 70 miles along all of the interstate routes. That should make it much less stressful (and allow more A/C) to make such a trip.

Also, the range indicator is not that helpful. I understand that the algorithm is probably trying to account for current driving conditions (going up a mountain? driving 85 MPH?). But driving conditions change too much, and too frequently, on such a long trip for it to be accurate.

If I do it again, I will also remember to bring my guitar.

 

Addendum: When I got to SF, I plugged in the Leaf to a standard wall outlet and began a level 1 charge. I started the charge at 9:56 on Sunday, September

8, and I received a text on Tuesday, September 10, at 8:34am that the charge was complete. This means that a level 1 charge from 8% to 100% took over 46.5 hours.

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