Electric Car Culture Gets Ugly – Occasionally

Electric Cars in Our Wide Brown Land

Recently we bought the cheapest new electric car available. We don’t normally buy new stuff because we know the impact from buying something new. Buying new stuff encourages more manufacturing. However, in this case, we have encouraged affordable, emerging clean technologies.

After all, if we want change, we need to be active in building a better, more sustainable culture. As the understanding of Electric Vehicles [EVs] grows in the community, everyone’s future gets greener.

My dream in the 80s, maybe one day can come true.

Driving a short range electric car requires a major cultural shift. Not since my student days have I lost sleep wondering if I will get safely to my next destination without running out of fuel. Could we be stranded on a long stretch of road with paddocks all around us? Would the local mechanic shake their head and giggle?

Electric vehicles are definitely quiet, clean and fast. They are perfect for city life. But how would a short range EV function on a 2000km journey through our wide brown land that has just flooded and is full of school vacation merry makers? What could go wrong? Who else would be changed by our little adventure?

First up, lets give a nod to the electric car, it’s benefits and quirks.

1. Electric Cars are Fast

A word of warning: don’t try to race against an electric car at the lights with a petrol or diesel engine. You can’t win. Sadly, the old culture of drag racing is now totally unsatisfying. Take off is immediate in an EV and there’s no fuss with gear changes. It doesn’t require precision or skill because there is no gear box.

Different Driving Technique

Unlike the petrol car, there is rarely any need to apply the brake in an electric car unless you genuinely have to stop. All the electric driver needs to do is take their foot off the ‘throttle’ or turn off the cruise control and the car immediately slows down. In effect, easing your foot off the pedal is like engaging a brake. And as the electric car slows down, it recaptures energy. The car’s momentum puts energy back into the battery. Neat.

2. Electric Cars Wear-Out Less

Driving an electric car requires a slightly different driving technique. Driving an electric is very similar to operating a sewing machine or a slot car. The accelerator pedal controls the power almost instantaneously. As a result, the electric car uses the brakes a lot less. So there is less damage to the braking system and less braking noise or pollution.

3. Quiet and Clean

The electric car generates less noise pollution. It is very quiet. Frankly it is too quiet to get through a crowded street. And more than once someone has stepped out in front of the car as if it is a not a serious threat. We need whistles to scare off the pedestrians and wildlife.

It is also very clean. It has no oil except for lubrication. So it generates a lot less pollution on the road surfaces and in the waterways. The cleanliness of the engine will attract a wider range of service providers. Young people will enjoy this technology. And more women will become interested in becoming a EV mechanic. However, because there are less moving parts, there is less need for physical repairs, so they will have less to attend to. Electric cars last longer and very cheap to refuel. It cost us less than $40 to travel 2000kms.

4, Clever

What qualifies something as clever? Conserving energy is clever for the user and their environment. The electric car uses less overall energy because it uses only what it needs. Unlike a petrol engine where the brake screeches off all the power, the electric car captures excess energy and returns it to the battery.

Stay smart and don’t believe everything the car tells you. A healthy range prediction can diminish quickly when a storm hits and you need lights and the demister.

About Those Ugly Moments

Our car has a modest range of only 270kms. So, once we left the first big city, we drove into a power-scarce frontier. There are few charging stations on the road. And not all off the stations are working. Broken charging stations disrupt plans. They ‘upset our applecart’. And during the busy season, the stations were often full. So, we quickly developed strategies to ease the stress.

EV Etiquette

Sometimes the charging stations were occupied and the driver blissfully absent, leaving no indication of when they would return. The best solution was to leave a polite card on the windscreen politely asking them to call us when they return. Take a bunch of cards on your journey.

Some charging stations simply don’t work. Get ready to call the supplier to alert them to this. Be patient with the old ‘turn it off and back on again’ tech talk. Keep your cool by not setting a tight time frame. The suppliers do indeed ‘have you by your short and curlies’.

Get ready for robust parking bay discussions with articulate mature white men. I saw not one other female EV driver on our interstate journey. This is an issue shown a recent paper showing why women are giving up on EV’s in California.

In Byron, whilst waiting for a station to become available, an older gentleman in his EV rolled past. Finally, the charger was free. So, we moved in. But a heated discussion with the older driver exploded.

At one recharge station, debate burst and
sparks began to fly.
Our position as first in line was hotly contested.
But the only evidence I could offer as proof of waiting was my half eaten ice-cream.

Unfortunately, there is no official queuing system. The recharge stations need to be redesigned so that there is space to queue or wait alongside or behind the charging vehicle.

The EV community app called Plug-share has facility to assist waiting users but not everyone bothers to use it. Instead, Tesla drivers have their own app. So, they wouldn’t want to use two apps. But they do like to the convenience of both general charging stations as well as their own. But, really, that is as ugly as it got for us. When the debate was resolved, he calmed down and had a chat. Quick charging takes about 40min and that’s a good chance to walk around the town to avoid the junk food.

Our Rescue Plan

Before we set off we packed a long caravan cord, took a tent and bedding and didn’t book accommodation. We quickly learned not to book accommodation until after we charged the car for the last run. That is super risky during school holiday periods with every family on the roads.

The friendly Chelsea motel in Coffs Harbour was helpful after finding the charging station broken down.

A Friendly Inn

Our next rescue option was to get a motel overnight and ask if we charge with a general power socket. The cheaper motels have friendlier staff. Younger people were keen to support this new technology. They fully understand the need to recharge. They recharge their phone habitually. But few people believe that an electric car costs less than $5 power to recharge.

So we asked for use of an outdoor plug. One high end motels said they didn’t have outdoor plug. But cheap motels usually have a laundry room. Alternatively, we could run the cable outside under the door but can create a trip hazard. Eventually we negotiated to pay the extra fee for the electricity. Then I pointed out that the motel can list themselves as EV friendly they were very happy.

The Last Ditch

When you can’t get a motel with access to a simple power socket, seek a powered site at a caravan park. Plug in to charge you car over night and pitch your tent.

Part of the planning needs to include bringing a hamper with you. Once you are plugged in for the night, the meal options are limited to those within walking distance.

Sun Setting on Petrol Cars

At the end of day, we need to understand and accommodate the needs of Electric vehicle drivers. We must encourage women to become a valuable part of the futuristic culture. Given that women in Australia still earn less than men and take more clean, service roles, supporting cheap electric vehicles ensures that they are more affordable for girls. On the other hand, buying exclusive electric vehicles encourages high end manufacturers to keep making more and more exclusive, unaffordable cars. Steer clear of the exclusive brands.

New cars still cost the earth in embodied energy and lithium mining. If you are considering a a new car, make it an electric. When driven with pride and care and it will serve for generations.

The electric car offers more than transport, they are a battery to extend the use of our solar system. When we charge the car using our modest solar array, we are boosting the value of our solar electricity system by using the excess for the car, rather than pumping it all to the grid. Future cars will permit you use them as a house battery, where you can withdraw power from the car overnight.

Electric cars are more energy efficient and offer a cleaner future. The understanding of how they work and to how better cater for EV drivers benefits everyone.