Monday, March 12, 2018

Go Go Gadget Mobile!

A couple of months ago, my ten year old car decided to stop firing on one of its cylinders.  As that killed a quarter of its power, that made it a significant decision on its part.

As I believe in squeezing out as much as I can out of large capital investments, I dutifully took it in to the mechanic who changed the plugs, the wires and the coil.  None of which shut down the baleful red Check Engine Light on the dash.  This failure was beyond the quick fixes.  A quick comparison between the engine overhaul estimate and the Kelly Blue Book value of the vehicle put me in the market of a new (to me) car.

And, if I'm going to do that, then I might as well go electric.  With an updated electronics package.  And a bamboo interior with recycled fabric and LED lights that use light frequencies guaranteed to not hurt the eyes of roadside wildlife.



Which is what I got.  Kinda.

Is Electric A Good Idea?


First, there are pros and cons to an electric vehicle:

  • Pros: No gasoline.  No emissions (from the vehicle).  Lower maintenance costs.
  • Cons: Low range.  Increased electrical bill.  Smaller vehicle.  Increased emissions from grid sources.
On top of that, there is some debate as to the actual eco-friendliness of an electric car when taking into account the impact of both manufacturing and disposal of the vehicle that it replaces.


It is for Me!


In my sit-u, I feel that 1) I've beaten all the life I can comfortably get out of my old car and 2) I bought a used electric.  Specifically, a 2014 BMW i3 with less than 7K miles.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did get one with the 'Range Extender', a small gasoline generator that kicks in when the battery gets too low.  It adds roughly 60 miles to the 80 mile range of the car.  As I'm planning (so far successfully) to use this for local commuting and not long road trips, I should never have to use that extended range.

To put the final stamp on how this affects my carbon footprint, my house has solar panels so I've been generating most of my own electricity.  Or, at least, offsetting the electricity that I use from the grid at about an even basis, replacing slightly more than I draw.  With the car, I am now using more electricity from the grid than the house system generates, but not by much.  I've added roughly 1/3 again to my electrical usage (going from approximately 16 kWh to 24 kWh per day, though admittedly this is winter usage).  This means that my net usage off the grid is now 1/3 of what I was using before solar panels.  And (almost) no gas.

Get What's Available


But why the i3?  Well, let me tell you!  First and foremost, it was the best option available in Albuquerque.  This is a truck and SUV city.  There are small cars, but they are not as popular as bigger, more powerful things.  As a result, there are not a lot of electric options around me.  Especially used.  I tend to avoid new cars (never bought one) due to the immediate depreciation that they experience once they've been driven off the lot.  I do not have the patience to wait through the Tesla 'process'.

Within this limited availability, there were a couple of Nissan Leafs, a smattering of more expensive Chevy Volts and a few plug-in hybrids which I was trying to avoid (though, with the range extender, it could be argued that I got anyway).


Best Option Anyway


But the i3 is also more than 'merely' an electric car.  This model year is their first attempt at an electric car and they really wanted to appeal to the eco-consumer.  It does have real bamboo trim inside.  The rest of the dash trim is fabric made from recycled plastics.  The body panels are recyclable plastics.  All of which gives it both a techy exterior and a warm, spacious interior.

Spacious.  Yes, I used that word for a car that looks like some plastic techno-egg wandering down the street.  And it is spacious... for the driver and front passenger.  It is not spacious anywhere else.  Fortunately, that's all I need it to be.  There is more than enough room for the Middle School Daughter Unit and me.  The hatchback holds six bags of groceries comfortably.  And that's all we need.


And Gadgets!  (Sort of)


My biggest complaint about the car is its electronics package.  Much of this stems from BMW's insistence that their User Interface is better than Android Auto or Apple Car Play.  Which it is.  For BMW.  It lets them sell mapping services and other monthly fee add-ons.   Which I will never buy.  Instead, I'll connect via BlueTooth and use Android Auto on my phone display, mounted in a non-distracting manner on the dash (go Scoche Magic Mounts).


Time Will Test


This vehicle has only been a member of our family for a few weeks.  I've installed a Level 2 charger in the house (which also necessitated a complete overhaul and upgrade of my breaker box because I was out of space) which fills the battery in a couple of overnight hours.  Now it is time to sit back and live with it.  For more than five years.  Which is the average time that US households keep a used car.  I need to beat that average.

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