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Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Range Anxiety

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Discovering the e-Golf

One morning over hot coffee, I hopped on the VW website to look at the Golf Alltrack. My parents suggested it because it would be perfect for transporting two big dogs. It would also be great for Canadian winters. On the home page of the VW site at the time was a giant banner showing an e-Golf. It was a complete surprise that VW is selling an all-electric car. I clicked on the link and fell in love. One thing led to another. Within a couple of weeks, we test drove one at the Guelph VW dealership and ordered mine the same day.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Waiting

This was a full year ago. We were advised at the time of order that there would be a wait for the car, but had no real idea how long. As the seasons changed, people around me suggested I give up on the e-Golf and consider something else. After waiting for months already, I was determined. In April, the dealership called and advised that mine would be in by the end of Q3.

I was content and still quite excited. Over the year of waiting, I heavily researched electric cars, preparing to make the switch. There wasn’t a ton of information available specifically about the e-Golf, but there are some videos on YouTube to keep my interest. There is also an ever-growing collection of information about electric vehicles in general online. We traded in my old TDI Jetta yesterday (as of this writing) and honestly, I didn’t sleep the night before. I was concerned that maybe I had made a mistake, and since I loved the Jetta so much, I knew it would be missed. It was a 2009 and had over 200,000 kms on it. It was time.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Making the Switch

I met my Dad at the dealership and we excitedly waited for them to bring the new e-Golf around to the front. As I was picking up my e-Golf, there was an (almost identical) one parked in front waiting for its new owner. It turns out that the other new owner and I had the same plan. Both of us traded our diesel vehicles in for a brand new, shiny all-electric vehicle within minutes of each other. We live in the same neighborhood. Both of us also ordered the same shade at the end of last summer. As the deadline for the end of the electric rebate in Ontario was coming up, we optimistically booked our appointments to trade the TDI cars in for the final Friday before the deadline. We now have near-identical cars with license plates, three numbers off and live within 10km of each other. Great minds…

Dad and I planned to go for lunch when we left the dealership, and after getting a quick tutorial on how to operate some of the features of the new car, we were on the road. When I hopped in the driver’s seat, the dashboard estimated that we had 201 km of range available. I vowed to try and run it out of charge before the end of the day. The problem was that as soon as we hopped on the road, the range climbed. Before I knew it, the e-Golf was up to 231 km of the remaining range because I was playing with some of the features of the car and wanted to test out the regenerative braking.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Regenerative Braking

For anyone curious, it really does work. There are three different levels of regenerative braking, as well as a “B” mode, which allow you to control how much energy you get back from the car every time you take your foot off the acceleration pedal. While I loved driving standard in the Jetta, this car offers you a completely different type of control. If you prefer, you can definitely hop in an e-Golf and drive it just as you would a regular automatic car that runs on gasoline, but if like me you prefer more control of the way your vehicle drives, the e-Golf willingly gives you that control. Unlike me, it is definitely not a control-freak.

By the time we arrived at Boston Pizza, just under 16 km from our starting destination, the car had gained an extra 25-30 km of range. I went to the far end of the parking lot to park, and as many newbies with a backup camera and sensors would, I misjudged the proximity of the curb. When I got out of the car, it was barely in the parking spot. The sensors beeped at me as I was reversing and I panicked, braking immediately. From that small embarrassment, I learned that the sensors give you a fair amount of warning before you are going to hit something (whew). They also tend to go into panic mode themselves as you get closer to an object.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Lunch Break

Over lunch, Dad and I spoke excitedly of the features we researched on electric cars. Afterward, we hopped back in our respective cars to meet at my house. I lost my Dad twice on the way back. This was mostly unrelated to the electric car. He got stopped at a stoplight and I pulled down a side street to wait for him. After a few minutes, I realized he was not coming, and headed back onto the road. The GPS on the map directed me to take a different route after I had pulled onto the side street and my father was completely lost to me until I pulled into the driveway. As always, he arrived before me.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Sound

We dropped his truck off at my house and Dad drove the car around while we waited for my nephew to get out of school for the day so they could head back up to my parent’s farm. Dad kept exclaiming how the road noise is very obvious. I agree, although the mostly-silent nature of the car has already startled one pedestrian in the short 250 km I have driven.

The big change I notice in terms of noise inside the car is that it is impossible to tell when the e-Golf starts up just by sound alone. It sounds the same when it is on and stationary as it does when it is off. Another necessary feature I have noticed is that the car panic-warns you if you open the door when it is on. It is not like a regular warning from a gasoline or diesel car. It is much more obnoxious. I have already almost left my car running a couple of times after forgetting it is on, so it is fortunate they included that feature. Dad and I met with my sister and five-year-old nephew. The nephew didn’t believe that the car could run without gasoline. Filled with confidence, my little sister and I began plotting ways to use up some battery and test the car.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Trying to Run Out of Range

My sister drove it halfway across town (maybe 11 km), where we picked up her husband, and then we headed 11 km back to the house to wait for my significant other to get home from work. As soon as he walked in, we piled in the car, drove to Cambridge (another 20 km), and ate some dinner together. At this point, the range on the car dropped and it was down to about 160 km when we decided to take a short road trip to Mississauga.

For anyone unfamiliar with the area, our destination in Mississauga was just over 61 km away on the 401. We hopped on and stayed in the slow lane for a while, testing what the car is capable of. It speeds up quickly and has no trouble keeping up with traffic on the highway. At this point, our available range was dropping much more quickly than in the city, and I started to panic. “We aren’t going to make it there and back! Should we stop at the Guelph Line carpool lot and get some extra juice so we don’t have to charge in Mississauga?” The car still had 99 km of range at this point, but everyone agreed. There was still over 30 km to our destination and we also needed to return home to Kitchener that night.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Charging Stop One

We pulled into the dark carpool lot and got to work figuring out the charging stations. There are two sets of double chargers in the lot. Both are Charge Point. We downloaded the app on my phone, set up an account and tapped the phone on one of the level 2 (the medium-fast) chargers to start it up. We plugged the car in and as we were waiting for it to charge, some people approached us and kindly gave us free samples of dry shampoo. With my one-track mind, I silently wondered, “Can dry shampoo cure range-anxiety?” It turns out they were doing a show locally and had spare samples when the show was over. What luck!

We waited for about half an hour and recovered 22 km of range before everyone was antsy to get back on the road. My significant other and brother in law then spent another seven or eight minutes trying to unplug the car from the charger. Brilliantly, it turns out you actually need to unlock the car before unplugging. The charger was also free to use. I hear with the level 2 chargers it takes about six hours to get back up to a full charge. They are not the fastest ones available but are some of the most common around here and most are currently free.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Back on the Road

We continued on to Mississauga and had about 70 km remaining for the trip home. While driving along the 401, we watched the estimated available range drop steadily. My passengers used their phones to search for places to charge on the way. They thought we would, at the very least, make it to Guelph. Instead of stopping at the same carpool lot near Campbellville to recharge, we continued past it.

We were down to 40 km at this point. We had already received the dreaded notification that we might not make it to our destination. The car politely asked if we would like it to search for a place to charge. Unfortunately, when my significant other chose “yes,” the only charging station that came up was one at the Nissan dealership in Cambridge. We thought there was one off of Townline Road on the edge of Cambridge, so we aimed for that one and my significant other tried to figure out how to turn eco mode on.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Eco Mode

Nick figured it out around the time that the estimated range dropped to 50 km, and the car put itself in that mode to save energy anyway. In eco mode, some of the car’s features are limited. Things like the AC, heating, radio, and speed could be affected. We didn’t notice much difference in the comfort level inside the car. It is possible that was just because there was more to worry about.

There is also an eco+ mode, which limits unnecessary power utilization even more. We did not end up putting it into eco+ since we were on the 401 highway. When we pulled up to the charger just off of Townline, it was after 11 PM. The range was down to 18 km. At this point, I am not sure if I could comfortably go much lower than that without knowing there is somewhere to recharge up ahead. The car worked great and kept up to speed as long as we needed it to on the highway. It performed more than admirably under pressure. That was my biggest fear. I did not want to drastically slow down or have to call a tow truck on the side of the 401 in the middle of the night because we overestimated how far we could go.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Charging Stop Two

At the carpool lot, we charged for another 26 minutes. While we talked, the car gained back 17 km. We figured that would be plenty to make the remainder of the trip home. A lot of it was downhill. We pulled in to my driveway with about 20 km of range left.

We might have just made it without having to stop that second time. Even more so because the e-Golf was taking care of us. It automatically shut down anything that was unnecessary as we started to run low on charge. We said goodbye to my sister and brother in law as they headed home. I plugged the car into the outlet outside hoping to gain back 1/3 of our battery life by morning.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Charging Troubles

The next morning after charging for about seven hours, however, we had gained only four kilometers of range. Everything I have read said it takes about 26 hours to charge using a regular 120-volt outlet. Something was not right. My significant other immediately called his Dad (a wonderfully helpful electrician), who came and replaced the outlet outside the house.

Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Ready for the Change

We plugged the car in again and took the dogs for a walk. By the time we got back about half an hour later, we had gained around 5 km in range. I am hopeful that with a couple of fast-chargers, and a number of level 1 and 2 chargers located around here, we will not need to install a home charging station. Most days, the 120-volt outlet should be sufficient (fingers crossed it keeps working). On days we need a quicker charge, we will head up the road with a book and spend some time at the public charging stations.

After the novelty and learning period is over, I am certain that driving an EV will become just a regular part of daily life in this house. For once, though, I am not eager to move past the learning and into the part where I already know. There are so many helpful features that have been intelligently added to the e-Golf. So far, I love learning about them. This is a very impressive car with top-notch technology!

Are you considering an all-electric vehicle? Have you already purchased one and are wondering what it will be like to take it out for a spin? Is there something holding you back from making an all-electric auto your next car? I will for sure keep you all updated on my adventures/experiences/mishaps along the way. 

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Electric Car Diaries Volume 1: Range Anxiety
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