How we unplugged from our gas guzzlers and switched to electric

In 2020, we went electric, replacing our two gas cars, a 2011 Honda Pilot and a 2014 VW Jetta, with two plug-in electric vehicles (EVs), a 2017 Chevy Bolt and a 2021 Tesla Model Y. I had a goal to get our carbon footprint down to zero and going electric was part of that goal.

I hadn’t really anticipated replacing both our cars in one year, but the novelty and fun of electric won me over. We bought the Bolt first to replace our VW Jetta and I fell in love with that little car. Living in Seattle, the Bolt is the perfect city runabout. Zippy, responsive, quiet, and clean, I found myself giggling again in the driver’s seat rediscovering the joy of driving.

Out of curiosity, I started researching what it would take to replace the Pilot, our “ski car” and road trip car. The Tesla Model Y looked like it might work, given the range and spacious interior. I decided to take the family on a test drive. Within minutes I was sold. The Tesla is an absolute rocket, like nothing I’ve ever driven. I placed an order that week. Since then, I’ve become a complete Tesla fanboy… more on that later….

I haven’t pulled into a gas station since October of last year! This makes me smile every time I remember we’ve eliminated the day-to-day impact of our cars from our family’s carbon footprint.

This post is about my experience and what I’ve learned in making the transition. Hope it inspires you and please reach out on this post in the comments or to me personally if you are a friend with any questions at all about our experience. I’m happy to talk about this and help anyone trying to work through the details.

Why electric?

Why switch from gas to electric? There are a bunch of reasons….

It’s the right thing for the climate. As one of many battlegrounds in the fight against climate change, converting our transportation system from fossil fuels to electric is a critical shift. In the short term, the environmental benefits of trading in your gas guzzler for an EV depend on where you live. If the electricity generated in your area is mostly not generated from fossil fuels, an EV will be a net win for the climate. In Washington state, 80% of our power comes from non-fossil fuel sources, so a switch to an EV is a big gain. In some states like Utah, where 88% of the power generated is from fossil fuels, the short-term impact of going electric may not be as clear.

However, even in states like Utah, I’d argue there are reasons to go electric. Long term, electricity generation everywhere will become cleaner, so the carbon footprint of your EV in a state like Utah will become smaller over time. Also, by moving to an EV, you are helping to scale the production of EVs as well as the EV ecosystem (charging stations, etc), which will bring down the cost for everyone.

The world is going electric. It’s happening. All major car manufacturers have announced this year new EV models from compacts, to SUVs to trucks. States, with California leading the way, are putting regulations into place to require a shift to EVs. GM is totally rebranding to promote its focus on electric, even changing its logo, and just announced this week that it expects to phase out all gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. Given that this is all going to happen anyhow, you might as well make the transition yourself.

New GM logo

EVs are simply better cars. My passion for cars and driving was re-ignited after buying our first EV. They are amazing to drive, incredibly responsive, quiet, and cheaper to drive & maintain. The math is simple to show that we’ll be saving about 12 cents per mile when comparing the cost of charging our Tesla at home to the cost of fueling our Honda Pilot with gasoline.

The resale value on your gas car will start to erode and will eventually be zero. In some locales, your gas guzzler’s value might already be in decline as more people decide to go electric. At this point the impact is likely small, but the longer you wait the bigger the impact. Eventually, my guess is that ditching your gas guzzler will be like trying to get rid of that old cathode tube TV–nobody will want them and their value will be significantly depressed, perhaps to zero. So, if you own your car, the earlier you make the switch the more money you’ll have to fund your EV purchase.

How we got over range anxiety

The biggest issue most people struggle with when considering an EV is range anxiety which is due to lower driving range and availability/speed of charging options.

Driving a gas car, you never really have to think about running out of gas. Wherever you go, to the smallest of small towns, you can find a gas station. Those rare stretches of highway where gas is scarce, signage is plenty to remind you to fill up while you can. There are over 115,000 gas stations in the US today compared to roughly 25,000 EV charging stations. So finding a place to charge your EV on a trip can be a lot harder than filling your gas car.

Filling a gas car takes about 5 minutes. Depending on the speed of the charging station, topping off your EV can take anywhere from 30 mins to many hours or days. Speed of charging is a problem and takes more planning than using a gas car.

The top EVs today have a range of 300-400 miles (most of these are Teslas) while most EVs have a range closer to 200. Compare that to the top selling car in the US (actually a truck), the Ford F150, which comes with a standard 26-gallon tank and gets about 20 MPG, giving the F150 a range of over 500 miles. Or consider the top selling car that’s not a truck, the Toyota Rav4 which has about 400 miles of range.

With better range, many more gas stations, and faster fill ups, we (as drivers of gas cars) have certain expectations about how far we should be able to drive and the convenience of filling up. Getting past this can be tough.

However, this is all changing as the number of charging stations is forecasted to explode over the next decade. One forecast I found suggested that there would be 1.2M charging locations in North America by 2030. Biden’s plan includes installing 400,000 charging stations nationwide.

Getting over range anxiety when we replaced our Jetta with the Bolt was an easy decision. The Jetta has never been more than about forty miles outside the Seattle city limits and was mostly used by our daughter to get to and from school and to dash around the city on weekends.

For what we use the Bolt for, it’s 200-mile range is ample. We charge it mostly at home and we haven’t yet faced a situation where we were near running out. When the Bolt gets low on power, we leave it plugged in for a night or two and it’s back in action.

Replacing our Pilot was where the roadblocks came in. Throughout the winter, we do ski trips, some as far as seven hundred miles round trip over big mountain passes and we do many day trips up to Crystal Mountain and Snoqualmie Pass to ski. Summertime, we take trips into the mountains and to the coast.

There are a couple key factors that convinced me that the Tesla would work for our road trip car.

First is the Tesla supercharging network which is quite frankly the reason to purchase a Tesla rather than another brand of EV (and adds to my absolute devotion to Tesla). Tesla has done an excellent job creating a network of charging stations, strategically locating them along all major freeway routes to help bridge the gap on a trip, and they are always in walking distance to food, coffee, shopping, etc.

Our first long trip in the Tesla was a day trip to Portland which is 370 miles round trip. There are 7 Tesla supercharging stations between Seattle and Portland, giving us plenty of options to recharge.

There are different generations of Tesla supercharging stations, with differing charging speeds. The one we stopped at on the way back from Portland was in Longview and is one of the newest, charging at a rate of 250 kW. We pulled up to this station with a pretty empty battery and were full within about 25 minutes.

Filling up does take a bit longer than pumping gas, but to be honest I’ve really enjoyed the time charging our Tesla. On our Portland trip we pulled up Netflix on the Tesla’s screen and watched an episode of New Girl together–fun family time. I’ve had fun sharpening my chess & backgammon skills on other charging stops.

One more cool thing about the Tesla supercharging network (Tesla fanboy talk here…). I compare Elon Musk and his team to Steve Jobs and Apple–Tesla has thought through the whole driving and charging experience and removed the complexity, simplifying everything. As you own a Tesla, you continue to discover examples of this. In the case of charging at a Tesla supercharging station, you simply back in, take the charger off the hanger and plug it into your Tesla. The trap door to the Tesla opens automatically. You don’t have to pull out a credit card, log in or anything. The transaction is all done in the cloud. You have an account at Tesla with a credit card on file. When you pull up the station recognizes your vehicle and charges your account when done. These little details are delightful, but I digress…

Back to how I came to the decision that the Tesla would work as our ski car…

There is one trip that I was trying to solve for and I’m still not sure the Tesla can handle, which is to get us to Silver Star resort in the Canadian Rockies, a 700-mile round trip over two big mountain passes. I’m still not sure the Tesla can pull this off but decided that if ever we faced a trip where we’d be at risk of running out of range, we’d just rent a car for that trip. We’ll probably save over a thousand dollars a year on the cost per mile savings between electric & gas and we can use this savings to cover the cost of any rental we need. So, the backup plan for an unsolvable trip is a rental. One thing I’m sure of, though, is that this problem will be solved over the next few years as superchargers show up everywhere.

How to carry bikes & skis? The Model Y has options to allow you to install cross bars and a trailer hitch, which allows me the racks to carry all the gear I need. Though for skis I have ended up just putting them inside. I purchased ski bags that we put our skis in to avoid damaging the interior or getting snow all over the place. I can fold down one seat and still get three of us and our gear in the car.

Can it handle snow? I purchased some snow tires and with the dual motor it performs great in the snow.

After 3 months of owning the Tesla and many day trips, I can say it’s been amazing. The Model Y has been a great ski car and we look forward to many more road trips.

More insider tips on range and range anxiety

There is a lot more to the story of our Tesla, range anxiety and what I’ve learned that I thought I’d share…

I’d highly recommend being cautious about range as you learn the true range of your EV.

I had one really stressful experience where I got the Tesla down to zero and was nearly stranded. Yes… it actually said zero miles left. I was heading up to Tiger mountain to go mountain biking and didn’t realize how much elevation gain there is between Seattle and Tiger. Going uphill uses lots more energy. I barely made it to the supercharger station in North Bend. With zero miles left on the screen and a half a mile to go my Tesla was screaming at me, repeatedly warning that I wasn’t going to make it but fortunately, I gingerly pulling into the station and let out a big sigh of relief.

You almost never get the full number of miles that your EV displays, and sometimes significantly less.

The way range works in both the Tesla & Bolt is that the “gas gauge” is measured in miles remaining on the battery. You can change the display in the Tesla to show Kwh on your battery, but it’s far easier to think about miles than Kwh.

Only in optimal conditions will you get the full predicted mileage displayed on your EV. Climbing hills, headwinds, cold temperatures, extra weight in the car, a rack on top (hindering aerodynamics) will all negatively impact your range. On a ski trip, everything mentioned above is working against you.

It’s 86 miles from my house to Crystal Mountain. On our last trip we left the house with 308 “predicted miles” on our Tesla (essentially full) and arrived in the Crystal parking lot with only 156 miles left on our battery. So, we used 152 “predicted miles” to drive 86. Of course, on the return trip (with lots of downhill) we used fewer “predicted miles” than the trip required, using only 83 “predicted miles” to drive the 86 home. But you can see that our round trip to Crystal, a 172-mile trip, uses 235 “predicted miles”.

Planning for long trips is key. Going to any new destination requires researching the availability and location of charging stations. You need to plan not only for the trip to your destination but also need to consider what it will take to get you home or back to the nearest charging station. The Crystal Mt trip is a good example. Currently the closest Supercharging station to Crystal is fifty-five miles away in Auburn Washington. So, to get from the station to Crystal and back to the station requires at least 110 miles of electricity, but as I mentioned the altitude gain, the cold, extra weight means you really need to pass through Auburn with two hundred miles to get back.

Again, this will all get easier over the next few years, but for now takes planning and caution.

How we charge our EVs with no garage

We live in a city neighborhood in Seattle, and like many of our neighbors don’t have a garage or dedicated parking spot. This was another challenge I had to work through.

Of course, I could have relied on the supercharging network which is what many city residents without a personal charging spot do, but that would mean a lot more time hanging out in our car.

We are lucky in that there is a cut in the curb in front of our house which our neighbors have been kind enough to allow us to claim as our parking spot. I cleared this with our immediate neighbor Thom (who is most impacted) before buying our Bolt and he was happy to support our move to EVs.

I ran a ten gauge (very thick and high capacity), 100-foot extension cord from our house down to the sidewalk. I buried this extension cord, so it’s completely hidden. I installed a post on which we can hang the two different chargers and created a little patio to make it clear to anyone considering parking in our spot that the parking spot is dedicated to charging.

This little charging station has worked great and gets a lot of attention from people walking by. I hope I’m inspiring others to go electric!

We trade off leaving the Bolt and Tesla on the charger overnight as needed.

This is not a great long-term solution as the extension cord is a bit of a hack, but I plan to eventually run 220 volts down to the sidewalk, installing it the correct way in conduit by an electrician.

How I became a Tesla Fanboy

The Tesla Model Y has completely won me over. In high school, I was really into cars and had a Jeep CJ7. I loved that Jeep and would spend my weekends cleaning every nook and cranny, tinkering with the engine, etc. After having kids, I lost all interest in cars but buying the Tesla has electrified my passion again.

For one, driving the Tesla is amazing. The acceleration, at zero to sixty in around 4 seconds, might make the Model Y the fastest $50k car on the market (aside from the Model 3 of course at $35k). The quiet, smooth power that throws you back into your seat when you stomp on the pedal is remarkable. And the acceleration going from 50 to 70 is equally impressive. The steering & cornering is fantastic–super tight. The Tesla feels like a race car but is as quiet as an electric golf cart.

The autopilot is amazing. I realize that some gas cars have this too but experiencing this in the Tesla was a first for me. We did not opt for the “full self-driving” which is an upgrade of $8-10k, but the standard autopilot is great, handling the acceleration, spacing, and steering as long as you are in one lane. On the freeway this means that you essentially are the backup driver, which allows you a lot more peace of mind on long drives.

I really love the styling of both the exterior and interior of our Model Y. I’ve had two people tell me that our Tesla is “sexy” which nobody ever said about our Honda Pilot.

Some of the delighters… There is no on/off button or key. You enter the car and the right things just happen, interior lights come on, screen comes on. When you tap the brake, the car realizes you are about to go and readies itself. After your drive, hit the park button and the parking brake automatically engages and you just get out of the car and shut the door. As you walk away the doors lock, no intervention needed. When I drive the Bolt now, I’m constantly leaving it “on”… In an electric car, what does “on” even mean?

Sitting in the back seat of the Model Y is awesome because the whole roof is glass. So, on our trips to Crystal, you see the long limbs of the fir trees reaching out over the car as we fly quietly through the forest.

The features, fun and technology of the screen are great. All the controls are right on that one center screen. You can play chess or backgammon. There are a bunch of old school video games like Centipede and Lunar Lander as well as new games like Cuphead. Fun features like on-demand fart noises are a terrific way to get a laugh out of friends. Netflix, YouTube, Spotify available too to keep you entertained while charging. The animations of your car and its surroundings is cool.

There is an app that allows you to warm up your car, check the miles left, check if the car is locked (and you can lock it if not). The app will send you notifications if the car thinks you’ve left a door open. Occasionally we’ll trip a breaker, and the charging will get interrupted–the app sends a notification when this happens. Lots of cool stuff…

And finally, the over the network updates mean that your Tesla is always getting better with new features, improvements, etc.

I hope this post has been helpful, and again, please reach out with any questions at all!

5 thoughts on “How we unplugged from our gas guzzlers and switched to electric

  1. Fun to read this, Chris! I have noticed quite a few Teslas in the parking lot at Alpental and wondered about how they did in the snow. Thanks for the informative post. I hope you all are well!

  2. Thanks for sharing.

    We’re thinking about buying an EV. Budgets limit the long range choices to Tesla Model 3 or a Bolt. The sight lines and visibility of the Bolt were much better than the Model 3. Do you find that as well, or does the Model Y have bigger windows?

    Trips to the mountains are probably better with the all wheel drive, than the rear wheel Teslas.

    Thanks also for the tips about factors affecting mileage. Would you take the Bolt to Snoqualmie?

  3. Hi, the Bolt is a great car and you can’t go wrong with it. My hesitation taking it to the mountains would be the limited range and charging options.

    In a choice between a rear wheel Tesla Model 3 and a Chevy Bolt, I’d choose the Tesla all day long. Tesla is simply way ahead of other car companies in EV technology across the board, and you’ll get a zillion other great features in a Tesla that will constantly delight you. Maybe the all wheel drive Bolt would perform better than the Tesla in snow, but for 99% of your other driving the Tesla is going to be a way better car.

  4. Great article, Chris! Today we are currently test driving the Bolt and Model Y, so this was an excellent review for us. And we have a Pilot too that we like for skiing, camping and the dogs. So leaning towards the Model Y size, but loved how easy the Bolt was from the start. Does the Tesla get easier to get in and go? I was a bit intimated by the screen and not being able to adjust on the fly, steering wheel mirrors, glove box,etc

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