I got rear-ended on the way to work a couple of weeks ago.  I’m fine, and my car didn’t have too much damage, but it’s still just a pain in the ass to take care of.  Between the estimate, recorded phone call with the insurance company, and official declaration of the other party’s guilt, it was a while before I could actually drop my car off to get fixed.

When it came to getting a (paid for) rental car, my insurance guy said, “You can get one that would cost up to $50 a day.  And no offense, but that’s going to be something a lot nicer than your car.”  I wasn’t offended, but I was a little intrigued about how much style I could be rolling in for the estimated three days.  I spoke to the rental company the day before going in, and the rep there was more enthusiastic about my upgrade: “We’re gonna get you in something really nice, man.  You qualify for the Luxury category, so something like…”  It was at this point in retelling the story to fellow blogger Mike Honcho that he cut in and said, “Let me guess: a Chrystler 300.” “Yes!” I said, “How’d you guess?”  He said he figured it would be American and that’s the one that’s supposed to look like a Bentley when it’s all tricked out.  We laughed about it because, well, I don’t imagine too many people hear “luxury” and immediately think “Chrystler.”

The day came, and the rental guy walked me out to the lot which seemed to have about five cars in it.  “Hmm,” he said, looking around.  “How about that Mustang?” he asked while pointing to a black convertible in the corner.  “Sure,” I said, though not very enthusiastically.  It sounded like fun, but I’d be driving when dark and/or cold probably every time I was in the car, and I didn’t want to spend too much on gas.  A few minutes later, the guy returned.  “Sorry, that one’s already taken.  I can try to find you a Dodge Charger at one of our other branches or…we have a Prius.”  “The Prius would be great,” I said (especially when compared to a Dodge Charger I’d have to travel for).  “Yeah?” he asked.  “Yeah, and fuel efficient.”  “Right on,” he replied.  He went back to the office to get the keys, and I laughed to myself about temporarily being another Prius in Topanga Canyon on my way to and from work.  Then it occurred to me that I didn’t see a Prius anywhere in the lot.  The dude returned with a big smile and said, “I’ve got something even better!  We’ve got a Leaf!”  I followed his pointing finger over to a bright blue car that was plugged in next to the Mustang.  “Uh…ok,” I said while I tried to figure out what having that car would actually mean.

“It’s really cool,” the guy said, “and it can go up to 100 miles between charges.”  “Oh…wait, only 100 miles?  I don’t know where any…charging places are or anything.”  He then showed me that it came with its own plug and all I had to do was charge it overnight and I’d be set.  And zero money on gas.  I was intrigued to say the least, because it was a very different scenario than I had imagined.  And maybe I could even shame the Topanga Prius folks with my 100% electric action.  After showing me how to work a few things, I got in the eerily quiet car and headed back to work.  That’s the first time it happened: I saw the “miles remaining” display on the dashboard.  It said 59, and I had the slightest wave of anxiety come over me.  “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I told myself.

When I left for home that evening, the car said I had 57 miles left.  I knew that it was only about 23 miles to home or so, but I didn’t know the effect that traffic or the normally fuel-inefficient canyon would have on this super golf cart.  I had joked with a co-worker before leaving that I might need her to bring me an extension cord if I ran out of juice, but I was almost completely kidding.  (An extension cord to reach all the way to the nearest house so I could plug in, of course.)  Driving the car was interesting.  It didn’t have a lot of pickup, but it was cool in its own way.  I kept watching how many miles I had left, and then I saw below it was how long it would take to fully recharge based on my status.  It already said around 9.5 hours, which worried me a bit since I knew I’d be home not too much longer than that before leaving the next day.

Well, my friends, the “miles left” number started dropping.  At one point in the canyon, it got all the way down to 16 and your humble blogger here was starting to freak out a bit – especially since I was in a place with no cell reception.  Once I started going downhill some more, it climbed back up to the 30s eventually, but hoo boy, that didn’t work so well for me.  Not only that, it told me I needed 13.5 hours to fully charge.  Awesome.  My lovely wife helped me back into the garage in a way that the plug would reach the nearest outlet and the car.  It was very strange plugging in “my” car, but I was more concerned with how much of a charge I would get overnight and if it would take me all the way to work and back the next day.  My wise wife pointed out, “You only need enough to get to work and then back to the rental place to exchange it if need be.”  Excellent point.

The next morning, it said I had 89 miles.  “Ok,” I thought, “I can deal with that I that.  And it’s only for another day or two.”  Well, that 89 went immediately to 66 in the canyon, so my thoughts went directly to, “No, fuck this shit.”  Then the downhill part started and the miles went up and up until they reached 91 – yes, more than when I had left.  I got on the 10 for the last few miles of my trip, and the wind resistance brought it all the way back down to the 60s by the time I arrived.  At that point, I thought, “Ok, this clearly isn’t for me, but I think I can tough it out.  And I’d really rather not have to take another trip to the rental place if I’m able to deal with this.”  The way home got down to 17, but I held it together.

The next morning,when I unplugged the car, I was fully charged at 105 miles displayed as the range.  “Aw yeah, no problem today!” I thought.  Within five minutes, it was at 71.  Later in the canyon it went to 113.  The few miles of freeway saw it go from 91 to 77 in about 3 minutes.  It was driving me fucking crazy.  Turns out I’m not alone, and there’s a term called “range anxiety” commonly used for just this purpose.  I read that Wikipedia page and nodded along like a fellow member of a support group was telling a very similar story to my own.

I called the auto body shop and was told that it would actually be a few more days than anticipated.  That meant that I wouldn’t have my car when I needed to take the kids to school (and I hadn’t transferred the carseats since it was only going to be three days originally).  My lovely wife and I could switch cars on those days, except the Leaf wouldn’t reliably (if at all) take her to her farther-away office and back.  (Oh yeah, the Nissan site for the Leaf suggests people plan their trips around charging stations – how fun!)  So I called the rental company, and they said they had plenty of cars in stock for me to swap out the Leaf and get something else.  I wasn’t too sad about ending my eco-friendly experiment.  When I got there, an employee helped me out and then said to take a look around to see what car I’d like.  “I have the Luxury class…does that Volvo fall into that category?” I asked.  It was a sporty little thing that looked like fun, and I don’t normally think of cars like that.  “No, that’s Elite.  You can pay a little more for that if you want.”  I said the whole point was that it was free, so no thanks.  “Oh!” she said excitedly, “I’ve got something great!”  I followed her over to a silver car.  “This is the Chrystler 300,” she beamed.

So that’s what I have now and will until Tuesday or Wednesday.  It is actually quite nice, with a lot of bells and whistles and some good power.  Best of all, it has a familiar, comforting, and slowly-but-directionally-consistent gas gauge on the dashboard.  I’ll take it.


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