We are in the market for a new car and so we thought that maybe the time is right to look at electric vehicles. We’ve been thinking about them for a while and I admit that if I ever win Loto 649 the first thing I’ll do is buy a Tesla model S. Up until this year, Tesla has been the only car on the market to provide enough range for roadtrips  (the Toronto-Montreal corridor being my personal yardstick at 500 km) which has been a significant limiting factor for our family taking the e-car plunge. Recently, however, Chevy has come out with the Bolt (an unfortunate choice of names, given how often people confuse it with the Volt) which has a range of 380km.

The timing of the opening of the Electric Vehicle Discovery Centre was perfect; my husband and I were in Toronto in May for work and we decided to visit the centre to find out more about electric cars. The staff has a wealth of knowledge on the subject and there are plenty of interactive displays around the showroom to help you understand the technology if they happen to be busy with other customers.

Nissan LEAF

We were helped by Steve who answered all our questions about cars and gave us a few bits of information I hadn’t known before. The best part of all was that we were able to test drive two electric cars.

There is a handy book available through the website or at the centre that compares every fuel-based aspect of the electric cars versus their gas-powered counterparts, and after driving the cars, I now have a better understanding of electric cars in general.

Here are some of the things I didn’t know about electric cars:

  1. Traffic jams don’t wear down the battery: Unlike idling a gas-engine car in a traffic jam, an electric car’s battery uses very little power when stopped (none if the internal air conditioning isn’t on). Batteries are worn down through distance travel.
  2. Preheat/precool: In harsh weather (heat or cold), when the car is plugged into the charger, you can warm up or cool down the cabin before you get in without wearing down the battery — and you can start it remotely.
  3. Lower maintenance: Because there are significantly fewer parts — and no oil in electric-only cars — cars need less maintenance.
  4. Eco-mode: There is an “eco” feature and a “boost” feature on most cars which give you a boost of power when needed, while the eco feature will extend the life of the battery (but limit your pick-up).
  5. Regenerative braking feature: you can recharge the battery slightly whenever you go down a hill by pressing a lever that brakes and recharges the battery at the same time. I kept forgetting about it on our test drives, so I didn’t get the chance to try out the feature
  6. Distance to destination: The cars are connected to GPS systems and when you plug in your destination, it will let you know whether you have enough charge to make it, and if not, will let you know where there is a charging station along your route.
  7. Charging Stations: There are three levels of charging stations called level 1, 2, and 3. Level 1 being an ordinary 120V three-pronged outlet and the slowest charging method, and level 3 being the fastest charging station. Installing a level 2 charger in your home costs around $500 (with an Ontario rebate), and it is significantly faster than a level 1 plug. Of course, you do need to make sure your electric panel can handle the load. The Ontario government is installing 500 new charging stations throughout the province including 200  “level 3” chargers (the fastest chargers). Note: you’ll find a great explanation of the different charging stations in this article. “Level 3” is a misnomer – they are really DC charging stations.

The Discovery Centre itself is agnostic and has information on all electric cars available for sale in Ontario as well as information on chargers. The goal of the centre is to help educate consumers on how electric cars work while allowing people to test drive one.

Range: the majority of electric cars on the market today have a range between 100-200km. For the most part, this is fine as an average daily distance drive is under 40km. For families with two cars, buying an electric car as a second vehicle seems more realistic as longer roadtrips would still be an inconvenience.

Steve told us that Nissan’s LEAF, coming out this fall, will have a range of 200km, while the Bolt will have a range of 400km. We drove the Bolt and the LEAF, and I have to say, the Bolt is looking like a decent option for a one car family. It had nice interior finishing, good trunk space, was very peppy to drive and best of all, decent range. If you’re curious about electric cars and live in the Greater Toronto Area, drop by the Discovery Centre and take one out for a spin.

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BEC Green

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