Vroom

The Honda Civic Hybrid my husband Paco and I bought new in 2006 is on its last tire, so to speak. The AC works as long as the outside air is 70 degrees. The radio is shot. It lost its new look after an SUV backed into it. Last week a mechanic told us the compressor alone would cost $3,000, but the other things they’d have to do to change the AC would bring the bill higher. When Paco asked how much, the repairman wouldn’t hazard a guess. “I’d hate to give an estimate,” he said. “Anyway, if you want to know my opinion, you’d be throwing your money away.” 

I love this car. Every time Paco brings up the subject of selling it, I balk. Even after 15 years of hard use, it still sprints ahead of other cars as soon as the light changes and zips past straining vehicles on long uphill grades. The turning radius has saved us on many a country road. It’s a hybrid, so we spend very little on gas, and the battery gets charged each time we step on the brakes. The motor cuts off at each full stop, leaving us in silence. At first, we worried about it not starting up again, but so far, we’ve never had to get out and push. What’s more, other than annual inspections and 3-month oil changes, it’s rarely felt the greasy hands of a car mechanic.

I wonder what will happen to our car after we…get rid of it. Will it be dismantled? Sold in bits and pieces? I cringe at the thought. The Blue Book price is nowhere near its worth to us. Can’t we just get it fixed? Paco feels sad, too, but his worsening back makes getting in and out of the low bucket seats painful. By 2030, Biden wants half of U.S. cars to be electric. I’ve wanted to hold out until we can buy an electric car. Maybe the time has arrived.

Our daughter bought a used EV 2½ years ago—a Nissan Leaf—and adores it. All she’s had to do is put air in the tires a couple of times and have it inspected each year for which she pays just $7 (not $28 which non-EV owners must pay in Austin, Texas). At the latest inspection, they gave her an $8 coupon for a car wash. So, after inspection and car wash, she came home with one extra dollar!

Her car is the 2016 model with a range of 107 miles, but newer models of the Nissan Leaf and most leading EVs can double that. How far she goes on one charge varies depending on whether or not she’s using the AC, how fast she’s going, and the conditions of the road. Highway driving on mostly flat terrain offers fewer chances for the battery to regenerate than on the rolling country roads where she uses the brakes more often, she told me. 

Though she rarely needs to charge it away from home, charging stations are plentiful in her city. The car came with its own cord, which can plug into any 120-volt electric outlet. She plugs it into her laundry room, and it’s usually fully charged by the next morning. She told me she hasn’t noticed a big change in her electric bill, even after opting into a community solar program offered by her energy utility at a slightly higher rate. 

When my daughter needs to go longer distances, she rents a car. She said the rental agent treats her like family. I asked what she most likes about her car. She said she feels good knowing she’s done something that helps the environment, especially now that she has solar power. “I also love how it feels to drive it,” she said. She drives on Eco mode to use less battery power unless she has to merge quickly onto a highway or get out of a tricky traffic situation. “The torque is incredible,” she said. She told me it feels like riding on a Maglev train or a rapidly ascending elevator. She and her family call their car “The Spaceship.”

Paco and I got to experience what she means last week when we test drove a 2021 Nissan Leaf SV at the dealership in Charlottesville. It was the only one they had on their lot—a calico car of ads in swirls and circles. The lanky, young, amazingly laid-back car salesman told us to take it for a spin. “You’ve got to feel it,” he said. “Enjoy yourselves.”

I took the wheel first and drove it a couple of times around the parking lot before merging into the traffic on 29 North. Wow! The “blastoff” threw us back in our seats, and the speedometer hit 60 mph within seconds. When I slowed down, the car reminded me of a horse ready to break into a gallop at the light touch of stirrup against flank. Next, Paco drove. We laughed as the car bolted onto the highway.

Last Saturday we tried out a 2020 Kia Niro EV EX crossover SUV at the dealership in Lynchburg. Paco loved the ease of getting in and out. He also liked the way it handled. I enjoyed the higher seats, but thought it was a bit clunky—more like the GM pickup truck we used to have. I’ve never driven an SUV. The torque was perhaps higher than that of our Honda, but less than the Nissan Leaf we test drove. Also, its turning radius didn’t equal that of our Honda or the Nissan Leaf. Its range (240 miles) nearly doubles that of the Nissan Leaf (150 miles)—an important detail for those of us living in the country.      

Paco and I did some research on charging stations in our area. Right now, there aren’t a whole lot of them. Lynchburg has 8. The one at the Sheetz on Wards Road lies close to CVCC where we work. That’s good to know. Still, we plan on buying an EV with enough range to cover our usual commute from Bedford. As more and more people buy electric vehicles, I’m confident the infrastructure will improve.

If we buy one of the well-known makes of electric vehicles, we are eligible for federal tax credit of up to $7,500, depending upon our tax bill. Also, Appalachian Power and Virginia Dominion Power offer their customers who own EVs reduced electricity rates.

This weekend we’ve arranged to test drive a Tesla Model 3 in Richmond. It’s a long way to go to try out a car, but my curiosity about this unconventional EV overrides the inconvenience. Whoever heard of ordering a car online like you would a toaster? Without a pushy salesperson to size you up and dangle an enticing but unrealistic price reduction?

When we park our dusty dented car in a Tesla customer parking space and walk into the showroom, I’ll probably feel like I do when I enter an upscale clothing boutique in out-of-date clothes and unmanicured hands. Still, I’m looking forward to the experience of being at the wheel of this so-called sexy car, if only for a few minutes.

While we search for our new (and probably last) car, we’ll continue to drive our beloved but ailing hybrid. After all, winter’s on the way, and the heater works just fine.

 

Born and raised in Altavista, Virginia, Lynda Pinto-Torres, née Smith, has returned to the area after a lifetime of traveling, teaching, playing the piano, and writing. She and her husband live in the outskirts of Bedford, Virginia where she continues to work on her first novel, a work of historical fiction.