Well, it was bound to happen. After hearing other EV drivers tell me their horror stories, I finally (sort of) got one of my own.
On Wednesday last week, I parked my Nissan LEAF at an off-site airport parking lot for a four-day trip, returning Sunday evening. I was the sole adult with three children in tow and parked the car with about 70 percent of the battery remaining (more than enough to get back home). I loaded the luggage and kids onto the shuttle van, had a great trip, and returned to the car on Sunday evening. Everyone was ready to get home, have a quick, late dinner, and go to bed.
But lo and behold when I looked at the dashboard, the sign said “key not detected” and the battery was at only 20% capacity. The roughly 24 miles remaining was not enough for a 15-mile, mostly uphill trip home.
What happened? Evidently I had failed to turn the car off when I left it. And with no auto shut-off feature, the car battery slowly died over four days, presumably beeping for an undetected key that was in my pocket 400 miles away.
We weren’t going to make it home. Panic ensued. We had to find an available charger somewhere nearby as the battery quickly dwindled on the freeway. We finally located (via Plugshare.com) a ChargePoint Level 2 in a parking garage by an Amtrak station in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Thankfully one of the two parking spots/chargers was available when we pulled in.
Since I don’t have a ChargePoint membership, I had to call to activate the charger with my Visa. I was on hold for a few minutes, and after about 5 minutes I got it plugged in. Then I had to wait in an empty parking garage with three hungry and tired kids while the car slowly charged. I gave myself about 30 minutes, which I figured would be about an additional 10 miles or so — just enough to get home.
I unplugged after about 35 minutes to be safe and had 28% of the battery now. But it was still a white knuckle drive home as the dashboard said we had about 9 miles remaining when we were about 5 miles from home. It was not a pleasant way to end the trip.
Lessons learned? Of course I need to double-check that the car is actually turned off. But why did Nissan not include an auto shut-off feature? After a day left on with no key, I think it’s safe for the car to turn off automatically rather than draining the battery. I really hope Nissan fixes that problem. The car motor is silent and so it’s not always obvious that it’s been left on. And I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s easy to accidentally double-click the off button, which actually turns the car back on.
Still, all in all we were pretty lucky. We found a charger and everything worked out. With more charging stations deployed, this kind of situation will be easier to handle in the future. But it was an inconvenience that could have been avoided by Nissan, and not just by my being more careful. I surely will be in the future though.