Climate Corner: Get Your Next Car in Green

Suffolk County has 492 public charging ports like this one on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor (not including those at stores, restaurants, and hotels). Jenny Noble photo.

By Jenny Noble

My 2010 Toyota Corolla is what people politely call a beach car, and impolitely call a piece of … well … they’re just being honest. The exterior is covered in nicks and scrapes. Inside, it looks like I’m always on my way to the dump. It’s the sort of car that you never have to lock, because if someone is desperate enough to steal it, be my guest.

It was time for a change. I knew that whether I got an electric, hybrid, or even made my car more fuel efficient, I could be doing much more to help fight climate change. And save money.

The transportation sector is the single largest source of all carbon emissions in the United States and bad air quality is a huge issue on Long Island.

“Before COVID hit, Suffolk County had 10 to 15 red alert days a year where ground level ozone pollution was dangerously high. It’s really hard on the elderly and people with asthma,” says Rosemary Mascali of Drive Electric Long Island. “With 2 million cars on the road out here, we have to go electric.”

My issue with electric cars is that I suffer from FOTU (Fear Of The Unknown). When I asked my 18-year-old son, Kesha, to help me look for a car, he texted me, “I’m sorta over it bc I don’t actually believe you will get a new car anymore. So.”

Is five years a long time to go car shopping?

Joe Frizell with the electric plug for his new Chevy Bolt at Joe’s Garage in North Sea. Jenny Noble photo.

I also suffer from what industry people call “range anxiety” — the fear that if your car runs out of electricity, you’ll be stranded on some lonesome highway in a blizzard until you freeze to death. Or worse, you’ll spend five hours stuck at a charging station waiting for your car to charge.

In reality, electric cars today can travel over 240 miles on a fully charged battery. That’s easily enough to get most people through a busy day of errands and to work and back.

Charging times are also getting shorter. The basic 110-volt chargers that come with the car can almost fully charge it overnight. Upgrading to a 240-volt charger will power up much faster and costs about $200 after rebates.

With a simple app, you can program your car to start charging at 11 p.m., when electricity is cheapest. On top of that, PSEG rewards five cents back for every kilowatt hour charged late at night. If your house has solar, fuel costs could be completely eliminated and get you close to zero carbon emissions.

The time it takes to charge while out on the road is also getting faster. DC fast chargers can replenish up to 50 percent of the battery’s juice in 30 minutes. Tesla’s superchargers are even faster.

When considering range, ask yourself how many days a year you take long road trips and how often you’d really drive 240 miles without stopping. On the road, you could power up in about 15 minutes, not much longer than it takes to retrieve a petrified hot dog from the hot dog roller and load it up with condiments.

Although an app will locate the closest charging station, soon you’ll practically be tripping over them. There are currently about 22,000 public charging ports in the U.S., and that number is expected to more than triple by 2023.

At this point, Range Anxiety is really more of a phobia than a reality.

Another neurosis I suffer from is FOOW. Fear Of Opening Wallet. So it was also a relief to find out that maintaining an electric car is cheaper, because as Joe Frizell of Joe’s Garage in Southampton put it, “You basically don’t have to. ” There are no engine tune ups, oil changes, transmission services and all the other greasy issues gas cars come with. Even the brake pads last five times longer.

Over time, the lower maintenance and fuel costs offset the upfront purchase price, making electric cheaper to own. The environmental cost of producing it is also offset within about six to 18 months. And because Long Island gets almost all of its electricity from natural gas, our electricity is greener.

With more cars being produced, batteries becoming cheaper to make, and a whole slew of government incentives, the purchase price is dropping fast. As of today, five different electric cars sell for about $30,000 after rebates. (By comparison, the average gas-powered car costs $37,500).

Tesla, Tesla, Tesla. When Kesha and I drove to Smithtown to demo the new Model 3, I was determined not to drink the Kool-Aid.

But honestly, it’s just a really great car.

Kesha called it “future proof.” Because the car constantly updates its software, it never becomes outdated, as if you’ve leapfrogged over some point of innovation into the future, where you’ll be watching other electric cars slowly catching up.

They’re also fun. Kesha liked how responsive it was, by which I think he meant they go really fast — really fast. He said that the instant torque was like “exploding out of a gun.”

As with all electric cars, you get a Clean Air Pass sticker and can drive in the HOV lane, without ever having to use your blow-up doll again.

The best thing Tesla makes is competition. As the original disruptor, they’ve forced big car companies to spend billions making more electric cars for us to choose from.

Back in the parking lot, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the car. But with endless podcasts and movies, perfect climate control and the ability to summon a bagel on command, why would I want to go back to the discomfort of living in my own home?

Eventually, an employee came out of the dealership and told us we needed to get out of the car, which apparently is how you turn it off.

Sometimes it makes sense to keep your old car. If it’s small, fuel efficient, and you drive very little, maybe a new car isn’t worth the investment, environmentally or financially.

Drive it until it putters out, but know that the future of cars is just about here. Manager Chad Echezuria of Riverhead Toyota tells me they’re phasing out gas vehicles over the next 24 to 36 months on about half of their models. Joseph Tedesco at Buzz Chew Chevrolet says GM wants Cadillac to be all electric by 2030. Experts expect to see more than 40 percent of all cars running on electricity by 2035.

In the 2004 sci-fi film “I, Robot,” actor Will Smith digs out an old motorcycle to which his companion complains, “Please tell me this doesn’t run on gas. Gas explodes you know!”

The distant future in this movie is 2035.

Last week, I bit the bullet and put my first down payment on a Tesla Model 3. Now that it’s in my driveway, happily sipping up solar, I wonder what the big deal was. Considering how difficult it is for scientists to predict all the ways in which climate change could affect us, that’s the real Fear Of The Unknown. Driving electric is easy.

Green How To: All things electric. Videos/articles on the benefits of electric cars. Buying and driving electric cars. Shopping made easy

Kelley Blue Book ( Up-to-date pricing. Electric Car Myths vs. Reality (a good read)

Jenny Noble is a writer and mother who enjoys food, water and clean air.