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Bruton's MONSTER High Street diversion: an amusing EV anecdote

Tuesday 17 August 2021, 16:23
By Dave Smith

Bruton High Street road closure August 2021

Bruton’s High Street is currently closed for road traffic, though businesses are open as usual for pedestrians. The town appears to be having fibre broadband cables installed under various pavements. Being a one-way system, the road closure and diversion signs are at the bottom of the hill. Evidently there are two periods of closure, with a four-day gap between.

Bruton High Street
CLOSED from
12th - 15th August 2021
19th - 27th August 2021

Range anxiety

I deliver newspapers for Papertrees, the newsagent in Wincanton. I cover one of three routes; roughly 70 miles each day in my fully-electric Nissan Leaf which has an effective range of about 100 miles; arguably enough for 99% of people, 99% of the time. But, yes, some forethought is often necessary for longer journeys, and unexpected complications.

I pass the bottom of Bruton High Street every day, whip out to Wyke for a bit before heading back into Town and up High Street to continue at the top. Here I admit I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the signs on the first day of the closure. Certainly not enough to absorb that one clearly states that the diversion is “via Shepton Mallet”.

Had I been more observant, and a better geographical understanding of the area in question, I imagine I’d have realised the likely scale of the diversion and stopped to consult satnav instead. Alas, neither was true, and with just over 30 miles left on the clock I thoughtlessly assumed the route couldn’t possibly be that long. Bruton High Street is on a one-way system and there’s at least one back-alley route back up to the Wincanton road that avoids it completely. Comfortable with my fate in the hands of the people who arrange diversions and such, I set off down the yellow sign road.

Event horizon

I tuned back in again on the approach to Shepton Mallet, at which point I felt, having come so far, it surely couldn’t be too much further before curving back towards Bruton. How wrong I was.

The diversion is at least 30 miles, which on the day took about an hour, largely due to traffic and lights along the route. There’s a number somewhere a couple of paragraphs up that’s fairly relevant here.

Low battery warning in Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf, my 2016 model at least, has an unfortunate quirk relating to the battery gauge. You get a couple of audible and on-screen warnings of low charge at 14% and 10% or so, but when the battery level drops below 6%, rather than proceeding logically and decrementally to 0% it wipes out both the charge percentage and estimated miles remaining and replaces them with three ominous flashing dashes: “- - -”. This is presumably Nissan’s way of saying “so... there’s a margin of error and we can’t really be sure what you’ve got left, so good luck and have a nice day”. The final warning is a turtle icon on the dash, acompanied by a limp-home power reduction. Then it’s anyone’s guess because neither I nor anyone I know had put this stage to the test.

Just as I re-entered Bruton an hour later the battery gauge abandoned me. Having experienced this a few times before I felt it reasonable to assume I had about five miles left in the tank. Getting back to Wincanton on electric fumes seems unthinkable even now, but starting from the top of Bruton and facing a relatively down and flat route home via Shepton Montague I felt confident I could make it stretch.

Turtle power

Relieved, I reached Wincanton via Verrington Lane and proceeded up North Street towards the shop. The fabled turtle appeared at the Market Place junction, which actually brought even greater relief because, it seemed to me, if the red line on a petrol fuel gauged typically gives you a 20-30 mile buffer then out of a 100-mile total range the turtle should give me at least a couple.

Under turtle power, I turned onto High Street and headed up towards the shop, looking out for a parking space somewhere outside Andrew Barclay’s butcher shop. It was busy so the first available space was near the top, right outside Uncle Tom’s. I pulled up alongside a Rangerover to reverse parallel park below it, and that’s when the motor died.

A note to Nissan EV drivers: “turtle power”, in contrast to intuition from my formative years, in fact means “game over”. You’ve got about 100 metres.

Miraculously, I was able to roll back into my intended spot, without even powered steering, assisted only by gravity. I’ve heard anecdotal tales of people “rolling into the petrol station on fumes”, but this was the real deal. Incredible luck, of a glass-half-full sort. I suppose it could only have been better had I rolled into my own parking space outside my house, and I live right at the bottom of town and on the flat so if I’d been facing back down the hill it might almost have been possible to have rolled all the way home in neutral. Perhaps I could have done it in reverse. With regenerative breaking I might have regained enough power on the way down South Street to have made the last leg.

SOS

I returned to the shop to drop of the surplus papers, thinking by the time I returned to the car the battery might have settled enough to give me just what I needed to crawl home. I returned to the car to find it stone dead.

My brain scrambled for possibilities. Last resort: call breakdown and get towed or lifted home. Better yet, there’s a new high-speed charge point in the Memorial Hall car park, about 100m away! A cruel twist. I’m sat right outside Uncle Tom’s and the pet shop, and I’ve got my three-pin “granny cable” in the boot so I can charge from a normal power socket if absolutely necessary.

Charging outside Uncle Tom's Cabin

I decided the simplest plan would be to run a cable into the pub and charge from a socket for just long enough to start the car, turn and head back down the hill. A charge from a normal socket can fill my empty battery in about 14 hours, so 30 minutes would surely give me at least 3% and the bottom half charges faster so maybe more. I went in and the lovely Mel kindly gave me permission to use a socket behind the bar. Then I stood outside to make sure nobody tripped over the cable while the car charged, and phoned a friend I knew would enjoy a good laugh at my misfortune.

Plan B

Half an hour passed. Of course, the battery gauge doesn’t show anything but dashes until it reaches at least 6% so it would have made sense to wait at least for that to be sure, but I was hungry and tired and convinced I only really needed 1% to get home so I called it right then, unplugged and got back in. I pressed the power button. Nothing. What?

Well, I could have plugged in again, but if more than 30 minutes’ charge wouldn’t even let me turn the car on, how long would it take? I could have been there for hours, and I’d just spotted the traffic warden working his way up the street. Time for plan B.

You can’t jump-start an electric car. That much is certainly true, even if I could have theoretically “regen’ed” down the hill. Regen isn’t that good. My only option was to hope the car could be pushed into the Memorial Hall car park so I could use the proper charger. I nipped back to Papertrees to recruit the venerable Phil, who was all to happy to come and chuckle.

Traffic wardens are people, too

By this time the traffic warden was wandering past. I decided that as I was in need of help (electric cars are heavy), and worried I might get a ticket if I didn’t move on quickly, it made sense to be forthcoming and explain my situation without delay. Turns out he was a very pleasant chap, more than understanding, and even had a little experience with EVs. He and Phil pushed heroically as I pretended I hadn’t forgotten to release the footbrake, and once the car had made it over the speed bump just inside the entrance to the Memorial Hall car park I was able to roll unassisted all the way into the charging bay.

Using the new charge point in the Wincanton Memorial Hall car park

Lessons learned

Curiously, when the charge started, the display on the charge unit informed me it was starting from 1%. So more than 30 minutes of charge from Uncle Tom’s three-pin got me to 1%, which wasn’t even enough to turn the car on. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation, but consider this if you’re ever in a similar plight.

I received good advice that this might be a good opportunity to promote good battery health by doing a full and unbroken charge cycle to refresh the cells, so I continued charging at top dollar until the unit cut me off and then, thankfully, the car started at 93% and I was able to drive home. Huzzah!

The next day I paid more attention to the signs, and felt a bit silly. I stopped to check satnav and immediately found a much shorter and simpler alternative; only 5 miles, and 8 minutes including traffic, though unsuitable for HGVs. The closure can’t even be seen from the top of Bruton High Street; it’s really just a few yards at the very bottom. 30 miles and an hour to get 200 metres, and I bet I’m the only fool who’s actually done it.

Bruton High Street road closure 08-2021 diversion map

Thanksgiving

I am grateful to Mel from Uncle Tom’s for allowing me to wrap my charge cable around her bar, even though it didn’t actually work in the end. Also to Phil from Papertrees for closing the shop for five minutes to help push my car across the road and into the Memorial Hall car park. Finally, to the jolly traffic warden, whose neither name nor photo I had the presence of mind to get before he disappeared, who was very understanding, and reassured me that I wouldn’t get a ticket even if it proved impossible to move the car within 30 minutes, and for helping to push.




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