My Australian EV Journey Part 4: Getting The Actual Car, Or There And Back Again

Sometimes when you’re waiting for something, every step seems to take forever. Then suddenly, everything happens at once.

That’s pretty much the story for the latest update on my quest to become one of less than 1% of the Australian market right now, by way of becoming an EV owner.

If you’re just catching up:

My Australian EV journey: Why is it so hard to own an EV down under?

My Australian EV Journey Part 2: Let’s Talk About Range, Baby

My Australian EV Journey Part 3: Why not Tesla?

Anyway, when I last penned an EV piece, I’d been working my way through the insurance hassles of dealing with a car that hadn’t existed in Australia beforehand, and waiting to hear from the garage where its final compliance checks were being done before going to collect it.

This was going to be a slightly convoluted process, because it was on one side of Sydney on the Northern Beaches and I was on the other (more or less). I couldn’t exactly drive my existing car there to collect the new one without some kind of radical cloning process making an exact duplicate of me.

Before certain segments of the Australian tech media industry make the obvious joke, he’s not me (and he doesn’t drive anyway, so it’s moot).

My thinking at the time was that I’d most likely get the call in the following week, and I’d just have to jump in a taxi to go and get it. Sydney’s Northern Beaches are generally seen as a very desirable place to live (your mileage may vary) but one thing they’re not served well with is public transport.

One journalist colleague of mine who lives in the area once described the local public transport in terms that rhyme with “ducking soreful”… I’ll let you work that one out yourself.

So it was, Saturday a week and a bit ago that I was enjoying a well earned lie in, not something I can often do, and at 9:30am, my phone rang. Yes, phones making actual calls, and I’m as shocked as you are that this is a thing that happened, but there you go.

It was the garage, wanting to know when I was going to pick up my new Leaf.

On the plus side, it was a weekend, which meant that I could skip the cost and hassle of the cab and get my better half to drive me there.

On the minus side… well, just about everything else, because I still hadn’t sorted out the green slip… and the car was about an hour’s drive away… and I’d also have to sort out the registration, which meant hitting a Service NSW centre nearby before they closed.

Oh yeah, and I still hadn’t actually gotten out of bed.

Still, it was going to be tight, because there was a lot to do and almost no time to do it in before the Service NSW centre closed at midday.

I had done some digging around to see if it was legal to drive it all the way back to my local Service NSW centre (which I’d prefer — it’s pretty much just down the road from me) — but my reading of the law suggests that a transport cop probably wouldn’t look kindly on that.

Which also meant I needed to work out where the nearest Service NSW centre to the garage where the car was would be, because that would be legal for a quick drive with no plates.

Except of course, if I did get pulled over that way, it’d eat up even more time that I probably couldn’t spare, what with the length of drive and need to sort out a green slip and registration papers and every other little step you need to get plates onto a car in NSW.

Also, I needed coffee and pants, but those were relatively trivial matters to fix up, and we hit the road as quickly as we could, bearing in mind that Sydney’s notably calm, well-organised traffic would never be chaotic on a Saturday morning or anything.

Now there’s a seriously old movie reference for you.

The drive over wasn’t terrible by Sydney standards, but the garage was… well… interesting. Utterly packed with vehicles to a level that made it tricky to park, even though the owner just said “oh, park anywhere” while we sorted out the paperwork.

He did help out with the green slip however when I noted that it hadn’t yet been sorted out, under the not-ridiculous notion that I wasn’t going to start paying insurance on a car when I didn’t know I was going to get the car in question.

A quote was procured — and even better, it was from one of the insurance companies I don’t hate with the passion of a thousand blazing suns and the green slip was sorted out.

Because we had our existing car, he was even fine with us leaving the Leaf there while we went and sorted out the actual rego and plates, which was a nice added touch.

I was less impressed with the cigarette smell that the entire building reeked of, and while that’s a personal complaint, I’ve not been somewhere that was quite that reeked quite so badly of smokes in decades. I was already keen to get going and sort out the government paperwork, but that just sped my resolve up by a factor of 1,000,000. Blech.

So, with fresh green slip, blue slip and all other paperwork in hand, we punched in the details of the nearest Service NSW centre into Google Maps and drove 15 minutes further down the road.

By now, it’s about 11:30 and I’m somewhat in panic mode because we have, technically, “taken delivery” of the car… which wouldn’t be legal to drive if we couldn’t get it registered in time.

So naturally, there was a queue of people there waiting outside, because there’s this whole pandemic thing on (you may have noticed) and Service NSW centres only allow a set number of people inside.

That’s 100% fine by me — I get the science of how viruses spread, I do the sign-in things and all that — but it didn’t half add some stress, mitigated only slightly by the fact that this particular centre was going to stay open until 12:30.

At about 11:50, we hit the front of the “door” queue, and were able to get in to get the car registered.

All well and good, right?

You clearly haven’t been paying attention.

The staff were lovely, and they diligently went through all the paperwork, including the importation papers, the compliance papers… and the green slip.

“Oh. There’s a problem” the very nice lady behind the counter said.

Of course there is.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is what you use to get a green slip on a car that doesn’t have licence plates as yet, but it turned out that when the nice cigarette enthusiast at the garage had put ours in… he’d missed out one digit near the end.

Which meant that it wasn’t coming through in the Service NSW system, and couldn’t, technically, be registered.

It’s at this point that I started wondering if the Leaf was somehow built on an ancient Native American burial ground or something.

“Try calling the insurance company, and see if they can change it over for you. You might get lucky” she said.

It was already after midday, and I wasn’t feeling as though luck was on my side.

But it was! The insurance person on the phone had no idea how their system had actually allowed a VIN with a missing digit through, so they quickly canned that policy and created a “new” one on the spot with the correct VIN in place and everything. It even came up on the Service NSW system while I was still on the phone to them.

“OK, now there’s another issue” the Service NSW person said. “We need the paperwork version of that new policy printed out.”

Naturally, my printer is at home, something like 75+ minutes away.

“You can print it on the office printer over there.” she said.

Seriously, if there wasn’t a pandemic on I probably would have hugged her.

Five minutes later, we had paid, new plates and even shiny new EV stickers to put on the new plates, and we could head back to rescue our shiny new Leaf from its smoky prison!

Back we headed, with the garage owner querying why we’d taken so long to get such a simple matter fixed. I told him why — he’d entered the VIN number one digit short, which he claimed simply “never happens”… except of course when it does. In any case, a few screws later the Leaf had its NSW licence plates firmly affixed, and I could head out into traffic.

So… what’s it like to drive?

That first drive, I won’t lie, was rather stressful, for what should be obvious reasons, exacerbated by the fact that the only way I could safely and confidently get the Leaf out of the garage past the many cars (and a boat) was by reversing it out into traffic. Not my favourite thing, that’s for sure.

This is the actual car where it was parked. You can probably make out just some of the reversing challenges that it took to get it out. I mentioned I’m not a ‘car person’, right?

However, after that, I had the bad fortune of coming down with a fairly brutal head cold and chest congestion.

Just a head cold – swabbed and clear and all that — but it means that while I have taken the Leaf for a few distance and a few shorter drives, I want just a little longer to take in its quirks and ups and downs (especially as an import vehicle running what amounts to hacked firmware) before I write my review.

I do this with most reviews, really — I’d rather take my time and get it right than rush out something just to have words on the page. So this four part series… just became a five part series. Stay tuned.

Next time: Leaf 2016 Import EV review: The final verdict

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