The Nissan Leaf Experiment

In September 2016 I bought a brand-new Nissan Leaf SV with the new 25% bigger battery (30 kWh) This page will keep track of ongoing data, modifications, observations, and such.

2016-leaf

A Brief History of the Leaf

As of 2018, the Nissan Leaf is currently in its fourth revision, although mine is a third generatio. If you find yourself interested in acquiring one, the right choice depends on your driving requirements and your financial situation. Here’s a quick summary of what happened in each model year:

  • 2011-2012: The first generation came out. Battery capacity was 24 kWh, but this first version was known to be a bit delicate. Heat, age, and heavy use mean that the batteries in this generation are a mixed lot. The battery came with a 5 year/60,000 mile warranty, and you’ll find some on the market that have been upgraded with new batteries. The EPA range estimate was only 73 miles, early drivers reported 80-90. At this point, you can probably expect 70-80 miles per charge on an original generation Leaf (less at speeds over 60 MPH)
  • 2013: The car received about 100 upgrades for the model year. Most notable for me were some battery improvements, a more efficient heating/cooling system, and more trunk space since they cleaned up the layout somewhat. EPA range jumped to 87 miles.
  • 2015: A new battery chemistry known as “the lizard battery” comes out – designed to be more resistant to heat. This should be significant, because many of the earlier Leaf battery problems occurred in places like Phoenix, Arizona with extremely hot weather, or in drivers who had a particularly intense driving cycle (long, high-speed drives and rapid charging tend to heat up the battery).
  • 2016: a new 30kWh battery was added for the more upscale SV and SL trims. The 25% larger capacity should improve both range and lifespan, since you are now using a smaller percentage of the battery’s energy for any given drive. As of Late 2016, you can also get the bigger battery in the S model – an ideal change if your goal is to minimize cost.
  • 2018: A much bigger upgrade! The car got new styling inside and out, the standard battery jumped to 40 kWh (about 150 miles) of capacity, acceleration was upgraded, and miraculously the list price actually dropped slightly. This is the miracle of advancing technology – since batteries are a big part of this car’s price, advancement in batteries goes right down to the price tag.

Current Status and Stories:

December 2016: As the fall and winter came, I started seeing lower range on my car, which is normal in cold temperatures.

But I wondered if mine was worse than average, because in summer it could easily do 110 miles on the highway,  whereas at 15 degrees F I ran out of juice after only 78 miles (I stubbornly ignored the low battery warning and actually ran flat while waiting at an intersection. Had to call the slow-but-free Nissan towing service to get the remaining 8 miles home.)

On top of that, my car’s estimate of its own battery health was dropping much faster than expected. After 18 months of ownership, it had already lost 15% of its capacity, even with only 4500 miles on the odometer!

So I did a bunch of testing at different temperatures, comparisons to other new Leafs, etc.

Final Diagnosis: Initially, it looked grim: I presented my charts and graphs data to Nissan, but it’s such a big and beaureaucratic company that I got nowhere.

While they had a good heart in trying to support me in the investigation, I found that very few people higher up in the company know anything about electric cars. Even with the high profile of this blog and frequent reposting of my earlier article by the MarketWatch newspaper, I wasn’t able to talk to a single Nissan engineer to find my technical answers.

This is a notable contrast to Tesla, where people who work on the cars and the Supercharger network actually read these articles and send me emails proactively. A great practice for reaching your true fans – hint, hint. 

The Nissan Leaf is still the bargain of the electric car world and has a great, practical cargo and passenger space, so it’s hard not to like it. But it’s hard to like Nissan itself.  I’d feel much better about supporting Tesla, if I were willing to burn that much money on a car!

But here’s the good news:

My car turned out to be fine after all. A year after ignoring my reports to them (and even unnecessarily replacing some brand-new packs under warranty!) Nissan discovered a software bug in their battery management system and issued a warranty recall. I got it reprogrammed at the local dealer at no charge, and this was the result.

Figure 1: My Leaf battery seemed to degrade by about 15% just the first 4500 miles (18 months). But in retrospect, it was just a software bug. Really, it might be declining about 2.5% per year and it’s age rather than mileage. This figure wouldn’t change much under more normal use patterns (like 12000 miles per year instead of my 2500)

Still, the car really should have a battery heater like GM and Tesla electric cars do, which would boost winter range drastically.

On the other hand, used Leafs are incredibly affordable and they are everywhere. Still a great car year-round and if you have a gas-powered commute, you owe it to yourself to test drive one of these things.

It’s a night and day difference in how pleasant and fun the driving experience can be. Gas cars are so doomed.

 

Future Projects and Ideas:

I have a few plans in store for this car, including

  • Building a simple off-grid “solar carport” that allows the car to charge automatically whenever the sun shines. While also protecting the car from the sun. (Goal changed – I have built a much bigger on-grid system instead).
  • Testing the car’s maximum range under ideal conditions (Complete – I find that at 45MPH in summer conditions, it can reach about 150 miles on one charge)
  • Using the Leaf for a bit of Uber/Lyft Driving, for fun and to see how the cost/benefit analysis works out (complete – see article Mr. Money Mustache UBER Driver)
  • Trying a longer road trip with quick-charging stations along the way.
  • If possible, tapping directly into the battery so the power can be used to power a house (and recharge from solar panels) much like a Tesla Powerwall. If you have experience with how to do this, please get in touch
  • Monitoring battery life and efficiency as the car gets older.
  • Eventually, learning about aftermarket battery upgrades. (In theory, you should be able to swap out the battery and put in one with double the capacity as battery tech improves. But it will only happen if there’s a market for it and some company rises to the challenge).

 

 

  • Barry McMahon May 18, 2018, 8:18 am

    Hi Guys
    I’ve a 2011 Leaf with about 60,000 on it. I bought a 2015 battery from a crashed Leaf and want to swap it myself. Do you have any info or direction on this B

    Reply
  • Jesse March 25, 2019, 6:28 pm

    Moved to western Montana last fall and am using solar for all my power needs. Can someone help me with what I need to hook-up my 48 volt solar to charge an electric vehicle without using it after converting to ac.
    Thanks
    Jesse

    Reply
  • James Todd May 11, 2019, 6:00 pm

    Any recent success stories on renewing a LEAF lease? I was paying less than $200 a month for a 2015 and would keep that deal forever. I’m being told I have to return it for a new one or pay at lease termination fee. The first price they gave me on a short range 2019 was $551 a month with a $2,000 down payment. I negotiated that down to $367 a month with a $2,000 down payment. That still doesn’t reach my price threshold. Talking with folks on Facebook, I’m hearing speculation that the LEAFs might be going away. They only sold 14,000 of them total last year vs. 140,000 Tesla Model 3’s.

    Reply
  • bill williams June 23, 2019, 2:36 pm

    Has anyone heard anything further about the refurbished batteries from Nissan being brought to the US? Is there any further news on anybody making an aftermarket rebuild/fix um up for the older batteries? Ours is a 2012

    Reply
  • Hany Tawadrous September 15, 2019, 10:28 am

    What a great blog! I’m buying a used Leaf today!
    I’ve settled on a used 2016, and in my area (San Francisco/Peninsula) the prices seem to be 10-12K, for an S with 20-36K miles. Does this sound about right? Should I be considering new? Is the 10K rebate still available?
    And is there a significant spend to get a 240 charger in my garage? I have a regular 120 there already.

    I put solar panels on my roof almost 10 years ago, and have been a net zero user ever since. Looking forward to using some of that subsidized electricity with my Leaf!
    Thanks in advance, Hany

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 15, 2019, 10:37 am

      Hi Hany, congratulations!

      Seems like a reasonable price to me for such a new car. I’ll leave you to do your own Googling on available rebates, although I can say that the federal $7500 rebate is still available for Nissans, since the haven’t sold as many EVs here in the US as Tesla or even Chevrolet.

      As long as the car will be parked overnight and you drive less than 70 miles a day on average, 120V charging is just fine. 240 is convenient if you need to do multiple big trips in a single day, however.

      Reply
  • Thomas September 23, 2019, 9:17 am

    Just thought i would mention that I have a 2012
    Leaf since new. Sat on dealers lot for a year and had 503 miles on it. Looking at 15-18% battery loss in 6+ years at 50,000 miles. A plus is the door shells and hood and trunk are aluminum on 2011-2012 models. I have driven it in -25f all the way to 100f. Still love the car and only maintenance has been a set of tires, wiper blades and rear brake pads. Here in WI it drives great in the snow due to battery in the middle for weight balance. Installing solar in the spring, so it’s a win-win for us!

    Reply

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