One EV Driver’s Three Year Report on Driving a Nissan Leaf

This is an expert post from a blog written by Steve O’Neil of Asheville, North Carolina. Steve is an advocate for clean, green, renewable energy technologies. 

Guest Blog | February 22, 2017 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Policy

We have been driving our 2012 Nissan Leaf for 3 and 1/2 years so it is time to report on this, our grand experiment, of owning and daily driving the planet’s first mass produced all electric vehicle – the Nissan Leaf.

Before we get into the report let’s look back over the last three years.

In my first report after purchasing the little blue electric car I outlined the adventure we experienced after purchasing the car and driving it across central and eastern Tennessee.  A couple of times during the entire ordeal I asked myself – was this a wise choice?  Was this a total mistake?  What have we done?!?! But after we made it home and I looked at how little it had cost us in electricity charges to cross Tennessee and how much I loved passing gas stations I realized that if we could adapt to the new vehicle it would save us thousands of dollars each year in fuel costs and that was just the cake – the very sweet free range organic icing was the list of environmental and health benefits offered to anyone who makes the switch to driving electric.

In my second report at three months and 6500 miles, we had settled into loving the little EV and had come to the realization that driving electric was truly a better way to drive.   As I reported at the end of the article;  “By buying the Leaf we have saved money (around $500), reduced our carbon footprint by eliminating almost 952.95* lbs of CO2 from being eliminated into the atmosphere, and gained a maintenance free car that is fun to drive and seems to be very well thought out and well constructed.” *To date we have saved almost 12,000 lbs of CO2 from being dumped into the atmosphere!

The third report came at 11 months and around 15,000 miles and I couldn’t wait till the end of one year to let the world know how much we love this car!! “Conclusions: even with the limited range and other little issues we still love our Nissan Leaf–it is a truly amazing car that has saved us thousands of dollars in fuel and repair costs and we do not regret our EV decision in any way. We are loving our pioneering decision and look forward to many years of EV adventure and savings!”

And now for the Three Year Leaf Report

It has been 3.5 years and 45,000 miles and overall we do still love the little electric car.  It is as fun to drive as it was on day one.  It continues to cost us very little money to own and power.  It continues to perform (in most respects) as it has for the last two years however, it has experienced a few issues and we have discovered a few quirks and limitations that must be reported.

On the road to work in winter.

Daily Driver. We continue to drive the car daily to and from work, to town, and to visit nearby cities and sometimes even journey out of state (but not that far out).  On average I drive the car around 1000 miles per month with an average electricity cost of around $30-40/month (or less).  As in the past I continue to drive the car on all types of roads and in almost all weather conditions from hot summer days to torrential rains and snow covered winter wonderlands and the little car continues to preform admirably.  The Leaf has become our car of choice for our longer local trips since it is almost free to fuel and drive.  Our other vehicle, a 2013 Honda Pilot, is driven much more rarely and most often only for the shorter trips and for hauling loads, pulling a trailer, and the very rare long distance trips over 100 miles.

Carrying Capacity. As for the carrying capacity of the car it is perfect for us for daily commuting back and forth to work, trips to the store, movies, dinner out, visiting (local) family and friends, and wherever else we need to go.  However, for the purposes of my nonprofit organization it barely serves me simply due to the fact that I really need more carrying capacity – about three times the space in the Leaf would be perfect.  I suppose I am a bit of a special case since I am always toting boxes of things, tools, gear, animals, and such to and from work to home and to my wildlife and nature presentations and classes all over the region.  For the last three years, out of necessity, out of not wanting to drive a gas powered vehicle to my presentations, and by wanting to provide a living example to others that a life driving an EV can be done – for most of my trips I have almost always managed to shoehorn all that I need to into the LEAF although it has not always been easy or comfortable.

What I really need for the business is an all electric small van such as the Nissan eNV200 but sadly it is currently only available in Europe and Japan. Read my blog posting about this van and please comment if you could use one for your business and maybe together our voices might in some small way influence Nissan to bring this wonderful small van to the USA.

Charging: Since we have owned the car we most often charge it with the Level 1 charging cord that comes standard with the car.  At the end of the day we park it on the car port or in the garage, plug it into the nearby 110 volt outlet, and let it trickle charge overnight and it is always ready to go in the morning.  It is just soooo much easier and soooo much cheaper than stopping at the gas station. I just can not explain why so many people are so reluctant to do it and after a couple of recent less-than-safe and secure events I have witnessed at gas stations – read all about them in two of my recent blog postings here and here – I am even more happy to pass up the gas.

On a few rare occasions I have returned home after midnight and plugged in the Leaf only to find it still charging in the morning.  This has never been much of an issue for me as my office is only 12 miles away and anywhere else I may travel there are many different charging options available if needed.

If I have a distance to drive after work I will charge the car while at work via a second L1 charger that was given to me by EV club member, friend, and superhero for wildlife and nature conservation, solar power, and EV’s Bob Harris of Black Bear Solar Institute.

Earlier this year, my students and I, with the help of friends Jim Hardy and Bob Harris, completed phase one of a classroom solar array. When the electrical wiring and battery storage is complete this solar array will produce 5.3 kW of solar power!  That is enough clean, renewable, site-produced electricity to power many of our classroom’s electric loads as well as the Nissan Leaf!  Below is a diagram of how it all will work.

Charging on the road. When I am out and about in the community, I most often make use of the local charging network that consists of over 100 charging stations spread out all over my region.  The growth of this network was slow at first but due to efforts of local EV and renewable energy owner/advocacy groups such as Black Bear Solar InstituteBrightfield Transportation SystemsLand of Sky Clean Vehicles CoalitionSouthern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Blue Ridge EV Club, and Charge Transylvania County and support from local businesses, educational institutions, and forward thinking individuals – the network has seen rapid growth over the last two years.  Recently Earthfare and Brevard College added charging stations with many more on the way!

Most recently Duke Energy announced plans to add over 200 L2 charging stations to the North Carolina Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) network!  This is a wonderful development and while it will expand our driving range it would be even better yet if Duke would install solar or wind energy systems alongside these charging stations to offset their use with renewable energy.  Maybe Brightfield Transportation Systems and FLS Energy will join forces with Duke Energy Renewables to make this happen!

Take a look at the current state of the WNC charging network on!  Keep in mind that each location may contain from one to several individual charging units allowing for several vehicles to charge at a time.  While you are at it check out for your city and see how many charging stations are near you!

In March of 2015, I witnessed firsthand as the first DC Quick (DCQC) charger went online in Asheville, NC.   In the months following, several more DCQC units came online along with many more Level 2 units and finally the area’s first Tesla Supercharger was installed in December of 2015.  This expanding EVSE network has opened up the roads even more to those of us who drive electric and as far as my daily errands, business trips, and even a few longer range visits to see friends in neighboring communities, we can now use my EV to travel almost anywhere I once traveled with a gas vehicle.

Charging Timer. For the first two years of Leaf ownership, I would most often set the Leaf’s charge timer to charge to 80% to increase battery life.  Over the last year however, due to the premature battery degradation issue I will go over in more detail later, I have been forced to charge to 100% more often.  I am not happy with this fact at all but the fact remains that if I need the extra range to take care of my errands after work or on weekends I will charge to 100% out of necessity. I have been able to work out a charging scheme that serves to give the battery more time to cool down and not charge to 100% as often.  How it works: upon my arrival at work at 9 AM I usually have about a 50-60% SOC.  I will then plug in and trickle charge to 100%  during the day.  The car will often stop charging around 2pm giving it around 3-4 hours of cool down time.  At the end of the day I will run my errands on the way home and as the terrain is almost all downhill I will not use as much power.  When I arrive back home I will often park the Leaf with a 75-80% SOC on the battery.  I then let the battery rest overnight without charging when ambient temperatures are cooler.

During the colder weeks of winter (these are getting few and farther between due to anthropogenic climate change aka global warming ) when the temperatures are below 40F, I will most often park the Leaf in my garage so the battery will not be subjected to the lower temperatures of winter.  This practice not only gives me a few more miles of range but the car is warmer when I get in so I only need to use the seat and steering wheel warmers on the drive to work.  I very seldom turn on the heater/defroster unless it is below freezing or the windows are fogging up.

While these techniques will hopefully slow the battery degradation somewhat, I do have to plan my charging sessions a few days in advance so I will be able to be sure I will have a full battery when I need it.

These adaptations are acceptable to me but I suppose I am a special case.  Many people would not like all the compromises I have made.  For many in our fast paced, instant gratification, jump in the car and go society, having to stop and think to plug in a car much less think about the car’s range, battery health, temperature, and other parameters would just not be acceptable – even though we are already accustomed to plugging our smartphones and other devices in at night – this would just be one more step that many are not willing to make. This is yet more real world evidence why a 200+ mile range EV is much more practical than one that will travel less than 100 miles. With a 200+ range EV almost none of this would even be an issue, anyone could travel anywhere they would normally travel AND now that the fast charging network is in place and growing nationwide we would be able to travel to all of the more distant destinations for which we are forced to use our only remaining gasoline powered vehicle.

I feel certain that soon, the day will come when our dreams of a 300 mile range EV van/utility vehicle will be realized.  On that day we will trade our fossil fired Honda and say goodbye to gas forever and then our family will be 100% free of the grip of big oil and we will all grin that EV grin as we drive away passing gas into the sunset.

Driving Range.  Since purchasing the Leaf in the late summer of 2012 we have steadily lost driving range.  All vehicles, no matter the fuel used, loose driving range as they age – but in our case it is happening faster and this is not “normal.” In one of my first blog postings – the 2000 mile report – I noted that the car had an estimated driving range (from the GOM) of around 80 miles but its real world range was around 70. Today that range has been reduced to around 55-60 real world miles.  Even with this reduction in range I have almost no issues getting where I need to go.  According to my research, this reduction in range is a bit more pronounced for our Leaf than the majority of 2012 Leaf owners have experienced.  This suggests that the traction battery in my Leaf may have been damaged before I took over ownership of the vehicle.  I have no proof of this, it is only speculation based on available facts.  Read more about this issue later in this report.

Long Range Trips. Now this is a different story.  I have taken several long range road trips that have really tested the capabilities of the little blue car. The most memorable being my first excursion over the mountains back in the day before we had the ever growing EVSE network that we have today.  With my Leaf being a 2012 model it came standard with a 24 kWh battery pack with an EPA estimated range of 84 miles.  This is a relatively small battery by today’s standards (think Tesla!) and over the first two years of driving the car it provided my vehicle with a real world driving range of around 70-80 miles. This driving range was great for daily commuting but for long range trips beyond 75 miles the old “range anxiety” monster began to creep into the picture.  Then last year I embarked on this mis-adventure that ended in the Leaf having to be towed (by a stinky diesel – yuk!) to a charging station due to an exhausted battery (it was all my fault)!

Then there was my most recent close call in December of 2016 when I rolled onto the car-port with ZERO range remaining on the “guess-o-meter” and an 8% SOC as reported by LeafSpyPro- that was a close one!

I was really pushing the edge due to the battery degradation issues the car is now facing…read more about this later.

MaintenanceSince owning the Leaf there has been very little maintenance to conduct on the vehicle. Outside of a couple of flat tires, a couple of worn suspension bushings (probably due to the gravel road I drive daily), a strut that sprung a premature leak and needed replacing, a new cabin filter (that I changed myself and blogged about), new wiper blades, and 2 sets of tires, so far the only big issue (outside of the battery capacity) was the replacement of the Braking Control Unit and master cylinder/booster assembly. If not for the warranty this would have been a very expensive repair!  The fact remains that none of these issues were related to the vehicle being an EV and all of these things would have happened to any vehicle no matter what fuel was pushing the vehicle down the road.

To date the Leaf’s electric drive system has worked flawlessly and had no issues (despite the reduced range related to the battery degradation).

During the spring of 2016, due to an emergency in the family, the car was parked for a few weeks with about a 80% battery charge.  During this time the LeafSpy Pro’s OBDII adapter remained plugged into the diagnostic port of the car.  The adapter was on and using a very small amount of power and the car was parked in a dark area where the rooftop solar panel could not get any solar exposure to power the OBDII adaptor and maintain the 12 volt battery.  These factors conspired to drain the car’s 12 volt battery. The flat battery caused the car’s computer to loose its settings which threw all manner of things out of whack resulting in a $300 out of warranty cost to identify the problem and then reprogram the system-what a bummer.

So, all in all, in 3.5 years/45k miles of ownership of this little blue EV we have had to spend less than $400 out of pocket on maintenance.  Granted this was because the vehicle was still under warranty and if I had to pay out of pocket for the brake system repairs it would have been over $2000 not counting labor!  But again, those repairs would have been similar for any newer car no matter what fuel it operated on so the EV nature of the vehicle was in no way at fault. Some may say that it would be more cost effective to just drive an older fossil burner to save money.  I beg to differ.  Considering that during the same time fame my 1999 Toyota 4Runner (a great vehicle for its time) cost us close to $3000 in repairs and $3000 in gasoline and oil so the Leaf was by far the more cost effective option – even with the monthly car payment.

That has all changed now that the 3 year 36k warranty has expired.  The great thing is that the power-train/EV systems are still covered by a 5 year 60,000 mile warranty and the traction battery has a 8 year 100,000 mile warranty so I am good for a few more years/miles on those key EV systems.  I suppose it is inevitable that a few years in the future, if/when I have any more issues with the little car, I will be doing my own repairs.  I have no problem with this because I am a tinkerer and I love to fix things.

Amenities (bells and whistles). The stock Leaf is clean and refined enough for the everyday driver and is feature rich enough for the driver interested in keeping track of the car’s primary systems.  However, for the data and technology junkie like myself, I believe the features could be improved and refined to offer more EV systems and performance data for those drivers that want a wealth of information about their vehicle’s systems in situ and over time.  An improvement would be to include more information on the car’s systems such as a user selectable monitoring screen showing a graphic representation of the vehicle with all systems highlighted in a semi-transparent view.  Each system would be selectable by the driver either via a touch screen or a BMW i3/Nissan style joystick-like knob and/or a voice recognition interface to allow for less distractions while driving.  Once the driver selects a system a new window or info bubble would open showing details of the selected system for example; if the traction battery is selected the info window would display metrics such as SOC, GIDS, TEMP, Charge/Discharge/Regen rate/stats, hours in use, faults,alerts etc…  This system could be used by the driver to monitor all vehicle systems and in the event of a fault or failure a warning message would be prominently displayed on the main screen accompanied by an audio warning by the EV-SIMDAS.

Looking Ahead: Outside of my recent range related experiences the future looks great for the Leaf and the other new long rage EV’s coming on the scene.  Many of the planet’s automotive companies are accelerating EV projects, research laboratories are ramping up battery chemistry research and development with some amazing results hitting the roads and the Tesla Gigafactory is now online and pumping out batteries  as you read these words.  The the 2016 Leaf has been out for over a year with a 107 mile driving range and in the next few months Nissan is rumored to be releasing the Leaf 2.0 with a possible driving range of over 200 miles – read more about it here and here and the test mule story here and here!

The upcoming new Leaf, the recent release of the 238 mile range Chevrolet Bolt, the Hyundai Ioniq with 124 mile range (soon to have 200 mile range), and the upcoming release of the new Volvo and Volkswagen EV’s and the much anticipated and highly reserved Tesla Model 3 with a stated driving range of 215 miles (but knowing Elon it will probably top 250 or have different battery options from 215 to maybe around 300…only time will tell) as well as the Nikola 1 and could this be a teaser of the Tesla Truck?   Then there is the recent news that SMART is ditching gas altogether and offering all their USA vehicles in electric only!  Then there is the news that Volkswagen will be investing 2 billion dollars in new EVSE infrastructure in the USA- wow! All these are wonderful developments that will forever erase the fear many drivers have of “range anxiety” and I am very hopeful and excited to see what the future holds for the EV.

The Renewable Connection.  The purchase of the Leaf was a great inspiration for the classroom solar energy project that my students and I are currently constructing to power most of our classroom’s electric power loads and the Leaf!  The ability to produce your own power for your classroom/office/home AND fuel for your vehicle cannot be understated. In fact, I have built an entire core class around the concept of producing your own renewable energy to power your lives and your vehicle(s).  Within the next few weeks my students and I will complete our classroom solar array and soon will be producing site generated clean electricity and the Leaf will then be charged by the sun!  This practical application of renewable energy coupled with electric vehicles can be implemented by anyone, anywhere and together we can work together to end our dirty, destructive addiction to fossil fuels.

To read the original blog, go here.

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