Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Used Nissan LEAF Buyers Guide

2014 was Nissan's best sales year for the LEAF which means the 2nd half of 2016 and most of 2017 will be the best buyer's market for used LEAFs coming off 2 and 3 year leases.

But Nissan has realized the market is saturated so the thought of selling any but the cream of the lease return crop is not looking well in what has become very much a buyer's market. Prices are simply that low. "Too good to be true" is not working!... or is it?

To the uninformed wannabe EVer the market seems to be flooded with "can't miss" deals but not everything is as cut and dried as one would think.  Hopefully I can provide a checklist every used car shopper needs if looking at a used Nissan LEAF.

We all have enough experience with batteries to know that they fade away. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not. We have gotten better at preserving them with smarter chargers, better charging profiles, habits, etc. but that only delays the issue.  Since this is a "used car buying" guide, we will only briefly mention what you need to be concerned with and that is location.

The warmer the climate the car was in, the faster and deeper the degradation will be. Even with this knowledge, the range of user reported experiences can vary widely in just a few miles.  So even location can only be taken as a point of consideration.  For example; Los Angeles varies from moderate near the coast to desert-like 25 miles inland.  This means that not only is the home of the car important but also the area the car likely commuted to on a daily basis.

The Nissan LEAF dash has two gauges that at first glance looks like one.  More commonly known as the "GOM." Guessometer is so named because of the digital representation of range expressed in your unit of choice of miles or kilometers.  The "guessing" part stems from the fact that the LEAF calculates your efficiency over the very driving history assuming it won't change for the remainder of the charge left in the car. It should not be taken literally and it does not account for other uses for accessories, climate controls, etc.  It is basically the "fuel gauge" designating how much of the battery pack is charged and able to provide driving range represented with 12 long bars or segments. 12 bars is "fully charged" and 1 bar is nearly depleted. Like any fuel gauge, these bars are not a linear representation of range or remaining charge. The bars at the top represent more range just as there is hidden range or reserve at the bottom. IOW, just like any gasser gauge.

On the right, you see the 47 mile estimate that is the GOM, the 6 long segments is the charge level meter (or gas gauge for those you still early in the conversion process) and the capacity gauge which is the 12 little bars on the far right.  Before you ask, No that is not a gas pump symbol!!

The 2nd gauge is just to the right of the GOM is the "Capacity" gauge representing how much of the original capacity is remaining from the car when it was new and represented by short adjacent bars or segments.  It is also not linear but "somewhat" defined.  In the original iterations of the LEAF service manual, the 12 segments were designated as 15% for the 12th bar and 6.25% for the 11 bars below it.

First thing that we should realize is that only accounts for  83.75% of the capacity.  Part of the 16.25% we don't see is the reserve and part of it is the part of the battery not accessible for use. This is done to increase the life of the batteries. Discharging too much or charging too much greatly shortens the charge life of the cells.   FYI;  The reserve on the GOM is a blinking "_ _ _ " a very disconcerting sight for the new LEAFer which brings us to the next section.

Unfortunately the dash is limited in the information it can give you especially when the first capacity bar represents 15%.  There is also a possible issue that is much less likely now due to a huge awareness campaign by the LEAF community to make the issue known is that the quirk of "capacity bar resetting" that causes lost capacity bars to show back up on the dash. This DOES not bring back any range.

Because of the widely varying rates of degradation from one area to another, a device to provide measurements of the pack is recommended. For the shopper, I would recommend simply borrowing one to check your possible purchase with.  LEAF Spy was developed by an early LEAF owner and provides a TON of information that is vital to know when evaluating purchase options.  It is also an essential tool for the LEAF owner that can be had for under $40.

LEAF Spy is an app installed on your Android or iphone. It works in concert with an OBD device plugged into the CAN port of your LEAF located under the dash just to the left of the steering column.

You will not find a more economical way to get around than an EV. Even in areas with high electricity rates, charging off peak can still save you a bundle of the cost of maintaining and driving a gasser. But it takes time to charge and that can range from a little to a lot depending on your options.

Charging options are generalized into 3 categories; L1, L2 and L3.

L1; 120 volt based charging. Nissan provides a EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) cable that you plug into a dedicated 120 volt circuit (dedicated means a circuit that has no other load on it. If you are not sure, best thing to do is plug something into every outlet in the area, turn on all the lights then turn off the breaker observing what goes off with it)  Generally 12 amps is the most you will get.  This creates power to the car at the rate of 1440 watts or 1.44 kwh determined by multiplying the voltage by the amperage or 120 volts* 12 amps.  Do be aware that Nissan BMS (battery management system) takes some of that power to monitor the charging process, keep the AC/DC inverter from overheating, etc.   Generally you can get roughly 4 miles of charge per hour. IOW, not a good option unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

L2; 240 volt based charging and what most public charging stations provide.  Amperage received will be based on the charger in the LEAF. 2011's and 12's only had 3.8 KW chargers capable of receiving no more than 16 amps at 240 volts.  2013+ that had the charge package (generally identified with 2 charge ports instead of one) "generally" came with a 6.6 KW charger capable of up to 27 amps.

The slower charger would give 12-14 miles of range in good driving conditions. The faster 6.6 KW charger up to 25 miles of range but beware several public chargers will not provide this much power. Blinks are common for this with many turned down to prevent overheating.  Most however will give 5.8 KW or higher. For general purposes, 20 miles per hour of charging is a good guideline.

L3; DC based charging. This is the ritz of public charging where the famed "80% in 30 minutes" slogan started. In reality, your charging speed depends on a dozen different things so expect your 80% to take a bit longer than half an hour.

 By far the toughest thing to advise so I can only say you really need to take a look at where you need to go, where you want to go and what kind of support you have available to you.  IOW;  Plugshare!!

Plugshare is an app and website and is THE MOST VALUABLE TOOL FOR ALL EV'ERS!  so as you may have guessed by now, it cannot be over emphasized!  Plugshare is a user supported database of public charging stations in your area. It is FREE!! and shows station locations, pricing, number of plugs and also recent charging experiences. Hopefully I got the point across that you should already be half way to DOWNLOADING PLUGSHARE TO YOUR PHONE NOW!

The Range; There are simply too many good deals out there to take a car that is missing any capacity bars but again sometimes the price is too good.  So things to consider is that as the batteries degrade, not only is the range reduced due to capacity but it will be reduced due to lower levels of regen available. Regen is the process where kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy and stored back to the battery.  It happens anywhere from a little (constant speed driving like on a lightly used freeway) or a lot (AKA as real life) when there is a lot of speed changes involved. This can add a significant amount of range  back to the car.

The Weather Summer is the time to drive! AC uses a lot less energy than heat does so the hit on range will be much smaller but other factors are involved.  In Winter, cold air is simply denser (which is why your feet are more likely to be cold because they are at floor level where cold air hangs out!) which means more energy needed for your LEAF to push it out of the way.  There is also road conditions. Snow and rain also require more energy so expect anywhere from 10 (for the people willing to bundle up) to 25% loss of range in Winter.  Obviously, this applies to people who have Winter. For those whose seasons consist of Fall, Spring, Summer and Hell,  you have other things to worry about!

In the used car game, its a process of elimination and comparison. By now we should already be armed with our driving needs, locations of public charging we would likely be using and at least an initial evaluation of where and how we will be charging the LEAF at home. So first off;

The Eliminations;

Location; Unless its a super duper unreal giveaway of a deal, stay away from cars from the Southwest. Phoenix, Needles, Las Vegas and any other place that brags "its a dry heat" should be avoided!  How much value should be assigned to this?  Good question and will be addressed again!

Degradation; 12 capacity bars! Remember, its the short ones on the right, not the long ones on the left!

Models; Nissan has a program of continuous battery improvement that has been in place since day one. Generally this means the newer the car, the better the chemistry, longevity, etc.  But there are still some significant points to consider.  Avoid first gen! 2011's and 2012's had the worst chemistry and worse yet, no more manufacturer's warranty and very little (if any) battery capacity warranty left.

Lizard packs; In response to severe degradation in He... er...uhh, I mean Phoenix, Nissan worked on developing a more heat tolerant battery. Well results in Phoenix may seem small but other areas of the country saw huge improvements. Officially Lizard packs started for the 2015 model year but there is strong evidence that many latter 2014's also had them. Considering that the 2014 Model year was one of the shortest in the history of the automotive industry, that does not eliminate many 2014's.

Build Dates; You can determine the build date from the inside plate on the driver's door. It will be listed in 2 digit month/2 digit year.  This is critical for the 2013 Model year since there is strong anecdotal evidence among owners that later build (May 2013 and newer) had better, more robust batteries.

The usual; Its always a good idea to check Carfax for not only location of previous owners but for accidents.  Unlike other EVs, Nissan has the most secure battery storage system in the Universe.  Yes, Tesla's do occasionally wreck and the batteries crisp the car.  This is not a Nissan issue! There have been some LEAFs in horrific accidents including one less than 10 miles from me when a LEAF was sheared in half when the driver hit a bridge abutment.  Despite not be recognizable as a car, the battery pack remained intact. Say what you want about Nissan's decisions on battery management but one thing that is completely unassailable if the level of safety designed into the car.

Shopping; Ok, so now we are browsing online and see a car that might work. Problem with used LEAFs especially if not at a Nissan dealer is that you probably know more about the LEAF assuming you read my previous blogs (shouldn't take more than a few weeks!) than they do.  So this is where you need to tread carefully.

Most have found that insisting on testing the battery with LEAF Spy  has scared several dealers into thinking they are going to walk out to see their car in parts scattered across the parking lot.  My take; Don't tell them what you plan to do.  It takes all of 20 seconds to plug in the OBD and get a reading. You will be done before the salesman even knows what you are doing. When new, 24 kwh LEAFs read about 67.36 ahr.  The values you want are this, Hx and SOH  both displayed as percentages, which are all conveniently located on one screen. (GIDs are useless if the car is not fully charged)  Best part is after the read takes place (about 3 seconds) you can freeze the screen. unplug the OBD and you are done. As mentioned, you can do it in 20 seconds. (FYI; if you are interested in a competition, call me when you have cut this time in half because that is where you need to be!)

OBD I use

Probably not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the CAN port location. I can now easily locate and plug in OBD without looking. Benefits of a "3 LEAFer" I guess.

Ok so you got the basic foundation to make and informed purchase decision right?  LOL!! Cmon, we all know life is not that easy! 

Nissan, under pressure added a capacity warranty (FYI, don't bother comparing theirs to others in the EV World) which states they will replace pack if your capacity gauge drops to 8 capacity bars in less than 60,000 miles or 5 years from the original in service date which means my advice above to not consider LEAFs that don't have 12 capacity bars remaining stands, BUT....

Sometimes if the price is right and the car has suffered a lot of degradation and still has a ways to go to hit 60,000 miles and its 5 year in service date, you might be better off to get the car, put up with the now pathetic range and work towards losing that 9th capacity bar. 

Ok, so there you have it. Strongly recommend browsing the links provided in the blog or at least seeing what they are about. The best weapon you have in the used car market in knowledge.  Posted below are other links to blogs that you might also want to consider as well


  1. Dave, since you're deeper in the know than I, with my 2012 and the 3.3 on board charger, when the time comes to consider replacing battery vs getting new car, will the battery still be replaceable and would that possibly include the bump to a 6.6 OBC?

    1. You would be much farther ahead to lease 30 kwh LEAF and hope for a huge price cut on the residual or simply buy a used LEAF cheap that already has it. iirc the OBC is like $6K or some unworldly figure

  2. Great article Dave. I'm going to share your link. Thx, Pat Campbell Vancouver, WA

  3. Purchasing a new car is a good investment. If you have your own vehicle you need not to wait if you want to travel from one place to another.While deciding what car is right to buy, it's important to decide which car will benefit you the most.

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  7. This is just a great share. For me it is quite exciting that I have decided to buy electric vehicle but at the same time I am quite confused because I don’t know much about these vehicles. So I want to get a helpful Electric car buyers guide. If you have any tips and guidelines, please share.

    1. There are several terms and acronyms that are unique to electric vehicles. If you have any questions, just ask!

  8. Hi Dave,
    I've gotten a lot of mixed messages about whether or not a LEAF is appropriate me and was hoping I could get your (obviously learned) opinion. I commute to work almost entirely on the freeway. I live in CA so about a third of the drive is in heavy traffic but the majority is at 60+MPH. My commute is 39 miles each way; however I work at a public institution with a 240 charging station literally right outside of my office door.

    Should I abandon the research and commit to a little, used subcompact or could a LEAF be the right choice for this commute? We have a second car at home so the LEAF would be used almost entirely for my commute. Finally, if a LEAF would work for me, what would you regard as NECESSITY for this kind of daily commute when it comes to a used LEAF (IE - bars, years, etc.)

    1. Well, first off, I would NEVER recommend a gasser! I think you will want to look at lightly used 30 kwh LEAFs. They should be popping up a lot more now that longer range EVs are starting to come out. I also have or had... I should say, two cars and my blog will detail further but having just been in a pretty serious accident that I walked away from without so much as a scratch, you might want to consider safety. Smaller cars do not do well when colliding with bigger heavier cars but the LEAF is heavy due to the battery pack and will protect you.

      Two days ago I was t-boned by a car doing at least 40 mph. The car is history but as mentioned, I did not suffer any immediate pain or injury. That could change. Rattled joints can take time to manifest but its been 48 hours and I feel fine.

      As far as used, get one with a fast charge port. You never know when you might need to go somewhere unexpectedly and being able to get significant additional range in 20-30 mins can not be undervalued.

      I also think that your being in California is beneficial as they are very pro EV and that is a good thing for you.

      Don't hesitate to ask more questions!

  9. I am concerned with the concept of a dealership resetting the battery management system such that the 12 bar display shows maximum despite being below 85%. Presumably you would only know this has been done if you plug in Leaf spy and can see the lowered capacity. Would his not be totally illegal since the warranty is based on the bars not the battery degradation ? Also , if the bars were reset at say 87% , just before the first bar drops, would it have to drop another 15% to 72% before losing the first bar (again) ?
    I strongly suspect our local dealership is doing this and there doesnt seem to be any way to prevent or stop them.

    1. Bars will drop in the same range no matter whether reset or not so if you are destined to lose your first bar at 85%, no amount of resetting will change that.

      There is of course the issue if several bars have been lost then the car is reset.

      But the real issue is that LEAF Spy only parrots the data on the data bus so it will not in all likelihood verify a reset has happened.

      The only real way of knowing is a comprehensive maintenance history on the vehicle.

    2. Ok, thanks.
      Any way to get that history ? Or do I just have to run the battery down a let the BMS learn .

      Better yet, any way Nissan can track or monitor this ? Seems like they are leaving the door wide open for abuse by shady dealerships.

    3. Go to a Nissan service center. They can pull up any work including BMS resets that were done on the car. Now I am fairly confident there is someone out there smart enough to do it on their own but they wouldn't be many

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