Easy to stow away in the trunk of your car, portable Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) ‘bricks’ are lightweight and simple to use. Plug one end into a nearby electrical outlet and the other end into your car, and your car will gradually, slowly charge while you get on with the rest of your day. While a plug-in car takes much longer to charge from a portable EVSE unit than a dedicated electric vehicle charging station, these units are a must-have accessory for anyone who travels off the beaten track or happen to live somewhere without dedicated charging.
Being lightweight and relatively pricey — upwards of $900 in some cases — OEM portable charging stations are also perfect easy pickings for a passing thief, prompting many electric car manufacturers to implement locking designs within their cars’ charger inlet ports in an attempt to thwart would-be criminals from walking away with the expensive device.
As one Nissan LEAF owner from Quebec discovered however, the locking mechanisms designed to prevent your car from being unplugged and the cable stolen aren’t always that secure. What’s worse, the technique thieves used to steal his car’s portable 110-volt EVSE unit can be replicated by a small boy with a comb.
Enter François Viau, a French Canadian who had left his Nissan LEAF charging at work last week only to discover on returning to his car that someone had stolen his car’s portable EVSE. As well as being frustrated about the loss, Viau was a little perplexed as to how the portable EVSE had actually been stolen, since his charge cable had supposedly been secured to the car by a locking mechanism build into his car’s charge port.
Recent model years of the Nissan LEAF — like some other cars on the market today — have an optional lock mode which slides a tab across the top of the J1772 inlet a few seconds after you’ve plugged in a charge cable. The tab is meant to make it impossible to depress the release latch on the charging cable gun, making it impossible to unplug the car from the charging unit without first hitting the charge port unlock button.
We’ve known for some time that certain types of third-party J1772 plug, specifically ones with a curved, tapered end to the latch can still be removed from a Nissan LEAF with a supposedly locked inlet charge port.
But what Viau discovered was far more disturbing: namely that the specifically-designed, sturdy OEM EVSE which comes with the Nissan LEAF can easily be removed from a locked car with nothing more than a long, slender tool like a screwdriver, a pencil, or even a hair comb.
As the video below shows, while the locking mechanism on the LEAF’s charge port can be set to automatically engage seconds after you’ve plugged a charge cable in, there’s nothing to stop the locking pin from being easily slid back into the unlocked position.
What’s more, the technique of sliding the locking mechanism back into the open position is so easy that Viau’s young son demonstrates it in the video, removing the locked charge cable with nothing more than a hair comb. And he does so in just six seconds.
“I was surprised to see how easy and fast [the unit] was stolen even if it was on position LOCK on the charging port,” Viau told us in an email this morning. “I was curious to see how efficient this anti-theft system was, and I thought you would be interested to see the result.”
“All Leaf owners should be aware of this.,” he said. To try and make sure no-one else gets caught out, he’s even collated a set of more secure ways to keep your charge cable safe on this French-language EV forum.
It’s worth noting of course, that early Nissan LEAFs made between 2010 and 2012 don’t have this particular problem, since car-activated charge port locking was only introduced for the 2013 model year. As a consequence, those with a 2011 and 2012 Nissan LEAF who use the portable EVSE that came with their cars will note there’s a small hole in the J1772 gun release lever designed to take a small padlock, preventing the lever from being depressed and the charge gun released.
In Europe, where portable charge cables are required to use public charging stations, J1772 (Type 1) cables often also often the same feature in the charge gun, making a padlock the most secure way of ensuring your car’s charge cable or portable EVSE isn’t stolen.
But if your charge cable doesn’t have a small padlock hole on the release trigger and you have a 2013-2015 Nissan LEAF, you may want to think of another way of keeping your charge cable secure. If you live in a state like California, where it’s illegal to be parked in a public charging space without being connected to a charging station, you’ll also want to figure out a way of preventing others from maliciously unplugging your LEAF.
[UPDATE: Transport Evolved reached out to Nissan for an official comment on the story, and we’ve just heard back from Nissan North America concerning the operation and safety of the in-car lock.]
“The charge lock feature on Nissan LEAF is not intended to prevent theft of the charging cordset. It is designed to discourage someone from unplugging the vehicle while a charging session is in progress,” said spokesperson Brian Brockman. “The trickle charge cable features a small hole in the release button to allow the owners to insert a lock to reduce the chance of theft.”
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