UPDATE: How Secure is Your ‘Locked’ Nissan LEAF Charge Cable? Not Very, Proves Boy With a Comb

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.

In 2013 and later model years of the Nissan LEAF, this white locking pin is designed to prevent cable theft.

In 2013 and later model years of the Nissan LEAF, this white locking pin is designed to prevent cable theft.

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.

It takes just six seconds to retrieve a locked Nissan LEAF charge gun.

It takes just six seconds to retrieve a locked Nissan LEAF charge gun.

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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  • u010eakujem

    The theft is gut-wrenching, but what’s more baffling for me personally is how selling a replacement power adapter/transformer can be justified for $2200? No wonder people are stealing them.

    • $2200?, on eBay they are $260 Buy-it-now

      • u010eakujem

        Holy cow, you’re absolutely right! nThis raises more questions. 1: Why didn’t he just buy a $299 EVSE from ebay (and save $1900), and, 2: how can Nissan justify charging so much for their EVSE?n$299 ebay link for example: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nissan-LEAF-EVSE-OEM-Charger-Level-1-120-Volt-w-bag-29690-3NAOA-/141399473288?pt=Motors_Car_Truck_Parts_Accessories&hash=item20ec10bc88&vxp=mtr

        • Franu00e7ois

          I’ve seen these on eBay. I still haven’t decided yet whether I’ll pass it trough my insurance company for a brand new one or if I’ll buy it USED from eBay. It’s still a high price to pay considering it’s used, it could break the week after and I would still have to pay for a new one.

          • Here you go, Brand New $649 and even upgraded so that you can plug it into a 220 line and draw 20 Amps. I have this same exact upgrade. You can charge from 110V 6A up to 240V 20Amps – User programmable. nnhttp://evseupgrade.com/?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=5

  • Michael Thwaite

    The i3 is no tougher, wiggle it from side-to-side and it’s out.

    • vdiv

      I wonder if this is for safety. The car will not move if plugged in. In case of an emergency or if the lock malfunctions one can still remove the plug.

  • Matt Beard

    Not fit for purpose!

  • simonzerafa

    Would it just be simpler to put the portable charger inside the car (with a suitable connecting socket) so they cannot be stolen this way?

    • @simonzerafa:disqus, the challenge here is that the unit itself isn’t the charger. The charger IS inside the car. The unit in question is actually an interface between the car and the charging station — or in this case, a domestic outlet.

      • So put the interface (transformer) inside the car as well!! I think that what SImon was driving at.

    • Simon, I have done exactly this, Plug in the J1772, Open your hood of your LEAF, place the EVSE body inside the motor compartment and place the cords near the charging port. The Hood will close perfectly fine. I’ve done this in bad neighborhoods.nnhttp://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=7587

      • Nice workaround and great photos to show how its done. I’ll have to see if the hood/bonnet will close with my 12 gauge extension cord.nnnThe real question is why couldn’t Nissan place a transformer behind the 12v battery like you did, run and splice a cord to wherever the wires from the J1772 socket run to and provide a simple NEMA socket at the front of the vehicle. Nissan would only have to supply a male to male NEMA cable to stow in the trunk, much cheaper and easier to replace if stolen.

  • Martin

    Most J1772 plugs have a hole for a padlock for a little extra security… but if somebody is determined, they’ll be able to steal it. 🙁

  • I have a Charge Port Cover that was made by NISSAN but for sale only in Japan. It was very expensive, $350, It’s very hard to find but it securely locks the EVSE to the LEAF. I believe they stopped making it when they made the locking mechanism shown above. You can see pics of it here: http://www.salsleaf.com/evse_cover/index.htm

  • Franu00e7ois

    Well, Nissan could have made this much more difficult to steal, simply by making the J1772 pistol a little bigger, making it impossible to see or access the white pin from the front charging port. Also, why not use the car horn as an alarm system if the J1772 is unplugged without having the doors unlocked first. Since this video was made primarily to inform as most Leaf owners as possible who uses their portable EVSE, I’m still curious to see how Nissan will respond. Thanks for sharing.

  • Scott Hackstadt

    Just use a padlock at the latch hook for the charging door and the cable of the EVSE. It works fine.

  • Franu00e7ois

    Is Nissan cutting on their engineering staff? What a lazy answer… it’s like if they would say: ” The door lock feature is not intended to prevent theft of the car. It is designed to discourage someone to open the door while it’s closed. However, the door handle features a small hole in the release button to allow the owner to insert a lock to reduce the chance of theft”. Would that make sense? I’m so disappointed by Nissan.

  • Matt Beard

    u201cThe 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,u201d said spokesperson Brian Brockman. u201cThe 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.u201dnnnnTranslation Option 1: “The lock is not a ‘lock'”nTranslation Option 2: “Damn! Er… It’s not supposed to be a real lock you know!”

  • Automatic locks that are not locks, holes and padlocks….. all set aside.nnnThe real issue here is that the “brick” ie transformer is outside the vehicle. Why not incorporate it inside the vehicle and provide a low cost cord to go from car to outlet? Don’t European EV’s do something similar?nnnEven with a padlock a thief could cut the cord between the brick and the J1772 connector, replace the vandalised cord and missing J1772 connector with parts sourced online and have spent much less money than buying the entire assembly.nnnThe transformer is the expensive bit, Put the transformer inside the vehicle!!

  • smartacus

    Ooh a padlock. Yeah, that’s a high tech answer. Maybe reuse an old TSA padlock from that trip to Ougadougou. Put up a sign warning thieves DO NOT YOUTUBE HOW TO OPEN PADLOCKS

  • William Watling

    Get a heavy duty steel car chock from Ebay (£6.50) http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/272351559287.
    Place the cable through the gap in the middle using the hinged part (each end with the connectors is to big to go through the sides). Slowly drive on to the chock until the wheel holds it firmly. If near the curb, jam it against the curb. This works for type 1 to type 2 cables in public charging stations which are expensive to replace!