On March 28, 2011, we took delivery of a brand new Nissan LEAF electric car. One of the last LEAFs to make it out of Japan before the devastating Tsunami of March that year, it became one of the first LEAFs to hit the roads in the UK.
Almost four years later, ‘Hiro Nakamura,’ the Gordon-Bloomfield Family’s main car, is off for its mandatory annual MOT road test having covered just over 70,380 miles and traveling as far afield as Belgium, France and the North of England.
But after such a long time, how is the LEAF holding up? Has this first-generation plug-in car proved itself a good buy or has it been nothing but a nuisance since day one?
Luckily for us, the former.
Four years, 70,000 miles, plenty of charging
As anyone who has visited the UK will testify, it’s not exactly a large country. In fact, unless you happen to have a job where driving is an integral part of your work day, owning such a high-mileage car is fairly uncommon. Owning a high-mileage electric car even less so.
But since Hiro joined us, our LEAF has been used as the principal form of transport thanks to its low running costs, smooth driving experience and everyday practicality. With one member of the household working as an IT contractor, our LEAF has regularly driven in excess of 80 miles a day, making use of public charging infrastructure in public car parks and at grocery stores to ensure that there’s always enough range to get back home at the end of the day.
For six months or so, the LEAF visited a local DC quick charger every day for ten minutes to ensure that it could make the return trip. Currently, it manages a 100-mile round-commute every day with a 3-hour top-up charge at a public charging station between the regular 9am meeting and the 12pm lunch break.
On other occasions, its presence in a client’s parking lot has encouraged the site manager to install four electric car charging stations for visitors and staff to use.
On top of this, it has been used on regular cross-country trips across the UK, making use of Ecotricity’s ever-expanding network of DC quick charging stations to enable 500-mile round trips a breeze. Luckily, as battery range has dropped due to natural ageing (more on that below) the distances between useable charging stations has dropped, encouraging the ‘ABC’ or ‘Always be Charging’ — essentially ‘never pass a charging station by’ — philosophy when it comes to longer-distance trips.
It’s worth noting too that in those four years, the only times the LEAF has seen the back of a tow truck has been the handful of times when charging infrastructure failed or the car ended up with a flat tire. The former hasn’t happened since late 2012 and the latter just once last year.
It’s worth noting too that we’ve only ever seen the dreaded turtle mode once.
Capacity loss, range
As we reported last year, the first of twelve capacity bars disappeared after 52,800 miles, indicating a loss of around 15 percent of the LEAF battery’s original capacity. Since then, no more capacity bars have vanished, but regular checks with the LEAF Spy software for Android OS indicate approximately 20 percent of capacity has now been lost.
With more than 60,000 miles on the clock however, the battery is now out of its standard European 8-year, 60,000 mile warranty.
Regardless of the capacity loss however, the LEAF has for the most part handled daily duties without too much of a problem. With more charging opportunities now than ever before, it’s easy to stop and top up for a few minutes at a local DC quick charger when really needed, although we note that’s still a very uncommon occurrence.
Last summer, we managed several different longer-distance motorway trips, including one 72.5 mile marathon with miles to spare that included a fair amount of climbing. More recently as the temperatures drop, every day ranges of between 50 and 60 miles are more commonplace, with 65 possible with some light-foot action.
Overall however, range loss, while now obvious, hasn’t impacted the LEAF’s daily usability. With freeway provision now far more reliable than it once was, there are few situations where we’re tempted to take our Chervolet Volt, save for the times when we can’t budget the extra 1 hour or so for charging en-route.
Wear and Tear
As we’ve previously detailed, the LEAF has held up remarkably well to the tough life of a family car. Dogs and children, along with trips to the dump and recycling centre, have left their marks on various bits of trim, but nothing we wouldn’t expect for a car with 70,000+ miles on the odometer.
Remarkably, the seats themselves remain remarkably well-kept, with a regular steam clean or brush down eliminating the majority of stains or dirt thanks to the scotch-guard treatment the car was given when new.
The part of the car to fare least well, the exterior bodywork is now showing its age, with the LEAF’s rather thin paintwork now showing signs of stone chip damage, constant use and the occasional small dent. Of all the cars we’ve ever owned, we have to rate the LEAF as having the least durable paint finish.
As a consequence (and after light accidental damage) various parts of the LEAF’s body has been sprayed over time, helping the car appear relatively tidy at a distance. Only close inspection shows up the occasional spidering chip and scratch.
Inside, we’ve had a radio replacement under warranty, as well as a replacement USB socket. Since replacement a few years ago, the car has continued to work perfectly, with Carwings generally happy to connect to Nissan’s Telematics service under most conditions. Unfortunately however, the Nissan LEAF Carwings app has been less reliable, frequently refusing to update with status or information.
In terms of tires, we’re now on the third set, with the recent MOT test — a mandatory annual road-worthiness test for all British cars over three years of age — telling us that there’s some 3,000 miles of wear left in the front tires before new ones will be required.
The MOT also advised us of a noisy — yet functional — nearside front suspension strut, and required a new set of front brake pads due to excessive wear on the original ones.
Combined with a new set of brake pads, a 48-month service and a new set of wiper blades all round, the service cost us £387.32.
Savings to be had
Over the past 70,000+ miles, our LEAF’s fuel bill has been split fairly evenly between home-based charging at night and public charging. Using the EPA’s 34 kilowatt-hours per 100 miles economy figure for the LEAF and a rather pessimistic fuel price of 10 pence per kilowatt-hour (our actual night-time rates are much less than this) total fuel costs, had we paid for each charge, would be around £2,380 for the four years of ownership.
Even in a 2011 Toyota Prius, the fuel costs would have equated to a fuel cost of £5907 at today’s current UK petrol prices of £1.07 per litre.
Combined with the relatively low operating costs, our LEAF Staff Car has proven itself to be a solid investment, since even though the worst-case scenario fuel costs are still in the thousands of pounds over the four-year period, the reality of our LEAF’s day-to-day use has meant we’ve likely only paid £1,200 of that figure on actual charging: the rest has been free.
As the next-generation Nissan LEAF readies itself for market, residual value of our 2011 Nissan LEAF isn’t all that high. But with the car still proving itself more than capable of most family duties and chores, there’s no hurry to sell it and move to a different car any time soon.
Only a planned family emigration is likely to cause Hiro to leave the staff fleet — likely to be replaced by an identical car if and when that emigration happens.
Share your stories
Do you own a Nissan LEAF? Have you covered high milage? How old is your car, and how do you rate it after several years of ownership? And would you recommend the car to anyone else?
Leave your tales in the comments below.
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