Staff Car Report: At 70,000 Miles, 2011 Nissan LEAF Still Going Strong, Gets New Brake Pads

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.

After four years and 70,000 miles, our 2011 Nissan LEAF staff car is doing well.

After four years and 70,000 miles, our 2011 Nissan LEAF staff car is running sweetly.

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.

Making use of the growing public charging infrastructure is key to life with an ageing LEAF.

Making use of the growing public charging infrastructure is key to life with an ageing LEAF.

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.

We no-longer see predicted ranges this high, but can still squeeze 70 miles out on a good day.

We no-longer see predicted ranges this high, but can still squeeze 70 miles out on a good day.

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.

Last year, the LEAF flew through its first annual MOT. This year, only new brake pads were required.

Last year, the LEAF flew through its first annual MOT. This year, only new brake pads were required.

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.

The savings have added up over even a Toyota Prius.

The savings have added up over even a Toyota Prius.

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.

Moving forward

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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  • JohnCBriggs

    I’m a little surprised that with regen, the brake pads need replacement at 70,000 miles. I got 120,000 miles on my ICE car before replacement is needed (50/50 city/hwy driving) and now have 120,000 on the Prius and the pads don’t look like I will ever need to replace them. In fact, the rotors are rusty.

    • Remember that traffic patterns on the east coast of the U.S. and the west coast of the UK will be different. Less high-speed driving, but much more stop and go traffic.

      • JohnCBriggs

        I hear you.n But I drive 10 miles to work and it takes an hour. Basically stop and go traffic the whole time. But I’m no expert on brake wear. Just a gut reaction.

        • Interesting. Of course, they might have different specifications when new. But 🙂

          • JohnCBriggs

            I didn’t wonder about the quality of the pads in the Nissan compared to the Toyota.

          • I wonder if wheel size comes into it too? I’m now pondering. Also weight, size of the physical pads. nnIf the pads are smaller then they’d wear quicker for a given braking force 😉 nnI’m getting you thinking. Admit it! 😀

          • JohnCBriggs

            I admit it. Although I will claim that I started the thinking and you are only getting me to continue thinking. :)nnCertainly the LEAF is a heavier vehicle which matters. We need a “Transport Evolved Investigative Report: Brake pad life and Regen”

          • jeffsongster

            Getting 70k out of brake linings sounds awesome to me… Moast vehicles in our delivery service only get about 40k per set.nnOur family business has a fleet of trucks and it seems to me that the manufacturers may be making initial pads thinner… like the laser toner cart that is only 50% full when sold with the printer… so you have to get the next one sooner. Creepy sometimes but that’s crapitalism. nnnnPS…My wife and I are expecting… to get our second Leaf this weekend since we find ourselves missing the one we have when we aren’t driving it. Our 2013 has over 18k on it and has proven its utility many times over. New one will be a 2015 Pearl White SL with Prem pkg. Just waiting for best offer via email now. Now I think I’ll call an electrician to get at least another 30A outlet added to garage on other side… so we can decadently keep both charged and connected for pre heat/cool service.

          • DRVNMPKW

            My first Prius (2004) went 220,000 miles before the brake pads and traction battery needed to be replaced. Use of the B mode and regen made a big difference. The first 4 years were in hilly central WV and the next 3.5 years were in northern VA suburban driving. I suspect the material used by Toyota and Nissan brake pads are different. It is also possible that because your 2011 and my 2012 Leaf didn’t have the B mode it is possible that the use of brakes is much greater due to lower regen.

  • I’m at 63,000 Miles, the car will turn 4 in July, so I am doing about the same mileage as yourselves.nnI have lost 2 capacity bars and am at 76% SOH according to LEAFSpyPro. So the warmer climate here in Tennessee has drawn down an extra 4% battery capacity. I lost my first bar on July 16th 2013. The second bar went out on August 25th 2014.nnMy paintwork is doing pretty good. I keep the car garaged at home which always helps. I too have had several body panels replaced and/or painted thanks to a hitting a deer shortly after I got the car. The front end had all new panels plus a new drivers door.nnnnInterior is doing better than expected. I get the car detailed at each 15,000 mile service interval which helps keep the interior looking good.nnnThe items replaced so far have been a speaker, window track and master window switch. All under warranty/extended warranty. I’ll be looking to replace my tyres for the second time this spring. My first set lasted until 29,000 miles. The second set have lasted longer, I’ve kept the new set at 40 psi rather than the recommended 36 which has reduced the amount of shoulder wear and extended life by maybe 10,000 miles.

  • Richard Glover

    First registered 17 Mar 2011 and used as demo by Glyn Hopkins until I purchased 19 Dec that year. Misty my lovely blue Leaf has covered 55k miles and lost one bar. Needs new rear break pads. Replaced both front tyres at 38k miles. No other issues, so its just been wear and tear.nnHow do I rate it? nnIt is magic and I feel very proud to own it.nnAnd it looks better today than when it first came out and I hope Nissan realise that.

  • Nice update Nikki. You did a great job summarizing operational costs give how maintenance periods vary between vehicles and how they’re driven. nnWhile it’s impossible to predict true savings (as gas pump prices vary so much in unpredictable ways), the article provides grounded context for what can be expect in operational expenses. Just the useful information needed for budgeting. nnBTW: Nissan changed the process and type of paint it uses with the 2013 model year. To me the 2013+ paint appears to age better, but curious what 2013+ owner have to say?nnPS: it might be interesting to compare you LEAF to C&C Taxi’s LEAF fleet operational data (tires, breaks, etc) as they have a couple LEAFs over 70,000 miles (but just over year old).

  • I’ve driven my 2014 LEAF SV 14,000 miles in Colorado, USA, all of these miles solar-charged 🙂 via my home’s 5.6 kW solar system. Generally, I’m quite happy with my LEAF.nnThat noted, here are 10 things I’d change/add for the next generation LEAF –>nn1) More Range. My LEAF is my ONLY car, and I’ve run out of charge twice, both times in very cold temps. I need 180 miles at 15 degrees fahrenheit, 65 mph on highway and with the heat on. Are you listening, Nissan?nn2) Offer different size battery packs. While I need 180 miles of range, and probably something like a 48 kWh pack because the LEAF is my only car, others have a second or third gas car in their garage and don’t need such a big battery. Let me choose the bigger pack, and pay more, and let the others choose a smaller pack, and pay less.nn3) Looks. The LEAF looks great from behind, horribly “eggy” from the side, and goofy from the front. Keep the rear design/look, change the rest!nn4) Make the LEAF quicker. Maybe it’s asking for too much, but I want BMW i3 like acceleration. The LEAF is quicker than 95% of people would expect, and is great from 15 to 50 mph — but it needs more pep from 0 to 15 mph!nn5) Improve paint job/quality. At least on my black LEAF (I wish I had a blue one), the paint is really cheesy. It’s degenerated way more quickly than I would like or would have expected.nn6) More color choices. Silver, white, grey, black — all BORING (I leased a black one because I got a special deal on it). Add purple, dark blue, yellow, bright red, metallic green, etc. EVs are special cars and a lot of people who buy them want them to stick out/look special :-)nn7) Windshield fluid sprayer for rear wiper blade/rear window. I cannot believe the LEAF does not have this — VERY annoying!nn8) Brakes/braking in winter, cold: Don’t know what it is but there is something weird about braking in snow/cold. Sometimes the brakes don’t kick in the way I expect, which can be scary, and sometimes they grab too quickly and too much.nn9) A Tesla like LCD navigation/radio, etc. interface screen. I appreciate having a navigation screen, with traffic (via Sirius/XM) etc., but I hate the touch interaction, which is clunky and non-intuitive. The screen also doesn’t look good. And, too often, street names are not visible, even when I zoom in close.nn10) Eliminate the shuddering noise with the windows open. I suppose it has to do with better external aerodynamic design, but I can’t open the windows in the back without experiencing an ear popping shuddering noise. So, basically, my kids can’t open their windows — at all. Dumb.

  • BrianKeez

    I’ve enjoyed 73,000 on my LEAF (Happa) since August 31, 2011. I have replaced washer fluid, all four tires (40,000 miles) and the main battery (capacity warranty, 53,000 miles). I live in southern California and used to drive over 2,000 miles per month during my IT contracting gig. Now I work from home and the car is rarely driven.nthe interior is in great condition and I’ve had no problems with the car at all. However, losing 3 capacity bars was terrible. I had stopped driving it a week prior to losing the fourth capacity bar because I could only squeeze 60 miles out of it. I was extremely grateful for the replacement battery.nThe LEAF is still the most amazing vehicle I have ever owned. I recommend the LEAF. However, I do understand that one must seriously want to go electric due to the lifestyle changes required.

  • Anyone have recommendations for people looking to buy a used Leaf or other EV? I’m mainly interested in best practices for assessing the health of a used EV’s battery and engine. I’d expect used 80-mile EVs to become even more affordable when the Bolt, Model 3 and Leaf 2 make them seem obsolete, but that could create great buying opportunities for those of us whose needs match the capabilities of an 80 mile range car.

  • Lance Pickup

    I’m closing in on 50K miles on my 2012 LEAF (acquired in Dec 2011). 2 bars down. No major issues until just the other day when I went to put down my driver’s side window, and no joy. It wanted to move, but didn’t. I had this issue on the last Nissan I owned (a 1990 240SX) and it wasn’t cheap to fix. Not looking forward to this. That’s nothing to do with the electric part of the vehicle of course, but more an indication of Nissan quality in general. Same as the paint job which you note above. That was a major failing of my 240SX (and sadly the reason I eventually got rid of it), and it looks like in 25 years Nissan still has paint issues.nnnNow, my wife got a 2013 LEAF just over a year ago. US built. Fit & finish, not quite as up to par as my Japanese LEAF. She’s got some more squeaks and rattles in hers. We had a humming noise of some sort which caused a replacement of the “transmission” (under warranty). Not sure it’s gone completely away. And then, about 2 weeks before MY window stopped working, hers stopped working as well.nnnWhat is up with that Nissan? I’ve owned 3 Nissan vehicles and on all 3, the driver’s side window has failed! At least on my 240SX it lasted probably about 6 years. Now it’s down to 3 years and 1 year! Hopefully her’s is still under warranty. I’ll probably have to pay for mine though.

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