Staff Car Report: After 80,700 Miles We Say Goodbye to Our 2011 Nissan LEAF — and Buy Another

Back on March 28 2011, the Gordon-Bloomfield family was lucky enough to be one of the first customers in the UK to take ownership of the Nissan LEAF electric car.

Nicknamed Hiro Nakamura by the family, our 2011 Nissan LEAF has been our regular family car ever since, occupying a position on the Transport Evolved staff fleet as we try to answer one very simple question.

With two capacity bars gone, Hiro's range had dropped to a real-world 60 or so miles per charge.

With two capacity bars gone, Hiro’s range had dropped to a real-world 60 or so miles per charge.

Can Nissan’s first mass-produced electric car really be an everyday family car — and can it survive everything from the school run to family vacations? Moreover, can it provide the kind of reliability year after year that modern car owners expect?

Regulars to Transport Evolved will know that we’ve spent the past few years reporting on major milestones in our time with Hiro, covering everything from tire replacements through to the loss of both first and second capacity bars. We’ve driven Hiro across the UK and even into mainland Europe, charging up on everything from basic 16-amp camping outlets through to the latest and greatest in DC Quick Charging stations.

And after four years and seven months, we’re able to say categorically that the Nissan LEAF is a real, everyday family car.

When Hiro first came to the Transport Evolved staff fleet back in March 2011, it was our intention to keep the car for as long as possible, partly as an exercise in ecological car ownership but also to see just how long-lived a Nissan LEAF really was. As regular readers will note however, Transport Evolved has been on summer vacation for the month of August as part of a massive move from the west-coast of the UK to the west-coast of the U.S.

While we looked into bringing Hiro with us — a technical possibility due to the quirk that early European and U.S. LEAFs were made on the same production line in Japan for the first two years of LEAF production — the administrative paperwork required, poor timing, and tight moving schedule meant that it was impractical to do so.

With regular cleaning, the inside of Hiro didn't suffer too much.

With regular cleaning, the inside of Hiro didn’t suffer too much.

The only other option? Say goodbye to our trusty steed for the past fifty-five months, and find another.

Because our LEAF was purchased on a five-year purchase plan rather than leased, there was some outstanding finance left to pay on the car. But thanks to an increasing popularity in the UK for the five-seat family hatch and the fact that only five months of payments were outstanding, we were able to sell the car for a small profit despite its high mileage.

With 80,700 miles on the clock and two capacity bars lost, Hiro’s real-world range had dropped significantly from its original 70-90 miles of useable range when new. Thanks to increased public charging availability, the reduced range of around 60 miles per charge didn’t dissuade Hiro’s new buyer, who intended to use the car primarily as a cheap commuter for a daily 30-mile round trip.

With a price agreed on, we were able to pocket a small profit after finance payments had been taken care of, leaving us with a plan to find another LEAF stateside.

This brings us nicely to Micah, our 2013 Nissan LEAF SL.

With 80,700 miles under our belts, another Nissan LEAF was the obvious choice for the U.S., but with rumors of a new 2016 LEAF with improved battery capacity and larger range flying around, a brand-new LEAF didn’t make financial sense. Even with impressively low lease deals of $299 per month with $299 down for high-end LEAF SL models from one of Portland’s largest LEAF specialists, buying a used LEAF meant that we’d be in a much better position to upgrade to a newer car should the next-wave of electric cars offer a range and performance that was just too good to miss.

We'll miss the rear cup-holders -- a feature not found on U.S. cars.

We’ll miss the rear cup-holders — a feature not found on U.S. cars.

Luckily for us, PlattAuto of downtown Gladstone, OR specializes in used Nissan LEAFs, buying off-lease two and three-year old cars for the used market. With a short test-drive in a 2013 Nissan LEAF SL secured, we agreed on a purchase price of $14,600 and went about arranging an auto loan.

Opting to use a credit union rather than a large bank, we were pleased to learn that First Technology Federal Credit Union — like some other Credit Unions — provides customers with a percentage discount on auto loans for zero and low-emission vehicles, making an already low interest rate a quarter percent lower.

Finance and car secured, auto insurance for the LEAF was also a breeze, with the pleasant surprise that most insurance companies offer lower premiums for electric cars than gasoline-powered ones. In the UK, we’d been used to paying a higher premium for vehicles which were considered to be higher-risk by the insurance companies than gasoline or diesel cars.

Micah will be taking Hiro’s place on the Transport Evolved fleet later today — so keep posted for updates as we find out the differences between U.S. and UK versions of Nissan’s popular plug-in.

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