Recall Alert: 47,000 Nissan LEAF Electric Cars Recalled To Improve Cold Weather Braking Performance

Back in October 2015, Nissan North America began a voluntary service campaign to address a fault with certain model-year Nissan LEAFs in which the electronic brake booster system could fail to operate properly in cold weather, requiring more pedal effort to stop the car and thus increase overall stopping distance.

Yesterday, the Japanese automaker turned that service campaign into a full-blown recall affecting some 47,000 Nissan LEAF electric cars in North America. While there appears to be no report of accident or injury directly related to this fault, Nissan says that one hundred percent of all Nissan LEAFs made between November 19, 2012 and July 31 2015 are believed to susceptible to this particular problem under the right conditions.

Those in cold climates should pay special attention

Those in cold climates should pay special attention

According to official document submitted to NHTSA by Nissan, the fault lies with the electronic relay that controls the LEAF’s electronic brake booster system, which can freeze up in sub-zero temperatures, preventing the brake booster system from working and effectively leaving the car without power-assisted brakes.

Unlike most internal combustion engine vehicles of the past thirty years or so — which use vacuum from the engine to multiply the braking force applied to the wheels when you put your foot on the brake pedal — electric and hybrid cars use a small electrically-operated pump (and a vacuum reservoir) to provide the same functionality. To keep the vacuum pressure at the right level, the pump switches on and off as required while the car is in use to ensure that there’s always power-assisted braking when required.

When cold enough outside, the brake booster relay can freeze up.

When cold enough outside, the brake booster relay can freeze up.

As detailed by Nissan, when the electronic relay responsible for switching that pump on and off freezes up, the car can’t produce the required vacuum assistance and thus while the brake pedal still operates, the force applied to the wheels is far less than it would be under normal operating conditions.

Nissan says the fault only occurs when the car is parked in extremely cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time, which means that the majority of customers in warmer parts of the U.S. and Canada are unlikely to experience the problem. However, if the problem does present itself, the brake warning lamp should illuminate to warn the driver that there’s a problem.

The fix — which Nissan said should take less than one hour to complete — involves reprogramming of the e-ACT (Electrically-driven Intelligent Brake Control Unit) of affected cars with new software.

While the problem was initially disclosed in October last year as a service campaign issue — which Nissan notified NHTSA and Transport Canada about —  it appears Nissan was asked by Transport Canada in February this year to reclassify the service campaign as a safety recall campaign. While only 679 Nissan LEAFs in Canada are believed to be affected by this recall, it follows that they were more susceptible to suffering the issue given Canada’s usually colder winters compared to much of the U.S., and thus the reclassification request makes total sense.

Additionally, the switch of status from a service campaign item to a voluntary recall means that under U.S. federal law, dealers cannot sell or deliver vehicles in their inventory which are covered by the recall until necessary steps have been taken to remedy the problem.

Affected cars will be reprogrammed free of charge at their local Nissan dealer

Affected cars will be reprogrammed free of charge at their local Nissan dealer

Nissan says that while it rapidly launched the original service campaign and was pleased with the more than 21,708 LEAFs which have already been presented at dealers in North America for a complementary fix, it does not believe that the issue is a safety defect. However, given the nature of the request and the considerations of colder-weather, Nissan decided to reclassify the service campaign as a safety recall in the U.S. at the same time as it was being reclassified in Canada.

Those who have already had their cars reprogrammed at their local Nissan dealership are not covered by this recall as it has effectively already been carried out under the previous service classification. Those who have not yet had their cars reprogrammed should already have been contacted by Nissan North America, detailing the service campaign and asking them to make an appointment with their local dealership for remedial work.

Nissan says it will contact all owners with outstanding recalls again within sixty days via post.

As with all recalls, the cost of the recall will be carried out under warranty at no cost to the owner.

Have you experienced this brake problem with your Nissan LEAF? Have you already sent your car in for the required remedial work?

Share your stories in the Comments below.


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  • So how does a software reprogramming prevent a relay from freezing up?

    • KIMS

      That is a great question. Perhaps if it was literally a sticking relay, they just cycle power to the relay coil rapidly for set period under certain conditions to in effect ‘shake it loose’?

      • A software workaround is all well and good in the short term. I wonder why they don’t replace the relay with one that doesn’t freeze?

        I suppose it could be a build up of frost or ice on the outside of the relay and it needs to keep activating to prevent a build up,a bit like de-ice boot on a plane?

        • KIMS

          cost and expediency I would guess. This gets a fix out pronto to all for a relatively low cost. Since the problem is somewhat limited, if we carry the speculations forward, it would be cheaper to replace worn out relays (from the excessive on/off switching in the software fix) on an as needed basis, than switch out relays on cars that will likely never see the issue in the first place (e.g. CA).. I’m sure new models/productions will fix this in hardware if it makes sense long term.

          • I’ve heard 2011 Nissan LEAFs (our old staff car did this back in the UK) sit there and click relays on and off while parked up in the cold. I’ve never heard newer LEAFs do it.

            Could this be the solution here?

          • KIMS

            All we can do is speculate. 🙂 I’d guess those clicks are from battery protection heaters turning on and off maybe? What we’ve been speculating on is that instead of the software just saying ‘turn break vacuum pump on’ and calling it a day, it may under certain cold conditions rapidly turn it on and off to ‘shake it loose’.. probably with additional logic that stops if contact is actually made and/or after x tries?

            It is very intriguing (to me) that this purportedly can be fixed in software only, as the problem as stated/described sounds like a mechanical (relay/switch action) problem.

          • Indeed. What I can say is that the 2011 LEAF we had over in the UK did that kind of rapid clicking.

          • Anthony Sumner

            Hi Nikki,
            I have one of the first UK LEAFs and for years occassionally when breaking it slips! it feels like just for a scary second it removes the breaks the car shoots forwards ever so slightly but noticeably and then reapplies. I thought it was maybe just a slippy break disk spot, now I’m wondering if I should have reported this to Nissan way back when it was in its three year warranty, ho hum, I’m sure it will be fine.

  • Stephen Bell

    And the European cars of the same era?

  • Bubba Nicholson

    803187 Christian Damelinez was my service advisor at Courtesy Nissan of Tampa and he epitomized the name processing my service the other day. Besides fixing the P53270 brake control service recall, Christian also saw to it that my Nissan Leaf was inspected, even having my car washed for me for free. I’d like to recommend Christian and Courtesy Nissan for other Leaf drivers finding themselves in the Tampa Bay area.