I've been putting off writing a used Leaf buying guide for literally years because of the complexities and length involved in doing it right, not to mention the fervent hope that someone else would save my arthritic fingers. Having just seen yet another poor EV buyer get stuck with a rapidly degrading Leaf pack, though, has made me decide to put up the vital facts first. I can always add to this 'Quick & Dirty' buying guide later.
1. Leafs built before April of 2013 have TERRIBLE battery packs.
Whatever the reason, the packs found in Leafs made from 2011 through March of 2013 (Despite a major model refresh beginning in January of that year) use a battery chemistry that degrades very quickly in hot climates, and also even in more moderate climates with hot Summers. They also degrade significantly just from the passage of time, except in colder climates. The only places these packs (dubbed "Canary Packs" by me) do well is in downright Cold or Chilly climates like the UK, Northern Europe, and, of course, Japan. DO NOT BUY
a Leaf from this era unless the battery pack has been replaced after 2014, or unless your range needs are very modest (less than 40 miles) and you want to pay as little as possible. Warranty replacement packs installed from 2015 on should use the so-called "Lizard Pack" with greater longevity and better (but not perfect) heat resistance. Leafs built between April of 2013 and the 2015 model year have an improved pack, still lacking in extreme heat resistance but with much better overall longevity, that I have nicknamed the "Wolf Pack" to distinguish it from the fast-degrading "Canary" pack and the Lizard pack, which resists all but the worst heat, and appears to be the best Leaf pack built to date. A good Wolf pack in a mild climate will fare about as well as a Lizard pack, with the added benefit of being more widely available (it was built for about 21 months) and usually less expensive.
2. Leafs built before 2013 have energy-sucking heating systems.
These early climate control systems use a liquid-based heating system that is turned on whenever the climate control is on and the ambient temperature is below roughly 60F. The heat may also come on when Defrost/Defog is selected, even in warmer temperatures. They are slow to heat, and they use a lot of power even when you don't really need heat. You cannot turn them off
, except by turning off the climate control system. Fortunately there is an aftermarket fix that consists of a simple On/Off switch and sub-harness for it. Here's a link to it:http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?t=6751
And here is a link to insulating the liquid 'heatant' lines to reduce heat losses:http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?t=15392
Even with an On/Off switch, though, these heaters really suck power, because they use a resistance heating element, and all resistance heaters, because they use 'brute force' to drive electrons through high-resistance metals, use too much energy. Starting in 2013, though, the Leaf SV and SL have a heat pump, (along with a fast-heating direct to air resistance heater) and when it is providing most of the heat (roughly from 25F on up) this heat pump uses much less power, thus extending range in milder Winter weather. The Leaf S, introduced in 2013, has only the direct to air heater, with an On/Off switch. The S thus uses much more power in milder Winter weather, but with faster heat, and more control over that heat than the earlier Leafs. It should be noted that in frigid weather (below about 15F) a Leaf S will have about the same range as an SV or SL.
There IS a bit of good news about pre-2013 climate control systems (and the Leaf S climate control): the A/C is, if anything, a little more
efficient, and costs little in range in normally hot weather.
3. Use The LeafSpy App!
The 12 tiny capacity bars that reside right next to the much larger charge indicator bars on the dashboard are generally an important Leaf shopping tool, especially because dealers and even private owners don't always understand them or adjust prices according to indicated capacity remaining. However, they are very imprecise in how they display remaining capacity. The uppermost bar, usually referred to as the "first bar," will remain visible until the car (I'm referring here to the 2011 - 2015 24kwh packs here) has lost a little more than 15% of the pack's original capacity. Subsequent capacity bars are only visible for roughly half that long and so "drop" more quickly. Because of this, mynissanleaf.com member Turbo3 developed the extremely useful LeafSpy app. This app, in conjunction with a compatible OBDII diagnostic port reader, can show the actual capacity within roughly 1%, by reading and interpreting internal messages from the BMS. Thus it is vital, if range matters to you, to use LeafSpy (which has several topics here devoted to it) to determine the health of a prospective Leaf's battery. HOWEVER...
4. Leaf Capacity Bars Can Be Reset!
Dishonest sellers and wholesalers, and even unknowing dealership technicians, can cause the Battery Management System (aka "BMS") to reset itself. When this happens even a Leaf with several capacity bars gone will, for roughly a few weeks, show a full 12 bars until the BMS relearns the actual capacity. This can even fool LeafSpy, especially if a reading is taken soon after the reset. If a Leaf seems to have more bars than it should (Hot climate, older Leaf, test drive that seems to use up charge very quickly) then a reset should be suspected, and the car's history investigated. Remember, a cardinal rule of shopping for any car should apply: If the car seems too good for the price and capacity reading, or if you are suspicious of the seller or even just the car, PASS!
5. There MAY be a problem with 2016 - 2017 30kwh battery packs.
This is the only controversial section of this guide, so take both it and any rebuttals posted with a grain of salt. Anyway, here is the issue:
Beginning later in 2016, some owners of 30kwh Leafs were shocked to discover that their cars had already lost a capacity bar - even cars in cooler climates that were "babied" by being kept cool and not fully charged. The problem continued, with many 30kwh Leafs losing multiple bars, and then with the 2017 cars following suit. Range seemed to fall along with the bar losses. (Some 30kwh Leafs seemed to not suffer from this malady.) Then, in 2018, Nissan announced that they had developed a software "fix" for the problem, which they claimed was an error in the BMS (Battery Management System) programming that under-reported actual battery capacity. Since then numerous Leafs have had the software update installed, with what appears to be mixed results. Some owners have reported restoration of both the missing bars and the lost range they had experienced. Others have gotten the missing bars back, but aren't sure about the range. A few have reported restoration of the missing bars, but no significant improvement in range. A test using a dynamometer has shown restoration of full capacity (minus normal expected degradation), while, again, some owners are reporting no real restoration of range.
The bottom line here is that if you are shopping for a newer Leaf and see good prices on the 30kwh 2016 and 2017 model years, this is the reason. It may be that you can get a bargain that needs only a software update to fulfill the original promise of the 107 mile EPA range for the 30kwh packs. It may also be that you will not. At this moment in time the verdict, as far as I'm concerned, is not yet in. My own theory is that there is defective programming in some, but not all of the 30kwh BMS units, and that Nissan is using this to reprogram all of them to either report degradation in a less harsh light, or to use more of the pack's capacity to compensate as capacity is lost. Caveat Emptor, and may I be proven wrong! I'll update this section when (or if) we have a definite answer.
This piece gives Nissan's side: http://www.cleanfleetreport.com/exclusive-nissan-leaf-battery-fix/
6. It matters where the car originally "resided."
When using a service like Carmax or Carvana you may assume that a Leaf listed near you came from your area. This is NOT always the case, and that is important. Why? Because Leafs that were originally driven in Hot climates like the Southwest or some parts of California, or Florida will almost certainly have suffered more heat-related battery degradation than those that were driven in cooler climates. Use a VIN checking service like https://www.vehiclehistory.com/
(free) or Carfax to see where the car was originally registered and driven. You will likely find, if you live in a cooler climate, that many of the Leafs for sale online near you were actually shipped from a hotter climate.
7. Know enough about driving range!
There are two very important things to understand about a Leaf's - ANY Leaf's - range:
* It drops by between roughly 40% and 60% in Winter. This is due to a combination of heater use, lowered battery efficiency, increased rolling resistance with most snow tires, and increased air resistance in cold weather - usually in that order.
* Your own personal driving range will likely be different from someone else's range with the same car. This is because driving factors, especially typical highway speeds, affect how far you personally can go in your new-to-you Leaf. Know what the maximum distance you will likely need to travel is, what the typical range for a given number of capacity bars is for the battery size (usually 24kwh) Leaf you want to buy. This chart will help you to determine that:http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?t=4295
Then assume roughly half these numbers for driving in Cold, snowy Winter weather. What's that you say? "YIKES!!"? Indeed, although just slowing down and using only as much heat as you actually need will help. I have written another guide, 'The Best, Least-Known Tips & Tricks', that can help with Winter driving. It can be found here: http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=23297
8. Leaf batteries degrade over time - some of them quickly!
Any necessary range calculation must
include loss of battery capacity over time. This ranges from 'rapid and substantial' for the 24kwh Canary pack, to 'Generally reasonable in moderate climates' for the 4/2013 through 2014 Wolf pack' and 'Very reasonable in moderate and warm (but NOT Hot) climates' for the 2015 Lizard pack. The 2016-2017 packs are discussed above, while the 2018 40kwh pack is, at this early juncture, showing more degradation than either the Wolf or Lizard packs, unfortunately. Depending on your local climate, and on which pack it has, factor in degradation ranging from a best case of about 3% per year, to about 15% for the more fragile packs or a Hot climate. What about a Canary pack in a HOT climate like Arizona? Please don't even consider it.
This guide will probably grow at least a bit more over time, so if you are reading it someplace other than mynissanleaf.com, check it here for updates.
This document may be distributed freely, with proper attribution to me, Michael Cerkowski, aka LeftieBiker. It also contains helpful, valuable suggestions and information provided by other mynissanleaf.com users. Please do not modify it without consulting me at leftiebiker at gmail dot com.