Life With a Used Nissan Leaf: The First Month

Nissan leaf charging in a driveway

Treehugger / Sami Grover

Back in June, I asked readers if they would buy a used Nissan Leaf. As I noted at the time, prices right now are surprisingly low—especially when you consider the ridiculously low running and maintenance costs of operating a battery electric vehicle.

Well, I've finally taken the plunge myself—buying a 2013 Nissan Leaf S last month with about 17,000 miles on the clock. Much like my series on life with a Nest learning thermostat (which, incidentally I need to post an update on after the summer), I plan on writing some follow up posts on how things go with my new car.

But here's what I've learned so far:

They're Cheap to Buy

The advertised price for my 2013 Leaf S was about $9,900—not bad for a car that cost somewhere around $30,000 new just a few years ago. Of course, the tax credits given to new Leaf buyers have substantially altered the value of used older models—as has the fact that there's now a longer-range version of the Leaf available. Even after taxes (and the inevitable shady used car dealer hidden fees), I've ended up with monthly car payments around $180, with zero money down. (Excluding a trade-in of my nearly dead 2003 Toyota Corolla.)

They're Super Convenient

For my family, the Leaf has so far been a perfect second car. I should note that I say that as someone who works from home and rarely drives more than 30 to 40 miles in a day (and sometimes not at all). In theory, the range of my Leaf is 83 miles when fully charged. In practice, however, that varies widely depending on where you're going and who is driving. My wife, for example, tends to drive more aggressively than I do, and she has experienced a somewhat shorter range. Similarly, range drops off significantly when you go on the highway or crank the AC. We're also lucky to have a Nissan dealership in town, so I have occasionally gone there to top up with their fast charger if I was nervous about range. If I lived out in the country or regularly took road trips, the Leaf wouldn't work for me—but then we have a regular old gas car for if and when we need more range.

They're Lovely to Drive

Zachary Shahan over at Cleantechnica has been raving about the drive quality of electric vehicles for years, so I probably shouldn't be surprised. I've been taken aback by how pleasant the Leaf is to drive, and how old fashioned and clunky our 2010 Mazda 5 now feels. From the instant torque and linear, surprisingly swift acceleration to the eery quiet of the (non-existent) engine, I am not exaggerating when I say that the Leaf does feel like a superior version of a car (as long as you ignore the fact you can't drive wherever you want to just yet).

Dealers Don't Know What They Are Talking About

I'd heard warnings before, but I was surprised by the lack of knowledge about the car at a dealership that had several Leafs and a used Tesla Model S on sale. When I turned up to test drive the vehicle, the model I was first interested in had not been charged—despite the fact I had made an appointment. The salesman promptly plugged it into a regular wall outlet and told me I'd have no trouble getting it home if I wanted it. (I now know the car would have taken about 8 hours to charge to the point that I could have made it home.)

Luckily, there was another model on sale that had similar pricing and better feature, including a 6.6kw charger instead of a 3.3kw charger—which I was able to explain to the dealer would result in quicker charging times. The dealer also didn't seem to understand the difference between Level 2 and fast charging options (even a Leaf without the "fast charge" option charge on a Level 2 charger considerably quicker than a regular wall outlet.)

You Probably Do Want to Install a Charging Unit

In my original post about considering this purchase, some readers suggested you don't need to bother with installing a charging unit (EVSE, technically speaking) because I'd be charging overnight, and a regular wall outlet would probably do just fine. I've found, however, that there are times when I've been out driving and come home—only to realize we'll be heading out as a family in the evening—meaning we've occasionally resorted to the dinosaur-mobile because of range anxiety. With a Level 2 charger, I'd have a full battery (from empty to full) in about 4 to five hours, and because the battery is seldom wholly empty, I'd most often be able to top up within a few hours. Besides that, I don't have a convenient outlet to plug into—and my wife is not a massive fan of extension cords snaking across the lawn.

That's all I've got for now. I'll be posting again soon with my experiences of installing a Level 2 charge point at my home, updates on what the costs look like once the electricity bills start rolling in. I do anticipate that they'll be more than offset by the savings in gas. Especially since it hasn't just replaced our second car, but greatly reduced how much we use our other car too—my wife has taken to using the Leaf instead of the Mazda whenever I don't need it. (Apparently spouses "borrowing" their partners' cars too often is a major problem among electric car owners.)

Anyhow, so far, so good. More to come.

Do let me know in the comments section if there are particular things you'd like me to cover.