Life With a Used Nissan Leaf: 18 Months On

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CC BY 2.0. Sami Grover

Back in October of 2015, I finally took the plunge and bought a 3 year old Nissan Leaf for around $10,000. (Not bad, given it only had 16,000 miles on the clock.) I posted a few updates about cold weather driving and lending the thing out when we were off on vacation, but I realized this week that I hadn't posted much on my long-term driving experience. So here's the summary:

It has been awesome.

I love not going to gas stations. I love not paying for gas. And (surprisingly for those who still think I must be driving a golf cart), I love the actual driving experience too. True, it can be a little sluggish when driving in "eco" mode, which slows acceleration, reduces the amount of AC you can crank, and maximizes regenerative braking to preserve range—a feature that bugs both my wife and my more lead-footed friend who borrowed it. But if you're not driving too far, then you can easily override that feature and it's zippy as anything.

The only main drawback is actually related to one of its primary benefits: Because I no longer have to worry about regular oil changes, it can be easy to forget about maintenance at all. In fact, it's only because I am writing this post that I'm remembering I should probably have the tires rotated and the brakes checked. Other than that, the car seems to keep on chugging with very little need for TLC.

The other aspect I should probably report on is range, and range anxiety. And like many people who have written all over the internet about this, it's worth noting that these are two distinct things. So let me say this clearly: I have never gotten close to running out of charge. Even on days when I thought I might be pushing my range (which theoretically maxes out at 82 or so miles—less with highway driving), I've gotten home with 15 to 20 miles on the "guessometer". And on the occasional days when someone in the household has forgotten to plug it in, we have a Nissan dealership nearby with a free fast charger which I can use to top up. This is, of course, partially due to the fact we still have one gas car in the household. (Soon to be a plug-in hybrid.) Any time I need to drive further than is sensible in the Leaf, I can usually switch with my better half as she also works locally. It also helps that we installed a Level 2 charger at home—a move that was probably not necessary, but adds to convenience and peace of mind.

Range anxiety, however, is a slightly more complicated matter. I've noticed that many folks tend to get nervous if the battery drops below 25%. And that nervousness can lead to driving the gas car "just in case". So if you're considering an electric car, it's worth thinking not just in terms of absolute range, but in terms of the comfort zones of everyone who'll be driving it. Given that newer Leaf models are available with 27% more range, and Tesla's Model 3 and Chevy's Bolt will soon be offering 200+ mile ranges, I would imagine that range anxiety will soon begin to disappear.

Finally, I will also share this from my experience: Expect many, many people to ask about your car. I have lost count of how many friends are interested, and many are now talking about taking the plunge themselves. I have said it before, but I think we may all be surprised by how quickly electrified transportation really takes off.

Then we can get to work on tackling car dependence too. But the Leaf has been a wonderful first foray into ending my oil addiction. I couldn't recommend it more highly.