Life With a Used Nissan Leaf: 5 Years On

Thinking of buying a used electric car? Here's what to know.

Blue car being charged

hohl / Getty Images

 “I don’t care what type of Leaf you buy. Just don’t get the ugly blue color.”

Back in the late summer of 2015, I bought a used 2013 Nissan Leaf. While I defied the wishes of my smarter and more elegant wife regarding color, the purchase did end up being a hit in terms of practicality and convenience. As a result, I reported on life with a used 2013 Nissan Leaf, eventually also writing several follow up posts, including when cold weather arrived, and once I’d had it for 18 months or so.

Not only did I soon become a fan of avoiding the gas station and "filling up" overnight at home, but because many older Leafs were coming off their lease contracts around that time, our decision turned out to be surprisingly affordable too. The advertised, pre-tax price came in at just shy of $10,000, which wasn’t bad for a barely three-year-old car with 17,000 miles on the odometer.

Some five years later, I am finally nearing the end of the road with my ugly blue machine, so I thought I’d write a little update for those who have been thinking of making a similar purchase.

Incredibly Low Maintenance

Here’s the first thing to know: Not only has it managed everything we’ve asked of it as an around-town second car, but – as predicted by many – it’s proved to be incredibly low maintenance too. Apart from the occasional flat or replacement tires, the only real maintenance I’ve had to do has been switching out air filters, wipers, etc., and once having to replace the 12v battery that runs all the accessories and electronics. Taken in conjunction with fuel savings (an empty-to-full charge appears to add something like $2 to my electricity bill), I reckon the car has saved me many thousands of dollars compared to its gas-powered predecessor.

Just Enough Range

In terms of battery longevity and range, it’s been a little bit more of a mixed bag. Even when first purchased, the supposed 83 miles of range promised on what Leaf nerds refer to as the “guessometer” usually turned out to be less under real-world conditions. Whether it was using AC or heating, or simply driving a little faster than 60 mph, it was clear fairly quickly that real-world range was always more like 60 to 70 miles. And as the car has aged, that appears to have dropped a little bit too.

Exactly how much is hard to say, but the battery capacity indicator on the dashboard – which is intended to help you identify battery degradation – now shows as missing two of its twelve bars when I first start the car. (Inexplicably, those bars reappear after several miles of driving.) My best guess based on my own experiences is that I’m at some 10-20% lower range than when the car was new.

What I’ve learned, however, is that 60 to 70 miles of range is more than enough for most of my needs, especially as we have a second vehicle available that’s capable of running on good old fashioned gasoline. In fact, because charging stations have proliferated in our area since 2015, and because my employer has worked with our landlord to install a charging station at the office, I’ve actually found that the car has increased in real-world practicality since the day it was first purchased.

Blue Nissan Leaf in the driveway

Sami Grover

New Models Now Available

That said, all good things must come to an end. And with longer range cars like the first generation Chevy Bolt and the Leaf 2.0 beginning to come off their lease contracts, just as my current car did back in the day, I am starting to mull on the idea of an upgrade. Not only would either of these cars allow me the option of making short out-of-town trips should I want to, but they would also mean my wife – who suffers from a lot more "range anxiety" than I do – would be much more comfortable if I had to take our gas-powered vehicle for the weekend.

The question now is how much I can still get for an 8-year-old electric car, now that newer models are on the market. Perusing the internet, I’m seeing prices somewhere between $4,500- to $5,500. I’ll be pretty happy if I can get somewhere in that range, and I’d imagine that’s a good price for someone looking for a cheap, low maintenance, around-town ride. With only about 50,000 miles currently on the clock, I’m pretty confident that the car still has several years of lower mileage motoring left in it for someone who doesn’t drive long distances in a day.

As usual, it goes without saying that the best, greenest car is no car at all. But then, that’s not entirely practical for many of us living in the sprawling, car-centric infrastructure of North America. Yes, my e-bike will get me around town when I need it to, but unless the powers that be miraculously get serious about mass transit and truly livable cities, my family is going to be car-dependent for the foreseeable future. While it’s time for me to move on from my Leaf, I am profoundly pleased with its many years of service – and there is no way I would ever consider going back to only gas.

That said, I could do with a car that wasn’t quite such a bold shade of blue.