Life With a Used Nissan Leaf: 7 Years On

An update on Sami Grover's Nissan Leaf—7 years and 60,000 miles later.

Side view of a blue Nissan Leaf

Sami Grover

I’m writing this post from Whole Foods in Raleigh, North Carolina, as I wait for my 2013 Nissan Leaf to complete a fast charge before I drive to Garner for a funeral. It's a 70-mile round trip, which is just on the edge of the remaining viable range.

This is probably the fifth time I’ve fast-charged that car since my 2020 post in which I considered trading it in for a longer-range vehicle. It turns out that, as I said at the time, 60 to 70 miles of range is plenty for a second car, at least for a lifestyle like mine where nobody travels regularly for work, one parent works from home and the other has the flexibility of a hybrid work environment and an office 12 miles away. 

Given that I’ve just hit the 60,000-mile mark on the odometer, I figured it was time for another update. Here’s the abbreviated summary: 

  • Maintenance costs continue to be next-to-nothing. I’ll likely have to replace the front tires soon, and really should switch out the cabin air filter, but have had no other repairs since the last time I wrote. 
  • The range has likely suffered a little bit—the guess-o-meter* now regularly starts around 70 miles or so, whereas it used to show 83 when I first bought the car. The battery capacity indicator is a little more fickle—it often shows a 20% loss of capacity when I first start the car, but then bars reappear as I drive. 
  • Practical range (how far I can actually drive it) continues to actually increase, as new fast-charging stations with multiple chargers per location have become commonplace along highways in both directions of Durham, North Carolina where I live. I recently drove to Greensboro and back for a book reading—about 100 miles round trip—and like today, it did not even occur to me to take our plug-in hybrid, as I knew chargers would be available. 

So all that being said, besides the fact its resale value continues to plummet, and my wife continues to despise the color, it has made sense for me to hold onto this thing for as long as possible. 

I am now starting to ponder how far I can push it past the estimated lifespan of its batteries. (Most online resources seem to suggest 10 years/100,000 miles is a common estimate that also corresponds with Nissan’s battery warranty.)

My reasoning for entertaining this experiment is simple: As Lloyd Alter has written many times before, embodied energy/emissions make up a larger portion of an electric car's footprint, and that portion will only grow as the grid decarbonizes. So the longer I can keep this car on the road with its original battery pack, and the fewer miles I drive per year, the lower the impact of my car use overall. (Yes, not driving is always preferable, and I continue to carpool, walk, bike, and strategically work from near my kids' school to help keep those miles down.)

Given that most of what I dabble in ends up as posts on this site, I’m also hoping to shed a little real-world, practical light on the question of the perennial "greener new car versus keep the old car" debate that always seems to be raging. While studies will vary greatly depending on the parameters of their data, the actual questions being asked, and possibly the biases of the authors or sponsoring bodies, there is certainly a competing tension between shifting toward more efficient technology, and not trashing vehicles that still have a decent amount of life left in them. (The impact of an electric truck/SUV, for example, may well be higher than a smaller, older ICE car.)

From my perspective, and in my circumstances, it turns out that this doesn’t have to be an either/or. I already have an old, small, efficient, and relatively low-range vehicle available to me—and I have the flexibility and freedom to limit my use of it and keep it running for as long as I can. According to the work of Edgar Hertwich and Stefan Pauliuk on dematerializing buildings and cars, this is probably the best-case scenario, short of getting out of private car ownership entirely. Their findings were summarized for Carbon Brief

“We also found that product lifetime extensions benefited the climate only when they were applied to efficient buildings and electric vehicles, not to poorer-performing products in the current stock.”

With many used Leafs continuing to be available at really low prices, it turns out it’s perfectly possible for many of us who aren’t or won’t yet go car-free to pick up a well-loved, low-range electric vehicle and to pretty much drive it into the ground. From my experience, this can be an eminently practical and cost-effective way of coping with life in a car-dependent region. (Although I do recommend finding one in a color that the love of your life does not hate.) 

*Guess-o-meter is a colloquial term for the Nissan Leaf display that shows an estimated range based on recent driving style.