We have put an electric car to the test and documented the experience to explain just what it is like living with an electric car before you make the jump. Take a read below.
The electric car market is set to undergo a massive boom in the next few years. Understandable, with climate change concerns reaching an all-time high, and the need to ‘go green’ inspiring more of us than ever. We recently bought a secondhand Nissan Leaf in order to learn more about the used electric car market – over time, we’ll build this article to include everything you need to know about secondhand electric cars. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the Generation 1 Nissan Leaf – a cute, quirky car with a unique body shape.
What Did We Buy – Nissan Leaf 2011
The Leaf we chose is a 2011 Nissan Leaf with 31,000 miles on the clock. In February 2018 it cost £5,500 to buy. The car is in warranty, and the battery owned rather than leased. The car has the 24Kwh battery, with 11 of the 12 original bars, so is in good health. I really think it could be a great car hack. The car needed 1 day of hoovering, polishing and waxing to make it look okay, but overall it’s in good condition.
Electric Vehicle (EV) – Driving Impressions
I was actually surprised by the acceleration performance of the Nissan Leaf. It has 107bhp of power, but the availability of torque is great, and the rush from 0-45mph is pretty fun. But it soon dies down after that. I feel like the Leaf can be enjoyable to drive, but you might shorten your range significantly by playing around with the car.
The braking is aided by regenerative technology that puts power back into the battery. However, I do feel that this gives the car an inconsistent braking feel. The brakes are effective when you stamp on them, but you do really have to push them hard to get them to work well. I’m sure this car is still on its first set of pads, so replacing them probably couldn’t hurt.
The handling of the car gives very little in terms of driver feedback. It’s very numb, and quite difficult to know what’s going on whilst cornering. However, driven sensibly the steering is nice and light, with little effort needed to turn. There’s also an incredible turning circle on the Leaf, ideal for city driving.
What Do You Need to Know Before Buying a Second Hand Electric Car?
Battery Leave vs. Battery Owned
Most electric cars offer several battery options when making a purchase. The Nissan Leaf gave us the option of buying the car and leasing the battery, or just buying the car outright. If the battery is leased you can expect to pay around £70 a month, which does make running costs a bit more expensive. Luckily we hunted around for one that is battery owned.
Battery Health – 12 Bars?
Looking at the battery meter in the image below, there are two bars stacking up. The longer bar with a blue section is the indicator of how charged your battery is. If it is fully charged it will go all the way to the top and will decrease from there. The narrow column on the right is the battery capacity bar – it has a maximum of 12 bars and will reduce over time as the battery degrades. This car currently shows 11 out of the 12 bars; for its age, our Leaf is in relatively good battery health.
Are High Mileage Electric Cars Okay?
From all the research I’ve conducted online, there are a lot of really high mileage Leafs out there that are doing okay. Here is one example where the owner has managed to get to 150,000 miles. The Leaf is also a common car with taxi firms, which end up clocking high miles with few problems. I honestly wouldn’t be concerned if the price was right and the battery had the capacity you’re looking for.
What are the Benefits of an Electric Car?
Zero Cost Car Tax
It definitely feels good to visit the car tax website, register your car for road tax, and not have to pay a penny. The Leaf qualifies for £0 car tax, so if you don’t clock up a lot of miles in a year, you’re winning on cost-saving before even doing a mile.
Low Motoring Insurance
At the moment you can expect to get lower insurance premiums. For myself at age 31, parking the car on the drive, including personal and business use for 8,000 miles a year, and a second driver, I can expect to pay around £300 a year.
Very Low Cost Per Mile
I have yet to carry out my costing on the car for real-life figures, but you can expect to pay around 0.03-5p per mile depending on how you drive it, charge it and the environment you’re driving in. You could compare this to a 1.0-litre lightweight car that does 60mpg – this could still cost you around 10-15p per mile.
What the Disadvantages of an Electric Car?
This Leaf has a relatively low range from a full charge. Realistically, you’re looking at around 50-70 miles range depending on if you use the lights, heaters, aircon and wipers. I will study the range possibilities and update the article in time.
Limited Charge Points
Although charge points are a lot more popular in 2018, in some cities they just might not be where you’d like them. However, this will develop over time.
Charing at Home Can Be Slow
You forked out on the car, but didn’t plan on buying a charging system. Some Nissan Leafs will come with a 3-pin charger (the ‘granny lead’). This will charge the car off any 13amp 3-pin house plug but from 0-100% it can take around 10-12 hours to charge, which might not suit your needs. There are plenty of home kits available to you – we’ll look at testing these, and document them throughout.
Nissan Leaf 2011 Likes and Dislikes
What Don’t I Like?
There are a few instant disadvantages. The pre-2013 Nissan Leaf has a light-coloured interior that just doesn’t age well. I’ve cleaned it up and it’s come out okay, but the later black cloth interiors are a definite improvement.
The floor carpet is, put simply, horrible. I believe it’s made from recycled plastic, and you can certainly tell. It doesn’t age well, and took a lot of effort to vacuum just to get it to how it looks now.
The steering wheel on the pre-2013 model doesn’t have rake adjustment, meaning that you can’t bring the wheel closer to you. I do find this annoying, but it’s not a major problem, just frustrating.
What Do I Like?
For a 2011 car at this £5,500 price point, it is relatively well equipped. It has keyless entry to start with, including a modern-looking key.
It also has a modern-ish infotainment system with FM Radio, CD, Bluetooth, SatNav, USB and a good quality reversing camera.
Our Leaf has LED headlights that work exceptionally well. This Nissan was certainly ahead of its time, outperforming some of the newer cars we test for nighttime visibility.
If you do decide to invest, you’ll become obsessed with charging the car. There is a nice and simple 3 LED display on the dash, showing you the car’s charge status. 1 light mean 0-30%, 2 lights mean 30-60%, 3 lights mean 60-100%. It is nice and simple to use – just looking out the window, you’ll always know where you’re at with charge if the car is plugged in. There is also the Nissan EV app (CarWings) that we will investigate later.
I have no explanation why I like this so much, but the gear stick – for want of a better term – I think is pretty cool. It moves right and backwards to put the car in drive, or right and forward for reverse.
There is an additional eco mode available on the car by selecting drive for the second time. This changes the mapping of the accelerator pedal, limits the power to the motor and tones down the heating, making the most out of all that energy.
Charging – What You Need
The Nissan Leaf we have here has a 24kwh battery. Charging the car offers many options, and many more things to be aware of.
Charing Over 80% Can Degrade the Battery
Nissan says that charging the car over 80% regularly could quickly degrade the battery. It may be best, then, to do this only when taking long trips. Using the car’s software, you can limit the charge to stop at 80% for regular use. There is a single button that can quickly override this option if you require an extra boost to 100%.
3-Pin Charger – Granny Lead
Our Leaf came with the 3-pin plugin charger that I’ve been using to start with. It can fully charge the car, but very slowly. From flat, the car takes 10-12 hours to fully charge. Although the 3-pin is good for a carry-around, it’s not ideal for a frequent user of the Leaf.
EV Home Charger Pods
There are plently of options available for purchase to charge your car at home. Getting the right charger could mean you get a full charge time down from 12 hours to 4-6 hours, meaning you could be getting a lot more miles out the car. We haven’t had one installed yet, but will be testing and reporting back as soon as we get a chance to test one with our Leaf.
In most built-up areas there’s a range of different public charging systems located in convenient areas. But in this there’s a lot to consider. Each charge system is run by a different company which either have pay-as-you-go schemes or subscription based services.
Once you have that figured out, there is also a range of different connectors and power ratings to use. The above screenshot gives you an idea of the current infrastructure in Birmingham along with some of the different power ratings.
As part of our initial testing, we used some high power 50KW chargers on the Nissan Leaf. 30-45 minutes is often all you need to fill the car back up and carry on your journey.
You will find these types of chargers at motorway services etc, but we will extend on this more as we learn.
Nissan Leaf Connectors
In the nose of the car, there are two connectors. On the left is the CHAdeMO connector, and on the right is the type 1 connector.
The CHAdeMO connector is typically used by the rapid 50kw chargers, while the type 1 is used by your 3-pin plug and most lower-power public chargers.
How Much Does it Cost to Charge?
We will break this down in more detail as we come across more options. However at the moment, charging at home costs me 11p per kWh, so fully charging the 24kWh Nissan Leaf costs around £2.50. Which is about the same as two litres of petrol.
If you’re using a rapid charger, these can cost 30p per kWh totally £7.20 if you hit a full charge.
Nissan After Car
The base warranty on the Leaf is good for 3 years and 60,000 miles. However, if you buy one from a Nissan dealer they can be sold with 12 months extended warranty. This 2011 car that we have here still has a warranty on the car at 7 years old.
The dealer warranty is also transferable to a new owner if sold privately.
Although you don’t have an engine, you still need to get your electric car serviced. From a Nissan dealer you can expect to pay around £149 for a minor service, or £199 for a major service.
These services are more check-ups than part replacements. The mechanics will perform general checks on brake fluid, pollen filter etc, as well as software updates.
One of the major benefits of getting your car serviced at a Nissan dealer is the inclusion of a year’s worth of RAC roadside assistance. This can be used if you ever run out of power – the RAC will come and collect you, and drop you at the nearest charger to fill up.
We have been testing out our Nissan Leaf test car in the winter weather in England and reporting back on our findings. There are a couple of things to consider when using an electric vehicle in winter to ensure you aren’t caught out. Our test journeys took place in snowy temperatures between -3 and -1 degrees, and found it very difficult to get more than 50 miles range out of the car during the cold weather. Below is some of the reasoning behind this.
Battery Temperature Effect Range
As with any device with a battery, the amount of power that can be stored is dependent on the temperature. The Nissan Leaf has a battery temperature gauge on one side of the driver’s instruments to give you an idea of the current battery temperature. The blue area of the gauge means the battery might be significantly less efficient. We certainly felt that we were getting less from the battery in cold weather – maybe a 5-10 mile loss without using the auxiliaries like lights and heating.
Cabin Heater Drains The Range
Even if you go into the car wrapped up and expecting to be chilly whilst using the heater as little as possible, it’s still necessary to switch it on to keep the windscreen clear and safe for driving. The heater element, of course, uses electricity here. Normally heat is a by-product of a combustion engine, allowing you to effectively heat the cabin for free. However, in an EV it comes at a cost.
Lights and Wiper
Driving the car in snow meant that I needed to keep the wipers moving and the headlights on so I was visible to other cars on the road. This all drains the car battery and further reduces the range of the car.
Nissan Leaf Long Journey Drive Example
To help illustrate what the average long distance ride is like with the Nissan Leaf, here is an example of a journey that we recently went on. I have yet to bring the car’s battery down to 0% and I am still driving with caution for obvious reasons.
The plan was to drive 77 miles from Birmingham to a car launch in Cirencester. There was a small number of chargers available on route that had the correct power and I had previously signed up to use. However, they were not well placed on my route for optimum charging.
Left Fully Charged
I started my journey with the car fully charged from the night before. It was early morning, so I was driving with the lights on and having to use the windscreen wipers at times. Note that this second-hand model only has 11 of the 12 bar capacity of the battery (shown in the right side of the dial) as it has slightly degraded.
But when charged, the amount of available capacity shows as 12 bars (the left side of the dial).
Charge 1 – Polar Plus Charge Station (Cost: 50p)
I arrived at my first charging station just 29 miles into the journey. The next available station would have meant doing 60 miles on a single charge. I think the car could manage it, but I haven’t driven that kind of distance on a single charge yet and I didn’t want to get stranded on the motorway.
The charging station was a Polar Plus (I have a three month trial subscription at the moment) with a 50KW DC charging facility. I took the vehicle in for a quick top-up. The charging station advises that that the Nissan Leaf has 53% battery remaining on hooking it up. But the car shows five bars remaining of usable capacity (we started with 12). A quick 18 minute charge gets the car back up to 79% on the charger and nine bars on the car. I put in 5.50Kwh of power at a rate of 9p per KW so it would have cost me around 50p to fill up.
Back Driving For 30 Miles
Next, I drove for another 30 miles. To get maximum mileage from the Leaf, you need to keep your speed consistent and avoid unnecessary changes. I have found myself as an EV driver looking further down the road and anticipating traffic movement before it happens, to help with both safety and mpg.
Charge 2 – Ecotricity (Cost: Free)
I arrived at my second charge station with three bars of battery left. I had 18 miles left to complete and only 13 showing on the car’s guess-o-meter. This time, I hooked it up using the Ecotricity rapid charger at the service station. This charge station is currently free and provides 50Kw DC power. I charged here again for another 25mins.
I had to make sure that I had at least 36 miles of charge in the car to get to my destination and back to this charge station to drive home, in case there was no way of charging the car at my destination. (I did plan to charge the car at my destination, but if the charger was taken or broken, I didn’t want to get stuck.)
Driving To My Destination
I set off again to complete the last 18 miles of my journey with just enough power to reach this charger. I was conscious of not wasting any power and had the heating off to ensure maximum range.
Arriving At My Destination and Charging (Cost: Free)
I arrived at my destination. I had researched the area in advance and there was a 7kw type 2 charger available free of charge. I left the car here for a few hours, whilst I tested the new Citroen Cactus. The full charge took around four hours, which was fine as I would be on site longer than that anyway.
I drove the same route in reverse on the way home. Because of the free charging, the entire trip would have cost me less than £3.50, with the bulk of the cost being the charge I did overnight at home to start the journey.
The 24kwh Nissan Leaf is most suited to short journeys. But, this trip shows that you can complete longer journeys with a bit of planning and at very low cost. However, for every 60 miles of driving, you will need to have around an hour on a rapid charger. This works well if the chargers can be found at regular intervals along the way. Slow and steady in the Leaf will help get you further.
How Does the Nissan Leaf Drive in the Snow
At the time of testing, the car was running summer tyres from a non-premium tyre brand. I was interested to see how the car coped in the snow for a few different reasons: I’m aware the car is heavier than other internal combustion engine cars (ICE) of this size. Furthermore, it has a low centre of gravity and of course uses motors to move the wheels.
I was actually very surprised how capable the Nissan Leaf was in the snow. Even on summer tyres the grip moving off from stationary was better than expected. I put the Leaf into Eco mode to help ease the power to the front wheels. This mode is designed to limit the power usage, but doubles up very well as a snow driving mode, limiting the slip on the front wheels. Perfect.
Under braking, the car also seemed to maintain good grip, which I can assume is helped by the car’s additional weight. The balance of this weight over the car’s footprint also doesn’t hurt.
The main disadvantage I found about snow driving was the steering wheel feedback – there was little to none. In the dry, there’s very limited feedback – but in snow you basically have no idea what’s going on. However, if you turn the radio down you can actually hear what the wheels are doing – a minor advantage.
Purchase or Improvement Recommendations
Charger Extension Cable
From spending time with the electric car, we’ve noticed a few products that make EV life a little easier. We’ll collect recommendations on these as we go forward on our electric journey.
ICE Cars Parked in EV Charging Bays Work Around
Where do we even start with this? As an EV driver you plan your long journeys in advance and figure out all the charge points you need to use to make the journey work. You get there, and there’s a diesel Ford Mondeo parked in the charging bay you need to use. And you don’t have enough juice to drive the 5 or 10 miles to the next charger. Grrr.
This happens a lot more than you think at busy shopping centres and places with limited parking. However, as frustrating as this can be, using EVcables 32amp Black Type 1 Extension Cable I can park my car within 10m of the chargers and still get a charge. You can simply park safely behind the internal combustion engine car in the bay and get the charge you need. This way people with bad parking habits don’t need to affect your journeys. Read the review of this cable here.
Replacing Those Old Wipers
Most of us have experienced cheap or worn wiper blades at some point on a car. They can run over the windscreen, not clearing it or improving driver visibility. This can be very dangerous as obstacles may be obscured by the rain. In an EV this brings a new problem as if your wipers are having to run faster as they are working ineffectively you are arguably wasting power and reducing the maximum range of the car. We replaced our wiper blades with a set of highly efficient new ones.
Refreshing The Carpets
The original car floor carpets were six years old and very dirty. They are worn and in need of replacement. We got hold of a set of luxury custom fitting mats that changed the interior from being old and dirty to feeling like a premium car. The base carpet under the removable mats doesn’t age well so being able to neatly cover this up from also a bonus. Read more about the mats in our product review area.
What’s the Cheapest Way to Recharge?
This all depends on your local area – if you can find a free local public charger, you’re quids in. A couple of tips – in the UK, most IKEAs have a rapid charger, and will refund you the charge cost of up to £6 if you make a purchase. Most Nissan dealers will also allow you to charge for free.
If you’re charging at home, it will be worth looking at competitive deals for your home electricity bill.
Does the Car Discharge if You Don’t Use it?
The Nissan Leaf will very slowly discharge if you don’t use it, yes, but you’re only talking around maybe 1 mile a day, so no significant loss.
How Does the Nissan Leaf Cope With Traffic?
The Leaf is built for traffic. When you’re stationary, you’re not using any power to the motors. The only power used would be the internals of the car. In traffic, you actually feel pretty good knowing you’re not wasting any fuel, too.
On a Public Charge, Can Somone Discount the Charge Cable When You’re Not Around?
No. If you’ve locked your car, the charge cable will lock in on both ends. So you can have peace of mind that as long as there isn’t a power cut, your car will still be on charge when you get back to it.
Does Range Vary With the Environment?
100% yes. There are a lot of variables, mostly temperature and gradients. However, light and rain can also factor in, for running the headlights and wipers.
Similar to a mobile phone – if the device gets too hot or cold, the battery life can drain. The same goes for the battery in the Leaf – for optimum range, you need the ideal temperature. The Leaf does offer a bar on the dash to demonstrate battery temp for your benefit.
If your journey has a lot of hills, you’ll cover less miles than if you were going on a steady flat surface. More power will be needed to get up hills and you will get some regeneration on the way down, but you will never recover what it took to get up the hill in the first place.
What is Regenerative Braking?
The Nissan Leaf has a motor to slow the car, and in turn spins a motor to generate electricity in the car to put back into the battery. You can monitor the regeneration via the circles on the top of the driver’s instruments. The 4 circles on the left represent braking regeneration.
Does Using the Heating Effect the Range of the Nissan Leaf?
Yes – as you can imagine, a lot of energy is used to create heat. You can expect to lose around 15-20 miles off the battery if you run the heater for the entire range of the car. Headlights, wipers, and aircon will also affect the range.
What is the Best Part of Owning a Nissan Leaf?
I do really like the fact that I never have to pay to put petrol or diesel in the Leaf. Electric at the moment is a really cheap option.
What Does it Feel Like to Drive an Electric Vehicle?
Driving an electric car does have extra, surprising benefits. Because of the absence of an engine or gearbox, there’s a lot less noise and vibration from the car. This makes for a more peaceful driving experience and overall smoother ride.
On a nice bit of road you can get a nice smooth, gliding feeling, further aided by a little bit of motor whine. With the blue interior lights, it does feel very futuristic.
What is the Longest Trip You’ve Ever Taken in Your Nissan Leaf?
So far I certainly haven’t broken any world records. I bought the car from Cardiff and took it on a 125-mile trip back to Birmingham. However, I do plan on putting a fair bit of mileage on the car.
How Do You Plan Your EV Drives?
My local routes, I don’t need to plan at all. However, for any longer routes I tend to rely on ZapMap as they have a detailed list of chargers and a great community that keeps things up to date.
How Have People Reacted to Your Decision to Drive Electric?
It’s always a hot topic for conversation. People always ask how far you get on a full charge and often think that it is not enough for them.
That said, I’m not planning on selling the unsellable. I just explain my own case for the car and people can take from it what they like – either way, people are certainly interested in electric cars.
Now That You’ve Gone Electric, Would You Ever Go Back?
I am a petrolhead, and I will still drive and enjoy combustion engines of course. I do see real value in electric cars. As good as the Nissan Leaf is, I wouldn’t have it as my primary car. However, a Tesla Model S would be a completely different story.