How far can you go in that thing? What sort of range does it have? Aren’t you worried about running out of power? How long does it take to charge? What do they cost to own/drive? These are the most common questions I tend to get when out on the road in my wife’s Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Want to know the answers? Keep reading!
Sadly, there are no easy answers to most of the questions above. There are just too many variables when it comes to each issue. But if you are a prospective buyer, or just curious, these are some great questions to ask. I’ll do my best here to answer some of the most common aspects of ownership.
Since we love our Nissan Leaf so much we are always happy to engage in conversation with an inquiring party. Sometimes people just want a quick answer and nothing more. But more often than not it unfolds into a 15 minute conversation covering many aspecfts of the vehicle. Folks are generally intrigued!
NOTE: If you TRULY are interested in purchasing/leasing a Nissan Leaf you should start by reading online reviews on automotive sites. From there I would suggest you graduate to the MyNissanLeaf message forums. They have a wealth of knowledge coming from a huge user base of owners, and have already provided good conversation on all the hot topics. And if you have a question you cannot find an answer to, ask there and you’ll get a quick reply!
After reading online and deciding that the Leaf was a good match for us, my wife picked up our vehicle December 28, 2012. We just recently passed the one-year and 10,000 mile marker, and went in for the first free scheduled maintenance. This included a tire rotation, a battery inspection/test, and a courtesy vehicle check. Thank you to Mayfield/Ganley Nissan for top-notch, courteous, and professional service!
As we expected the car is in tip-top shape with no issues or concerns. We could not be happier! Averaging almost 850-miles per month, the Leaf is our main commuter car and daily driver. We’ve affixed snow tires to it for sake of winter driving in Cleveland, Ohio. It does just fine in the white stuff, though the snow tires are highly recommended (even for a non-EV in Northern Ohio). Since we drive the car often, it provides us good experience to launch into answers to the most popular questions. Here goes…
WHAT KIND OF RANGE DOES THE LEAF GET?
When it comes to range, which is the top question we get, I usually tell people “enough” — but that doesn’t really give the entire picture. Our driving is typically 90% city roads around 40 MPH, and at most 10% freeway speeds. In the summer we tended to average 75 miles on a single charge. In the coldest of winter months last winter and this year we have seen around 45 miles average range. This tends to align with typical results that I have seen on the forums, but as always take caution as your results could vary.
Before we had our Leaf our first concern was also the range. When we first set out to determine if the Leaf would work for us and our commute (my wife/I drive to work together) we found Nissan’s silly chart that looks something like this:
Honestly, that thing is a waste. It doesn’t really do a good job of covering all the conditions. You have speed, elevation, temperature, and so many other factors that give you a true picture of how the car will perform. Luckily the forums had real-world examples. We used the information from the MNL forums to better determine what our true real-life range might be here in our conditions.
NOTE: Some dealerships will let you take a car home for a few days to test. If you have the means to do this then go for it! Just remember you’ll most likely be charging at 120-volts (standard outlet) at home, which won’t charge as fast as a Level-2 240-volt charger. I’ll talk about charging more in a moment. But still, from a full charge, testing your drive is the best way to find out just how well it works (and to find out how awesome the car drives!)
During my research about range, I also came across this chart in the MNL forums:
Full of geeked out numbers and figures, this chart really gives you a good matrix to find out where you might land. However as I noted, driving style, elevation changes, ambient temperature, and many other factors play a huge roll. If you’re still not content with the data above then post up on the MNL forums for some real-world testaments!
In a nut-shell, the range of the Leaf is truly “adequate for MOST people” once you crunch the number. If your range is such that you need to charge at work AND home, do not fret. More and more charging stations are being established each day. Check out PlugShare to find nearby charging stations to your needed areas. Most of the folks I’ve chatted with are able to make the Leaf work — but for some people it may take a bit more planning than others. We charge only at home and that is sufficient, but our daily commute is only 25 miles. Other people I know charge at home and during the day at work, but sometimes they can charge for free at work– which is a huge added financial bonus to the Leaf.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO CHARGE?
Charging our 2012 Nissan Leaf is easy. Like all EVs on the market today, the car includes a 120-volt cable that stores in the trunk when not in use, and plugs in your standard grounded outlet. For the first month of ownership we used that method to charge the car, and in roughly 8-10 hours the car would recharge fully. This worked okay, but we quickly realized there were times that cutting the charge time down could be useful.
We purchased a Schneider Electric 30-Amp Electric Vehicle Charging Station to help cut the charge times in half. And that was a year ago, when the price was 30% more than it is now– prices continue to drop on these units! There are other options from other manufacturers, but we’re really happy with the Schneider unit; it comes highly recommended.
SIDEBAR: Installation of an EV charging station like this usually falls in the range of $100-300 depending on the difficulty involved. Always consult a professional when dealing with electrical items of this nature, and keep in mind that older homes or certain style/layout houses may make the cost higher or even prevent you from installing a unit altogether.
We have never driven our car to such a low battery state that it has shown the little turtle icon. But we have gone down to zero bars and low-battery warning. Even in that condition the 240-volt charger (also known as “level 2” or L2) only took roughly 5 hours to bring the car back to 100% charge level. And the 2013 and newer Nissan Leaf has an optional 6.6 kWh charger on board, cutting the time down even further than our car. On a 120-volt (“level 1” or L1) system this would have taken nearly 10-hours to complete.
Having the L2 charge station allows us to charge more swiftly, which has been a huge asset on the weekend. For example, imaging you have a busy morning and mid-day planned on the weekend. Now it is mid-afternoon and you’re home for 2-3 hours before heading out for the evening, but the range on your Leaf is such that it would not be capable of meeting your needs. Given the L2 EVSE, you can charge in half the time versus L1, and still be able to utilize the Leaf for your evening plans. It is great!
If you are still not convinced the charging station is worthwhile, check out the cost savings that I outlined in my blog post HERE which shows you that the charger is more than paid for even when leasing. If you get an EV, trust me, you’ll want to get an L2 240-volt charging station. It makes the experience far more enjoyable.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OPERATE A NISSAN LEAF?
Charging costs will vary based on what you pay per kWh of electricity. Friends of mine in California have solar panels that greatly reduce their bills, but their base kWh cost was nearly thrice that of the midwest. Solar is prohibitive here, but our kWh cost might vary still from someone say in Florida, or New Jersey.
Our kWh costs are around $0.11 per kWh, which results in an effective cost for driving our Leaf of $0.04 per mile average — not too shabby! Bottom line is that the car is the opposite of expensive, providing us an actual SAVINGS of huge amounts of money!
Find out what you pay per kWh of electricity and device that by the published numbers of the EV you are interested in to get a cost to operate the car per mile. Since most EVs don’t have much (or any) annual maintenance costs that is your actual cost to drive the car all year long. You may need tires or brakes here or there, but you don’t need to factor in oil changes or gasoline. Comparing other cars be sure to factor in the cost not only of fuel (gasoline/diesel), but also the maintenance costs which tend to be much higher too.
Our cost of ownership thus far after a year has been next to nothing. There is a cabin filter you should replace every 7,500 to 10,000 miles — I bought one off Amazon HERE and installed it myself. That has been the only “required” cost of ownership for the first year. Every other penny we’ve spent on the car has been elective items for fun, such as the Genuine Nissan All Season Molded Floor Mats for example.
SIDEBAR: You may notice in the banner photo that my wife’s car has some unique wheels on it. Those are Konig Forward White with Pink Stripe Wheels that we purchased for summer with some 3-season tires. This was to make it easier to leave the factory wheels for winter, which received the aforementioned snow tires. We also picked up a pretty set of NRG Pink Extended Lug Nuts to secure the wheels to the car in the warmer months.
In conclusion, the Nissan Leaf continues to provide my family with a reliable, inexpensive, low-cost, and fun mode of transportation. Most of the fellow owners we have met agree that the car has provided them a savings, and an enjoyment level not many other cars have in the past. But don’t take my word for it… go test drive one today!
PS: If you have any further questions about our Nissan Leaf experience please use the comments section below to ask away!