I’ve had my LEAF 6 months now, it’s a great car and continues to provide a better driving experience at vastly reduced running costs. The car hasn’t come up to its first scheduled service yet, that’s due at 7,500 miles when the only item to be done at that service interval is rotate the tires.
Reliability has been flawless. I anticipated needing to take the car (or have it towed) to the dealer every month or two given that this is a first generation electric vehicle from Nissan. There are a lot of new technical advances in this car, you’d expect higher than average failure. Not so, Nissan have engineered this car well. Not one problem in six months. It was off the road for 3 weeks due to an accident involving a deer but that’s not attributable to reliability. The good news is even though this is a brand new model, the body parts were readily available in the US within 48 hours, no need for the body shop to wait for parts to be shipped from Japan.
Changing Driving Habits
Nissan have gone to great lengths to make driving the LEAF exactly like a regular car, but driving an EV *is* different to a regular vehicle. The range varies much more due to driving habits than a gas car would. I believe this is partly due to the fact that aggressive driving in a gas car isn’t reflected immediately on the gas gauge or at the gas pump. With an EV you see the difference as you drive. However I do believe the effect of careful or aggressive driving is more marked with an EV.
As a result, I have changed my driving habits as the feedback about my driving efficiency is more instantaneous and obvious. There have been some surprises as I have adapted my driving style and routes chosen. For example, driving to downtown Nashville I can take the interstate or the side roads. Previously I would always use the interstate to go to Nashville, a very painful experience during rush hour. Did you know that at 7am on a weekday morning Gallatin Road around Rivergate flows freely all the way to Old Hickory while I-65 backs up for miles and is a parking lot? A quick drive down Briarville to Ellington Parkway and I’m in downtown Nashville within 35 minutes of leaving home. No need to fight through Trinity Lane on I-65. Using the side roads I use just 1/4 of a charge to get to downtown Nashville, using the interstate it’s a little over a 1/3 of a charge. Fast and cheap :-)
The LEAF has made me change how I drive a gas car too! On a trip I’ll use the Altima’s range estimate display to determine driving style and when I need to stop for gas. Previously I’d fill up when it got to 1/4 full. With 1/4 tank of gas the Altima has 80 miles or more of range, who knew? I see the range go up and down as I adjust speed and as a result use less gas.
A common complaint regarding the LEAF is that the remaining range as displayed on the dash is hopelessly erratic and optimistic. I noticed similar erratic changes in a gas car range as well as driving habits change. It works the similar an EV, the only difference is that gas car drivers don’t pay attention nor know the effect they are having on their fuel efficiency. On a recent trip to Birmingham I got 32mpg out of the Altima, previously I would have got maybe 27-28.
Use of ECO Mode
When I first got the vehicle I hated ECO mode. The car lost it’s peppiness off the line and I was uncomfortable in situations where I might need to accelerate hard turning into/across traffic lanes. I’ve discovered however that full power *is* available in ECO mode, you just have to push the accelerator all the way. The main benefit of ECO mode is better regenerative braking and deceleration, resulting in markedly improved efficiency.
I now drive in ECO mode in preference to standard Drive.
Effects of Cold Weather and use of Heater
Using the heater in the LEAF does impact driving range, up to 20% on very cold days in the low 20′s. This is more dramatic than I had anticipated, I expected maybe a 10% difference. A handy feature of the LEAF is that it can be pre-heated while still conneceted to a charger, so it’s nice and toasty whe you set off, reducing the demand on the battery to heat the car. Keeping it warm is less demanding than warming up from freezing cold, Nissan provided the pre-heat feature for a good reason!
My 30 mile commute means I have no worries even though the range is less in the winter months. It’s great to have a nice warm car when stepping into the car at the parking lot at work at the end of the day, no need to wait for the engine to get warm as you shiver. The heater isn’t as effective as the A/C and uses much more power. The A/C in hot summer months only effects range by 3-4% (less than a gas car). Heater use and speed are the enemy of the EV driver.
If I go on an extended journey where range maybe a concern, I adjust speed to compensate for the heater using more power, so other than arriving a few minutes later, I don’t lose the ability to get where I need to go. I did experiment turning the heater off, but you know what? You get cold.