Six Months with a Nissan Leaf

With experience on a landfill gas-to-energy project and several published papers about hydrogen fuel cells, I could claim that Dr. Ames was primarily responsible for our purchase of a 2013 Nissan LEAF back in May. To be honest though, the amazing lease deal was a bigger factor in our decision than her love for all things alternative energy.

After 6 months, I could care less about the lease deal and have really come to love this little blue electric machine. It’s incredibly fun to drive, loaded with features I’ve never had in a car before and best of all, I never have to pull into a gas station.

I would definitely recommend a LEAF to anyone who’s daily vehicle use is within the LEAF’s range but I’ve learned a few things along the way that I didn’t know up front. If you’re interested in owning an EV and you’re considering the purchase of a Nissan LEAF, here are a few things to consider.

Telematics!

If you’re going to own a car from the future, it might as well have gull-wing doors err, an app. In my opinion, the best reason to upgrade from the base S model to the SV or SL is the CARWINGS feature. This system allows you to connect to your car via a 2G cellular connection to check your battery charge, begin charging, see estimated driving range and activate the climate control system. If you do get a model with CARWINGS though and you have an iPhone, download LEAF Link, a third-party iOS app by Mike Heasley. It’s far more reliable and less buggy than the official Nissan app.

Charging Types

L2 Charging at Emory PointeThe “trickle charger” cord that comes with the LEAF can fill up your car in about 8 hours. You simply plug it in to a standard 120v outlet. When I first bought the LEAF, I thought I was going to purchase and install a 240v (L2) EVSE in my garage but never really saw the need. It is nice to be able to charge twice as fast, especially when you’re away from home. I actually picked up a few joules from the free L2 charger seen here at Emory Point while having lunch last weekend. For home use though, my car is plugged in for at least 8 hours every night so I always wake up to a full charge. There’s also an available “quick charge port” option with the LEAF that provides a second, larger charging port. This port is not for home use but rather, public CHAdeMO chargers. These beasts can charge your car from 0 to 80% in just 30 minutes. They’re few and far between, typically just at Nissan dealerships for now, but if there’s one near your home or work, it’s a nice option to have. When I do charge away from home, I’ve found that the plugshare site and mobile apps are, by far, the best place to find a charge. There are even homeowners on the map who offer fellow EV owners a charge in a pinch.

 

Time of Use Energy Plans

If your home energy provider offers one, a TOU (time-of-use) plan is usually a good option for EV owners. I say usually because while a TOU plan gives you a better rate for off-peak hours, the peak times are significantly higher than the flat rate. As you can see from Georgia Power’s chart below, you really don’t want to be using power between 2pm and 7pm during the Summer.

Georgia Power Time of Use Plan Prices

If you can shift some of your power usage into the “Super Off-Peak” hours, you can actually save money on your power bill while still charging your EV at night on a TOU plan. If you or your spouse spends those “On-Peak” hours at home using electricity during the day, you can easily spend a lot more than you would charging your vehicle on a standard power plan. Our bill has been 20-30% higher each month than the previous year. It’s hard to tell how much of that is due to vehicle charging and our rate plan change though because we renovated our house and added another member to our family in the last year. No matter how you look at it though, I’m still spending a lot less in increased utilities than I was in gas.

The 80% Charge Rule

While Nissan proudly touts a range of 84 miles for the LEAF, that’s with a 100% charge. The owner’s manual recommends only charging to 80% to prevent battery capacity loss over time. For the first few months, I followed that recommendation and scheduled my charging to start at 11pm (the start of super-off-peak time for GA Power) and only charged to 80%. That worked fine for my daily commute, but after a couple instances of extra driving during the day and rolling in with single-digit miles remaining, I started charging to 100% every night. If you want to schedule an 80% charge, this blog post from sfbayleafs.org makes it simple: Want to Charge Your LEAF to 80%? – Demystifying the Process

Make sure you get your state tax credit!

If you lease a LEAF, the $7,500 federal credit comes off the price at the dealership. It’s up to you to make sure you get any state tax credits though. In Georiga, that rebate is worth up to $5,000 but you have some paperwork to fill out. While the certification process is archaic and slow, the instructions are fairly clear. You just have to download the form and send it in with your bill of sale and tag receipt to a man named James Udi (yes, it really is just one dude) who will stamp the original form and mail it back. You’ll have to send this approved certificate in with your state tax return to get the rebate.

Strangers will ask you questions!

That’s part of the reason why I put this post together. There’s a lot of curiosity about electric vehicles right now. I’ve been stopped several times in parking lots by people who want to know how I like my car, how far I drive and even why they’re seeing so many of them around Atlanta. I know of at least 10 LEAFs among the people who work at MailChimp. We even got a shoutout from the official @NissanLEAF twitter account back in August:

If you have any questions about owning a LEAF or an EV in general, I’d be happy to try to answer them. Feel free to ask away in the comments.

8 Comments

  1. How much did your powerbill go up? You said 20-30% but in actual $$ how much? Have you broken it down, $ per mile, with power, lease, lease up front cost etc?
    What happens if the battery runs out, just a recharge?

    • We did a 2 year lease, so that lease deal article I linked to is a good break down of that. My daily commute is between around 15-20 miles round trip depending on the route that Waze tells me has the least traffic. We were in the process of renovating the house around this time last year and had a baby in March so some of our power usage increase probably doesn’t reflect charging alone. We’re currently using 250-300kWh a month during Super-Off-Peak hours which is the only time I charge my vehicle. Of course, the AC is running during that time and we also typically schedule our dishwasher to start after 11pm as well. The difference has been about $30-40/mo over the previous year at this point. To answer your questions accurately, I’d need to get a Kill A Watt monitor to find out exactly how many kWh my car itself is soaking up. If the battery runs out, you just have to plug it in. And wait.

  2. Very nice! I’ve heard of this deal and am very tempted. So you have a 2 year lease, and at the end of the lease are you planning on keeping it it? I get confused about just leasing it but still qualifying for the $5k tax credit?

    • I did do a 2 year lease which you can still get the state tax credit for. Once the lease is up though, I’ll be giving it back. The whole point of the deal I linked to up in the first paragraph is that you end up with a new car that’s free to drive for 2 years. While I’m pretty confident now that the technology and current range is worth committing to long-term, I wasn’t at the time. Also, there’s reports that the 2016 Leaf will have double the range, so I might end up getting another one when the lease is up, with or without the tax credit.
      http://electrek.co/2014/08/28/nissan-leaf-to-get-redesign-and-double-range-for-mid-2016/

  3. Hi. A question – you said, “There’s also an available “quick charge port” option with the LEAF that provides a second, larger charging port. This port is not for home use but rather, public CHAdeMO chargers.” And I want to make sure I understand – so when a Leaf comes with QC (which the dealers are pushing), this is not something that I can use at home, but I have to go to one of the few CHAdeMO chargers to use? I’m in Decatur and according to the CHAdeMO website it looks like there are only about 5 of these ITP – one at Agnes Scott. Is that correct?

    • Hey Rebecca, I’m in Decatur as well! When the Nissan dealers talk about quick charging, they could mean one of two things. The base model (S) of the LEAF only has a 3.6kw onboard charger, so it will only charge at the 120v pace. The upgraded models (SV and SL) come with a 6.6kw onboard charger so they can benefit from a 240v home charger. Both of these use the same standard port – it’s called a J1772. There’s a “charger package” for the S that gets you this upgraded onboard charger. If they’re talking about the “quick charge package”, they’re probably talking about DC fast charging which used the 2nd, larger CHAdeMO charging port which you can’t use at home. In my opinion, they really shouldn’t be pushing this option since those chargers are so few and far between.

  4. Would you prefer an S with QC port or an SV without QC. My round trip commute is only 20 miles, so QC is not needed on a daily basis. We have another car for longer trips if we chose the SV without QC. With QC we could got to the beach, one hour away, 60 miles. Without it, we would use the other car. I just don’t know which option is the one I could not live without. What’s your take?

    • I would take the QC port. Honestly though, I only have the standard 110V EVSE that came with the car so I rarely get any benefit out of the 6.6kw onboard charger. The quick charge is nice though for those rare occasions when I’m plugged in at a level 2 charging station. Don’t get the DC(CHAdeMO) quick charge port though. There aren’t many of those charging stations out there and they cost a lot when you do find them so you’ll probably never use it.

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