• Dec 17, 2010
Test driving an electric car at an automaker's media event is one thing. Taking one home and living with it is a completely different experience. Nissan just loaned me a Leaf for several days and I came away with a new appreciation for the potential pitfalls and rewards of owning an EV.

First off, I really liked the Leaf. It's a nice, comfortable car with more than adequate power, it's unbelievably quiet and offers a decent driving range. In fact, it's been a long time since I was this excited to bring a test car home. But it wasn't always a shiny, smiley, happy experience.

Let me state unequivocally: if you can only recharge from a 110-volt outlet, the Leaf is not for you. Not if you have a hefty commute and only own one car, that is.

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John McElroyJohn McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as a Detroit insider to Autoblog readers.



The problem is that if you run the battery down, it takes 20 hours to fully recharge the Leaf from a 110-volt outlet. That can force you into what I call a "charging deficit." You simply run out of hours in a day to fully recharge your car. This is especially true if you can't recharge at work. So every day, your possible driving range becomes a little bit shorter, until at some point, you simply have to park the car for nearly a day. With 110 volts, you get about five miles range for every hour of charging.

A 220-volt outlet instantly solves the problem. It cuts the recharging time by more than half. But if you are contemplating buying an EV and only have access to 110-volt outlets, then the Leaf probably shouldn't be on your shopping list. You may want to consider the Chevrolet Volt, which has a smaller battery pack and doesn't need as many hours to recharge.



Every Leaf comes with a 110-volt charger, essentially a thick extension cord with a box full of electronics attached to one end. It comes from the factory nicely and neatly coiled in a carrying case in the luggage compartment. But it's bulky and awkward to use. After the second time using it, I gave up trying to coil it and neatly stow it back in its case. I just opened the hatch and dumped the thing in the back.

One morning, it was raining and so I had to dump a wet charger into the back of the car. I'm sure a lot of people would not be happy doing that. And it would only be worse if the charger were covered in mud or snow or ice. Of course, parking the Leaf in a garage would solve that problem. Anyone contemplating buying an EV will definitely want a garage, and a permanent 220-volt charger. Those chargers cost about $2,000 installed, but at least for now there are generous manufacturer incentives to cover the cost.

The first night I tried charging the Leaf, I didn't get it right. Not one electron ended up in the batteries. So I came out the next morning to find my driving range was down to only 63 miles. Talk about a charging deficit!

2011 Nissan Leaf trunk

The problem was that I didn't plug it in properly. The charging cable has a big, fat plug on the end, and the outlet I used did not let the plug seat properly. It stuck out a little bit, but not enough for me to notice. Nor did I notice that the electronic lights on the charger failed to light up. No one told me to check the lights, so I didn't know to check them.

Yet, I was sure I was doing everything perfectly. When I plugged the charger into the car, it beeped to let me know it was connected. After that, a little pictogram of a plug appeared on the instrument cluster. With this kind of positive feedback, I naturally assumed that everything was charging properly. Wrong!

Later, a quick call to Nissan taught me there are three little blue lights on the top of the instrument panel (viewable from outside of the car) that let you know if the Leaf is charging. If they're not on, nothing's going into the batteries. Again, I didn't know that. Stupid of me not to know, right? Of course. But I'll bet I'm not the only one who has this happen.

I loved live with the Leaf. There was always something new to learn.
Another disappointment was that I was unable to set the automatic timer for the heater to come on. One of the attractive aspects of EVs is that you can set the temperature to your liking before you get in the car, while it's still plugged in. That way the batteries don't have to take a big hit to heat or cool it. So I set the temperature at 74 degrees F and set the timer for 7 AM. But the next morning, it was cold outside, and the car was just as frigid. What went wrong? It turns out that when the Leaf is charging, it will not let the heater or air-conditioning come on. All the juice is diverted to the batteries. Nissan tells me there is a way to set the car to charge to only 80% or lower. And once the batteries hit that level, then the automatic temp will come on. But no one ever told me that.

And you definitely want to heat or cool the car while it's plugged in. That's because your driving range drops by at least 10 miles the instant you turn on the heater. Of course, the range goes up if you turn the heater off. So I found myself turning on the heat long enough to warm up my toes, then switching it off. I was able to extend my driving range somewhat, but my toes never got very warm.

A word about the heater. It works reasonably well, but not all that great. In my experience it seemed to take longer to warm up than a conventional car, and never got as hot. Nissan will have heated seats and a heated steering wheel as part of a cold weather package, but they're not available yet. Heated seats are a more efficient way to get warm and shouldn't affect your driving range as much.

Despite all the setbacks, I loved living with the Leaf. There was always something new to learn. One of the coolest displays on the instrument panel is a readout of your electrical consumption. It displays the energy consumption of the powertrain, the climate controls and the accessories. I found myself constantly playing around with this. It was amazing to see how little electricity the radio uses, and just as intriguing to see how the electrical load increased going from low-beams to high-beams.

Maybe you don't care about that. EVs are definitely not for everyone. But they will satisfy most people who are willing to deal with their limitations. I'm just reporting all this in the hopes that other EV enthusiasts will avoid the problems I ran into.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 75 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      At the end of the day, you have to remember he said he Loved the Car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        And I love F22 raptors and F4 Phantom's but that does'nt mean it would be a smart investment.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Cold Weather package? Is there a Hot Weather Package too? Heaters have been standard in cars for a loooonnnnnngggggg time. I think the general public has come to expect those, especially in a $20K car- no matter the propulsion.

      Truly, the EV only vehicle is not prime time ready if heating the car is still a problem.

      I am surprised that Nissan dumped the car in your lap, even for a test period. That is just bad service and bad on the marketing dept, in my mind. Whenever I have bought a car, I've had someone go over the finer points of the automobile (intro to Nav and Voice Command), where's the battery?, and other items.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It comes with a heater standard. The cold weather package gives you heated seats and a heated steering wheel. It would help if you read the article before you picked something to bash about the car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        But the point is that it is an ineffective heater. I get that the heater works better on an ICE car because of the heat generated but still, that you need a heated steering wheel and seats to approximate comfortable warmth is wrong. And my passengers need gloves in the car since they do not have a steering wheel?

        I'll stick with the Volt and Prius until the EVs are sorted better.

        Knock me down all you want but 99% of the people going to look at a car in the winter wont buy one that doesnt warm them up, green or no.
        • 4 Years Ago
        According to the Leaf website driving in summer with the a/c on reduces the range to 70 miles @ 95F, and in the winter with a temp of 14F the range is reduced to 62 miles and reduces even further as the temp drops. So here in the windy city with temps hovering around 0-5F at night I could imagine a lot of Leaf owner will be missing a lot of work or if they do make it on time, add a couple of hours to recover from hypothermia.

        At 20 hours recharging time with the average cost of electricity at $0.1147/kWh annual cost to charge @ $2.75 per day is $1003.75 added to the electric bill (again, straight from the Leaf website) vs. the Volt which requires 10 hours recharging @ $1.50 per day, that's $547.50 (per the Volt website).

        Just sayin, if you choose to buy an ICE average economy car @ $20,000.00 with NO driving limitations and have a 40 mile per day average and get in the area of 35mpg at say $4.00 per day @ $1460.00 per year is the difference of $456.20 in energy savings plus a difference of around $6,000.00 in msrp after the fed rebate really worth freezing your proverbial arse off?

        Hell no.
      • 4 Years Ago
      .
      • 4 Years Ago
      Interesting article. I like the Leaf but, yes, it's probably not the best choice for a one-car household and / or someone who commutes a lot. And, yes, you'll probably want a garage with a 220v connection. Here in Texas, I wonder how the A/C use will affect the range. Assuming it has a/c.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's nice to hear about a cold weather package for those people who don't live in San Diego or Miami but a thermal blanket around the batteries that actually worked during charging might improve charging abilities as well.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually it is just the reverse. While the battery's internal resistance goes up with lower temps, but generally the lithium-ion battery pack gets quite warm when charging, and elevated temperatures during charging/ambient temperature harms the battery life.

        Putting a thermal blanket around the batteries creates not only a fire hazard, but harms the battery life.
      • 4 Years Ago
      To summarize this article: RTFM.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Just bought a VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI. The dealership spent about an hour with me and the car (indoors!) going over a bunch of stuff, from the obvious (here's how you turn on the lights), to the detailed (when you unlock the drivers door, the moment you open the door, the glow plugs in the engine turn on so you don't have to wait to start the engine).

        That evening I read the owners manual. I'd have to say that the dealer covered about 85% of the stuff in the manual (including the radio stuff AND bluetooth connectivity), and the remaining 15% is detail that a detail oriented, owners-manual-reading person like me would be interested in.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Stupid coment ever ....and that if you dont have 220V its useless its so ignorant. Why people befor post somthing like it dont learn just a little bit how mechanical physics works? thats why a jurnalist its the LESS apropiate person talking about cars
      • 4 Years Ago
      Interesting car and article.

      What I want to see is the range of the Leaf in Pittsburgh rush hour traffic, in a snowstorm, at night. Between the stop-and-start traffic, the Pittsburgh hills, and all the electrical stuff you'd have to run, I'll bet the range is 15 miles, maybe less. And, if you had trouble getting up a hill because you're spinning your wheels, wheelspin is energy lost with no real gain in actual distance. Obviously, this is a worst-case scenario, but it DOES happen in the Actic North at this time of year.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Wrong. The tests run by Nissan have shown over time that about the WORST you can do - ie: doing everything wrong, you'll still get about 60 miles.

        I don't understand why people who have no information feel the need to share the ignorance.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Do you listen to the Radio?
        This is America, are you just off the boat?
      • 4 Years Ago
      "but no one ever told me that"

      wtf are you, a baby?
      you have to be spoon fed everything. gosh, do some findings for yourself.
      need i tell you the long vertical pedal is for acceleration and the button in the middle of the steering wheel is a horn?

      grow up, stop using lame excuses.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This car would be a very nice second car for someone owning another vehicle specificaly for some tasks (sports car, trucks, etc...)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Honestly, if you're in the market for EV car, get a Volt. Has way more benefits than Battery-only EV cars.
        • 4 Years Ago


        I'm still confused on this particular subject. Is the motor ONLY to generate electricity or does the motor also become connected to drive train to move the car? If the latter is yes, then you're correct of being hybrid. But if the motor solely used to generate electricity, then it is an EV car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        despite GM marketing distortions, the Volt is a hybrid, not an EV
        • 4 Years Ago
        the motor connects to the drivetrain through a planetary gearbox. It is essentially the same as a gen-1 Prius with input and output points swapped.

        Basically, it breaks down like this. If you commute less than 70 miles per day and have access to another car (in household or rental) or fly for occaisonal long trips, the LEAF is the best choice. If you commute less than 30 miles per day (~plug-in range) and can't access a second car (single-car household in rural location), the Volt makes sense. If you commute more than 30 miles and can't access a second car for long trips, a Prius makes the most sense (due to much better gas mileage running on gasoline). If based on total cost of ownership, a LEAF or a Prius would be better than a Volt.

        For most households in the US that have two cars or have access to a second car for long trips, a LEAF makes the most sense as one of their cars if they are trying to reduce oil consumption. When Level III (20-30 min charge) fast chargers connect this country like they do in Japan, it will make more sense for more people.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Its great to see a car actually come to the marketplace, but this thing is still mostly a toy if you dont have a gas backup. When there is charging stations at work it will be better.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It's not a toy for people who commute a distance well with the car's range. It has limited appeal, but that appeal will expand as improved battery technology allows for increased range. Gas backup or work chargers aren't a necessity if you have enough range.
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