Buying a used Nissan LEAF? Read this first

Are you thinking about buying a used Nissan LEAF? David Murray is a bit of a LEAF expert, having driven a 2011 and a 2013. He and his wife are now in the market for a used LEAF to make them a 2 LEAF family. He says there’s no shortage of used cars on the market with prices as low as $12,000. However, like all new technology, the LEAF has gone through lots of changes since it was first introduced. Knowing what equipment and options a used one has often takes a trained eye.

His search of used cars has taught him that most if not all used car dealers have no idea what features the car they are selling comes with and don’t know how to tell if a particular car is equipped with a heat pump or DC fast charging – both features Murray wants. Here’s how to tell at a glance.

Fast charging

Open the hood and look near the front of the car for bright orange cables. If the car has DC fast charging, there will be 3 of them. If there is only one, it does not. Fast charging is standard on all SL models from 2012 on and optional on SV models. From 2013 on, the SV cars with will have LED highlights instead of halogen units.

On board charger

The LEAF comes with either a 3.3 or a 6.6 kW on board charger. The bigger charger simply recharges in half the time – a desirable feature. 2011 and 2012 cars all have the 3.3 kW unit. Starting in 2013, all SV and SL models have the faster charger. S model cars only have it if they also have DC fast charging capability (check for those 3 orange cables).

Heat pump

A heat pump is far more efficient than a resistance type heater. That means on cold mornings, cars with a heat pump will have more range than those without it. How to tell? The heat pump did not become available until 2013. Even then, it was not available on the base S model cars.

Battery Pack

This one is complicated because Nissan has made many improvements to the battery pack since the car was first introduced. Battery degradation has been a problem for the LEAF, especially on the 2011 and 2012 cars. For the most part, the reduced battery capacity has been an issue in hot climates, but that used car you are looking at may have been driven anywhere. How do you know what you are getting?

The first place to start is to switch the car on and check the dashboard display. On the far right of the battery state of charge meter is a row of 12 bars with the numeral 1 at the top and the numeral 0 at the bottom. The lowest two bars will be red.

When brand new, a LEAF has all 12 bars illuminated. The Nissan battery warranty applies if the display drops to 8 bars during the warranty period. Many people think if their meter gets to 9 bars they get a new battery but that is not correct information. The only way to know whether the battery in your car is covered by the factory warranty is to take the VIN number to an authorized Nissan dealer and ask. If you are told the battery in the car is covered, get it in writing! 

If you find a used car that shows only 9 bars and you are certain the battery is still under warranty (96 months/100,000 miles according to the Nissan website), you may be lucky enough to get your hands on a used LEAF at a good price that will qualify for a new factory fresh battery soon. But be sure to do your homework and verify the warranty still applies to that car.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the batteries in 2013 and newer cars are not plagued with early battery degradation the way earlier cars were. All new cars have what is known as the “lizard battery,” so named because it is much better able to withstand operation in hot climates. The rumor mill says that Nissan quietly started equipping some 2014 cars with the lizard battery in order to gain some real world experience with it prior to announcing how much better it is publicly but only a check of the battery’s serial number can confirm that.

Many older cars will have just 9 or 10 bars showing on the battery meter. If you find an older LEAF that still shows 12 bars on the battery meter, be suspicious. Rumors are beginning to surface that unscrupulous dealers have figured out how to trick the meter so it reads 12 bars even on old cars with weak batteries. Allegedly, the car will continue to show 12 bars for a few weeks until the software catches up with reality. Then bars will start disappearing at a rapid rate and you will be driving a LEAF with half the range it should have.

Model year changes

Basically, the 2013 and newer cars are a significant upgrade from the early cars. Open the hood on a newer car and on an older car and what you see looks entirely different. From 2013 on, the battery is much improved. Heat pumps, DC fast charging and a 6.6 kW on board charger became standard on some models and optional on others. A heated steering wheel was added and the size of the battery was reduced, freeing up valuable storage space at the rear of the vehicle.

David Murray is on the hunt for a used LEAF with all those features. His search (via InsideEVs) has pulled together a lot of useful information that anyone considering a used Nissan LEAF should print out and take along while shopping. An informed shopper will be able to spot a good deal or avoid a bad one. The LEAF community owes David a debt of gratitude for helping them be more knowledgeable shoppers.

Posted by Steve Hanley

Steve Hanley is a car nut and Formula One addict who occasionally drives his Mazda MX-5 on track at HPDE events. He has been known to drive to Nova Scotia just to see the lupins in bloom or to Watkins Glen for a weekend of historic racing. He writes about automobiles, technology and travel from his home in Rhode Island.

  1. Dear David. I want to import the Nissan Leaf in West Africa and it should be the first of its kind in the region.

    Relating to the battery capacity, some Leaf for sale shows pictures of full battery charged but the range is about 60 miles far from the 85 miles expected.

    How is it possible? Is it due to the cold wheater when the picture were taken or a kind of problem?

    In the country I am leaving, the temperature all the year is about 25 degres. I hope the leaf could make it.

    Thanks beforehand.

    Pape

    Thanks for your comments.

    Reply

    1. Don’t know the answer, although cold temperatures could be the answer.

      Caveat Emptor!

      Reply

  2. I have read this article a couple times. I will be losing a company car and am excited about going electric. I waiver between leasing new or buying used. The cost of a three year lease would more than pay for a used leaf. I live in hot Arizona and see have driven a new leaf s and a 2012 leaf sl. I actually liked the used car more. The 2013s go for a couple thousand more but who knows I have been watching them for a couple of months and by the car fax I can see that they have been sitting for awhile. Most have 12 bars with low miles. I have only seen one that was actually an az lease that was a 2013 with 11 bars at a Nissan dealer as a certified car.

    Anyway thank you I still can’t decide, I a, currently leaning towards used purchase and I have some time to find a great 2013 or maybe 2014. Then again the 2015s are still on the lot with the 2016- so maybe there is a deal to be had there. Patience should pay off. I also drove the bmw i3 and the little generator is nice but honestly the leg room was not as good

    Reply

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us,, Chris. You shine a light on one aspect of electric cars that bothers many folks. They are still an unknown quantity. Fear of the unknown makes us vacillate. It’s human nature.

      Let us know what you decide to do. Your experience may help others with their own decision.

      Reply

  3. I purchased a 2011 and it’s sitting at 9 bars, I live in hawaii, so there’s plenty of charging stations. I made some adapters so I can use my 220 at friends houses that are in the blank area ( no chargers greater than 20 miles) cause if you plug in with 110 you’ll be sitting..till the 2018 models come out. Even though gas prices are coming down hawaii see it come down the slowest, but jump up right away. The next problem is parking etiquette, ICE vehicles like to park in charger stalls. I’m very vocal about it. One charger company offers a plaquard that you put on your charger so if your fully charged to take it, or if your opportunity charging, take it.
    Hope everyone enjoys their leaf….I do..and very importantly my Dog loves it.

    Reply

  4. Be sure it will only be a second car! They are worthless on a trip unless you’re into hanging around RV parks for 4 hours every 60 miles! For a grand more than the residual on my Leaf S I found a loaded Volt premium. I can drive the Volt anywhere and it still does 99% of my driving gas free. Build quality is way above the Leaf, and it looks cool! Most amazing car I’ve ever had.

    Reply

  5. I was just told by a Nissan dealer that all 2013’s have a heat pump, not just SV/SL. Is this true or is he misguided? Any way I can tell by looking at the car or otherwise confirm?

    Reply

    1. I regret I do not have enough information to answer your question accurately. I don’t know how the two systems differ visually, so I don’t know how you can verify which one a particular car has by looking at it.

      Can anyone else help with this question?

      Perhaps reaching out to your local Nissan zone office may get you the information you need.

      Reply

    2. 2013 s models do not have heat pumps. I leased one for 18 months Bill

      Reply

      1. Thanks for sharing that with us, Bill. : – )

        Reply

  6. This article was very informative. I am searching for used 3013 nissan leaf and just found one. Are their companies who do pre buy inspections for electric car? How to read the battery data from leafspy?

    -Shree

    Reply

    1. We are not aware of any company that specializes in inspections of LEAF and other electric cars. (Might be a good business for a savvy entreprenuer!)

      Your best source of information about the LeafSpy app would be to contact the company directly.

      As always, dealing with a reputable, factory authorized dealer is your best protection against getting ripped off.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Reply

    2. Hi Leafers and on Leafers alike;
      Here are my thoughts for whatever they’re worth (and not!).
      First, I’ve just perused a few of the comments (thank you all for enlightening me), and like others before me, may I also ask that the web person please develop a ‘see all option’ so we don’t have to keep on clicking to read on. In any event, the article itself was well written and hit home.
      My ride and what I paid
      =================
      I just bought a 2011 for U.S. $8500 (11.2K Canadian) including taxes in California
      (21,000 miles / 34km). It has 9 bars and the local Nissan Dealer said one more bar drop, which they estimate in April 2016, and they will replace / repair the battery for free under warranty. As it is, it shows up as 70 plus potential miles when I charge. The reality is about 55-60 freeway and a fair amount more with city driving.
      The car has been amazing for me. Diamond lanes, free charging at work and when I kick it out of eco mode to D, I feel like I have a poor man’s Tesla it’s so bloody fast. Really. I now have to watch for Officers upholding the law in terms of my burning rubber at times. I jest slightly.
      What the future may hold
      =====================
      One day, I hope to go partially solar so that car could get even cheaper than the estimate $1 a gallon equivalent. (I’m looking at plug in solar if I move I can take the solar with me).
      What I love
      =============
      I love the blue tooth, good if not great sound quality. And unlike my Gen II Prius, it streams blue tooth music from phone.
      It’s also way, way more comfortable than my Gen II Prius (but that’s sort of a straw man, those seats are so bloody awful). Footnote: the 2007 Prius (125K) gets about 47-50 on the highway.
      My Silly Mods so far (and the surfing life)
      ================================
      a. And the other kicker, I can store my 10′ surfboard in the car. No kidding (with the fin on). In that regard, I’ve put on soft racks on the Leaf in case I have passengers and with said racks mileage has only slight been effected. Maybe the bigger (more expensive racks catch more wind, Thule /Yakima). The soft racks just hug the roof and look atrocious. I love that. I helped with that by substituting NRS blue straps for the top part which lock better.
      (amazon link, if allowed to that for $59 and as noted, I modified mine to have NRA tightening racks) http://www.amazon.com/FCS-Premium-DOU...
      b. I also had a 50 amp external box (for a supposed hot tub project that never happened) that I tapped into on my deck. I spent $30 on a NEMA plug and wiring, $35 for installation of that, and another few hundred on upgrading my stock charger chord to handle both 120 and 240 volt, and now I have relatively quick charges and more than enough for my purposes day in and day out.
      The link (if allowed it to EVSE upgrade is…)
      http://evseupgrade.com/?main_p
      My cost was about $300 with shipping. The guy who runs the company is super cool and obviously knowledgeable.
      c. Thinking window tinting; there’s a guy who will do double ply for $140. Thoughts on that Leafers?
      What else?
      To buy or not to buy
      ================
      My opinion is buy one for sure if the following conditions are more or less met:
      1) Reputable seller (2 or less owners); don’t buy one that was leased by a bunch of people, that’s one step away from Salvage!
      2) Blue tooth
      3) A/C works, Tires are reasonable enough
      4) Almost all or all of the electronic work inside (on mine, USB charger isn’t, but cig lighter is, so USB exists again)
      5) Under $8500 (really, why spend more when prices are dropping like hail stones)
      6) Under 30,000 to 35,000 miles (again, same logic, go low miles, it’ll feel like you’re driving an almost new car). Woopieeee! This will also help with extended warranty purchase savings.
      7) It’s a second car
      8) You have short commutes (50 miles or under a day)
      9) Body looks pretty stellar minus a little minor paint scuff here and there
      10) Non smoker. Unless you are, then light up. And may I say to your good health sir or ma’am!
      Conclusion for now
      ===============
      All in all, with the above list, that I have most thoughtfully (or the converse) put together, this way, if / when battery degrades, and there is no warranty (the horror!) you’ve still got yourself a might powerful Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle that’s going to be fine anyways for a long, long time.
      Ok, these are my initial thoughts. I hope I’ve contributed a least a little bit to the knowledge and calculations that are going on about when it’s worth it.
      And, I’m also considering getting an extended warranty from a California Santa Rosa Nissan dealers who sells them uber cheap. Check the forums on this one. It’s true!
      So in all,
      Peace out from the 805!

      Reply

  7. thanks so much! think your article just saved me from $10k mistake. here in denver there are several 2012 models with 20k miles listed under $10k. seemingly great deals. but from this article will wait till 2014 get down to these prices, then with the free charging stations be free commuting…

    Reply

    1. So glad you found the article useful. But all the credit should go to David Murray for doing the research that made the article possible.

      Buying a used electric car is a new experience for all of us. As consumers, we can use all the help we can get!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Reply

  8. I’m so glad to have found this article. I’ve been watching the prices online for the used 2011 Nissan leaf models and the price is getting low enough to be tempting. This article will help me when I start going to the dealers to buy. Thank you very much! One question, the article states that the 240 volt charger is a 3.3kw unit on the 2011 model. What is the kw size using the onboard 120 volt charger? Need to know for sizing a solar charging setup. Thanks again for the info!

    Reply

    1. Gosh, I am far from an expert here. David Murray who wrote the original blog post would be the right person to answer that. You can find a link to the original Inside EVs article above. It may have a way for you to contact David directly.

      If I had to guess, I would say that the onboard charger on an 2011 would be 3.3 kW whether you are using 110V or 220V but that is just a guess.

      Thanks for your kind words and good luck with your car shopping.

      Reply

    2. The 120V charger is 1.4 kW, per the Recharging section of the Wikipedia article Nissan_Leaf. Maximum draw is 12 A, do you will need a standard 15 A breaker.

      Reply

  9. The capacity warranty is for 5 years/60k miles. The 8 year/100k mile warranty only battery cells that die, not just degraded ones. For those repairs just one cell pair is swapped out with a new one, and capacity of the overall battery stays just as degraded as before.

    There is no pro-rated battery capacity warranty, so if your battery degrades to <66% within the 5 years/60k miles you get a new battery with the new chemistry. Miss it by a few percent by the end of the warranty period and you are on your own.

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Seann. This post is turning into a valuable resource for potential used LEAF buyers, thanks to all the input from readers like yourself.

      Reply

  10. Would the app see through the software cheat?

    Reply

  11. Great article! I have been looking for used EV and this is extremely good information although it also shows why the leaf is not holding its value as there are just too many unknowns. Nissan is dumping the cars at auction and cutting their losses, however there are people like me wanting a used EV and just want a fare deal and Nissan to stand behind the deal. I heard Nissan was looking at a possible used car lease at the would be great, but dumping the cars at auction does not build confidence in the product. I heard there was a app for checking the battery

    Reply

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michael. We thought that article had a lot of good information in it. Buying a used EV is something that is just starting to happen so most people don’t have any experience with it.

      I have no knowledge of the app you refer to. Perhaps another one of our readers could help us out with that. But the sense I got from the man who wrote the original blog post is that is if you come across a used LEAF with high miles that still has 12 bars showing on the meter, RUN do not walk away! Especially if it’s a 2011 or 2012 car.

      Reply

      1. You need a bluetooth odbII reader and the app is called Leaf Spy, maybe there are others. But if someone figured out how to manipulate the bars on the dash will this see through it and give an accurate report? Don’t know.

        Reply

        1. Thanks for that information, JD. Hope it helps all those who have questions about buying a used LEAF.

          Reply

      2. To be fair, I have a 2011 with 12 bars… however that’s because it has just been upgraded with a 2015 battery pack under the warranty.

        Reply

        1. Ah hah! You hit the jackpot, Eric. Congratulations. : – )

          Reply

      3. Hold on a second. There are plenty of 2012 Leaf’s with 12 bars still. It depends on the mileage and the climate (hot weather kills batteries faster). I bought my 2012 leaf last November with 33000km and 12 bars. I now have 42000km and still 12 bars. On a full charge my guesometer says 142km, but realistically I could get about 120km, depending on the weather, speed, use of heater etc..

        So if you find a 2011 or 2012 leaf with 12 bars you could have a great deal, just make sure to buy from a reputable dealer. One of the Apps is called LEafSpy but you need the OBD bluetooth dongle thing.

        Reply

        1. Our purpose was not to suggest that ALL used LEAFs are suspect but rather to inform readers of potential pitfalls they should be aware of.

          With such low mileage on your car, it’s no surprise the battery still has 12 bars. But if someone comes across a car with far more miles on it that still has 12 bars, he might want to look a little more closely before buying that particular car.

          Used electric cars are a relatively new phenomenon and that opens the door to trickery by dishonest sellers. As you say, probably the best way to protest yourself is to deal with a reputable seller. Not sure I would buy a LEAF I found on Craigslist, for instance, unless I had the knowledge and the skill to thoroughly understand what I was getting.

          Thanks for your comment.

          Reply

          1. I bought two 2012 leaf sl’s in the past 3 weeks. My wife liked the one that I bought so much that I bought her one for Christmas. Mine has 8,000 miles on it and 12 bars. My wife has one with 21,000 miles on it and 12 bars. Both of them get around 73 miles per charge, which is exactly what I expected. Mine was operated in NJ while my wife’s was in Mass.. I paid $10,800 for each. Any ’13’s I saw that were SL’s were at least $3k more. Hopefully I don’t see bars fall off. But so far we are both really happy. I am going to sell my minivan. I watched at least 8 SL’s in my area sell within 2 weeks.

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