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.