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Electric Vehicle information for Atlanta and Georgia

Nissan Leaf information

In the 2010s, the Nissan Leaf was by far the most popular electric car in Atlanta (and the country), because it was the most affordable. Many, many thousands of Leafs were sold in Georgia alone, thanks to their affordability and the generous state tax credit that Georgia offered until June 2015. 

As of 2024, the Leaf is surprisingly still being offered as a new car, despite the two huge drawbacks of its dated technology (described below), but that is likely to end soon. But even after it gets discontinued, the Leaf will be available on the used market for many years, and this page tells you what to be aware of and what to look for.

Here’s what you need to know, starting with the most important items.

1. The cheap battery tech that the Leaf uses means poor cold weather performance and variable range. Literally every other carmaker chose to equip their battery packs with a “thermal management system” (TMS), a system of heating and cooling loops inside the battery pack to keep at it a comfortable temperature range that lithium ion batteries like. Nissan however decided to focus on affordability and equipped the Leaf with a non-TMS battery pack, making it much cheaper to build. The only thermal management it does is blow cabin air across the pack, which has a miniscule effect compared to real TMS, and only has any effect after you’ve got the cabin to comfortable temps.

Having a battery with no TMS has these three major effects:

  • In cold weather, the battery capacity shrinks, meaning your range shrinks. This is a short term problem, affecting your range that day.
  • In hot weather, the battery slowly “cooks” and is damaged over time, resulting in lower capacity (range) out of the battery. This is therefore a long term problem, affecting the capability of the car as the years go by.
  • In general, the non-TMS battery provides erratic readings on how much charge it is holding at that moment. This means that your remaining-range gauge (miles left until empty) can indicate a number at one moment, and then a few minutes later it’ll drop to some new number, stressing you out over your sudden insufficient range to make it to your destination. That’s the reason that Leaf owners call the range indicator the “Guess-O-Meter” (GOM).

As long as you keep a huge range buffer for your drives around town, the above problems are OK!

2. The Chademo plug that the Leaf uses for DCFC is a dead end. DC Fast Charging (DCFC) is the technology that allows you to charge your car MUCH faster than normal, and it explained more thoroughly on the public charging and roadtrips page on this website, with even more nerdy info on the DCFC technology page.

However, in the standards battle that waged in the 2010s between the three DCFC plug standards, the Chademo plug that Nissan chose was the clear loser. While thousands of Chademo stations were deployed in that decade, the entire industry has now moved to the other two plugs, and indeed many of the existing charging stations with Chademo plugs are likely to get retrofitted to replace the Chademo plug with the Tesla / NACS plug.

This means that in the coming years, the Nissan Leaf will not be realistically capable of doing roadtrips beyond the range you start the day with. There simply won’t be stations along your route, either because they have broken down from neglect, or they’ve been retrofitted to Tesla. The Leaf is great for commuting and driving around town, but should absolutely not be relied on for longer trips.

Now, all that said, having the Chademo plug is still useful around town. You might have an unexpectedly long day, or your home charger fails, and you find yourself needing a quick charge. As of 2023 there are literally a hundred Chademo stations around the Atlanta metro, and many of those will be around for many years to come.

So a Leaf with DCFC does have some value. If a dealer is offering you a Leaf without DCFC, then make sure to knock them down on price.  There’s a reason that car is still sitting on their lot, passed over by everyone else.

The cheapest, stripped down “S” trim of the Leaf does not have the DCFC option, and in most model years the “SV” trim lacked it as well. The loaded “SL” trim does have it. If you are considering a specific S-trim Leaf or SV-trim Leaf that a dealer has in stock, look closely at the equipped-options list to see if it has DCFC. The option can only be installed by the factory — you can’t buy a Leaf without DCFC and then add it later.

3. If bigger battery, check for faster AC charging speed. For most of its life, the Nissan Leaf was sold with either a 3.3 kW or 6.6 kW AC charging capability. This AC charging (aka “Level 2” charging) is what you rely on at home for charging back to full overnight (see the home charging page here for more background). The slower 3.3 kW charger is actually enough for most cases, but if you got a bigger-battery Leaf (e.g. the 60 kWh battery) for longer range, and you actually use all that range, you would need about 18 hours to fully charge (60/3.3=18); with the faster AC charger you’ll need 9 hours (60/6.6=9). In other words, with the slower 3.3 kW charger in the car, you would not get a full charge overnight. This charging speed is also important if you plan to go on roadtrips (despite the caution above) and will charge overnight at hotels.

The problem is that it’s tricky to determine which one the car has. The easiest way to know for sure is to test it on a Level 2 charging station (e.g. public Chargepoint station) that can deliver at least 6.6 kW, and see if the Leaf draws that much. Otherwise you have to do a little more poking around in the car.

4. Check for the navigation system feature. You may think you don’t need navigation, but in electric cars you find that you use nav a lot more. This is because you are always keeping an eye on how much range you have and how far you still have to go for that day — it’s not really a concern, just something you keep an eye on. Without the nav system, you are essentially guessing at how many more miles you have to drive, and you’d be surprised how badly we are at estimating distances — we tend to think in terms of time, not distance. With the nav system, it’ll calculate the distance for you and you’ll know for sure that you will make it home, or you’ll know that you do need to plan to stop somewhere to charge. Plus the car will warn you if you’re navigating to a destination that’s beyond your range. See the public charging and roadtrips page for more on why smartphone navigation works badly in this scenario.

5. Check whether it’s equipped with the “CarWings” feature. This allows you to monitor and control the car remotely, via smartphone or web browser. For example, when you are around town and have left your car charging at a public station, you can use this feature to confirm that it really is charging (for peace of mind), or even have it alert you if someone unplugs it. Possibly the best feature is the ability to prestart climate control — minutes before you get into your car, you can send a remote command from your smartphone telling the car to heat/cool the cabin, so that when you get in, it’s already comfortable.

6.  2011-2012 model years have worst battery: The 2011-2012 model year Leafs have a first-generation battery that weakens faster over time and so the car may only go 50-60 miles — and even less on cold winter days.  But if you can get by on that, absolutely look at a used Leaf from those years.  That’s where you’re going to get the impossibly cheap cars.

7.  2013 and up have better batteries: In 2013, Nissan started building Leafs for the US market in their Tennessee plant, and they brought some important improvements to the car. In particular, the battery technology improved starting in 2013. If you can spend a little more, look for model year 2013 or newer, and built in USA (VIN starts with “1”, not “J”).

8.  2015 and up have even better batteries: In 2015, Nissan introduced improved battery chemistry that handled hot conditions better, dubbing it their “lizard” battery.  Owners in Arizona had filed a class action lawsuit due to the degradation they had been seeing there.

9.  2016-2017 battery degradation: There were studies that showed that model years 2016 and 2017 were experiencing unusually high battery degradation.  Something to look into if you are considering a used Leaf from those years.

10. 2018 and up second generation: Starting with model year 2018, Nissan completely revamped the Leaf with new styling (in and out) and refined the drivetrain. However it still has the non-TMS battery systtem.

11. Battery health gauge: Ask the seller to tell you how many “bars” are indicated on the right edge of battery gauge.  This indicates battery health, with 12 max (10 white + 2 red).  Note: this is not the state of charge (SOC)  gauge with the big fat bars, rather the battery health gauge just to the right of that with the narrow bars.  Another method is to hook an OBD2 module to the car and use the “LeafSpy” app up to read the battery health parameters directly, but that’s a much more advanced process that we won’t detail here.

12.  Heat pump option: Later model Leafs offered the option of the more efficient “heat pump” heater, which gives you slightly more range if you are in a cold climate, but in Georgia it’s not much of a savings.

13.  Better backup camera: As discussed just above, built-in navigation is much simpler to monitor while driving than a phone.  But a fringe benefit of getting in-car navigation is that the backup camera is better.

14.  Premium sound and camera views: In model year 2013, Nissan started offering a premium package for the Leaf that included 4-camera “surround view” and Bose sound. The surround view seems gimmicky at first, but it’s actually extremely useful when parking.

As you can see, not all Nissan Leafs are created equal. For example, the stripped S-trim is indeed the cheapest EV you can get, but why hamstring yourself with a car that’s missing several features that could make it so much more usable? For just a little more money and some time hunting it down, you could have a great car. Get an SV-trim Leaf with the DCFC package added, or spoil yourself a little and get a fully loaded SL-trim Leaf.

The basic Leaf comes with heated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. That is a market-beating feature of the Leaf — most EVs do not even offer a heated steering wheel, much less make it a standard feature, and not even the Tesla Model S offered heated rear seats at first. Your kids will love the Leaf!

If you are technically minded and handy with electronics, you can take the portable EVSE cordset that comes with the older Nissan Leafs and modify it to work with a 240V outlet and charge your car much faster.

Note that as of 2023, you can get a tax credit for buying a used EV.