When you buy any car (especially new), you are in the “honeymoon phase.” Everything is just great. Your car is awesome, and you learn more about it for weeks or months. This is your car. There are many like it, but this one is yours.
As the miles rack up, and time passes, the car becomes routine, and even a little old. Little things start to go wrong that you can ignore. Then slightly bigger things happen that don’t cost much, but must be addressed. Then, you start heading toward more major repairs. The honeymoon is over, and the vehicle has become more of a chore than a novelty.
It is this “end of honeymoon” that I find myself at with my 2018 Nissan LEAF. After 2.5 years and about 66,000 miles, I’m starting to see the flaws and am no longer having fun.
The Little Things
Range loss is to be expected in a LEAF. With no liquid cooling, you’re going to lose range. You’re going to lose a lot if you live in a warm climate and/or use rapid charging much. I did both, and surprisingly the vehicle still has all 12 bars of capacity. However, with about 14% of the range lost, there are things I can’t do with the vehicle that I used to. For one, it can’t reach a mountain town that’s about 90 miles from my apartment anymore. Getting almost there is OK, but there’s a final stretch of road the last 20 or so miles that’s a very steep uphill grade. I used to get there with 8% battery remaining with careful driving, and now it would fall short.
Yes, this is far better than previous model years of the vehicle. I once owned a 2011 LEAF with around 40,000 miles that had lost almost half of its range. This is much better than that, so it goes in the “little things” box.
Not long after the bumper-to-bumper warranty expired (by miles), the door handles broke on the front doors. They still work, but the outer trim of the exterior handles has separated a bit from the rest of the handle. I have learned to grab the handles in such a way as to avoid pulling on the trim, and a quick bump of the fist puts it back in place if I happen to catch it. I could fix it, but I’m not quite sure how to remove the part and replace it. It’s a minor annoyance that I don’t feel merits paying a dealer’s service department to fix.
Independent shops (much cheaper) aren’t willing to touch EVs in the small town I live in. Even the local Nissan dealer won’t touch it because nobody is LEAF certified and I must drive the car an hour to the nearest certified dealer. They’re the only one within 200 miles.
Slightly Bigger Things That Must Be Fixed
Not long after the door handles broke, the passenger rear power door lock actuator failed. At first, it would occasionally not lock or unlock. Then it quit entirely, so I have to manually lock or unlock that door. That one, I can fix myself and intend to soon. What’s odd is that I’ve never had a vehicle with a lock actuator fail, ever. I’ve had several cars that I drove to almost 200,000 miles with perfectly functional door locks. It seems odd that a 2-year-old car should have such a problem.
About a year ago, the 12V battery died one very cold night. I went out Monday morning and it wouldn’t close the contactors and get the vehicle going. I took my other car to get kids to school (that’s something I used to do every morning before the “New Normal” came), and later in the day the car worked just fine. The temperature had risen, and the battery had sufficient voltage to start the car again. I have been in the habit of charging the car to around 80% nightly, and since then have had very little problems unless the car isn’t charged for days at a time, so I’ve limped along. Now, the battery is getting to where it won’t last more than about a day and a half shut off and unplugged, so I’m finally going to replace the battery.
I get it, 2.5 years of ownership and you can expect a 12V battery to fail, but most people would have replaced it a year ago, when the car was only 1.5 years old. Highly unusual? No, but definitely below average.
I’m also having an issue where the car gives a “door ajar” warning when I make faster right turns. That one confused me until I got a good look at the area where the door sensor meets the body. I found several dents there, caused by a seatbelt that sometimes gets stuck unspooled when I get out of the car. After accidentally slamming it in the door a few times, it messed up the contact point for the door sensor by a tiny amount, and now the car thinks the door is open during tighter turns. I’m planning on putting a small piece of rubber door seal there to correct the spacing and keep that malfunction from occurring.
One other problem is highly unusual, but worth mentioning. I removed a piece of interior trim, specifically the map light and sunglasses holder, to access the roof to install an amateur radio antenna. In most vehicles, you can carefully remove interior pieces to do things like this, but that piece of plastic appears to be designed to never be removed. Plastic retainers snap and the piece must be replaced. Now, I’m holding it up with a spare USB cable I wasn’t using, but that keeps me from using the sun visors. This piece must now be replaced entirely.
One Big Issue
Just before the car hit 60,000 miles, I took the car in to have the CV joints replaced under warranty. There had been an ongoing “clicking” problem many other owners have experienced, and this one recurred enough times to wipe out the car’s axles. I understand that things go wrong with cars, and they were replaced under warranty, so no real harm done.
But now, 6500 miles later, the CV joint on the driver’s side is making noise again, indicating that it’s failing. Being part of the drivetrain, this is a big deal. Local shops don’t want to touch an EV, so I can’t get a decent price for repairs. I have to drive 55 miles and pay full dealer prices, on my own dime, to get the CV axle replaced now that the warranty is out.
No car should have the axles fail at 60K miles, and one shouldn’t be purchasing a second set of axles only 6500 miles after replacement.
Is the Second Generation Nissan LEAF Cheaply Built?
That’s really the question here, and I talked to a few Nissan technicians (who like their jobs, and don’t want to be named) to see if I’m just unlucky or drove too much. It turns out that I’m not alone. All of them tell me that the 2018+ LEAFs are seen in the shop far more often than the previous generation.
Like me, other owners are experiencing little things going wrong at a far higher rate, and big things like axles a bit more often. Fortunately, most didn’t drive as much as I did, so they’re getting almost everything repaired under the 3-year, 36K mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Unfortunately, those warranties aren’t going to last a lot longer, so there’s going to be a lot of out of pocket repairs coming up for us.
For major things, many drivers will go most of the 5 years before needing to replace axles on their own dime, but really that should be happening to very few of them until over 100,000 miles.
There are many things I still like about this car, but it definitely doesn’t feel like something I should be paying hundreds of dollars a month for at this point. It shouldn’t be falling apart around me with so few miles and years on it. It also makes the fact that the dealer who sold it pulled a shady paperwork trick (to cheat me out of $5,000) that much more bitter.
The only reason I even bought a LEAF was because the Model 3 wasn’t available yet at the time I needed a car. I figured it would serve me well for a while and I’d get a Tesla later, but now I’m wishing I rode a bike for a while and waited for the 3.