Why used? In a word, good value. Depreciation has been high on these early electric cars. Or at least, the apparent depreciation, since nobody buys at list price. Even so, the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe have depreciated quite heavily in the first few years. This is music to the ears of a price-conscious buyer. There are other factors that help you too, so long as you take the time to learn about these amazing cars. Dealers are generally not as informed about them as they could be, and see them as an inconvenience. It’s easier to sell a petrol Micra, of course.
So why buy one? Total cost of ownership; refinement; no gearbox; freedom from petrol stations; the fun of driving a quick car. Most won’t have had the experience of driving a really responsive car, it’s something that can really help in busy traffic and at junctions. That might be why uptake is slow. People just aren’t bothering to get behind the wheel. They’re put off by the high list price perhaps. Maybe they just don’t know how much they could save on running costs since they don’t realise how much fuel they’re chucking into their current car.
So – buying one. I’ll assume we’re talking the “original shape” Nissan Leaf since that’s the most common one and the one I’m most familiar with, but most of this will apply to most electric cars (EVs). The first hurdle is that existing sites like Autotrader don’t help when trying to find the car you want. They’re just not designed to handle an EV. You really need to know if the battery is leased or owned. Not a question the average Skoda buyer needs to know and so Autotrader doesn’t list it.Then you need to get your head around kW, kWh, Gen 1, Gen 2, and the things that might be nice-to-have on a petrol car but I’d consider essential on an EV such as heated seats. You can think of kWh as the battery size, or capacity, in the same way as the size of a petrol tank. kW on the other hand is the power of the motor, directly comparable to Horsepower or hp. All Nissan Leafs are 80kW or 109hp. However the battery could be 24 or 30kWh, although 30kWh have only been available since late 2015.
Here’s my FAQ for buying a used Nissan Leaf. To make it simpler I’ve based it on a second-generation, UK-made car from 2013 onwards. Earlier, cheaper cars are available- but are much less attractive in my opinion.
How to spot a Gen 1/Gen2 car?
Gen(eration) 1 cars were made in Japan, Gen 2 cars were made in the UK from 2013- but there was an overlap. 2013 won’t guarantee you a Gen 2.
Tell-tales of Gen 2 are the “Eco” button on steering wheel; a dark coloured interior; and a flatter boot space. Gen 1 cars had some electrics in a hump at the front of the boot floor. Gen2 are considered more desirable, as they have a heat pump cabin heater that needs less battery power than the resistive heater in Gen 1, so reducing the range penalty of heating the cabin. Regen braking power was increased to 30kW which can also extend range, and gives almost one-pedal driving. Nissan also simplified the parking brake mechanism and integrated all the charging and invertor electrics within the “engine block”.
Regenerative braking is used on EVs to slow the car by using the motor as a generator, and not only charges the battery but avoids brake wear.
Is the battery leased or owned? Phone the financers, RCI, to be sure. A leased battery requires monthly payments to the finance company. (The battery can now be bought from RCI).
Three ways to charge in the UK –
At 2.4kW from a standard, 13amp 3-pin plug. A slow charging method but 13A plugs are easy to find. You need a “brick” or granny charger, which should be included with the car.
At 3.6 or 6.6 kW from a “Level 2” charger, which you can get installed at home, often subsidised through OLEV or Nissan. (OLEV are the UK government Office for Low Emission Vehicles)
Rapid (up to 50kW) charging using a rapid charger at dealers or motorway services.
Since the 24kWh Leaf battery has a useful capacity of 21kWh, divide the capacity by the charging rate to find out how long it takes to charge. So 21/3.6 would take 5.8 hours, assuming you’re charging from empty. A Rapid will top you up in 30 minutes, but not quite to 100% charged.
Virtually all UK cars have a rapid charging port. This is good, but you might not use it as often as you’d expect, especially as it can now cost up to £6.
6.6kW charging was an option, and cost £1000 or more- so most cars for sale probably are 3.6kW for home charging. Note 3.6, not 3.3 as often quoted. 6.6 might be nice if you absolutely must charge to 100% in 4 hours. If. for example, you get home late and leave the next day at 5am. Most of us cope just fine with 3.6kW charging.
How to find out if my car has a 3.6kW or 6.6kW charger? The dashboard charge time display; a sticker on LHS of motor block as you look at it. NOT “3 orange leads under the bonnet” as you might see mentioned elsewhere.
What leads do I need? The car may come with a “brick” or “granny charger” which is a 240 volt 10 amp slow charger; or a lead to connect to a 16A or 32A “type 2” charge point. You need to provide a lead to connect your car to the Type 2 charger socket!
Battery condition- The battery will either be 24 or 30kWh capacity. (You may see 80kW listed, this is the motor power, not the battery capacity) The Leaf battery is proving very robust in the UK. Weather conditions here are kind to it in general. This wasn’t the case in Arizona. The battery loses capacity as it ages, and time appears to be the main factor. Taxi firms have taken the Leaf to 150,000 miles in few years and still have 80% capacity. So age is the main factor, don’t necessarily be put off by a higher mileage car.
There are tactics you can employ to be kind to your battery in use, for example not leaving it at fully charged or at empty, and I suspect some ex-demo cars might have been abused in this way due to lack of knowledge. Use that to your advantage when haggling.
The dashboard has a thin white scale at the far right to show the capacity remaining (not the charge, that’s the blue and white one!). You really want a full 12 bars, showing 85% or more capacity. By the way the scale on the left is battery temperature, whatever your dealer may say. Just like the engine temperature on a petrol car.
Visia – “economy”. Some, apparently, did not have rapid charging.
Acenta – mid-range, very well equipped in my opinion. Heated seats and steering wheel a very useful option, was available as a Cold Pack for a while.
Tekna – adds 17″ alloys, heated seats, steering wheel, Bose sound, 360 degree cameras and LED headlights.
Black edition – the “run-out” model with 3.6kW charging, privacy rear glass, black 16″ alloys, LED headlights and 360 cameras. Oddly you pay extra for black paint (default is white!) If it came with electric seats and steering wheel, this would be my ideal Leaf.
Most used cars available seem to be in the Acenta trim.
Check rear tyre wear as some of the Tekna cars on 17″ rims have been wearing tyres out very fast.
Finally, I can recommend the forums at speakev.com as a great source of advice on all EVs. It was a great help to me before I took the plunge.