I didn’t notice until I’d done 60,004 miles. I don’t know if it’s a very exciting milestone but it’s certainly been an interesting journey.
I got my 2011 Nissan Leaf on a loan from Nissan the year it came out. I drove it 20,000 miles in about 9 months and loved it so much I bought it from them.
I’m not sure they wanted it back, possibly because back then all the predictions from the likes of Clarkson, the Daily Mail and Lord Lawson was that after 3 years you’d have to throw the battery away and pay £900,000 for a new one.
Now, 6 years and 60,000 miles later, I haven’t thrown anything away and the car has been astoundingly reliable and cheap to run.
In some ways sailing past the 60,000 mile marker is something to note. In that time, and I think this stuff is important for people who’ve never driven an electric car, nothing has gone wrong mechanically. Nothing.
Every time I get in it just starts and off we go. I’ve never given its reliability a moment’s thought. I’ve never checked the oil (you can’t) or made sure the coolant levels are correct (you can’t) or had the emissions checked (there aren’t any).
I’ve bought one rear wiper blade (I blame the chickens) and replaced four tyres. Two due to wear and two due to punctures. It’s had one service which cost £112, it should have been for a few more according to Nissan but that’s been my choice. I could have taken it in but it clearly doesn’t need it. It’s passed every MOT without anything being done, not even an indicator light.
It’s got a few dints and scratches on the bodywork, it’s fairly filthy inside and out because I occasionally take the dogs out in it and we live in a rural area where they actually do farming and the roads are mud baths at this time of year.
It has ‘run out’ once, but that was so I could find out what happens when you do run out and I was filming it for Fully Charged. It was one of the most boring episodes I’ve ever made. I had to drive for ages before it finally stopped. What happens when you run out? It stops, just like a fossil burner.
So, the main thing that everyone always goes on about. The battery.
Well, it’s still got the original one and there’s no question it has lost some range in that time but not enough to make it unusable.
But here’s where it gets complicated. The range on the Japanese built 2011 Nissan Leaf was pretty lousy compared with more recent models. It was supposed to be 100 miles, in reality was closer to 85 in the summer and 70 in the winter.
This is mainly down to the cabin heater which is a crude brute, knocking 5-8 miles off the range as soon as you switch it on.
Having driven the more recent Sunderland built Leaf’s a more efficient heater makes a huge difference, they are using a heater that a) actually warms up the cabin and b) drops the range by maybe a mile on a cold day and in summer you can’t even see the change.
Here’s another lesson learned the hard way. When we first had the Leaf our big fear was that we’d forget to plug it in when we got home. We got into the habit and we’d always plug it in regardless of how far we’d driven.
If I drove down to the local shops, 10 miles there and back, I’d plug it in. I’d drive my son to meet his skateboarding pals, 25 miles, come back, plug it in. Daughter to school, 8 miles, come back, plug it in.
The result after 50,000 miles was we lost one bar on our battery indicator. As Nissan engineers have confirmed, it’s the top up when the battery is nearly full that causes the problems, not rapid charging as many suggest. I’ve certainly used rapid chargers plenty of times but far less often than I expected.
It was too late that I discovered the ‘charge to 80%’ setting. I’m lazy, like most people, once you get used to something you just use it without thinking. No, I didn’t read the manual, I don’t even know if it’s got one.
So that level of battery degradation could have been avoided and surely having software that further protects the battery from lazy user habits could curtail this problem.
However even with that drop in range it’s still a very usable car. So much so that we still use it every day, all the little trips we do in the local area we use the Leaf.
Mainly because it’s so cheap, certainly in the last year, and particularly since we’ve had the Zappi charger, the cost per mile is well sub 1p.
The Zappi is set up to register any electricity generated by our 5.5 kWp solar panels going into the grid, as soon as it does it sends that power to the car. If you’re not in a rush to charge it, leave it like that for the day and it’s full of free electrons.
I’ve used close to zero grid electricity this summer to charge the Leaf, I know with confidence I’ve done over 1,000 miles in it at zero fuel cost.
So if you average out the fuel cost over 60,000 miles at around 1p per miles, even for me the maths is easy. £600.
So yes, electric cars are much cheaper to run, but even that isn’t important in the big picture. What has happened in the 6 years since I first sat in my Nissan Leaf is nothing short of phenomenal. The shift in attitudes of the general public has been the most noticeable, the questions I get have changed, no longer ‘what’s the range’ or ‘the batteries will wear out’ but the far more important ‘where does the electricity come from’ and ‘these are much better than old fashioned cars.’
Electric cars are fuel agnostic, as long as it’s electricity they will work, doesn’t matter where it’s from, which means if will run just the same on electricity from solar PV, wind turbines, tidal barrages, nuclear, gas, coal or oil.
It’s so much easier to replace those last three sources than grow biofuels or increase by miniscule degrees the efficiency of thermal engines.
I think we can now safely state; “The results are in, it’s game over for internal combustion.”