Everything you need to know about the Nissan Leaf Battery
So you’re about to buy a Nissan Leaf – but its your first electric car and a common set of lingering questions remain:
How long does the battery last?
Are there any differences in battery amongst years?
What’s the battery warranty from Nissan?
What do I not know about the Nissan Leaf battery that I should?
This guide should provide a rough reference for how to think through EVERYTHING you’ll need to make an informed decision about what to look out for in buying a used Leaf.
Nissan Leaf Batteries 101:
The Nissan Leaf was introduced in 2011 with a 24kWh battery. To those who aren’t engineering oriented, I’ll provide a rough guide for how to compare the battery specifications and why they’re important.
The Pack Capacity is 24kWH. This is a measure of how much total energy the pack can store. As some reference, a typical lightbulb consumes about 100 Watts, so you could run a household bulb for about 10 total days. As some comparison most Tesla’s contain an 85kWh pack.
The pack is comprised of many “cells”. These individual cells you can think of as similar to AA batteries, and are the individual components of the pack. A single “cell” failure can cause all sorts of negative effects, so its important that each cell remains carefully managed.
In addition to the cells, the pack has a battery management system, and some means of cooling and heating (more on this later). While it might seem counterintuitive that a battery would use its own energy to cool or heat itself – Lithium Ion cells are very sensitive. Under extreme loads they become very hot and energy capacity degrades (e.g. you’ll get fewer miles). A similar effect happens at cold temperatures.
The pack is REALLY heavy and REALLY expensive. It weighs 648 lbs (about the same as a large V8 engine as a comparison).
How Long will my Leaf Battery Last?
This is a difficult question because a LOT of factors impact the life of the pack. Here’s the primary drivers and how to know if you’ve got a good pack.
Climate: Where was the car driven (climate matters)?
Year: What year was the car made (Nissan issued numerous improvements)
Use: How was the car used (Quick charging, complete depletion can cause degradation)
As a general rule cars driven in warm or cold climates the battery pack won’t last as long. A phoenix-based Nissan leaf may experience battery degradation at twice the rate of one driven in San Francisco.
In addition early 2011 Nissan Leaf’s had multiple battery issues (some didnt have proper cooling systems, etc) and these packs experience noticeably shorter pack lifes. In 2013 Nissan switched production from a Japanese manufacturing facility, to make the battery packs in the new Smyrna TN facility. These packs are the first “major update” and have better life-span than pre 2013 cars. In addition, 2015 cars received an updated “Lizard” pack which had improved battery management, load balancing, and prolonged the life of the pack.
Finally – there’s many behaviors that impact the overall range. By using the “Quick Charge” port on the Leaf, the Lithium Ion cells often become hot, and some crystallization can occur. Furthermore, fully depleting the pack (e.g. driving from completely full to completely empty daily) can cause the pack to lose capacity faster.
As a final answer – the Pack will likely last 6-12 years before becoming “un-useable”. In battery life terms “unusable” is generally considered when a pack retains less than 80% of its original capacity. Luckily Nissan maintains a battery capacity gauge on the cluster (shown below) so you can monitor the health prior to purchase. In addition the battery is warrantied against capacity loss for 5 years, 60,000 miles (if the battery falls below 9 bars its eligible for replacement).
In addition to the cluster, third party applications can more closely monitor battery health and capacity. Leaf Spy Pro (The App is Located Here) is one such application.
Are there any difference amongst years in Nissan Leaf Batteries?
Yes! Here’s a rough guide of battery changes by year:
2011-2012 Packs: These are the “first iteration” packs. Mostly made in Japan, these early packs tend to degrade more rapidly. Cell modules have sub-optimal cooling. Some 2011 cars also lacked “battery heating” and were not capable of reasonable cold-weather range.
2013-2014 Packs: Nissan switched production from Japan to Smyrna, TN for US made packs. In addition the update, there’s other minor changes to both the pack and cell design. The cell modules have improved cooling which prolonged pack life in warm climates, and the battery pack received update software and hardware to better manage cell life.
2015 Packs: For 2015 the Leaf cells received a further chemistry update and cooling update. To better sustain themselves in “warm weather” these packs are called “Lizard Packs” which have a cell chemistry more resilient to warm-weather abuse.
2016 Packs: In 2016, the Nissan Leaf SL trim (only the SL) received a pack upgrade to give 30kWh of energy (a full 25% increase in range).
The cell module changes (2011-2012 on top, 2015 on bottom are shown below):
What’s the Warranty?
There are actually two warranties on the Nissan Leaf Battery. One for capacity loss, and another for other malfunctions.
Capacity Loss: Each Leaf has 5 years, or 60,000 miles where anything below “9 battery bars” is considered abnormal degradation. We’ve had such a Leaf (it used to live in Las Vegas) and the battery was replaced for free by Nissan. As one word of caution, since these battery replacement are extremely expensive for Nissan, the procedure is typically drawn out. Our replacement at Boardwalk Nissan took over 30 days, mainly to wait for approval and parts from Nissan North America. The upside to the replacement, is often battery packs are backwards compatible – so a 2013 car might receive an updated 2015 Lizard Pack.
General Malfunction: If there are major malfunction (e.g. the entire system stops functioning) the battery is covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles.
If you’re out of warranty, an entire replacement pack is about $5,500 (or about the same as buying a 2013 Nissan Leaf S at this point in time (early 2017)).
This was a lot of reading – what are the cliff notes?
Stick to buying a 2013+ Nissan Leaf that shows 12 battery bars on the gauge. Don’t fully discharge it every day or use a quick charger and it will last a long time. If you can, the 2016 Nissan Leaf SL’s have more range and are cool too.