Used Nissan Leaf Buying Guide

3 years ago by David Murray 38

In The Market For A Used Nissan LEAF? Here Are Some Things To Consider In Your Decision Making

In The Market For A Used Nissan LEAF? Here Are Some Things To Consider In Your Decision Making

I’m in the market for a used Leaf. I classify myself as a Leaf expert having leased a 2011 and now driving a 2013. We’re looking to replace another car that is about to be returned at end of lease. There are no shortage of used Leafs being advertised both locally and online. Many of them are being sold at incredibly low prices. I’m seeing plenty in the $12,000 range.

Considering A Used Nissan LEAF? DC Fast Charging Is A Nice Plus

Considering A Used Nissan LEAF? DC Fast Charging Is A Nice Plus

One of the most irritating things about looking at a used Leaf is trying to figure out which important features the car does or doesn’t have. For example, they almost never list whether or not it is equipped with a DC fast charge port. That’s a very important thing to know. You want to know if it has alloy wheels? No problem. Navigation? No problem. But a DC fast charge port, or a heat-pump? Forget it. And you would think it would be as simple as looking at a photo of the charge ports. But guess what? They almost never show it.

Most likely the reason for this is that the salespeople are just not familiar with the car and don’t realize that a DC fast charge port is important. And I guess taking a photo of the charge port would be about as odd to them as taking a photo of the gasoline inlet for a regular car. I have tried emailing and calling people, but that almost never does any good. They don’t know how to tell, and even if you explain it they usually won’t go look at the car and get back to you. In fact, most often what I have gotten has been a form-letter reply stating a list of the standard equipment on the car. It’s usually the exact same information that was already stated in the original advertisement. In fact, one went so far as to reply with the standard features and then added this little tidbit as an incentive to get me more interested:

“We have performed the following as an added value of $243.90 to this vehicle: Completed the North Carolina Safety/Emissions Inspection, New oil and filter, New windshield wiper blades and New air filter.”

Wait, what? Emissions inspection? Oil and Filter? Air filter? It becomes obvious that they don’t know anything about the vehicle, and it also becomes obvious that they are trying to rip people off by claiming to have done service that wasn’t done. On a gasoline car, most people would take their word for it on a claim like this. With an EV we know they are lying.

So I’ve compiled this list of useful information should you be in the market for a used Leaf. I’m going to cover some of the stuff that the used car dealers won’t or can’t tell you.

DC Fast Charge

The first thing is how to tell if the car has a DC fast charge port. Now, while they never seem to show photos of the charge port, they do often show photos of the engine compartment. Some clever people over at mynissanleaf.com pointed out to me that you could tell by looking at the orange charge cables. So I created some photos and labeled them to help you figure it out. Obviously, if the car has 3 orange cables, then it is equipped with fast charge. If it just has the one cable, then it does not.

2011/2012 Nissan LEAF Engine Compartment

2011/2012 Nissan LEAF Engine Compartment

2013-2015 Nissan LEAF Engine Compartment

2013-2015 Nissan LEAF Engine Compartment

If no picture of the charge door or engine compartment is available, then there is still one other way to possible way to tell. Some versions of the Leaf are guaranteed to have a fast charge port based on the year/model combination. Let’s examine some possibilities.

2011 Year Model

•SV Model – Forget it. Was not offered with a DC fast charge port.
•SL Model – Optional. May or may not have it.

2012 Year Model

•SV Model – (not sure)
•SL Model – Standard

2013-2015 Year Models

•S Model – Optional
•SV Model – Optional (check headlights)
•SL Model – Standard

So, if you find yourself looking at a 2013-2015 SV model there is a sneaky way to figure it out. Check the headlights. Apparently the package that added fast charge in this model also added LED headlights. See photos

Nissan LEAF With Halogen Lights

Nissan LEAF With Halogen Lights

Nissan LEAF With LED Lights

Nissan LEAF With LED Lights

6.6 KW Onboard Charger

OK, so another pretty important feature is to know about the regular onboard charger too, not just the DC Fast Charge. On the leaf it can be a 3.3KW or a 6.6KW. The difference basically is that the 6.6KW charges twice as fast from a regular 240V station, reducing the full charge time down to around 4 hours instead of 8. So, here’s how to tell which models have this.

  • 2011/2012 Year Models – They all have 3.3KW
  • 2013-2015 S models can have 3.3KW unless they have the DC fast charge port, in which case they also get upgraded to 6.6KW.
  • 2013-2015 SV and SL models all have 6.6KW charging.

Heat Pump

Some Leafs have a resistance heater and some have a heat pump. The obvious advantage to the heat pump is that it uses much less electricity to keep the car warm during the winter.

  • 2011/2012 Year Models – All use resistive heater only,
  • 2013-2015 S models have resistive heater,
  • 2013-2015 SV and SL models all have the heat pump

Battery Pack

The battery pack is obviously one of the most important things about a Leaf. There have been significant changes made over the years. It’s important to know what you are getting.

Nissan LEAF "Heat Seat" Button

Nissan LEAF “Heat Seat” Button

2011 Year Models

  • The battery pack may or may not have heater elements to keep it from freezing. This was only on the “cold weather package” offered at the time.
  • Prone to battery degradation in hot climates (see more info on this below)

2012 Year Models

  • Should all have the battery heater element as this was made standard from this point onwards.
  • Prone to battery degradation in hot climates (see more info on this below)

2013 Year Models

  • Uses an all-new battery pack from previous years.
  • Anecdotal evidence tends to show that degradation is not as big of a problem in this year model, although Nissan never officially announced any changes related to heat tolerance.

2014 Year Models

  • Some 2014’s may have the same battery as 2013 models.
  • Some 2014’s actually have the “lizard” battery that Nissan claims is heat tolerant and will not degrade in hot climates.

2015 Year Models.

  • Should all include the “lizard” battery and should be very reliable.
Nissan LEAF Heads-Up Battery Display

Nissan LEAF Heads-Up Battery Display

Let’s talk about Nissan Leaf battery packs for a moment. The first two years on the market, there was quite an uproar over the battery packs losing capacity over time, especially those located in hot climates like Arizona, Texas, Florida, Nevada, and Southern California. Any battery will lose capacity over time, whether it is in a car, phone, or laptop. This is to be expected. But the Leaf’s battery was degrading much faster than anticipated in these hot areas. So after 2 years the car’s rated range may drop from 85 miles to 65 miles.

Nissan said they would work on a new chemistry to prevent this from happening. Officially this new chemistry was used in 2015 year model Leafs. However, we’ve learned that many 2014 year models may have included this too. In fact, some are now speculating that they’ve been using the new chemistry since 2013 and just didn’t tell anyone, in an attempt to study how effective it was. 2013 Models seem to be holding up much better than previous years.

For Some 2014s (and all 2015s) A New, Heat-Resistent "Lizard" Battery Was Introduced

For Some 2014s (and all 2015s) A New, Heat-Resistent “Lizard” Battery Was Introduced

So, it’s sort of important to check for battery degradation before buying the car. Check out the image above. What you’re interested in are the “capacity bars” over to the far right. A brand new battery will show 12 bars. A highly degraded battery might only show 9 or 10 bars. It is important to note that any 2011 or 2012 Leaf should be expected to have some degradation by this point, especially if located in a hot climate. If you are looking at a 2011 Leaf in Arizona and it shows 12 bars then you need to be a bit suspicious of the dealership. There have been stories of the dealers resetting the computers, causing them to show all 12 bars again for a few days or weeks. As the computer figures out that the battery doesn’t have the capacity it should, it will start dropping the bars quickly. So unless the battery has been replaced recently, I would be highly suspect.

It is also important to know a few things about Nissan’s battery warranty. If the battery drops below 9 bars, Nissan will replace the battery under warranty. Generally, you can be expected to receive a brand-new lizard battery at this point, although that is not guaranteed. So if you buy a used Leaf with 9 bars showing and there is still a lot of warranty time remaining, you may be getting a great deal because you’ll get a brand-new battery. There’s another caveat though. There was a class action lawsuit over the battery pack. Some people (very few) opted out of the lawsuit. As a result, those car’s VIN numbers were marked in the system to have no capacity warranty. We presume this issue stays with that car forever. Only a Nissan dealer can check the battery warranty status. So if you are thinking that 9-bar Leaf looks great because you’ll be getting a new battery, you might want to check the VIN first, before buying.

2013 Model Year Changes

Starting In 2013, All LEAFs For The US Are Made In America At Nissan's Smyrna, TN Facility

Starting In 2013, All LEAFs For The US Are Made In America At Nissan’s Smyrna, TN Facility

I just want to point out a few things about the 2013 Leaf. Although the body style did not change, almost everything else changed for the 2013 models. Everything under the hood is different. Also the 2013 Leaf was built in the USA (or in the U.K. if you live in Europe) where as all 2011/2012 models were made in Japan. So far there haven’t been any real reliability differences between the vehicles (other than the battery which we already discussed) but here are some of the big changes that may interest you if you are comparing a 2011/2012 vs a 2013 or newer.

•Introduced availability of heat pump.
•heated steering wheel
•created a new base model (S-Model) with halogen lights, no navigation, and steel wheels (with hubcaps)
•added a true state-of-charge display to the instrument cluster.
•changed the eco-mode and split it into two separate settings Eco and B-Mode (for heavy regen)
•removed the giant “hump” in the cargo area, giving the 2013 model much more cargo area.
•added option for 6.6Kw onboard charging.

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38 responses to "Used Nissan Leaf Buying Guide"

  1. V. Bowman says:

    I’m not even in the market for a Leaf of any flavor and I found this article interesting and educational simply from an EV progression standpoint. Great job David and thanks!

    1. tedfredrick says:

      This is a great article. Possibly the most valuable article I have ever read on this site. I am in the market for a Leaf. My son is commuting to CSUN next year and they have fast chargers for free.

  2. Mister G says:

    Very useful information thank you.

  3. Mister G says:

    My 2012 Leaf has 10 capacity bars if it drops one more bar can I request a new battery pack?

    1. David Murray says:

      No, it has to drop below 9 so you need to lose 2 more bars.

    2. Bloggin says:

      Here is the important part of the Leaf battery capacity warranty:

      “Any repair or replacement made under this Lithium-Ion Battery Capacity Coverage may not return the battery to an “as new” condition with all 12 battery capacity bars, but it will provide the vehicle with a capacity level of nine bars or more on the battery capacity level gauge.”

      So if your battery drops to 8 bars, the replacement will only bring it to 9. So you would still be at about 20% capacity loss even after the warranty replacement.

      1. David Murray says:

        Yes, but Nissan has already stated that they would replace batteries with “lizard” battery packs. They don’t exactly have a lot of old ones laying around at this point. So while the warranty may only require them to replace it with a 9-bar battery, in practice anyone getting a replacement will get a brand-new battery. At least for the moment.

      2. Jason M says:

        This is not correct. My 8 bar battery was replaced with a new 12 bar battery.

        1. Mister G says:

          Was it replaced with lizard battery? How long did it take?

  4. Brian says:

    Nice writeup, thanks for sharing. One tidbit – when I purchased my 2012 Leaf, the SV did not have the option for a DC fast charge port. I was disappointed, because this turned the port into a ~$5k option. You first had to upgrade to SL, and then buy the optional port. It wasn’t worth it to me, and I’m glad I didn’t go for it – there still is no CHAdeMO station within 100 miles of me. Also of note, my 2012 does have a heated steering wheel. I believe it was added as part of the cold-weather package on the 2011. I do know it was standard on all 2012s, SV or SL.

    1. RedLeafBlueLeaf says:

      Correct. I agree this is a great write-up. And yes, the KEY differences between the SV and SL in 2012 were the QC port and the solar panel on the roof. Every 2012 SL had QC.

      Also, towards the end of the 2011 model year Nissan began to introduce the LEAF to cold weather climates (it wasn’t a 50-state car until the 2012 model year). So the 2011CW designation was created for “Cold Weather”. You can find this the paperwork for the car if the seller still has it. CW included heated seats, steering, rearview mirrors, and battery. Every 2012 LEAF had these as well.

      If you get a used 2011 you may find it has been modified with aftermarket heated seats – a lot of people did this. Also, a few 2011/2012 models were modified after market to allow you to turn off the heater while keeping climate control on – Nissan didn’t add this as a feature until 2013.

      A number of 2011s on the market now – and a few 2012s – already have the battery replaced under warranty. These really should command a premium given the better track record of the 2013 batteries but for some reason they aren’t.

      When shopping for 2013 and later you really have to pay close attention to the options – it was so much easier in 2012 when basically all you had were vanilla SV and SL. in 2013 you may or may not have a QC on the SV, you may or may not have a rear-view camera or maybe you have all-around view, etc. 2013 in particular is a challenge because it’s the only model year that had an option for no camera. Many people bought new and were surprised afterwards there was no camera.

      Personally I advise looking only for 2013 and later due to the 6.6kw charger and generally only for the QC port since those models retain value better and are easier to resell – and this trend will only increase as QC availability increases.

      And make sure that the car has a working 110V EVSE included!

  5. Chris Florio says:

    As a person who bought a 2011 SL used this past July, one thing to also note is the Heated Seats are NOT available on the 2011. I would absolutely suggest looking to find a 2012 just because of that. Running the heater in the 2011 sucks battery hard. I ended up having after market heated seats put in and that was great, it would have been fine to just wait to find a 2012 and have that and the heated steering wheel by default.

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Actually, some late 2011 LEAFs had the “cold weather package” (heated seats, steering wheel, etC), but not very many.

      I personally owned a 2011 both with and without the package. That being said, I think Nissan only did about ~40 of them total, lol.

      But you are right, the LEAF without the heated seats/steering can not only be a real drain on range due to the increased heater use, but just all around is not as pleasant.

  6. Kosh says:

    Similarly for us, when we leased our 2013 SV, I forgot in all the rush of the dealer finding use the one we wanted (had to trade with another dealer) that the Fast Charge port was optional and we ended up not having one. Not that it has mattered, as there are STILL no fast chargers within range here.

    But, I was told after the fact that the fast charger could not be added on after the fact. I find this statement ridiculous. It’s just parts and wire connections. You mean to tell me if the front of a Leaf is damaged in an accident, they can’t replaced any fast charging components?

    Nissan really should be offering an in dealership install of the fast charger system to accommodate the used market for these cars.

    1. David Murray says:

      I’m sure fast-charging COULD be added to a Leaf. I just don’t think it is practical. There are parts all over the car that have to be changed, including inside the battery pack itself.

      1. RedLeafBlueLeaf says:

        Yes, you’d basically have to take apart the entire motor compartment and rebuild it with many new parts. Nissan doesn’t build the non-QCs with the same heavy duty electrical equipment to handle 440V charging – it would be a pointless extra expense – so it would be a lot more than just installing a port.

  7. See Through says:

    Good article. I’m not in the market, but this can be helpful for many people.

  8. Ocean Railroader says:

    My plan when I buy a used leaf or i-miev is try and drive it to the nearest DC Quick charger station and see if I can plug it into the quick charger. To me the car having quick charging will make or break buying the car.

  9. scott franco says:

    That was a great article, and funny. You should write more.

  10. Gsned57 says:

    I need to bookmark this article. Great job. I’ll be in the market for a used leaf in a few years and this is great info!

  11. Kent says:

    Excellent info!

  12. Mike says:

    good informative article
    fwiw – 2013 SL with 13K so far, still with all 12 bars.
    I’m in TX, always L2 charge to 100%, never use eco mode and drive it like I stole it

  13. Mister G says:

    My 2012 Leaf lost first bar at 15029 miles during hot summer in Orlando Florida. Your getting close to danger zone.

  14. RedLeafBlueLeaf says:

    Other changes for 2013 included the ability to open the charge door with the door clicker, a light on the charge door, the ability to turn off the heat mechanism while keeping the climate control on, and starting in 2013 you don’t need to answer yes/no to the carwings question every time the car is turned on, just once per month. I’m sure I’m missing quite a few other small changes which, taken together, added up to a much nicer overall experience.

    The 2011 has one feature not repeated since – the ability to turn off the reverse beeper. Personally that’s one of the first buttons I click when I start our 2011. If you are looking for spotting differences between 2011 and 2012 THAT is basically it – look for the button on the left dashboard near the drivers door. Otherwise even the heated seat button isn’t a for-sure 2012, it might be a 2011 CW.

  15. KenZ says:

    This info summary is awesome, but it kinda begs for a table format of year and model type vs options.

    Thanks for all the great work! Probably buying a used leaf next year.

  16. Murrysville EV says:

    Excellent writeup.

    As a 12 Leaf driver, I’m still learning about the battery. I recently complained to the dealer about my 42-mile range (full to empty, in the depths of winter here in western PA), despite still having 12 bars of capacity. The dealer told me everything was A-OK, but showed me no data.

    So I bought the BAFX OBD-II Bluetooth scan tool to see for myself, and talked to it through the LeafSpy Pro Android app. It turns out that my battery’s State of Health (SOH) is 88% after 22k miles. I also learned that the first bar should disappear from the display when the SOH reaches 85% for a month or so, but that may or may not happen before my lease is up in September.

    Therefore, I would add that an EV buyer – especially one considering a used EV – should be aware of the season in which they’re evaluating the car. My 12-bar Leaf wasn’t so impressive with its 42-mile range this winter, but in the summer it will look much better. The resistive heater is the major culprit here, and I’m curious to know how much of a difference the heat pump makes.

    My problem hasn’t been Phoenix-like summers; it has been the brutal winters. The only way I’ll sign up for another Leaf is to be convinced that the winter performance is much better than the 2011-12 models.

    I feel sorry for uneducated EV buyers looking for a deal on a $12k Leaf; they could easily find themselves with a huge disappointment on their hands. BUT, they will have bought the car outright, while I can unload mine after the lease is up.

    1. RedLeafBlueLeaf says:

      The Phoenix heat was horrible because it dramatically accelerated battery degradation. The cold doesn’t make the battery degrade faster, it just greatly reduces the range.

      The 2013 and later do better in the winter due to: 1) battery degrades slower, so the second and third winters aren’t much worse than the first, 2) the heat pump (except in the S) uses less battery except on the extremely cold days, and 3) you can turn off the heat but keep the climate control on, which gives you more flexibility for extending the range.

      But you still have much more limited range in winter than the rest of the year.

  17. kubel says:

    Heated steering wheel was standard on all 2012’s. It’s listed above as a change for 2013.

    Other than that, excellent guide. It sort of needs a chart, there’s so much information.

  18. Stephen Hodges says:

    Of course the mix of parts to model is probably different in the UK (and in Japan), my 2011 SV has QC but no solar panel, for instance. Great write up

  19. George B says:

    Nice article, David! I would second the LeafSpy recommendation. That tool is inexpensive and can come in quite handy when looking for a used LEAF.

  20. Jeff says:

    Great writeup. Another difference that will only be meaningful to those of us living in a northern location where we use salt on the roads in the winter: 2011s and 2012s had a significant amount of aluminum/alloy body construction. In later 5 years all these Nissan used steel, albeit galvanized.

  21. David B says:

    Yes, great info! Thanks a lot for your time and effort, David. Its hard to believe how fast these Evs depreciate. I just saw a 2012 SL with 19k miles online for $,12,700. My 2012 has 31k miles with 6 months left on a 39 mo. lease. The residual (fixed price for me to buy it then) is over $17,000! I’d be surprised if its worth $11,000 by then. So, I’ve been thinking about buying a very similar used one when I give mine back. David, I hear you when you say its very important to know what features the model you buy has on it, but I’m not so sure a model with an L3 QC is really worth much more. I have one and can’t really see when I would use it even if there was a DC station near me. There would have to be a DC charger every 60-70 miles along the highway to make it practical for road trips. Even with a 9 bar battery and 60 mile range I would rarely need to charge anywhere but at home and overnight. 60 miles a day adds up to over 21,000 mile a year; well above what an average ICE driver does and probably close to triple what the average EV gets driven. Even without getting a new battery at 8 bars, I’m thinking a used $12,000, well designed, 5 passenger EV with a 60 mile range sounds pretty good. Isn’t 60 miles as much or more than most other Evs will go with a new battery? Besides, most EV owners I know have an ICE vehicle in the family to use for long trips.

    1. Caffeinekid says:

      Hey David. Nissan has been known to offer considerable residual reduction on the 2012 model. Also, with regards to the necessity of L3 charging, ANY charging scenario is entirely user specific. If you only drive 50 miles a day, then the L1/L2 charging is probably sufficient in warm weather, however if you drive 40 miles in one direction on a fairly regular basis and want to make it back home- especially in cold weather- then (given time constraints) the L3 becomes more of a necessity.

  22. JoEllen says:

    Thank you for teaching me a lot about my 2014 Leaf SL and its older siblings–super information!

  23. Greener says:

    One correction in the section comparing a 2011/2012 Vs 2013+ models:
    2012 LEAF SL does indeed have Heated Steering Wheel. This is not a new thing with 2013+ models.

    Also, just to ve fair, it has been well documented that Nissan actually reduced the pick up speed in 2013+ models. So the 2011-2012 LEAFs are slightly faster at the starting point.

    While the heat pump is more energy efficient, there is also some limitation with the heat pumps in the 2013+ models where they don’t remain on at a certain outside temperature or when it goes into a system defrost mode.

    Also, a small point not mentioned is that the U.S. 2013+ models no longer have Side Marker lights that the 2011-2012 models have.

  24. James says:

    Came across this article as I have spent the last few weeks cramming ‘Leaf’ info into my head, and like others, found it very helpful. I have been interested in an EV for years, even following the start and eventual demise of the green-vehicles triac. Lately I have seen some 2013’s for as low as 10k here in the Sacramento area, which for me makes buying used a better option than leasing. My hope is to drive it as my main commuter for 4+ years. At that time, I will look to purchase a used 2017 or 2018 (with 150+ range) and hopefully pass the 2013 on to my kid who will be of driving age at that time (she won’t need full range). So, when I find a 2013 with: SV package (6.6kw), low miles (<25k), 12 bars, and not blue or red, I will buy it! Thanks again for the posting such an informative article.

  25. Dave says:

    This appears to be a 2012, dealer advertised ‘SL’, but with L.E.D. headlight assembly, that does not have the CHAdeMO DC charger. At least I can’t find it.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nissan-Leaf-2012-Nissan-Leaf-SL-/361329339716?forcerrptr=true&hash=item5420e82d44&item=361329339716

    After reviewing a few hundred Leafs on eBay and CarGurus, this is the first example I have found with the led, but no DC charger. I have found many examples of SV units being passed off as SL, by hopeful dealers.

    Also, I wonder if a Leaf could operate a while after being submerged by flooding, or if that would short the battery–I suspect they would last about as long as a gas car, until the cpus died.

  26. ShreeN says:

    Good info for buyers looking into buying used nissan leaf. I am in the market looking for used leaf and wanted to know if dealers do pre buy inspections if you are buying from private party. Also how to read the battery data from leafspy app. Any help with information is greatly appreciated

    Thank you
    Shree