By Sean O’Callaghan
In this Series, Sean will tell us the 8-year story of his Nissan Leaf, from the purchase till the replacement of its battery.
… Continued from part 3
…could I just do it myself?
Towards the end of 2015 I got the opportunity to test myself a little on the point. Through my investigations I’d gotten connected with a few super early EV’s owners – Vectrix VX-1 electric scooter owners precisely. Some folks in the, parallel, US community had had success replacing their factory NiMH packs with Nissan Leaf modules and there was some talk about a similar effort happening here. Cutting this segue short, I wound up performing one of the refits resulting in an 85km capable Vectrix VX-1 which served him very well right up until it was stolen from his driveway.
March 2016 brought the first Tesla experience in Ireland (that I’m aware of at least) – a demo day at Malahide Castle. I don’t have any precise recollection o f the ‘when’ but somewhere in the previous 130,000km a pal had been sufficiently impressed with my account of the Leaf that he’d gone out and bought his own and imported it from the UK. It was this pal who pointed out this Tesla day to me and we both went along. Now at that time, the Tesla Model S was everywhere. The flagship model was the P90D and the idea of autonomous driving was only just becoming a thing. We were given our allocated slot and duly showed up for our spin at 9am. We were greeted by a wall of Tesla Model S’s parked out front. Everything from the P70 to the P90D on show. We went in, did their little marketing survey (they were planning to open dealerships in Belfast first, to be followed by Dublin) and got brought along to the car park. We were to drive a P70D (the P90D was reserved for their “high net worth” visitors). I could take you through every little nuance of that morning but this spiel is already way to long so I’ll spare you. Suffice to say it was sublime. They had features that nobody else was even thinking, much less talking, about yet. The thing could actually drive itself – and did for part of the journey to Howth and back (which to be fair, is not any easy task). The fact that the autopilot couldn’t yet account for cyclists prompted the obvious jokes but, despite the obvious infancy of the tech, the promise was plain to be seen.
July 2016 brought the Leaf to 194,000km and the loss of that precious 3rd bar. At this point the car was only good for a reliable 85km or so in the colder months and I was going to have to get moving on a solution. There was still no firm word from Nissan, and any packs which were turning up on the market were too far away to be worth considering.
August 2016 brought us over the 200,000km mark. It was also the month that we reached the wall plates on what would become our new home. It was in March of 2017 though that I found a crashed 131 in my local scrapyard with the battery still in it. This was the last of the Japanese Leafs to come into the country so the pack was a guaranteed straight swap and the price they wanted for it was right. The Megane had been sitting in the driveway at the new house for a few months by now, unused (and with no use case in sight as we’d downgraded to just the one car), so I basically traded it for scrap against the delivery of the new pack. So the guys came by, dropped the donor pack onto a trailer I had waiting, and took the old Megane away. The pack sat on the trailer outside my folks house for month before I got a window to put it into the car, and that day I arranged to use a neighbour’s car lift to help the effort along.
By lunchtime we’d taken out the old pack, and put the new pack in Twice!
The scrapyard had seen fit to remove the LBC (Lithium Battery Controller) from the pack. This was a bit of a dick move as it isn’t a part they can do anything with and there was no demand for them, but it was also only more of an inconvenience than a problem. Having recovered the original LBC from the old pack, I simply plugged it into the new pack and we were in business.
The original plan had been to fit the new pack with its LBC and then trailer the car to Nissan to have the LBC paired to the VCM (Vehicle Control Module). The LBC swap approach meant that this was no longer necessary, but it also meant that the LBC would need time to get to know the new pack. It also meant that I didn’t get my precious bars back – but that was largely irrelevant and LeafSpy would always tell the tale in any case.
Bottom line – my almost 5 year old, 223,000km Leaf was now back up to factory range and ready for another 4 years service at least and I still had my old pack for deployment as battery storage in the new house. On top of this, the whole deal had set me back only marginally more than half the cost of a factory replacement pack. I also took the opportunity to refresh the factory front brake pads at this point as one of them had hit a wear indicator. It turned out that this was only because one caliper had gotten stiff and wasn’t backing off, so it was only one pad that was worn out. The others were only marginally beyond half service. A cursory cleaning and greasing and all was well again.
All went quiet with the car then for a long time. It just did its job without fail. The finance came to an end and I started to confirm the numbers. Purchasing the car had taken our monthly transport related outgoings from €370 in finance and a combined €420 in petrol between the two cars, to €420 in finance, €80 in electricity, with the Megane use cut to about ~€30/month and falling. At the point of the trade, I had a year left on the Civic finance, so for that year we’d cut our outgoings by €260/month – way more than my original estimates. Taking a forward look on the finances once the Civic would have been paid off, saw the Leaf costing us €110/month to the end of its finance. However, this was offset to a degree by drastically reduced maintenance, and reduced road tax.
The Leaf had displaced in the region of €15,000 of fuel cost to that point!
This seemed incredible so I did the math another way. Petrol had averaged approximately €1.474/L over the last 5 years. My old civic did 4.7L/100km and we’d done 223,000km. The cost of simply putting fuel into the Civic over that distance in that period would have been €15,600. Just – fuel! The reduction in tax was another €1000 over the 5 years, and I hadn’t dropped the Leaf to a garage since I broke the 120,000km mark 3 years earlier. The battery had cost €2500 but there was residual value there which was going to bring in further returns yet so that was also tricky to account for. Crucially though – the car, at 5 years old, was still running like a swiss watch and still sublime to drive. The interior was starting to show its age as beige velour will after that sort of duty, and the bodywork had some ‘mileage commensurate’ bumps and scrapes, but it still functioned perfectly.
A whole year passed – pretty quickly too between moving into the new house, getting a second dog (Riley) and the arrival of our first child (Senan); my garage was also built and the old pack was up on the wall awaiting deployment (another story) – before the 6 year NCT came about and showed up an out of spec ball joint, so I changed both lower control arms as I figured the bushings were likely to be on the way out by then as well. Our mileage had tumbled substantially in that time and the car which had been doing 1000km/week was now barely doing that in a month. I was working from home and my wife had left work to stay home with our son, so by May of 2018 we had only just hit the 250,000km mark.
A quarter of a million kilometers in a Gen1 EV!
The 30kWh model had arrived in 2015 of course, but now the 40kWh model was imminent and I was invited to the unveil at Nissan HQ – under instruction to bring my warhorse along with me of course.
Tesla were gaining traction slowly with their Model 3 and various other announcements. The Renault Zoe, which had been crippled by Renault’s insistence on utilizing a battery lease program early in its career, was now available for outright purchase, also with a 40kWh pack and had become a great addition to the market. The Niro and Kona had arrived on the market, and in general things were really starting to pick up for EV’s.
Charger contention was becoming a big problem though – particularly with this new breed of EV owner. The mainstream adopters who had no real sense of community and invariably also had the cars with the biggest batteries and the fewest scruples about hogging a charger for hours on end. Despite the battery swap, the range on the car was still quite limited and whilst it did meet the vast majority of our needs, there was definitely still a requirement to plan out what those needs were. Before we’d decommissioned the Megane I’d run the numbers with regard to simply renting a car for those times when we needed more than the Leaf could reasonably manage. For the cost of taxing and insuring the Megane at that time, I’d identified that we could take almost three weeks of daily rentals. This had made the decision to move to a single car household simple, and renting had, and does, serve us very well for many reasons (yet another ‘other’ discussion), however it doesn’t help when a need to travel just pops up, and it was in these cases that we found ourselves at the waiting end of the queues for the fast chargers. For the most part these queues led to us abandoning any voluntary journey which required the use of a fast charger entirely. I won’t say that we missed the flexibility, but we did miss out to a degree where visiting friends and relatives was concerned as a result. What we did do was start to borrow my mother’s car on the odd occasion – a Suzuki Ignis. A perfectly purposeful little car, and we are to this day very grateful to have been able to avail of it on very short notice; but going back to driving a combustion engine car (or ICE as they’re referred to these days) is nothing short of a chore in any form now. So it was clear that I needed to do something about the range on the car.
I had my eyes firmly set on that new 40kWh pack.
To be continued in the final part …