Nissan’s LEAF has been an EV favorite for a decade. As the first internationally mass market and affordable electric car, it has played a crucial role in EV adoption. Its long tenure also makes it a leader in battery replacement, many being replaced by Nissan themselves under warranty.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. All lithium ion batteries degrade over time, and that includes the packs found in electric vehicles. Many used EV batteries also find second lives as backup or energy storage, which does not require the full capacity and power of a new battery.
The key thing to keep in mind is that batteries degrade with time and how they are used over that period can make that degradation worse. Things like high depth of discharge or frequent fast charging can expedite the aging process. But even if a vehicle’s owner follows the best battery hygiene, a replacement could still be essential after many years of service.
If you are new to EVs or want to better understand the battery aging process, here’s a short battery degradation e-book.
LEAF Batteries and Sizes
The Nissan LEAF has model years that range from 2011 to 2022 and battery sizes that range from 22 to 62 kilowatt hours (kWh). Here is a simple overview of how the battery sizes aligned with model years. Batteries replaced by Nissan under warranty are replaced with 40 kWh packs.
- 2011 - 2017: 24 kWh
- 2016: 30 kWh
- 2018+: 40 kWh
- Plus: 62 kWh
The range of a Nissan LEAF also varies. In the Recurrent community, which includes over 1000 active LEAF drivers, we see daily ranges from 64 to 280 miles. Here is a summary of original EPA ranges by model year.
- 2011 - 2013: 73 - 75 miles
- 2014 - 2017: 84 miles
- 2016 (30 kWh): 107 miles
- 2018+: 151 miles
- LEAF Plus: 226 miles
How Long Do LEAF Batteries Last?
Product warranties can tell you lots about a product’s expected lifespan. For example, a Dodge Ram truck (with a combustion engine) often comes with a 5 year and/or 60,000 mile powertrain warranty. The truck will last much longer than that, but Dodge has a very high level of confidence that it will not be paying out a lot to cover vehicle repairs in the first 5 years.
The battery warranty for a Nissan LEAF is 8 years and/or 100,000 miles. Now, 8 years does not sound like a long time, until you compare it to the 5 years that Dodge covers in its trucks. Suddenly, 8 years sounds a bit better.
We should also keep in mind that the lifespan of an EV battery can be somewhat personal. Battery degradation means that every car will lose available range over time, but it isn’t until it limits you that it becomes an issue. Consider that with the LEAF. If a 2015 Nissan LEAF has an original EPA range of 84 miles, and some range is lost with time, its useful life may be shorter than a vehicle with a 300+ mile range.
Battery Replacement Process & Timeline
Replacing an EV battery is more like replacing an engine than swapping the 9 volt battery in your smoke alarm. Replacements can be dangerous without the proper equipment. First of all, batteries are heavy, and secondly, they store a lot of electrical energy. Improper handling could result in electrical shock.
You’ll first schedule an appointment with your local dealership or mechanic. They’ll hoist the vehicle into the air to get access to its battery. After removing the old battery, they’ll insert the new one and reattach it safely with the proper cables. Oftentimes special equipment is required to update the vehicle's software and let it know it has a new battery.
The replacement can be done within a day by an experienced professional. However, if parts need to be ordered, you’ll be at the mercy of the supply chain.
It is important to note that not all battery replacement procedures involve replacing the whole battery unit. Sometimes mechanics can identify defective modules, which are components of the whole battery unit, or defective individual cells, which make up modules. They will then simply replace the defective modules or cells, saving the vehicle owner plenty of money.
For a walk through on a Leaf Battery replacement, check out this video produced by an independent mechanic.
LEAF Battery Replacement Cost
The LEAF battery itself costs about $4,500, placing the price per kWh at $187/kWh, which is 36% above the quoted 2020 $137/kWh price. Based on discussions with LEAF owners and endlessly scrolling through owner forums, the replacement cost 24 kWh battery in a Nissan Leaf is $5,500 including labor.
The battery research team at Recurrent did a full review of EV replacement costs across popular vehicle makes and models.
Choosing a Nissan Battery Replacement Expert
Your options for LEAF battery replacements typically come down to going to a Nissan dealership or working with a battery replacement specialist. Like buying an oil change in a combustion engine vehicle, the dealership service prices tend to be steeper.
More affordable options may exist, particularly if you live on the coasts. The LEAF community actually maintains a list of replacement shops.
What Happens to Secondhand LEAF Batteries?
There’s a common misconception that used EV batteries go straight to the landfill. Once a LEAF battery reaches the end of useful life getting people from A to B in an electric vehicle, it will likely take one of two paths.
One of those paths is providing backup power to either a data center as a stationary battery or as energy storage for a renewable power source. Stationary power does not have the same rigorous demands of an EV – namely rapid charging and discharging – so a battery can provide many additional years of support.
Lots of companies are using LEAF batteries, in particular, to provide stationary power. Here’s a visual story from the Washington Post about a small company that tracks down LEAF batteries from salvage yards or auto auctions to repurpose to store solar power for RVs.
For recalled batteries or those found to be unsafe for immediate reuse, recycling is a growing industry. The rare-earth metals found in batteries are expensive and often reusable after processing. The challenge is getting them out safely. Unlike recycling a cardboard box, used EV batteries store energy that can electrocute and chemicals that can start fires.
Some exciting and heavily funded companies are already recycling EV batteries and attempting to make the process safer and cheaper.
History of the Nissan LEAF
The Nissan LEAF has been around for a while, and has “the distinction of being the first widely available and affordable all-electric car,” according to Consumer Reports. Edmunds credits the LEAF as being “first, full-electric mainstream vehicle to be put on sale for the American consumer.” The 2021 model is a mid-priced new vehicle with two battery capacity options, and a range of up to 226 miles, putting it on par with other second-generation EVs. However, older models, starting with the 2011, are some of the least expensive used EVs available. Read on to find out what to ask, what to know, and if a Leaf may be right for you.
First Generation LEAF - 2011 to 2017
A 2011 LEAF can be found for just a few thousand dollars and can provide a good, if local, EV experience. However, the initial battery pack had only 24 kWh capacity and 73 miles or range, and Nissan did not install any temperature control in the battery management system. This meant that many early Leaf batteries suffered serious degradation, and many early Leaf drivers had to get replacement batteries or live with severely curtailed range. However, the early model, which comes in SL or SV trim, is reliable, safe, and a pioneer of electric vehicles.
The 2013 LEAF was the next iteration, which included a more affordable, base-trim S model, or the SV/SL models with upgraded 6.6-kW charger, cutting charge time down to four hours with a 220V source. The upgraded charger is an optional add-on for the base model. Production for the 2013 Leaf was also moved to Tennessee, bringing EV production to the US. The LEAF still lacked liquid cooling, however, making it a risky choice for hotter climates due to faster battery degradation.
By 2015, rival EVs such as the VW e-golf and Kia Soul had hit the market, and it was becoming apparent that the passive-air cooled batteries in the LEAF were degrading faster than similar batteries with thermal management. Nissan released an updated battery that was meant to combat fast degradation in hot climates, but 2016’s 30 kWh battery became infamous for persistent problems. It showed faster than expected degradation in all climates, and Nissan famously resisted taking customer concerns seriously. As Green Car Reports explains, “283 Leaf batteries, including 82 of the larger-capacity pack, appears to indicate a higher rate of cell-capacity loss in the upgraded 30-kwh battery packs than was observed in the first 24-kwh batteries.” A software update provided at Nissan dealerships did address the 30 kWh battery issues, which turned out to be a software issue, rather than a hardware one.
Second Generation - 2018 to current
2018 saw a redesign of the Nissan LEAF and a bump up to a 40 kWh battery, 147 hp, and 236 pound-feet of torque. However, the underlying mechanics and electronics remained essentially unchanged. There are still three trims: S, SV, and top-of-line SL - the latter two with a Level 3 DC fast charge port, which was available as an add-on to the base model. The regenerative braking was also improved with what Nissan calls the “e-pedal.” The range is rated at 151 miles and the car received rave reviews for handling, reliability, and easy maintenance. Main complaints about the 2018 include cabin design and in-vehicle storage space.
By 2019, a 62 kWh pack was available in the LEAF Plus, offering 226 miles range and an additional 67 hp in the engine. This version of the Leaf competes solidly with the Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona, coming in below both on the new price. Again, there are three trims available - the S, SV, and top-of-line SL, although the SL is only available in the Plus configuration.