Feature article

My life with a Nissan Leaf

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to own an EV? We spoke with a Kiwi driver to learn about her life with a Leaf.

Traditional car reviews are useful, but we figured that what you really want to know about owning a car, is what it’s like to live with it! That’s why we’re presenting our new series of articles covering someone’s life experiences with a specific vehicle. First up is Brooke to tell us about her life with a Nissan Leaf.

What was your inspiration for choosing a Leaf?

Around a year and a half ago, we were a one car family and looking to build a house a little further out from the city, so needed a second car for my commute to work. The hike in petrol prices meant we didn’t want to have to pay petrol costs for a second car, so we thought it’d be a fun experiment to research and buy an EV! We opted for a 2nd generation Nissan Leaf and got it for $12,000.

What are your favourite things about driving a Leaf?

I love that it has all the mod cons – it’s ‘techy’ and cool. There are solar panels on the roof, which charge the battery and lights. It has heated seats, which are lovely for staying cosy on chilly winter evenings. And there’s a reversing camera, which is a godsend when parking. The charging timer is super handy too. Even though it’s an EV, for features it’s as good as, if not better, than any other car of its age.

I also like how quiet it is when driving – hardly making any noise when it’s switched on. It does beep when you reverse, which is very handy as when we first got it I was worried about running over a neighbourhood cat if it couldn’t hear the car coming!

The lack of fuel fumes are great when you have your windows down – allowing you to enjoy some fresh air.

It’s a good size for a small car too. You can fit four people in easily, and it still has space for supplies, picnic blankets and tennis racquets.

How did you need to alter your home set-up to accommodate the Leaf?

When building our new house, we put an EV charger in the garage – allowing me to park up and plug in straight away. We have a fast charger, so it only takes about an hour to charge the battery fully. Our electrician was fantastic and went on a course especially to learn how to install an EV charge station as he’d never done it before. He’s now an EV charge expert, so that’s really cool.

Before the house was built, we were staying with my parents so we had to use the standard three pin drip-feed charge. We’d plug it in to the car and then run the cord over the fence, around the gate and into the window to charge the Leaf over the course of eight or nine hours. If you need to, you can literally plug the EV in next to the kitchen toaster, but it does take longer to charge.

How do you find charging the Leaf in comparison with traditional petrol filling?

It costs us about thirty dollars on the power bill each month, but that’s nothing compared to what we’re saving on petrol expenses. We use the charging timer and have it set to charge between 9pm and 5am – a period when we get a discount on our power. It’s no hassle if you need to charge it outside of that period as there’s a little button, next to the steering wheel, you can press that overrides the timed charge.

If I need a little top up charge when out and about, I’ll stop in the EV parking spot at the supermarket and do it whilst grabbing a few groceries.

I hated getting petrol and found it a huge chore, so don’t miss anything about it! It’s so much nicer being able to drive into my garage and charge there.

How much money do you estimate you’re saving by driving the Leaf?

We’re definitely saving a lot in petrol costs. I drive around 26km each way between work and home, so that means I’m doing over 50km a day and only paying the petrol equivalent of around $30 a month.

When researching the Leaf, we did consider a small petrol car and it would have been a little cheaper in terms of initial outlay for the vehicle - maybe a couple of thousand dollars less - but in the long-run, the EV gives you back tenfold what you’ve spent on the upfront cost of the car. Within a year, we’d gotten the extra couple of thousand dollars back via fuel savings.

Have you ever suffered any range anxiety or run out of charge?

I’ve never run out of charge but I have come close! I know that I can get from my house to the airport and back with around 5 or 10km battery life to spare. The first time I did this journey I drove in eco mode as I was a little worried I wouldn’t make it, but I got there and back just fine.

I now know that the airport has EV charging stations, so I always look out for those. If the car is going to be sitting there all day, it seems like a waste for it not to be charging at the same time.

Since driving the Leaf daily, I’m confident in how far I can get on a single charge and where the charging stations are.

When the battery is looking a little low, I know where I can grab a quick top-up charge for ten minutes and have a 50km boost to get me safely home.

I honestly have no idea what happens if you run out of charge on the road! Would I need to get towed? Would the AA come out with a generator to charge my EV? Here’s hoping I never need to find out!

Editor's note: Dependent on having breakdown cover, if you run out of charge whilst travelling in your EV, you’ll be picked up and taken to the nearest charge station or your home – whichever is nearer. Alternatively, an emergency charge can be given to get you to the nearest charging point.

What’s the longest journey you’ve done in the Leaf?

From home to the airport and back! For me, it’s not currently a road trip car. It’d be nice to be able to drive up to Matakana Market, or travel north on a girls trip, but I’m not confident in getting that far as I’m not sure what charging stations are available up there.

What are the mechanical maintenance requirements for an EV?

We’ve had one service, which was undertaken after we’d had the car for a year. For around $200, you can get what’s called an ‘EV Pit Stop’ and they check everything – battery health, tyre pressure, top up the windscreen fluid, but there’s not much that needs to be looked at.

We’ve learnt that fast charging is worst for battery health and trickle charge is best for maintaining battery life. There’s also a trick where you can set the battery to only ever charge to 80% – which helps maintain battery life as oxidisation can occur if you regularly charge beyond that level. The obvious downside to doing that is that you lose 20% of range.

In the year and a half since getting the car, it’s probably lost around 10km or less in battery life. When I charge it to the maximum, I can get around 120km travel range – with a newer model you can get over 200km.

What’s your other car and how do you use it in comparison to the Leaf?

Our other car is an SUV, a Mazda CX5, that my husband, Scott, drives daily. He also uses it for surfing trips, and any outdoor adventuring, as it has a roof rack and tow bar. The Leaf is our handy run around car. Scott loves the Leaf too and really enjoys driving it on the weekend.

What do you prefer about the Leaf in comparison to the SUV and is there anything you miss?

The Leaf is fantastic for my commute where, twice a day, I sit in bumper to bumper traffic for 45 minutes. I can shift the car into eco mode to save some battery life – if you don’t need any acceleration, you can drift along in this mode and get around 40km more out of a single charge. I then relax by listening to music or a podcast.

Being an SUV, the other car is better for surf trips, outdoor activities or picking up large items from the hardware store. We use the Leaf for all of the little jobs around town. It comes into its own when commuting, going to the veggie shop or the tennis club on a Saturday.

How do your friends and family respond to the Leaf?

Their feedback is overwhelmingly positive and they think it’s a really cool car. They’re always surprised when they get in the Leaf how awesome it actually is, and it surprises them how quiet it is. They’re shocked that it’s just like a normal car and maybe even cooler than a normal car!

It makes up for looking a bit funny, compared to traditional cars, with the cool and modern features it has and things it can do. Everyone loves my Leaf.

What sort of response do you receive from other drivers whilst in the Leaf?

Nobody treats me any differently to when I’m driving the SUV. In all honesty, when I encounter any flashpoints with other drivers, I wouldn’t know if the issue is my driving or if it’s the Leaf that’s irritated them!

When it’s time for a new car, what are you likely to look for?

I’ll definitely look for an EV again, but will want to upgrade the range from what I’ve currently got. This range is fine for now, but we’re going to need more in future.

There are lots more EV options now than when we bought this one, but this has been the perfect first EV and I love driving it. It feels so smooth compared to the SUV - there’s less jolting and juddering - and I find it much nicer to drive.

I’ll also consider a plug-in hybrid, if I decide that I need a lot of extra range. Otherwise, fully electric has been great and I’ll continue with an EV.

Does this mean you’re likely to be an EV driver for life now?

I’d definitely like to be! It’d be weird to go back to a petrol car and have to stop at the petrol station.

The Leaf has become a way of life for me and pulling into the garage, plugging it in to charge, are habits that I’d miss.

It’s cool being able to park in the supermarket in the EV spots right next to the front door – I’d miss that kind of thing too. I’m excited to see how the tech advances, what cool functions and features come next and how EVs evolve.