Why are Nissan Leafs so cheap?
January 23, 2015 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm shopping for a used car right now (current one has 100k miles on it and is breaking down regularly) and I stumbled onto older (2011-2012, but not very old) Nissan Leafs going for only about $11k used. They cost at least double that new, so why are they so cheap now? Are there recalls or wear or drawbacks? Shouldn't electric cars last for a long time and be reliable?

I'm surprised they're dropping in value so quickly since new ones are in the low $30k range (you do get a federal rebate of $7500) but I'm kind of surprised to see them so cheap so soon after they came out.

I would only use this as an extra city car, never going more than 20 miles from home, using it mostly for around-the-town errands. I've heard a Tesla owner say their electric car is as reliable as any appliance that works for decades at home. You charge it and it will always work, for a very long time (or until the batteries give out), that the only maintenance is occasional new tires/brakes but otherwise the car should last forever.

Are 3-4 year old Nissan Leafs with only 20-25k miles on them so cheap because people don't like the ~80mi driving range and find owning one limiting? Or is there something more sinister about break-downs or unreliability going on? Are people dumping them for mechanical reasons or more for how they fit into their lives?

They seem way too cheap for such a new and technologically advanced car, I'm wondering what the pitfalls are. Keep in mind I would have a backup car to drive longer distances, so I don't think "range anxiety" would be a constant worry driving it ~5-10mi each day.
posted by mathowie to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend leases a current-model Leaf for her 8 mile daily commute and loves it. We're in Atlanta, though, and Georgia has a huge (like $5,000) tax credit for leasing.

When we were at the dealer, they told us specifically that "nobody buys these, they just lease them and then get the new model the next year", ostensibly because battery tech advances so much from year to year that it's not a great investment to own one.

If you live in a place where there are plentiful charging stations, it's a fun little zippy car and definitely cheaper to power than almost anything that takes gasoline.
posted by softlord at 11:24 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I lease a Leaf, and I chose to lease vs. buy for two reasons. First, the battery has a finite life and is not covered by warranty, making it a pricey repair that you will be on the hook for sooner or later. Second, with technology improving I expect that much longer range EVs will be available for non-Tesla prices before too long. I'm not convinced the resale value is there long-term for an 80-90 mils range once you can get a new one in the 200 range.

FWIW, I like mine a lot but have had, at the one-year point, a major failure requiring a complete part replacement of some big component. I am pretty happy it's a lease and I am not on the hook long-term after the three-year mark. I love the car and all the benefits, don't get me wrong at all...I have always bought cars but this one I'm glad to be leasing.
posted by handful of rain at 11:24 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know more than the average auto enthusiast but I suspect it's simply fear of an expensive ($8k IIRC) battery replacement.
posted by Monochrome at 11:24 AM on January 23, 2015

Friends bought an electric car, not a leaf, disremember the brand. They were able to have the battery re-habbed instead of replaced. They shipped it to someone unaffiliated whit the dealer or automaker.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on January 23, 2015

Response by poster: It looks like battery life is easily in the 10-15 year range for people living in a cooler climate like I am in Oregon. I suspect the glut of used Leafs on the market is 3 year leases from 2011-2012 being up, but I'm still kind of surprised they're being offered at less than half the original cost.
posted by mathowie at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2015

Consider that these used cars are so cheap because when they were purchased new, they were targeted for dealer markups, because they were fresh and new and were on the good side of the supply/demand curve.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:40 AM on January 23, 2015

PS- as far as the lifestyle stuff, I am in the Bay Area. I use the car for my daily commute, I can charge at work although I don't need to. It is also our primary car on the weekends for most everything...we use our conventional car as a backup and for the rare trips that need more cargo capacity or longer range. I seriously want to love this car, it works for my life. I will get another EV. But I am not convinced this version of the Leaf is a long-term reliable option...the Tesla might be better engineered, that I can believe.
posted by handful of rain at 11:42 AM on January 23, 2015

I've heard a Tesla owner say their electric car is as reliable as any appliance that works for decades at home.

That feels like "I love my car it's great" hyperbole; are any Teslas really old enough to draw that kind of comparison? (Tesla dude at my work loves his, but he's still only in the first year.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:49 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I heard it from a Tesla owner that I think owned nice German cars before, which are a constant source of $1,000 repair bill headaches. I think he was on year two of owning his but was amazed at not having to go to a dealer for any reason yet.
posted by mathowie at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2015

The other thing to consider about the leaf; does this include the $1k charging station? How easy would it be to add to our house? Our last house had a separate panel for the garage; that would be easy peasy. Our current house doesn't; we'd need to run new wire, and our main panel is on the opposite corner from our garage.
posted by nobeagle at 12:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't need a charging station to use a leaf. They come with a 120 volt cord that will plug into any outlet. It just takes longer that way. Also the battery will last the life of the car for the vast majority of people. It is common misconceptions like these that cause the price of used Leaf's to stay low. The biggest *actual* drawback of the leaf is that it has a fairly limited range. If you don't do a lot of driving in a day and can leave it plugged in each night, then it is a great car.
posted by Poldo at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been driving my leased LEAF for about a year. I think used ones are cheap because battery technology is changing fast, plus most people leased them (a big perk to leasing is that you can get the whole $7500 credit, even if you don't owe $7500 in federal taxes). 2011-2012's are coming off three-year leases and hitting the market. Standard residual value on a three-year lease is 40% of the full purchase price. That's what Nissan says it will be worth after three years. There have been a few improvements since 2011-2012, like a more efficient heater and faster on-board charger. The low maintenance is a huge selling point for me.
posted by huckit at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It looks like battery life is easily in the 10-15 year range

The thing you linked to doesn't seem to support that. It refers to some kind of generic "electric car battery" which has liquid cooling, which the Leaf is well-known for not having. Battery life will vary not only between models of electric car, but with the way you use one.

Since you're planning on using no more than about half its theoretical maximum range, I'd think a Leaf would stand a fairly good chance of still being good enough for that after ten years. By that time we might hope there would be better replacement batteries available, since Nissan have sold (or leased) a relatively large number of them already.

More about battery life, including some estimates specific to the Leaf.
posted by sfenders at 12:41 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know how big a factor this is, but there has been talk of efficient cars being temporarily harder to sell because gas prices have fallen so low that people aren't as interested in them. As a user points out in another thread here, you can't outsmart the smart money to profit off low gas prices though the markets, but you can outsmart the dumb money by buying an efficient car while your competing buyers are busy bidding up the gas guzzlers.
posted by anonymisc at 3:46 PM on January 23, 2015

The depreciation for all electric cars is still really high. This is from a year ago, but describes how it's not just the Leaf.
posted by cecic at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2015

but you can outsmart the dumb money by buying an efficient car while your competing buyers are busy bidding up the gas guzzlers.

Yea, i think it's a combo of the lease thing and this.

A bit north of you in seattle, these were INCREDIBLY popular corporate and small business lease cars. Probably 4/5 of them i'd see on the road would have some vinyl logo on the side, or a magnetic "instant food delivery from iDeliverfood!" type of magnetic pizza sign on the roof, or something. Now they all switched to prius C's, and i'm assuming all those cars are now for sale.

I think the supply/demand curve is screwed up, and people are still wary of buying a "used" electric car, or that the market for them is primarily people who love buying a new car or leasing a brand new one because omg new which is a fools errand anyhow.

The one thing i will say is that my partner has owned several nissans, as has my boss, a former roommate, and several other people i know. ALL of them had stupid minor problems. Dead window switch requiring a $600 replacement of the entire switch panel, broken power seats after only a couple years, defective $$$ control computer that causes error lights to be on 24/7 even when nothing is wrong, etc. All you can still drive the car stuff, but just irritating and surprisingly expensive to deal with stuff.

I've also noticed nissans in general, especially the basic ones, just have a lower resale value that other japanese brands(other than like, suzuki). I noticed during a recent replacement car search that the newest used car you could get for the least money was a nissan versa, thousands cheaper than a toyota yaris or a honda fit.

I think you're just as a lucky intersection of electric car depreciation, nissans being cheaper, and people being dumb. That's the kind of thing i usually go "oh HELL yea" when i find, but that's just me.
posted by emptythought at 5:03 PM on January 23, 2015

the newest used car you could get for the least money was a nissan versa

Pretty sure the Versa is still the newest, um, new car you can get for the least money, and is built to be the cheapest new car on the market, and it pulls down the brand. (The Leaf's made alongside the Maxima and Altima in Tennessee; the Versa's made in Mexico.)

Anyway, leases plus tax credits plus evolving technology = soft used market. I'm pretty sure that the Prius was in a similar position around 2003-4, and if you look back at early posts on the green discussing used hybrids (and people wondering whether to buy new ones) you see some of that.
posted by holgate at 6:11 PM on January 23, 2015

Battery technology may change quickly in the future, but over the past few decades, improvements have been slow but steady. It is doubtful that is going to change any time soon.

As others have noted, Nissan made some questionable decisions in designing the Leafs battery pack that have lead to high failure rates in warmer climates.

That aside, if the history of the hybrids are any indication, most electric cars should have a nice long battery life, longer than the warranty period, but right now, and for the leaf in particular, skepticism still holds sway.
posted by Good Brain at 2:40 AM on January 24, 2015

If you're looking for information on reliability, check out TrueDelta.com's reports. Seems like the 2011 LEAF has better reliability than the 2012 or 2013.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2015

mathowie: I heard it from a Tesla owner that I think owned nice German cars before, which are a constant source of $1,000 repair bill headaches. I think he was on year two of owning his but was amazed at not having to go to a dealer for any reason yet.
Yeah, trading up from a lemon will do that for you. Still not a Tesla-endorsement so much as a don't-buy-the-lemon warning.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:49 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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