Can You Charge a 2011 Nissan Leaf by Towing it? Apparently So (VIDEO)

Follow Nikki tow-charges a 2011 Nissan Leaf tow-charges a 2011 Nissan Leaf

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Imagine the scene: You’re out in your 2011 Nissan Leaf only to discover you have 6 miles of available range left but need to travel 26 miles to reach your youngest daughter’s birthday party.  Oh, and there’s no-where to charge. 

At least, that’s the crazy premise which lead the team over at to tow an almost-empty 2011 Nissan Leaf behind a pickup truck in order to fast-charge its battery pack. 

DISCLAIMER: Before we go further, while we think it’s fun thing to do in a crazy-kind of way we do NOT suggest you copy them.

Nissan specifically recommends you DO NOT tow your Leaf in any circumstances, since the car’s motor is mechanically connected to the wheels at all times, and does not have a true ‘neutral’ gear.  In short, towing your Nissan Leaf (or most electric cars) can result in serious damage to your car. Pulling this stunt is most likely going to invalidate your warranty in the case of things going wrong. 

With our backs now covered, let’s move on to the actual theory behind the attempt, which as it happens, is pretty sound, at least... technically.

Electric cars use regenerative breaking to recapture the kinetic energy of the car’s movement and convert it back to electrical energy in the battery pack when you apply light pressure on the brake pedal or release your foot from the accelerator pedal to slow down.

Towing an electric car to charge it isn’t exactly energy efficient either. (Just look up the laws of thermodynamics if you don’t believe us.) However, we think in this particular case energy efficiency wasn’t so much the aim and the included video certainly has an air of a scripted, pro-electric car fantasy episode of Top Gear to it. 

The Leafplan boys aren’t the first to tow-charge an electric car either. Last year when the fresh-faced graduate students from University College, London were preparing for their epic Pan-American highway trip in a converted racing car they ended up tow-charging their SR-0 car on a test-run to London from Paris after their 300+ mile-per-charge car failed to properly charge overnight. Both car and battery pack survived the ordeal.

However silly or clever you think it was, the stunt experiment did indeed prove that it is possible to tow-charge a Nissan Leaf with a large, gas-guzzling SUV or pickup truck. 

But we think the experience of having your $33,750 electric car towed at speeds of around 55 miles-per-hour in order to gain 30 miles of charge in ten minutes may be a little too much for most owners to bear. 

Then again, now that the 30 minute Level 3 CHAdeMO rapid charging feature offered as an extra on the 2011 Nissan Leaf is not going to be adopted officially, perhaps this could be a solution for those wishing to get an extra charge in double-quick time. 

Would we do it? Probably not, and we suggest you don’t either. But we have to give the team the credit for doing the things we’re too chicken cautious to do. 

[ via Autobloggreen]


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Comments (16)
  1. This does beg a serious question: Why aren't EVs built to allow easy towing (by say disengaging the motor)? If my EV runs out of juice, I would love to be able to easily tow it home with my SUV. Seems like another way to reduce range anxiety.

  2. This does beg a serious question: Why aren't EVs built to allow easy towing (by say disengaging the motor)? If my EV runs out of juice, I would love to be able to easily tow it home with my SUV. Seems like another way to reduce range anxiety.

  3. This is awesome... Yes, there are laws of physics to deal with but it still seems pretty efficient to me :-)

  4. man, talk about troll science

  5. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  6. Thanks for being so nuanced :-) I really had an emergency to go back to my daughters birthday so that's why the whole concept to towe a car and charge the batteries got started. I still do not think it would damage the car because if you go down a mountain it charges the battery without a problem. Breaking generates a maximum of 30 kwh of energy/hour so should charge the battery with 50% capacity in less then 30 minutes since there is a 25kwh battery in the car.
    I will keep you updated to what nissan will let me know.

  7. Certainly should be safe! The Leaf is designed for regenerative braking when slowing down or driving downhill. There's a 4165ft high mountain just behind the city where I live (Hobart, Australia), so I'd love to drive up to the top and let the car coast down. It should arrive at the bottom with more charge in the battery than when it left the top. Any comment, Mr Nissan?

  8. I call it tow-charging.
    Pulling the car with another is the same as driving down a steep and long hill using the regenerative brakes to limit the speed, as you would with one of these.
    The efficacy and safety of this approach has a lot to do with the technology of the EV's motor:
    DC hobby conversion systems don't do regenerative braking, so this is the same as towing a normal car, except that the brakes will probably work well.
    AC Permanent Magnet motors, as used in leafs, iMievs, Priuses etc generate a lot of voltage whenever the motor is rotating, so have the potential to damage the controller if it is powered off. Most likely, the driver will be in the seat making sure the car thinks it's rolling down a giant hill.

  9. @RHYS - More charge on the other side of the hill - hell yeah :-) Nissan might have just invented energy-positive Perpetuum Mobile... This will surely change the world (especially in the Smokies and the Rockies) and it's better than cold fusion in the bathtub.

  10. A "towed vehicle" option on an electric car would be nice for RVers. In tow mode the car would coast, unless the brake lights came on, in which case the towed vehicle would charge its battey, saving the brakes of the towing vehicle.

  11. @Mick C - That's pretty good but I have a better one; what if you had two electric RVs (one towing the other) and just switch them back and forth when the charge runs out. That way you could be on the road 24/7 without ever needing to plug in or even stopping at the rest stop (just dump the crap on the bridge over the river as you pass it by.)
    We need to patent it ASAP before Nissan figures this out and keeps all the money to themselves...

  12. A poor man's Volt, LOL. Volt #1756 in soCal

  13. this towing can be used to boost the range but should be done in eco mode without manual braking and only when the car is powered on.

  14. That's right, Noel - Why would you not pay for gas if you can :) Those poor b@stards...

  15. The car's got regen braking and a battery. So why in the world would you NOT think it could be charged by towing.

  16. Is that a diesel or petrol pickup towing a Leaf? Burning more CO2 to charge a electric vehicle - isn't that what we are trying to avoid (experiment or not).
    Makes me wonder what Roadside recovery companies will do if called out to a 'dead' battery EV. With a fossil vehicle they carry spare fuel. Case of winch an EV onto a breakdown truck? Doubt they would be able to do much else.

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