2011 Nissan Leafs Start Losing Capacity Bars: Should You Worry?

Follow Nikki

Nissan Leaf: Lost Battery Capacity

Nissan Leaf: Lost Battery Capacity

Enlarge Photo

It had to happen some time, just not perhaps as quickly as this. 

Since Nissan’s all-electric Leaf hatchback launched in late 2010, many have been watching with interest to see how long it would be before the car’s 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack showed the gradual reduction in range and battery capacity brought about by battery aging.

Now, within a week of one another, two Nissan Leaf owners in Phoenix, Arizona have reported their cars have officially lost one of twelve high-voltage battery status bars, indicating a substantial loss in original battery capacity. 

Thus far, we suggest Leaf owners not worry--and that they rigorously follow Nissan's charging instructions, which it's not clear the two owners who lost that first bar did.

Battery capacity

But what does losing that first capacity bar mean? And should you worry?

Just like any other lithium-ion battery, the battery pack in the Nissan Leaf exhibits a drop in battery capacity over time. 

In other words, the amount of energy it can store gradually reduces over time.

In gadgets like cellphones and laptop computers, that equates to a shorter operational time before recharging is required. In an electric car, battery capacity loss equates to a shorter range. 

2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL Instrument Cluster

2012 Nissan Leaf 4-door HB SL Instrument Cluster

Enlarge Photo

Twelve lights

To enable owners to keep track of their Leaf’s battery health, Nissan designed the Leaf with two different bar graphs clustered in the same state-of-charge display. 

The longer bars on the left of the state-of-charge display indicate current battery charge -- or how full the car is. The smaller, set of bars on the right indicate the battery’s overall capacity over time. 

As its battery ages, the right-side gauge slowly falls, with the first light extinguishing when 15 percent of the battery’s original capacity has been lost.

Two cars, both in AZ

So far, the only two Nissan Leaf’s we’ve heard of that have lost their first capacity light are in Phoenix Arizona. One lost its first capacity bar after 17,000 miles and 14 months, while another owner reported losing their first capacity bar at 13,633 miles and one year. 

A Day In The Life Of A Nissan Leaf

A Day In The Life Of A Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

In both cases, the owners report charging their Leafs to 100 percent full every night, using a level 2 charging station. 

High temperature, poor charging practice?

With daytime temperatures reaching in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime temperatures rarely going below 70 degrees, some Leaf fans are speculating that the extreme heat of Arizona is prematurely aging the battery packs.

But we suspect the charging practice has more effect than the heat.

The first owner to report a problem, with a 15 percent loss in battery capacity after 17,000 miles and 14 months, admitted that her car sat for nearly a month during May 2011 with a full battery pack. 

This is considered bad practice, since leaving a battery fully charged for an extended length of time is known to prematurely age the battery. 

Secondly, the owner reports that the Leaf in question is regularly recharged to 100 percent, even when its battery pack is more than 98 percent full "topped off", recharging the battery back to full when it is more than half full.  This is also known to prematurely age lithium ion battery packs.

As a point of note, Nissan advises against both of the above, which could invalidate the car’s battery warranty if frequently carried out. 

Follow Us

Comments (28)
  1. Thanks for the update. Hopefully these are isolated cases.

    Can the LEAF be programmed to only charge to 90% to ease the burden on the battery pack?

  2. Good point, I wondered about that too. In fact one would ~90% charging to happen automatically if fully charging is really that bad for the battery. A problem would be of course that the Leaf's relatively small battery really hasn't any capacity to spare for purposes of conservation, ~73 miles of range from a full battery isn't that much to begin with. Nor do I feel that the capacity is really there to deal with the effects of capacity loss for that matter.

  3. not directly but you can program a stop time. before turning off the Leaf, check the dash for charge time estimates and take off an hour. this should put you close. remember the charging rate does slow as the pack gets full to insure overcharging is kept at a minimum so the last hour will provide much less charge than the first hour

  4. You can use the charging timer to charge to 80%, which Nissan actually recommends. It is a bit harder to do than it should be, but I set a timer from 7am-7am to charge to 80% (it interrupts charging at the boundary, so I set it to a time it will never be charging). There is a "cancel timer" button on the dash that you can use, but it only makes it charge for the next 15min, which doesn't help if it won't be above 80% by then. But, it is easy enough to trigger a 100% charge from the web page or mobile app and only takes 1.5 hrs or so to go from 80-100%, so on those few days I expect I will need more than 80% of the battery I do that.

  5. Too bad the current warranty Nissan offers only pertains to technical failures and doesn't include any range guarantees. Maybe it should lest this sort of reports result in more "battery anxiety".

    The battery lease concept may go a long way in reducing battery anxiety too.

  6. The warranty actually does say they will replace the battery if it doesn't have 50% capacity at 8 years.

  7. The story is of two cars in Arizona.

    Picture shows two cars in the UK?

    And why is this even a story? The batteries are not properly maintained? End of.

  8. I saw upside down letters. Is that not greece..? Just kinda a guess though

  9. fyi, those are the author's cars

  10. It would also help if these people would read, or have read to them, the owner's guide and adhere to it. It is apparent the problem is with the owners of these two vehicles and not with the vehicle.

  11. High temps not good - the reason Tesla and Volt maintain a 70 degree environment for their batteries at all times. Losing one of 12 doesn't sound like 15 percent loss to me. Sounds like 8 percent.
    Somewhat off topic, but EEStor released data yesterday in which they claimed resolution of voids present in their storage unit
    materials and also stated 1 million charge/recharge operations : 3500 volts/zero volts for their units. Claim the only obstacle left is increasing permittivity, thus capacity of their devices.
    There may be hope yet for this potentially revolutionary new storage device. The Holy Grail for EVs.

  12. The first small bar does indeed mean 15% of the battery capacity has gone; their values are shown in the user guide. None of the bars in the Leaf are linear with the top 6 bars on the 'range' chart being around 40% of the battery and the lower 6 being around 60%.

  13. I have a 2012 with 240V in the garage. Since Nissan says not to recharge unless you're below 80%, I simply make it a practise never to charge unless I'm at least three bars down. That way, I know I'm at least 80% down. If I drive and I'm only two bars down, I don't charge.

  14. You missed the other part of the story here, which is that Nissan has a less-than-stellar warranty. It only covers power performance, not capacity. GM by contrast guarantees at least 70% of the original range through year 8. See: http://insideevs.com/some-leaf-owners-experience-early-capacity-loss/

  15. A very good summary. For those wanting to learn more about the temperature, SOC window, and cycling life impacts on Lithium batteries I'd suggest that you read the SAE paper number 2012-01-0666 by NREL, A Comparison of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Battery Life Across Geographies and Drive Cycles.
    Repeatedly operating at very high SOC and temperatures are exactly the wrong things to do to ensure long battery life. This is analogous to repeatedly revving up the engine and dropping the clutch to smoke the tires on a gasoline engined vehicles. How long would people expect a clutch to last when used like this?

  16. Indeed, it's an outlier. While it's good to publicize it, and raise awareness, it's also unfortunate that the article does not put it in proper perspective. It's even more unfortunate that it fails to connect there reports to prolonged exposure to heat.

    Yes, owner behavior is large contributing factor. However, we likely have battery abusers everywhere, and only owners south of the 34th parallel reported significant early degradation.

    Heat will exacerbate the effects of less than ideal battery management practices. If it's hot out, it's not a bad idea to seek a cool parking spot. It's also not a bad idea to charge to 80% by default in the summer.

  17. Well, Volt has been out almost as long as the Leaf with a better Battery management system to prevent owners from doing silly things to it. Has any Volt owners seen the similar degradation?

  18. The Volt only uses about 10kWh of the total 16kWh capacity of the battery for longevity reasons (Toyota hybrids use only the 25-75% capacity range, but there it is really only used as a buffer for exess energy). For a pure EV, it isn't practical to simply not use part of your capacity for range reasons.

    The flip side is you are carrying around an entirely redundant power system, with weight and complexity implications. So, tradeoffs abound.

  19. If you own a batter place - Renault switchable fluence you don't worry on the residual value of the battery and it's performance.... And you have switch - immediate range extension.
    Seee more in www.betterplace.com

  20. At least the prices I have seen so far mean you will be paying much more overall for this flexibility.

  21. I heard a Leaf Technician speaking just yesterday, he said he has done cell level replacements. While high temperature at high state of charge for a long time is the worst thing you can do, it is likely that only one or maybe a few cells have degraded significantly.

    Think's service manager goes way back to the EV1, and he tells me that some (not all) Volt dealers can do cell level replacement without sending the pack by to the factory.

    What is Nissan's policy on pack diagnosis? It does not sound like these owners would care! They never got down to low SOC. So fuhgeddaboudit. If they someday need the range, maybe pay to have a couple cells replaced and then follow directions.

  22. Very interesting, thanks Nikki. I use the automatic charging timer at 80% during weekdays, but I didn't catch from the manual that I shouldn't leave the battery at 100% if I go on vacation. I'm glad I read this - thanks again.

  23. Phoenix is much hotter that 100F during the summer (it'll be 108 next week, and it's only May). Highs can be seen over 120F. So imagine what those battery packs see when sitting in a black parking lot that's been soaking up the sun. I'd vote that was a larger impact than charging to 100%; though leaving the car for a month fully charged (and hot?) can't be helpful

  24. I disagree with the idea that charging to 100% is a large contributor to battery degradation, versus leaving a battery at 100% in high heat. There is one driver approaching 40,000 miles in moderate western Washington who must charge to 100% twice per day, and has not experienced the 15% reduction of folks with 1/3 his miles.

    I also have not lost 15% in moderate San Diego, and yet I charge to 100%, usually twice per day, to cover 24,000 miles since one year ago (May 2011).

    The brutal heat of Phoenix is the common thread. Up to 120F / 50C in the summer kills all batteries, including lead acids in normal petrol burner cars.

  25. To make sure folks realize how hot this can be in Phoenix, the roadway can be well over 140F / 60C, and the interior of the car can get hotter than that. Literally baked in the sun, and the LEAF battery is completely exposed to that heat in its sealed container under the car.

  26. You know what the problem is? People don't read their car manuals when they buy the car!!! That is the first thing I do after driving a new, or used, car home!
    It's just like those idiots complaining about too many buttons being confusing, blah, blah, blah...THEY DON'T READ THE MANUAL!!
    Do people think the car manufacturers put them in there just to take up space in their glove box?
    My boyfriend is the same way with everything he buys...He asks me,"How do you do this? What is this button for? What is this piece go to?" I ask him if he read the manual, he says no, then I go dig it out of the trash and show him how easy it is to read the manual to find out everything he needs to know.
    The problem isn't the Leaf, it's the idiots driving it!

  27. I live in Phoenix and my wife drives our Leaf to work five days a week. For the first six months it would subtract four bars for the commute, but now it shows five bars missing after each drive. We regularly charge the car to full, and rarely take it below three or four bars. She often needs to drive across town with no notice from the office, so we can never afford to leave it at 80% charge. I'm a bit worried about the loss, but I have faith that Nissan will not leave us in a lurch.

  28. EVery LEAF I have checked in Arizona has this problem. At our EAA meeting 6-30-2012 from 10 to NOON at the ASU Cronkite building RM 121 on Central Ave we will talk about this and check everyone car.
    We have a prototype SCNA GAUGE that checks in 1 minute.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.