Leafhacking Battery Mod Gives Extra Range, But At What Cost?

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Enginer Supplemental Leaf Battery Pack

Enginer Supplemental Leaf Battery Pack

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Like early-adopters of any new technology, the first owners of electric cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Chevrolet Volt have already proven that they like to hack their plug-in cars to improve features, charging times and even performance. 

The latest leafhack, from plug-in hybrid battery specialists Enginer, aims to increase the range of the 2011 and 2012 Nissan Leafs by installing a supplemental lithium-ion battery in the bottom of the trunk. 

But with the 2013 Nissan Leaf rumored to have better range and winter performance, what’s the real cost of hacking your Leaf in this way, how easy is it, and would you be better to get a 2013 model instead? 

How it works

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

Enlarge Photo

According to Enginer’s own website, the leafhack involves adding its own 4 kilowatt-hour, 8 kWh, or 12 kWh, 48-volt lithium-phosphate battery pack, charger and high-voltage DC-to-DC converter into the trunk of a stock leaf. 

Originally designed by the company to convert regular Toyota Prius hybrids into plug-in hybrids, the system’s DC-to-DC converter then takes 48-volts from the supplemental battery pack and steps the voltage up to 390-volts. 

The resulting 390-volts is then used to provide a continuous, low current trickle charge to the Leaf’s stock 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack while the car is switched on, essentially extending the car’s range. 

Enginer says its system also utilizes the Leaf’s stock level 2, 240-volt charging port, drawing an additional 5 amps of current from a compatible Level 2 charging station to simultaneously charge its own battery pack while the main Leaf pack charges. 

Complicated, involved install

Unless you’re a competent hobbyist who is happy working with high-voltage electronics -- and we’re assuming that the majority of Leaf owners aren’t -- the process of installing the Enginer battery system is lengthy and complicated. 

Not only does the installation require the removal of the rear seat, and direct access to high-voltage wiring, but it also requires splicing the Enginer wiring harness directly into the Leaf’s wiring harness, essentially making the modification permanent. 

Loss in load capacity

Enginer Supplemental Leaf Battery Pack

Enginer Supplemental Leaf Battery Pack

Enlarge Photo

As well as diminishing the physical space of the load bay, adding an additional battery pack has a negative effect on the load-carrying capabilities of the Leaf. 

In its stock form, the Leaf has a gross vehicle weight rating of 4,322 pounds, with a curb weight of 3,375 pounds. 

That leaves a total load capacity of 860 pounds, including passengers and cargo. 

By adding the smallest 4 kWh Enginer battery pack, the Leaf’s load capacity is reduced by 160 pounds. 

Add the largest, 12 kWh battery pack, and you diminish the Leaf’s load capacity by 360 pounds, or two full-size adults. 

Cost

While the Enginer system may sound like a great way to extend the range of a Nissan Leaf by between 20 and 40 claimed miles, the cost of the system doesn’t necessarily make sense. 

Although the 4 kWh system might seem a bargain at $3,495, you’ll have to pay extra for installation. For the high-end 12 kWh supplemental pack, you’ll find yourself handing over nearly $7,500.

2013 Leaf could give more

Although unconfirmed at this stage, several rumors about the 2013 Nissan Leaf hint that range could be improved to around 90 miles per charge instead of the 73 EPA-rated miles of the current model. 

For those wanting extra miles from their Leaf, waiting a few more months before committing to such an expensive modification to a relatively new car is a prudent move. 

Even if the 2013 Nissan Leaf doesn’t improve on the current range of the 2012 Leaf, it may be cheaper, easier, and less-risky for those wanting extra range to trade their Leaf in for a longer-range electric car, or a plug-in hybrid like the 2012 Prius Plug-in hybrid or 2012 Chevrolet Volt. 

Would you want to modify your Leaf in this way? 

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.

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