2011 Nissan Leaf Leaves Owners Stranded: What Really Happened?

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2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

Every new car has a few teething problems, but a few reports of Nissan's all-electric Leaf running out of charge prematurely hasn't helped the age-old stereotype that electric cars will leave their owners stranded without power. 

But are these incidents as rare as the reports suggest and what exactly happened? Who's to blame? 

A few weeks ago we heard some whisperings on the MyNissanLeaf.com forum that suggested a few 2011 Nissan Leafs which were leaving their owners stranded after prematurely running out of power. 

One owner from San Diego reported back in mid February that his 2011 Leaf reporting he only had 16 miles of range left and decided to leave the highway he was on to drive home on slower roads. Within 1 mile of leaving the offramp his Leaf died completely. So empty in fact that he was unable to turn the car off. 

"I had 0 systems on" he explained. " No air running at all, and power monitor was up. I was 6 miles from home with 17 left on the estimated miles going about 60, as I had been doing for the previous 20 minutes so there should not have been a lot of variability in mileage estimate. Went 17, 16, ---. I pulled off highway thinking to use back streets, went turtle and then less than .75 mile was dead."

While other sites quoted the posts directly, we decided to investigate. We'd  found out first hand what happens when the 2011 Nissan Leaf gets low on charge last year when our John Voelcker got the chance to carry out some range tests in Nashville, but it appears in the San Diego case the car's predicted range dramatically dropped by nearly on fifth of its fully-charged capacity.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

First we contacted Nissan North America. A representative told us that they were unfamiliar with the story we cited, but added that Nissan has multiple warning systems and information screens in place to warn drivers when their cars are getting low on power.  Pointing out that the Leaf's remaining range calculation was only an estimate, not a representation of battery state-of-charge she reminded us that the car's state of charge indicator was the gauge drivers should use to determine how quickly their car needs charging, adding that the car improves its range estimations the more you drive it. 

In other words, as you learn to drive the car it learns how you drive it, resulting in more accurate range estimates from the built-in range estimation screen.  

We also contacted the owners in question. After a few weeks of reflection, the San Diego owner gave us this frank and honest admission. 

"The bottom line is I simply drove it out of power. (Nissan) had the engineers look at the car extensively and test everything, and the end result is that I drove too far for the charge I had. Simple answer."

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