New life for old Nissan Leaf electric car: battery replacement and what it took

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Rick and Linda SantAngelo with the 2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles

Rick and Linda SantAngelo with the 2011 Nissan Leaf at 96,000 miles

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The 2018 Nissan Leaf will likely be revealed within the next three months, but more than 100,000 older Leaf electric cars are still silently in use on U.S. roads.

Some of them, especially the lowest-range cars from the two earliest model years (2011 and 2012), have started to see significant battery capacity degradation.

That was the case with Rick and Linda SantAngelos' 2011 Nissan Leaf after 90,000 miles: it had only 30 to 35 miles of range left on a battery originally EPA-rated at 73 miles of range.

DON'T MISS: Lessons learned from early electric car: 2011 Nissan Leaf at 90,000 miles

That made their early Leaf all but unusable, as Rick recounted in a post we published in late March.

At that point, Nissan Leaf Customer Support had told them that the battery condition was normal and to be expected, and that the car wasn't worth enough that they should spend more than $8,000 on a new battery.

Their local dealer claimed to know nothing about the $6,500 price for a new pack that Nissan announced almost three years ago, and they got no help on that front from Customer Support either.

Lithium-ion cell and battery pack assembly for Nissan Leaf electric car in Sunderland, U.K., plant

Lithium-ion cell and battery pack assembly for Nissan Leaf electric car in Sunderland, U.K., plant

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Now, however, the SantAngelos have a resuscitated 2011 Leaf, with a replacement battery pack, and they've updated us on their saga.

We should note that for Leaf owners who intend to try to negotiate with Nissan over getting a replacement Leaf battery for one that has severely degraded, there's some advice to follow.

Owner Tim Jacobsen and his husband Steve laid out their recommendations for how to proceed in a post we published in April.

READ THIS: How to negotiate for a new Nissan Leaf battery pack: electric-car owner advises

Meanwhile, the SantAngelos are happy with their refreshed Leaf.

But it took Rick some effort to get to that point.

What follows is his update to the original story, edited by Green Car Reports for style, flow, and clarity.

2011 Nissan Leaf - battery pack cutaway

2011 Nissan Leaf - battery pack cutaway

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I decided to take Nissan up on its Leaf Battery Replacement offer; my dealer told me that my replacement battery pack was the first on the West Coast.

The replacement is a newly-manufactured 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack with cells that use the “lizard” chemistry that handles heat better.

Heat is hard on a battery—not just ambient temperature but also the heat generated under normal charging and use.

CHECK OUT: 2018 Nissan Leaf: rumored timing, steps for U.S. rollout

When the battery pack degrades, the car's range drops more than you might think, for a couple of reasons.

Regenerative braking is less efficient when the battery degrades. When the battery was newer we averaged 4.0 to 4.2 miles per kwh hour, but at 57-percent capacity we averaged only 3.6 mi/kwh in the best of conditions.

With the new battery, we average 4.4 mi/kwh, and the difference is due to regenerative braking.

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