Our family of four, with two active sporty teenagers, needed a second car once the sports training daily jigsaw scheduling of getting two kids at either end of town became too much.
The old and faithful manual diesel Prado has served us very well, including multiple lengthy off-road expeditions in WA and NT. However, it is not the best tool in the shed to run around town. At $3000 to $4000 per year in fuel, it's not the cheapest either. Could I get something to be used as a second car and with an operating cost in line with that fuel bill?
I kept a log of my daily distance travelled for about a month to see what all those school and sporting commitments entailed (about 70–80km per day). I did some number-crunching based on estimated running costs of electric cars that were starting to appear second-hand. It looked doable, but with the choices available and our budget, there weren't too many options for us, as we needed five seats from time to time.
So, we focused on a Nissan Leaf. We did lots of research to figure out what could go wrong, and battery life expectancy was a big unknown. Perth can be hot in summer, which is not so good for batteries apparently.
I ended up getting a May 2012 Leaf from Gumtree – $26,000 and about 28,000km. The car came with a separate aftermarket charger that plugs into our 240V 10A in the carport (Clipper Creek brand, no issues to date). There is another charger inside the car supplied as standard but takes a 15A plug, and we haven’t used it to date.
So, almost two and a half years later and now at 86,000km, what’s the verdict? As a second car it fulfills the running around town brief brilliantly and is very cheap to run. Servicing costs are minimal, and our mechanic checks it once a year with nothing do apart from topping up the windscreen washer fluid. Nissan serviced it once while still under the statutory warranty, changed the brake fluid and replaced the air-con filter, which cost about $200. Since then, $100 for a look-see by our mechanic to check brakes (all good) and suspension and whatnot.
It has been very reliable so far, nothing has fallen off. It comes with a space-saver tyre that does the job. I found that out after the kerb won the argument against the non-standard tyres fitted when purchased. It handles potholes and such well, but leans a fair bit in corners. It’s also very well planted on the road with that battery under your posterior. Said battery makes for a rather heavy smallish car. The registration cost is on the heavy side as well as a result.
Range anxiety is not really an issue once you know what the car is capable of. With about 70 per cent of the battery capacity remaining, we can still do 80km as a dead cert and 100km around town by being conservative with the lead foot and the heater. Air-con doesn’t really affect the range that much, but the resistance heater does.
The range increases a bit in summer weather compared to winter. Yes, the battery will need replacement at some point or some renos. The replacement cost outside of warranty is a big unknown here in Aus’. We may be eligible for a new battery if we drop another capacity bar before 100,000km, but that's unlikely at this stage based on previous drops shown by the battery capacity meter.
Overall, I am very impressed with the Leaf. My teenage daughter on her Ps loves it and is very reluctant to drive the manual diesel Prado. It is so very smooth and quiet, and fits the bill very well for us to do the vast majority of our driving needs.
We have been able to run a household of four and about 25,000km/year around town for a total electricity bill of about $1500 with an efficient house and 2kW PV on smart power set up to charge during the off-peak period. A bit more than half our power bill is from the car now (average usage per day went from 10 to about 24 units post Leaf).