Despite almost 300,000 Leafs sold, Nissan does not take electric vehicles seriously
I own a Nissan Leaf, and despite the headline of this article, I would consider the car one of my best purchases ever. A used Leaf, depending on the year, can be found for $7,000–10,000, and it can be a perfect everyday car for most people despite its limited range. The instant torque, quiet drive, general lack of maintenance, and cheap cost of “refueling” are great perks of any electric vehicle (EV), and a used Leaf will get you all of those features even if you are ambivalent about the “greenness” of electric vehicles.
But where the story goes sour is this: Nissan has made its money by selling internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, and the culture from their corporate office to all the independent franchises has very little knowledge about anything but ICE vehicles. A used Nissan Leaf is a perfect car for the right consumer — but as soon as you need any sort of maintenance, you find out how inept this company is at servicing their own vehicles.
In the following story, I will tell you about a company who knows less about its products than the product owners. I will tell you about a company who wants to rip off its consumers through exorbitant and unnecessary repair costs. At the end, I’ll even throw in some random tidbits about how clueless this company is at discussing its own EVs, and I’ll tell you why Tesla is the only type of EV brand you should consider.
The story starts with the simple activity of me getting in my car in the morning to head out. But one day last summer, I got in my car and the charge was low — my car was plugged into my ChargePoint Home unit all night in my garage, but it had not charged. I checked for any timer settings that had gone awry, and I tried plugging in again; charging would not start. Figuring my ChargePoint device had gone bad, I used the Leaf’s charging cable and a regular household outlet to charge. This method of charging worked, although it was quite an inconvenience for that day. (For those of you new to EVs: ChargePoint Home is on a 240 outlet, called “Level 2 charging.” A six-hour charge with ChargePoint would have “filled up” the Leaf, but a household “trickle charge” — Level 1 charging — would take closer to 17 hours.)
The next day, my Leaf was fully charged and I drove to where I needed to go. While out, I attempted to charge at my usual charging station (which also happens to be ChargePoint device) and immediately I could see that my car was not charging. Now the circumstances had changed — my car didn’t charge at any Level-2 station? I took the car to a nearby Nissan dealer, and that’s where the fiasco begins.
Nissan’s dealership ran diagnostics on the car and determined that its “vehicle charging module” needed to be replaced. The diagnosis sounded like it was correct, given the situation, so I spent the unfortunate $975 on the repair. This repair was performed at a different dealership — one that is closer to my house — but the issues with my Leaf persisted. I took the Leaf into these dealerships multiple times after that for other tests. One curious thing that I learned: while my car did not charge at ChargePoint stations or other stations in the area, it did charge at the Level-2 stations provided at these Nissan dealerships. How could that be?
Realizing that I would have to research this myself, I found numerous articles at mynissanleaf.com and other websites about this exact topic. (“Diode” or “leaf charging issue” will get you the relevant discussions.) From my web research, I learned that:
- A diode in my car had probably gone bad.
- The car charges at a Nissan station because Nissan does not have industry-standard charging stations. Typical charging stations do a “diode check” to make sure the car is ready to be charged. Nissan’s stations do not perform this check.
Nissan won’t fix the issue properly
I provided my research to both Nissan dealerships, as well as corporate Nissan EV support, yet I was dismissed at every turn. I tested my car at various charging stations around town to verify my hypothesis. I had ChargePoint support read the logs to determine exactly where the “handshake” in the process of charging failed. Nissan ignored it all.
In Nissan’s opinion, the fix required a full replacement of the car’s Charging Assembly, which would cost about $2,800 for the part, labor on top of that. I asked why they wouldn’t just replace the diode, and they responded that “we don’t have a ‘diode’ as a replaceable part.” I asked if I could speak to the corporate EV specialists to discuss the matter, and I was sternly told by the owner of one of the dealerships that “in no circumstance will I let you talk to the corporate technicians directly.” Well then. (It should be noted that all diagnostic tests for Leaf vehicles are performed at the request of Nissan Corporate; the dealership just runs through steps as ordered, and then reports information back to the customer. Dealerships are not trained to troubleshoot these vehicles on their own.)
I was mocked by employees at all levels of Nissan, who scoffed at my research and my proposed solution (just fix the diode!). Here are some actual statements made by Nissan employees regarding the potential problems to my car:
- “Why would you think some guy on some internet forum would know the right way to fix a car?” The answer is that EV owners care more about their cars than the EV manufacturers. (Not looking at you, Tesla!) And in hindsight, the answer is that these forum answers were right.
- “We think the car is functioning as designed because it charges at our stations.” My response was: how did the car stop charging at all other stations simultaneously?
- “Maybe ChargePoint changed their protocols and the Leaf cannot use ChargePoint any more.” My response was: explain why another Nissan Leaf is using the same ChargePoint station. Explain why ChargePoint would cut off the most popular vehicle model that uses its charger. Explain why I can’t charge at the nearby Ford dealership with a non-ChargePoint charging station.
- “Maybe ChargePoint blocked all Nissan Leaf vehicles from using their charging stations.” This is similar to the last bullet point, but more absurd.
Internet forums describe the proper fix
Fortunately for me, I found a post that described a do-it-yourself fix for the diode issue. I don’t know much about electronics, so it was explained to me that it isn’t necessary to replace the diode that went bad (because it is difficult to reach), it’s just necessary to add a diode to the correct circuit. A 26-cent diode, an experienced electrician, and a soldering iron were all I needed. The issue was fixed. I’m very grateful that someone added a step-by-step picture guide on how to fix this issue.
Nissan had every opportunity to make the correct fix on this car; in fact, I pointed them to the proper fix and they refused to perform that service. With so many people reporting this issue, it seems Nissan would know how to fix it. I spent 26 cents to fix this and it took under an hour to perform the actual work. Why wouldn’t Nissan just charge $200 for this fix and make customers happy? That’s still a great markup for Nissan, and that fix wouldn’t require dismantling the whole car, as Nissan’s proposed fix would do.
Nissan fixed nothing, wants to be paid
After having my car fixed, I reported the issues to the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General’s office. My complaint was simple: I was charged $975 for a repair that did not fix the car, and I want my money back. (Nowhere did I mention that Nissan was expecting me to pay three thousand more for a repair that might actually fix the issue, despite the proper fix being known and costing under one dollar.)
Nissan Corporate refused to issue any refunds because I paid at a dealership. The dealership refused to refund my money because I “requested the repair”, even though it was Nissan Corporate’s diagnosis that told me which repair I would need. This is a wonderful setup for a company; just split up who does what and call half the company “independent franchises” so everyone can refuse any responsibility. This is just another reason why dealerships are protecting the dealership model; Tesla’s model scares the hell out of them. In a more reasonable distribution model, someone at some part of Nissan might be expected to take responsibility for their errors.
I challenged the credit card charge, stating that I paid for something that I did not receive. The credit card agreed with me, and now the Nissan dealership is trying to collect money from me. (I have instructed the dealership that they should be trying to collect from Nissan corporate.) The bottom line: even though everyone agrees Nissan did not fix anything, Nissan still thinks they have a right to charge me. This is not a company who wants to do the right thing for their customers.
It’s clear from all my interactions with Nissan that they don’t actually know how to, nor do they care to, provide proper service for their electric vehicles. In addition to the uninformed comments listed above, here are more absurd statements and problems at Nissan:
- “Would you like an oil change while you are here?” Yes, I was asked this question multiple times when scheduling appointments. No, EVs do not need oil changes.
- A tech tested the car at a local charging station, and he noted that “there was a Tesla charging device there but we used the one for the Leaf.” In fact, what he did not use was a CHAdeMO DC fast charger that can be used on my Leaf. (There was no problem with CHAdeMO charging and no reason to test it; my complaint here is that they cannot even use the proper terminology for parts on their own cars.)
- “If you get a Tesla, you won’t have the advantage of having a dealership to service the vehicle.” It’s hard to believe someone thinks this is an advantage.
- The Android App for a Nissan Leaf is garbage. While the app was redesigned about a month ago (January 2018), the redesign only looks prettier. All the same issues exist: multiple restarts are required to get the app to work at all, multiple prompts for passwords, and so on.
- Android App support is terrible. The previous bullet point mentions the redesign, and in that redesign there’s an issue where the Climate Control Schedule always displays the time in UTC, not in the user’s local timezone. I reported the bug to Nissan, and their email response said “call us so we can resolve this issue over the phone.” They honestly think someone on a phone call will resolve an issue in the code? I tried to do them a favor by reporting an issue so they could send it to development for a fix, but they insist that I spend even more of my time on a phone call where nothing will be resolved.
Keep in mind, these points are absurd because Nissan makes these cars and should know about their own product. Nissan should be completely embarrassed that customers need to ask other customers for getting the proper responses. Nissan should be shamed for mocking the proper fix, while simultaneously trying to get another $3,000 from me. Unlike Tesla, Nissan (and other ICE-based dealerships) live off the the income streams of their service departments. Apparently Nissan even wants to keep the money when everything they said and did was wrong.
Should someone buy a Leaf?
There are two answers to this question.
- Do you want a low-priced, low-range, used vehicle that doesn’t require gas for your local travels? By all means, get a Leaf… just hope that you never need to have it fixed.
- Do you want a new $30,000 car with a 150-mile range that is sold by a company who knows nothing about EVs? No. Just no. Do not buy a new Nissan Leaf. For one thing, the 108-mile Leaf (the only model sold until 2018) doesn’t get anywhere close to 108 miles, and the 2018 model gets only 150 miles. If you’re mixing highway and city miles, 70 miles is about the top of your range for a “108-mile range” Leaf. A Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt will get you many more miles for your dollar.
In addition, I can’t see how anyone would buy any electric vehicle that is not a Tesla. What other car compares? You can’t own a Leaf if you plan to travel any sort of distance. (We had a Camry for long distance trips; it has been replaced with a Tesla Model 3.) You can get a Bolt at 238 miles of range, but then what? You’ll have to do lots of research to find out-of-the-way charging stations. The Leaf and Bolt don’t have a charging network, but they don’t even come with a home charging option! You will be required to use third-party units like ChargePoint… or you can suffer with a “trickle charge” from a regular outlet. Only Tesla offers the charging network that will power your cars if you want to do a road trip, and Tesla actually comes with a way to charge your car at home. Tesla owns the entire EV experience. Imagine that.
The bottom line is this: Tesla makes and cares about electric vehicles. Nissan does not, and I really doubt the experience at other ICE-based dealerships and service centers is any different.
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Follow-up… the local dealer who charged me for a fix that didn’t work is telling me that I defrauded them. That’s right… they charged $975 for a fix that didn’t work, they wanted to charge three thousand more for a fix that was ultimately $0.26, but somehow I am the one defrauding them? Further, their owner called me dishonest and that I cheated them out of money. They actually filed a civil suit to get their money back. I just settled the suit because clearly a thousand bucks means more to these losers than it means to me. I don’t have the time to fight them any more.
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Note: I used the term “charging stations” throughout this article. Yes, yes, I know these are EVSEs, but I didn’t want to make this article too jargon-heavy.