5 Reasons For Why Used Nissan Leafs Are So Cheap

If you have been looking for a used electric car, you might have heard or seen that used Nissan Leafs are very affordable, both compared to similar models as well as compared to their original purchase price. Only around $7,000 to $15,000 for a Nissan Leaf that is around 5 years old might appear too good to be true of a deal. In fact, you can buy a 5-year-old Nissan Leaf at 50% to almost 70% discount. Now, in 2021, you can buy a 2015 or 2016 Nissan Leaf for around $7,000 to less than $10,000. When these models came out, you would have to pay around $35,000 including shipping cost, if bought without any government incentives. 

This depreciation rate is much higher than other EVs on the market. Then what makes used Nissan Leaf so cheap? Why do they depreciate so fast? What makes them lose their values so quickly include a poor battery design, which contributes to poor range, boring aesthetics, and more, that make them increasingly less appealing compared to new offerings on the market. Keep reading this car review to find out whether you should buy a used Nissan Leaf, whether new or used, and if yes, which model years are the best, and how the Leaf compares to other cars in its class. 

Nissan Leaf’s Value Depreciation 

Despite sales having grown steadily from 2010 to 2014 after its introduction, Nissan Leafs 2014 sales number started to drop and after that, the trend reversed. During the last decade, sales of electric vehicles have been overgrowing each year but Nissan Leafs sales are going down. It means that although there are thousands of happy Nissan Leaf owners, the vast majority of buyers still choose to buy EVs from other manufacturers. Or in other words, while there are advantages to owning a Nissan Leaf, buyers deem it a less worthy investment than its competitors. 

The brand-new 2021 Nissan Leaf will cost you at least $31,620, not including shipping cost. The original 2011 model year Nissan Leaf was offered at the same price point, with the cost after shipping totaling some $34,600. Only a few years later though, these 2011 Nissan Leafs were available for half their original purchase price on the used market. To lose that much in value when not even 5 years have passed is quite phenomenal.

Why Are Used Nissan Leafs So Cheap?

Government Incentives

why used nissan leaf cheap
Nissan Leaf 2019 model year, one of the most reliable models of the Leaf. Source: InsideEVs

At the time of its introduction, electric vehicles were still new and much more expensive than gasoline-powered cars. Not many buyers were willing to spend at least $34,000 on a Nissan Leaf in 2011 while they had ample choices which are more affordable and already have a proven track record, like the Honda Accord available for almost $10,000 less. As such, to encourage prospective car buyers to consider electric vehicles, the governments offered various financial incentives to make EVs more affordable to more buyers. Nissan Leaf sales were greatly bolstered by these incentives. 

The truth is that almost no Nissan Leaf driver paid the full sticker price. Not only were there cashback offers and cheap leases, but those who paid for the car in cash in the United States were also able to take advantage of the $7,500 federal tax credit. Many didn’t qualify for the full $7,500, but they were able to claim part of it. All these incentives reduced the price of the new Nissan Leaf to under $30,000. The model was bought cheaper with various financing options, thus if you take that into account, the depreciation in value of used Leaf isn’t as hard to believe in reality as it appears.

The Nissan Leaf has sold 500,000 units in total since its introduction in 2011, of which 148,000 were sold in the US market alone. It was the top-selling car in 2011, but that is not surprising, given all the government incentives, plus the fact that in the early days of EVs, there was a long list of interested buyers wanting to get their hands on these green, sustainable vehicles. 

That said, the Nissan Leaf wasn’t the only electric vehicle that enjoyed boosted sales from such incentives. After the Nissan Leaf, the market welcomed with open arms many other more technologically advanced and sleeker looking EVs and hybrids, with a representative example being Tesla’s best-selling Model 3. Others include the Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model X, Tesla Model Y, and Ford Mustang Mach-E. Such an abundance of attractive offerings further adds downward pressure on the value of used Nissan Leafs.

Boring Design

As above, the market for EVs has been flooded with newer models that are more appealing in many ways. And one of the reasons that make potential buyers turning away from the Nissan Leaf is that compared to its competitors on the market, Nissan Leaf’s design is very mundane and often referred to as the most boring looking vehicle during the last decade. While the performance-related issues discussed below are more decisive factors, unappealing aesthetics alone can make plenty of prospective buyers avert their eyes at first glance. 

Battery Degradation

More importantly, used Nissan Leafs are especially cheap due to their being notoriously known for small, unreliable batteries and the resulting loss in electric range. Even brand-new, a Nissan Leaf from 2012 only offered an unimpressive range of about 80 miles. This number means that the Leaf is not capable of much compared to an equivalent gasoline model, outside of commuting, school runs and trips to the grocery store. This issue became even more serious as buyers reported that the batteries steadily and very quickly lost capacity over the years, especially the early model years.

You should be aware that every EV on the road today is powered by a Lithium-ion battery, and every one of them employs a “battery temperature management system” to control the temperature of the Lithium-ion battery. This is the manufacturers’ standard practice, with the exception of Nissan. 

It’s common knowledge that extreme hot and cold temperatures will adversely affect the performance and lifespan of a car battery. A lithium-ion battery performs best at around 70 Fahrenheit (21-degree Celsius).

Some automakers like Tesla use liquid-cooled batteries, while others use air-cooled batteries. If needed, a heater is also used to raise the battery temperature to optimal operating temperature in extreme cold weather.  

Though every kind of battery deteriorates over time, the problem is the Nissan Leaf does not have any active battery cooling system. Nissan is steadfastly relying on heat generated during driving and charging to passively dissipate into the ambient air. So when the weather gets too hot or too cold, the Leaf’s battery has nothing to protect it from extreme temperatures as well as abrupt variations. 

As a result, the Nissan Leaf’s battery deteriorates much faster over time compared to all of its competitors. And because of this fast battery deterioration, you would lose range over time. This will make the Leaf unusable after 6-7 years with the original battery. You’d need to replace the battery, but it’s not cheap. 

A few years back, the battery replacement cost for a Nissan Leaf was around $5,500, which was acceptable. However, Nissan has raised the price, so today, the cost to replace the batteries in a Nissan Leaf is around $8,500, including labor. Spending this much on a used car is not very sensible. So in short, you have to gamble on the battery performance, and the Nissan Leaf is all in all not a low maintenance vehicle if you consider the battery replacement cost.


Poor Range

The 2017 model year saw a slight improvement in range, but still reaching only 70-100 miles on a single charge. Only in 2018, the Nissan Leafs have started offering some 150 miles range. Considering what you can get with a different brand, a 70-100 miles range for an EV is absurd. For city driving, it may be acceptable, but that’s that; it would be impractical for everything else, like road trips. 

The original Nissan Leaf from 2011 had a limited range of just 82 miles. A 5-year old 2011 Nissan Leaf, however, would lose 20% of this range. Another reason for the range to degrade as time goes on is that Nissan went with the smaller size of the battery for the Leaf, combined with its lack of an active cooling system to keep the battery healthy.

Cheaper New Models

The market has seen a steady downward trend in the price of new EV models. The 2011 Nissan Leaf was available for $34,570, and after 10 model years, the MSRP for the 2021 model starts at $31,620. That means after 10 years, with inflation and all those things going on, the price of the latest Nissan Leaf is about $3,000 cheaper on the sticker price. Not to mention that since the 2019 model year, the Nissan Leaf has seen quite some improvements in performance, which made the model years from 2019 onwards much more reliable.

The lower prices of a brand-new Nissan Leaf of the latest model years naturally make the used ones less attractive of an investment, thus further driving prices in the used market down. Sellers claim that no one would buy a used Leaf, especially one more than five years old, at anything other than a third or half the original price, that is around $10,000 to $15,000. When you also factor in the major improvement in battery technology, as well as new comfort and high-tech features added to the interior of the later Leafs, buying a used Leaf is not worth the gamble with the old poorly performed batteries. If one cannot afford a Tesla, one would be much better off buying a brand new 2021 Nissan Leaf than a 2015 Leaf.

Should You Buy Used or The New 2021 Nissan Leaf?

Is the New 2021 Nissan Leaf Good?

It has taken the Leaf 10 model years from the original 2011 model to get to an absolute max range of 226 miles in 2021, which is quite decent and a tremendous improvement on the first-generation models. That said, it’s still behind many others, including the Hyundai Kona Electric (258 miles), Chevy Bolt (259 miles), Tesla Model Y (315 miles), Tesla Model 3 (322 miles), Tesla Model X (328 miles), and far from the sector leader, the Tesla Model S Long Range (2020) which boasts 373 miles on a single charge.

New Nissan LEAF buyers will need to purchase a standard 120V charging cable, which can be plugged into a standard AC outlet for Level 1 slow charging. While Level 1 AC charging isn’t fast, it lets you add some range to your Leaf wherever you have access to a regular wall outlet at home or at work or on the go. 

Should You Buy a Used Nissan Leaf?

You can buy a used Nissan Leaf with a minimum discount of 50%, and many are available at almost 70% discount. It’s not a bad idea to buy a used Nissan Leaf, given that you’ve done your homework and made sure the battery is in good condition, the vehicle has not been damaged in an accident, and if you are only driving the Leaf for short errands in the city, not long trip or road trip whatsoever. Otherwise, low EV range would be an absolute annoyance, or would make the Leaf impractical. Although note that you won’t get any government incentives for a used Nissan Leaf purchase.

As for overall performance and safety, the Nissan Leaf receives pretty average reliability ratings so far. Some model years are more reliable than others, so it all comes down to which model you invest in. 

Consumer Reports shows the 2019 Nissan Leaf has the best reliability rating with a 5 out of 5. Followed is the 2018 model, which is also quite reliable. If you’re going to buy used, 2019 and newer are definitely the best models to go with. If you’re thinking of the 2019 model year, many might rather buy a brand new 2021. As for the budget buyers, you’ll see the advantage of purchasing nearly-new cars instead of brand-new cars.

The 2019 and newer models also have lower annual maintenance fees, not counting the battery replacement. The most common repair issue for a 2019 Leaf is an air conditioning refrigerant line replacement for about $950. The average annual maintenance on a 2019 Leaf is $748, while that of the 2016 model is significantly higher at $998. The 2018 Leaf is relatively reliable, but buyers report that it is plagued with a significant AC compressor issue that could require a complete replacement, which would set you back around $1,450. 

What To Look Out For When Buying Used

Other than the potential battery degradation, there is actually very little risk involved with buying a used Leaf. So it’s pretty much a big gamble. That said, you would significantly reduce your risk if you opt for a 2019 model year or newer (2018 is quite okay too), and if you do your homework, as with buying any other used vehicle. 

Start by taking a picture of the dash so you can see how many battery bars are left, then use the LeafSpy app to check the condition of the battery, such as its State of Health percentage (SoH%). As long as the Leaf has a 24kW/hr or 30kW/hr battery and has around 11 bars, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about it suddenly die on you on a freezing winter morning.  

All in all, the Nissan Leaf is still a reliable EV if you invest in the right year. Nissan Leaf drivers warn that you should actively avoid 2011 and 2012 models, as they don’t have a heat pump and their batteries depreciate the fastest among all model years. What’s more, these early Leafs come with a 3.3kW charger, which is significantly slower than others. If you buy a used Leaf before 2019, your best bet is something that has an L3 CHAdeMO charging port and to go with upper trim models to ensure that you get a heat pump.