Ohboyohboyohboy. Matt, who is in town for the Autopian/Galpin car show (which you should come to!), is about to take a questionable risk. He’s about to try to drive from my apartment in Studio City to Galpin in Van Nuys — an 11 mile trek. This, to a normal car, would be the easiest task in history. But for a $2000 2011 Nissan Leaf with a severely-degraded battery, it’s going to be a challenge. Matt may end up stranded. Follow along here to find out!
The truth is: As cheap as my new Nissan Leaf was, its utility is really limited. After 12 years of battery degradation, the thing is now only moderately more useful than a golf cart, offering a range of 15 miles on the highway — and that’s a figure I haven’t even tested. It’s just a guess.
Today we find out if the range is at least 11 miles, as Matt is going to go for it:
Come on, Leaf. You have to be somewhat useful, right? Surely you can handle my morning commute; it’s only 11 miles! You got this!
Stay tuned here for mile-by-mile updates.
[Miles: 0.0]: Ok, before we even get started, let’s just look at our starting point, which isn’t great:
The Leaf is parked behind my YJ; you can see the charging box on the wall, with an extension cord giving me the extra length I need to plug into the Leaf:
Unfortunately, despite the battery being down to about 10 miles of estimated range yesterday, the 24 kWh battery only took another 4.5 kWh of juice from that wall-box:
Estimated range sits at 33 miles (note that the trip computer started at 15.0), which the math-wizzes among you will note, is a larger number than 11. But it’s bullshit. It’s all bullshit. These “guess-o-meters” mean almost nothing, as I started my trip back from the seller with 30 miles, and by the time I got home 13-ish miles away, I was on fumes despite avoiding freeways and driving as frugally as I possibly could.
Matt will not be avoiding highways, so let’s see how this goes.
My god is this a deeply flawed machine.
[Miles: 0.5]: Matt took a wrong turn in my parking garage, which seems impossible, but he did. That’s precious range lost, Matt! Get it together!
He’s now stopping at my favorite breakfast spot that’s perfectly on the way to work (there were other breakfast options, but I told him this was the best one. I don’t need him being tempted to veer off the path).
[Miles: 0.5, Part II]:
Hot damn, Matt got me a cream cheese and Lox bagle!
“This is the softest English muffin I’ve ever had in my life!”
Matt likes breakfast.
Matt seems to like the Leaf. From him:
“This car is Great. I would love to have this in New York because it’s just enough juice to get my kid to school and back in the morning. Maybe I can go to the gym…
I dunno about the gym part, but OK.
“It beeped at me. It was trying to tell me that danger was ahead, but I just ignored it.”
I honestly have no clue about the beep.
Other thoughts from Matt:
“How slow do you think I can go before people get mad at me?
On the highway in LA? Uh, I dunno? 55?
“I don’t actually think this car regeneratively brakes.”
I kind of agree. It feels like it’s coasting! But then, what’s that symbol next to the accelerator pedal that seems regenerative-brakey?
Also, Matt is feeling a bit warm:
“I am not running the air conditioning. This is a good LA car because in the morning you don’t need air conditioning. I’m keeping the windows up…it’s a bit warm…What this car needs is a sunroof.”
Matt is a Leaf fan!:
“It drives great! It’s a smooth, comfortable car. Every kid in America, when they turn 15 if they wanna drive, they should get this car. If they feel comfortable in this car, they can get a real car.”
Matt told me he’s going 48.
“People are so mad at me. “
“I exited the highway, and people cheered they were so mad at me.”
Matt left the highway, thank god. The car still says he has 20 miles of range, somehow!
“I think what we’ve learned here is that you have a lead foot. I think a man who says ‘Oh man she pulls!’ at every stop light is driving it like a dingus. But a refined gentleman like myself…literally I could drive this everyday.”
“I’m going 30 in a 35. People in Teslas are looking at me with profound pity.”
“Did I gain a mile. I’m at 21 miles of remaining range. I might have gained a mile from just being an excellent driver… Shoot, I should just drive this thing to New York.”
“I just passed a Prius Prime. The sad thing is that it probably has more range than this.”
“I still have 10 miles before I’m at work.”
I’m not sure how this is possible. It’s supposed to be an 11 mile trip, Matt!
“I turned around. I saw this rad Volvo sedan and I want to take a closer look.”
Matt, stay focused!
Matt, what the hell?! Stay focused! I’m not calling you a tow truck because you got distracted.
Actually. Hold on, this thing has a 5.3-liter Chevy V8 in it?!
OK, fine. I’ll call you a tow truck if I have to. This was worth the detour:
“300ish ho[rsepower],” Matt tells me.
This thing must rip!
“Robert was pulled over. Car belongs to Robert. He was pulled over because his brake caliper seized…a bolt fell out somewhere. There’s a line on the street where you can see where he dragged the tire all the way around.”
“He’s waiting for a tow truck to go off to his buddy Angel’s house (who helped him build it). He’s going to fix it right now and then drive it to work.”
“The wheels on the car, which are 700 series Volvo Turbo wheels, came from the junkyard… I have a feeling the Yukon motor also came from a junkyard.”
“I have 20 miles left of range!”
Matt is having a realization on this commute:
“Every side street in Los Angeles has a cool car on it as a rule.”
“Hold on I gotta go meet these guys. Hold on, I’ll call you back” Matt tells me, muttering something about a Beetle and a Genesis.
He then sent me this picture in a Walmart parking lot of not-a-Beetle-or-Genesis:
I asked about the big dent in the fender and if that’s causing any issues:
“I honestly forgot there even was a dent. It’s starting to rust, and it exposes the front tire, but like, who cares. Honestly, just to make it match, you should just do the other fender.”
Matt is at a Montgomery Ward. How is that even possible? A photo is incoming, apparently.
[Miles: 11]: Sure enough:
Matt’s pushing it:
I’ve gotten bored of driving slowly and being hot, so now I’m going the speed limit and I have the AC on. The miles dropped from 21 (yes, I still had 21!) to 16.
Matt’s picking up Winchell’s Donuts.
OK, so Matt’s 12 miles in. And estimated range is still 15. He did do a little bit of highway driving, but much of it was in the city, which was a huge help.
Honestly, this dirt-cheap Leaf seems legitimately useful!
“This shifter is so smooth! And it feels, like, intuitive.”
“I think you’re a coward…this thing’s got range!”
Matt is at work!
Matt is now on the 405 highway getting me some parts from Advance Auto!
“I’m down to 13 miles due solely to the onramp.”
Matt went 65 mph for three miles. With AC on! And range is still an estimated 13 miles.
Holy crap he went 72:
“I’m just going to drive this car all weekend.”
“OK I’m down to 12 miles.”
Luckily Matt says the AC is cooling off my bagel, which had become rather tepid.
Matt is loving the Leaf, and wondering what my deal is. “It’s fine!”
“Honestly, though. The car vibrates at high speeds. I really hope it’s just your flat-ish tire. Could be bad rotors? Anyway, definitely look into that.”
Good to know. Lord knows I haven’t driven fast enough to notice.
Looks like Advance doesn’t have the GoJo hand-cleaner I like, but that’s fine.
Matt’s on his way to work.
“When you get on the brakes at under 3mph, it bites real fast.”
That I noticed as well. It’s like an on-off switch. It’s a bit strange.
“I’m down to 9 miles. I’m getting on the highway. I’m 2.5 miles away. I’m on the [accelerator] full-tilt!”
“It says I have 8 miles of range and it’s blinking at me. Have you ever seen it blink?”
“I don’t know that I can get up to 70, let’s try.”
“Oh I’m down to 6 miles!”
“OK I’m turning the AC off.”
“Whew. Now it’s back up to 7 miles.”
“The blinking does not make me feel better.”
“I’m only going 55. But when I accelerated up to 70 it went down real fast.”
Also, the trip computer above says 32, so Matt has driven 17 miles. So somewhere I got a bit confused.
Anyway, that’s not very far. But it should get me to work everyday, and then — after a charge — back.
[Miles: 17 (somehow)]:
Matt won’t stop until he sees a turtle. The range estimate is 4 miles. If there were a turtle, surely it would be on by now, right? I mean, four miles?!
The car still has four miles left. Matt’s at work.
I’m honestly kinda thrilled. I bet I could do 15 miles of pure highway! That’s more than I need!
[Miles: 21.1]: MATT HERE, I AM TAKING OVER THE LIVEBLOG
First, let me thank David for not only hosting me at his place but also for letting me borrow his excellent $2,000 car. This thing is great. I’m extremely tempted to buy the cheapest ass Leaf I can find in New York and then try to figure out where the hell I can charge it.
Also, David was slightly nervous all morning about this so I’m glad I did it. You can’t cure anxiety through thought, only action.
I’ll be honest, I drove around the parking lot for a few minutes trying to get the damn thing to get down to three miles so I could see the turtle. No turtle appeared. After driving another 1.5 miles it turns out I was adding range. I’ve given up. I might try to get back on the highway later. – MH
[Miles: 24.4]: MATT HERE, I AM DROVE IT SOME MORE
I couldn’t help myself. I went to go plug the Leaf in and it felt so sad sitting there. Clearly, in spite of what David said, I needed to drive it some more.
As soon as I was back in the car I felt at home. The A/C was blasting. The motor was humming. Traction control was off for scientific reasons (it does have an open diff, if you were curious). This wasn’t a game, this was a mission. I started driving around the neighborhood in a loop, trying to squeeze the throttle as hard as I could.
How far was I willing to push myself? How far was the car willing to go? The answer: About three miles. It turns out that if you go far enough the car refuses to even give you an estimate and, much like with a gas-powered vehicle, leafs you guessing.
It was at that point that I decided it was probably best to turn into the Galpin employee lot and plug her in. She’d done well and covered nearly 25 miles out of the original 33-mile estimate. I’m pretty sure if I kept it on surface streets it could do the whole 33 miles which, for a car that only cost $2k, is pretty damn good.
She’s plugged in now and my plan is to drive her home!