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When a Leaf turns into a ‘brick’: Juno winner describes EV catastrophe

The owner of a Nissan Leaf electric car says his experience has been a cautionary tale for others who might make the leap to electric vehicles.

And though Brian Sanderson has paid 417 Nissan, the dealership that’s been servicing the car, almost $10,000, he said the bills aren’t even the most heartbreaking part of his experience.

“It’s cruel because I don’t want to be part of the ‘let’s slam electric vehicles’ crowd,” said Sanderson, a professional musician who, along with his instrumental chamber rock ensemble Esmerine, has won four Juno Awards.

The four-door, all-electric hatchback with a range of about 120 kilometres was introduced in Canada in December 2010.

The Leaf was the world’s best-selling electric vehicle for many years until it was surpassed in 2020 by Tesla’s Model 3, according to Nissan and Tesla’s own figures.

But the car has sometimes been in the news over what experts call design “compromises” Nissan made, including the decision not to add an advanced cooling system for its batteries, and using a battery chemistry that was particularly temperature-sensitive.

Though it has only accumulated 82,000km, Sanderson regards his Leaf as "too unreliable" to drive.
Though it has only accumulated 82,000 kilometres, Brian Sanderson has come to regard his 2016 Nissan Leaf as ‘too unreliable’ to drive. (Submitted/Erin Pattee)

Car died 5 times

Sanderson bought his 2016 Leaf used in 2020. Between January and July of last year, it died five times.

“You get in the car, you push the button and absolutely nothing happens,” he said.

The first time the car died, he had it towed to a local mechanic near his home in western Quebec. The independent mechanic told him his car had more in common with an iPhone than an Impala, and that he would need to take it to someone who understood it.

So, as with smartphones and other modern digital devices that die, can’t be revived and effectively become dense blocks of discharged electronics, Sanderson refers to his dead Leaf as a “brick.”

The first time it happened, he paid $300 to have it towed 50 kilometres to 417 Nissan in Ottawa.

With a limited number of technicians available to service the auto manufacturer’s electric products, Sanderon’s Leaf sat unrepaired for four weeks before 417 Nissan declared it fixed and billed him $2,800.

“They did a road test and said it’s all fine, so we brought the car back and then maybe it was four weeks later, it bricked again,” said Sanderson, who has shared his repair receipts with CBC.

Sanderson's 2016 Leaf has only accumulated about 82,000km on the odometer.
Sanderson’s Leaf has now ‘bricked’ five times and sits in the driveway of his Wakefield, Que., home. (Stu Mills/CBC)

CAA membership exhausted

Sanderson purchased a CAA membership, thinking it wise to economize on towing. But by midway through the summer, his three included tows had been spent.

Though his Leaf had only 82,000 kilometres on the odometer, he bought a third family car as a backup.

The Leaf has now “bricked” a total of five times with the vehicle sometimes sitting unused for months, all while Sanderson continues making $400 monthly payments.

Last week, after he agreed to settle a bill of $2,340 for the latest repair job, 417 Nissan insisted on towing the car back to Sanderson’s home near Wakefield, Que., and dropped it, discharged, in his driveway.

The dealership referred questions from CBC to Nissan Canada, but Sanderson believes it means the company has given up on him and the car.

Sanderson still insists the Leaf is “fundamentally a good car,” but one without adequate support from its manufacturer.

A similar experience

Ottawa’s Alain Hamel said his Leaf ownership experience has been similar.

“Totally. Nissan has abandoned all its client base,” said the federal public service IT professional who bought a Leaf new in 2016.

Public Service IT worker Alain Hamel said he felt abandoned by Nissan when he learned the company wouldn't supply a replacement battery.
IT worker Alain Hamel said he felt abandoned by Nissan when he learned the company wouldn’t supply a replacement battery. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Hamel was told he could get a new battery when performance dipped from 12 bars at full charge to nine.

But he said when that happened, Nissan told him an updated replacement policy covered batteries showing seven bars at full charge.

“So they’re moving the yardsticks,” said Hamel.

With the car no longer capable of the range he needs and replacement batteries unavailable, he bought a Tesla and listed the Leaf on the used market.

New batteries unavailable 

The difficulty of sourcing replacement Leaf batteries is well known.

Twelve months after the cell died on his Nissan Leaf, Mississauga’s Atif Harooni was still driving a rental car.

Then, Nissan spokesperson Douâa Jazouli told CBC the company had been “working diligently on a compatible replacement battery for the 30kW-h Lithium Ion Battery included in the model year 2017 LEAF, which is no longer in production, and are approaching a sustainable fix for the Canadian market.”

Carlo Sabucco, who operate Sils Complete Auto Care Centre in Oakville, Ont., which specializes in EV repair, said he stopped trying to source used Leaf batteries more than a year ago.

“If a Nissan Leaf owner calls for an battery upgrade I say, ‘Sorry, no, you go find the battery. Have fun, good luck.'”

It’s this situation that’s gloomiest for Sanderson, who fears a new battery is what’s needed to finally make his car reliable.

He was able to charge his Leaf enough to move it around his driveway, but now regards it as too expensive to risk driving.

“It’s $300 the minute this car does anything wrong,” he said.

This article is from from (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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