100,000 Miles on a LEAF: That's Just the Beginning for Electric Cars

By · December 17, 2013

Steve Marsh's LEAF

Steve Marsh of Washington State charges at home, work and on the road, traveling more than 100,000 miles in his LEAF since 2011.

Electric cars have been in the mainstream for three years now, and many people are using them as daily drivers. Inevitably, that has led to some mega-users racking up very high mileage on their cars. A 2012 Chevrolet Volt owner in Ohio, Erick Belmer, has rolled up more than 120,000 miles. And a big star right now is Steve Marsh of Kent, Washington, who was celebrated by his state’s governor Monday for reaching 100,000 miles in his Nissan LEAF.

“With a daily commute of about 130 miles, I’ve saved more than $9,000 compared to my old gas-powered car,” said Marsh, a financial controller at Taylor Shellfish in Shelton, Washington. He was one of the first to take delivery of a LEAF in 2011, joining a then-exclusive club that now has more than 40,000 members in the U.S.

Marsh said that his LEAF batteries are now at 78 percent capacity. How does that translate on the road in terms of range? "When new, I would say the car had 75 miles of range for sure, probably not 85 if it was all freeway driving," Marsh said. "Now I would say 60 miles for sure, but not 70." He said the LEAF has been reliable, other than a driver's side window switch. Even the tires lasted 90,000 miles. "The car has been really good," Marsh said.

Not Much to Wear Out

Because electric cars are relatively simple and robust, with far fewer moving parts (and wearable components) than their fossil fuel brethren, there’s no reason that 200,000 or more miles are possible on the car, though maybe not on the same set of batteries. And the best results will be for the drivers who really use their cars and don’t let them sit around.

Hansjorg von Gemmingen and his Tesla

Hansjorg von Gemmingen in his Tesla Roadster in Germany. They've been together for 186,000 miles.

Consider the case of Hansjorg von Gemmingen, a self-employed German currency trader with a Tesla Roadster. Tesla blogged about him when he put 40,000 miles on his car in just the first year, but that was just the beginning. According to his Facebook page—which featured a photo of his odometer—von Gemmingen has now crossed the 300,000-kilometer barrier, meaning 186,000 miles.

Hansjorg von Gemmingen's Tesla odometer

Hansjorg von Gemmingen's Tesla. Odometers don't lie.

A Plug In America study predicted that at 100,000 miles, the Tesla Roadster's battery pack should retain 80 to 85 percent of its original capacity. But last year, German news reports quoted von Gemmingen as being annoyed by his Roadster’s loss of range—it was down to 62 miles on a full charge, he said. He seems to be doing better now, though his indicated 137-mile range (on less than a full charge) is still off from ideal.

Measuring the Losses

Loss of range is actually exactly what you’d expect from batteries that have seen a lot of use. One owner who keeps careful track of such things is Tom Moloughney, a PluginCars.com contributor who is also a New Jersey-based BMW ActiveE driver and restaurateur.

Tom Moloughney and his BMW ActiveE

Tom Moloughney and his ActiveE at the New Jersey restaurant.

BMW chose Moloughney for the ActiveE program in part because he logged 72,000 miles in his MiniE during the 30 months he had it—more than anybody else. “Maybe more miles than anybody else in an electric vehicle, period,” said Dave Buchko of BMW.

Two Cars, 61,000 Miles

“I have now driven my ActiveEs a little over 61,000 miles in 23 months I’ve had them,” Moloughney said. “I say ‘them’ because I totaled my first ActiveE over the summer. I had a very serious accident one night driving home from work. When I was ready to drive again, which was six weeks later, BMW gave me another ActiveE, which is what I’m using now. Combined since June of 2009, I've driven my EVs cars about 135,000 miles.”

When he had his accident, Moloughney had covered 54,000 miles in his first ActiveE (charging it 1,245 times), and over that period had measured about eight percent capacity loss. “When I first got the car it had about 27.5 usable kilowatt-hours, and at the time of the accident I was measuring 25.25,” he said.

Steve Marsh plugs his LEAF in at work with a public charger there, and regularly stops at the Tumwater Shell on I5—part of the West Coast Electric Highway—for a 30-minute fast charge. “My LEAF is a perfect car for my commute,” he says.

New to EVs? Start here

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