The lesson learned from 10,000 miles in an all-electric Nissan LEAF

Our car recently passed the 10,000-mile mark.9-9-12 Leaf at St. Marks

That’s usually not a big deal. But with our car, it may hold a lesson about when to invest in the latest green technology.

Our car is the all-electric 2012 Nissan LEAF, which we leased in August 2012 with the intent of buying when the 40-month lease expired.

But the time it has taken us to get to the 10,000-mile mark — nearly 18 months — shows that we’re not driving it enough. That may be the reason we return our LEAF to the Nissan dealer when the lease expires in 2015.

Driving less in a gasoline-powered car usually is good for the environment and your wallet.

You don’t have to buy as much gasoline and your car will last longer without the wear and tear.

But it’s not such a great thing when you buy a LEAF. The extra cost of the LEAF — about $12,000 compared to the cost of a Nissan Altima or $16,000 for a Sentra — means you’re essentially paying for your fuel up front. (A $7,500 federal tax rebate helps close the cost gap.)

You’re paying for the ability to plug in your car and buy cheaper electricity.

And that means that the less you drive the car, the premium cost of owning a LEAF is going to waste. We’re not losing money. Perhaps we just didn’t need to spend it in the first place.

I’ve learned that the best use of a LEAF is as a commuter vehicle — if I had to drive between 20 and 35 miles each way to work every day. I would avoid the gas station and you can plug in the car each night.

I’m guessing that I pay about $1 now for a full charge that will reliably take us about 75 miles.

We can’t drive the LEAF on longer trips, so we keep on driving our 9-year-old Nissan Xterra SUV, which has more than 93,000 miles on it.

We love the LEAF and think it’s a great car around town — and obviously it’s better for the environment compared to driving the Xterra.

So it’s not a done deal that we’ll get rid of the LEAF when the lease expires at the end of 2015.

But if we keep the LEAF, then we’ll have the added budget pressure of having to replace the Xterra a couple of years earlier because of the unanticipated miles we’re still putting on it as a second vehicle.

If you drive quite a bit each day, the LEAF may be the car for you. But if you don’t drive that much, then maybe think again.

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not forward, copy or publish without permission, which can be obtained from