The Nissan Leaf has long been one of the most highly regarded electric vehicles on the market. Indeed, it was a real trailblazer, storming the market a decade or so ago when the idea of mainstreaming fully electric cars while we were still getting used to hybrids was basically unthinkable. Nissan Leaf also introduced us to the concept of one-pedal driving, a technology that has since become the norm, with their fantastic e-pedal.
Yes, there is indeed much good to be said for the Nissan Leaf, but is that all there is to it? Some issues have arisen both in older and newer models.
One particular issue that we want to focus on in today’s blog is that of the problematic gear shift that many Nissan Leaf owners have reported. These issues have emerged in several different forms, so we’ll try to cover the most common and pressing.
Gear Shift Problem 1: Sticky Shifter
Gear shifts that were difficult to shift were an issue from quite early on in the times of the Nissan Leaf. Some owners of the 2011 models, for example, reported that they were having issues in 2015 with the shifter when they tried to shift into reverse.
They described the issue as being once they got the gear shifter to the “R” position, the Leaf would sense a fault because it detected that the gear shift was in the wrong position so it would display an error message to that effect.
This would normally happen just a few seconds after shifting into reverse, and would force the driver to shift into reverse again to gain a few more seconds of reverse. Obviously, this was a completely unsustainable way of driving, not to mention unsafe.
Not being able to rely on a steady reverse function is obviously a big safety concern. Some owners assumed that these problems were caused by previous owners spilling drinks on the shifter and residue being left down there, but this wasn’t always the case.
The best solution that owners found was to either open up the shift selector, clean it up and put it back together again if indeed the problem was caused by residue from spilled drinks.
If, on the other hand, the problem was down to a more fundamental mechanical problem, either a full repair and reconstruction was needed, or a replacement of the gear shifter unit. This could be done by a knowledgeable individual with some DIY confidence and there was guidance in the owner’s manual. However, most did not attempt the repairs themselves.
One non-mechanical area in which the Nissan Gear Leaf has received some criticism has been due to its use of green LEDs to indicate the current state that the gear shifter is placed in. Using the same green LED makes it quite hard for some drivers to instantly detect which setting they are in. A driver has to look with some deliberate care to be absolutely certain.
With older, clunkier torque converter automatic transmissions, the gear shifts were large and in charge of the center stack area. It was impossible to miss what you’d shifted to because the contrast black and white made it very clear indeed.
The Leaf using all green LEDs is a problem for some because the indicators are not in clear line of sight and especially on sunny days can become very hard to focus on.
There’s even some complaint that with the gear shift in the Nissan Leaf, one has to push the shifter left and then forwards to get the car into reverse. Having to move the shifter forward to get into reverse and drive backwards seems a bit counterintuitive. We’ll cover more about this further below.
One solution to this issue has been the unpacking of the gear shift and replacement of the LEDs, but this is particularly fiddly work. One writeup available online shows just how many steps and hard parts there are. It’s clearly not a solution for the faint-hearted.
Gear Shift Problem 3: 2020 Model Recall
Early 2021 brought bad news for Nissan in Australia as a recall notice was issued for 181 Nissan Leaf Models from the 2020 model year because of issues with the automatic gear shifter. To be precise, the notice said that the main defect was that “the welded joint on the actuator plate may fail during use.”
So what does that mean for the gear shifter? Where’s the jeopardy? In the event that the actuator plate fails, the park lock may fail to engage when a user is shifting into P. The result of that is unwanted and unexpected movement of the car which obviously presents imminent and serious safety problems. Imagine parking up the Leaf only to have it then roll forward and collide with some poor old dear trying to cross the street.
Fortunately for the public and for Nissan, no instances of such movement or accidents were reportedly caused by this fault, so it seems the recall notice got to the problem in time. Nissan Australia even went as far as to simply call the measure “precautionary.”
During the recall, consumers were contacted by Nissan Australia to arrange for their cars to be brought to the dealership to have the actuator plate replaced.
One final issue that Leaf owners have had with their gear shifter is in its relatively complex operation. Further above we touched on this when we mentioned the fact that to shift into reverse requires the shifter to move to the left and then forwards.
Most shifters have the reverse function lower down which means you’re moving the shifter in the direction that you want to drive, which is more intuitive.
The other Nissan Leaf gear shift controls are also rather confusing. For instance, to get to Neutral, one has to slide the shifter left and then hold for several seconds, a bit like a long press of a touchscreen. To go into drive one moves the shifter backwards, and to go into park you have to press down on a button at the top of the shifter.
There’s also a bit of confusion with the function of “B” – Extra Braking Mode – which boosts the strength of the regenerative braking system to slow the vehicle more effectively and send more power back to the battery.
Besides the fact that shifting to B means repeating the shift to drive, it compounds the other problem of clarity in the LEDs we mentioned above since when you don’t have time to really look closely, “B” and “D” are quite hard to distinguish in all-green LEDs.
That can make things a little awkward when you don’t know if you really want to activate the Extra Braking Mode or not.
Gear Shift Problem 5: Dying 12-volt Battery
Pretty much all EVs still have an ‘old school’ 12-volt battery, although this isn’t something the car manufacturers forgot about – it serves a useful function, even in an EV with a much bigger lithium-ion battery.
This 12V battery continues to manage some of the more basic functions of the car, including gear selection. If the battery is starting to die, it might not be serving enough voltage to power the gear selections.
As a general rule of thumb, if you turn off your Leaf and wait for 20-30 minutes, you should be able to read an output of 12.5 (or more) volts from the battery terminals. If it’s instead reading 12.3 or less volts, it’s a sign that the battery might be on its way out.
Try charging it up, but if that doesn’t work, it might need replacing – especially if it’s 5-6 years old. Fortunately there isn’t anything special about changing the 12v battery in a Leaf – any garage/mechanic should be able to do it, for the usual price.
What Should I Do About Nissan Leaf Gear Shift Problems?
If your problem is a physical issue with moving the gear shifter, or if it’s exhibiting issues like slipping from one mode to another, then the best course of action is to take the Nissan back to the dealership or whichever mechanic you are using and get the issue fixed. If there’s a fault akin to the issue with the actuator plate that was the subject of the Australia recall, then you might have a safety problem on your hands and you need to deal with it ASAP.
The gear shift is too important a component to leave to haphazard DIY jobs or quick-fix solutions. It needs proper attention and maintenance and you should report any defects as soon as you notice them. Since there has been a recall in Australia in early 2021, then it’s not completely impossible for the same error to occur elsewhere, so paying attention to recall notices is also a useful course of action.