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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The 1st gen Nissan Leaf has a few potential failures that often tend to the cars being disposed of. It gets parted out, but one often quite good vehicle disappears from our roads if just one expensive or difficult to get to part fails. Norwegian media have reported on it, with strong indignation towards the idea of "environmental friendly" cars having a life span of 8-9 years, when good care or a battery swap really makes them candidates for eternal life.

The onboard charger of the ZE0 Leaf is such an issue. Just the model year 2012 had eight different versions of chargers, and it's tiny components inside that seem to burn out completely at random. No professional shop repairs anything in Norway anymore, people just swap parts. The estimate at our local Nissan dealer was 42000 NOK (~3500 GBP), about 70% of the car's value. So we found a used part, traded at 2-10000 NOK (we paid 7000, delivered), and changed it ourselves. A new charger costs about 1500 USD, Muxsan offers upgraded, but wildly expensive chargers. As I am a hapless academic with ten thumbs, this process was hard for me and took its time. But it's very much doable, and I believe one should try to save the car even if a professional estimate throws it into clunker territory. If my experience can help just one guy fix this, I'd be very happy.

Here we go.

Symptoms of onboard charger failure: Plugging the car in, all lights blink three times, the car starts charging, but instantly turns off all systems when the cooling fan gets activated. Turning the car on will show the yellow car and exclamation mark symbol in the dashboard. Quick charging works fine, as this is a different unit. A broken EVSE can show similar symptoms, so check this out, too.

Error Code (Leafspy): "P3173 00C4 EV/HEV On Board Charger Sys EVC-236" or similar is the sucker you don't want to see. Condolences if that's yours, too! This video has more on diagnosis.

Tools, literature, parts: You'll need wrenches or pipes size 10, 13 and 16mm. Both flat and star screwdriver as well as pliers capable of opening to 17-18mm. Maybe a plug for the coolant hoses, inner diameter 15mm, so you don't spill all the coolant. As for parts, you'll need a new or used on-board charger, possibly a handful of bodywork clips and 10 mm hex screws. A new coolant hose, 15mm inner diameter, might come in handy, as well as fillup or replacement coolant, blue type or Nissan original 999MP-L25500P. Insulating/electrician's tape is good to have. The Nissan Leaf workshop manual, part "VC", vehicle charging section, pages 105-109 is relevant. The Nissan Leaf dismantling guide, pages 21-22+38 is of assistance for correct dismantling procedures.

Procedure:

After garaging or lifting the car, wait five minutes before you start working, as disconnecting electricity too early will cause the car's OBD to pop an error message. Follow the dismantling guide to remove the service plug in front of the rear seats - it will disconnect your main battery from the car's electric systems. This job requires appropriate PPE; like gloves capable of insulating 1000V. Local electricians shops didn't have that, so I went for leather gloves inside rubber gloves - but that is no expert advice, I hardly know what I am doing. Remove minus from the 12V battery after that. One thing to keep in mind before disabling the car is that the rear hatch has no mechanical opener, it is just an electrical switch. If you want rear access, be smarter than me and open it before the power is gone.

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A digression, yet useful tip is greasing the hood hinges, as the oddly opening Leaf hood otherwise will ruin the fenders.

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Under the car, remove the cover in front of the battery (behind the front wheels), and the rearmost cover. The clips are easy, lift them in the middle and pop them out. The 10mm hex screws are worse: Probably rusty, and Nissan placed some of them were bodywork drains should be. Expect them to break. Unless you're going for a Pebble Beach Leaf, these suckers can be replaced by drilling tree screws right through the lower bodywork and covers later.

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Ten minutes after removing the service plug, remaining electricity from the main battery is supposed to have dispersed. The main plug is under the car in front of the battery. Follow the three step procedure in the "VC" service manual to remove it, then put a plastic bag over it and use insulating tape to cover the battery side.

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The onboard charger sits inside the "hump" between rear seats and trunk. The hump's plastic cover is secured with three star screw clips, a bunch of hex screws, and integrated clips. An aluminium shield needs to be losened, too, but it is enough to just gently put it in the trunk, without removing the cable attached to it. You will also have to remove the rear seats: Pull the bench straight up, held down by two clips just about between where rear passenger's legs would be. If you have heated rear seats, be careful to unplug that before removing the bench. The seatbacks are secured with six screws, two 13mm hex on each side under a plastic lid close to the hinge, which you can pop out with a flat screwdriver. Two 16mm hex screws secure it to the floor. Lift the seatback forward by the headrests, lift it differently and it will fold in an ungainly manner. If you pull out the middle seatbelt, the seatback can be stored in the rear footwell without removing the belt.

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Now you see the pesky charger.



The next step is to go back under the car and remove the coolant hoses from the charger. Just as the screws, the clamps are of embarrassing quality, and are probably rusty. I fought them for a while, then cut off the hoses to replace them anyway. In theory, twisting them off with large pliers should do the trick. After that, I plugged the coolant hoses with two cone-shaped twigs, really, fitting the 15mm inner diameter. The charger itself will leak about half a litre of fluid, too.









With the hoses removed, you can unscrew the charger: Three 16mm hex screws on the floor, two black 13mm hex on the top beam. The two orange high voltage cables need to come off with a special procedure again, see the "dismantling guide". Especially the one to the right was a bit unwilling, I had to draw the green disk towards me with a screwdriver. Three ordinary electric connectors need to come off, too. Pull up the charger firmly. The old broken charger might find a new home at someone who is willing to repair it; off to Craiglist with that one.











From there on, it's the same procedure in reverse order. Many screws go straight through the floor and some protective grease will be welcome. A heartfelt: Good luck!





A few words at the end: As you, dear Leaf owner, are already aware of, your car is a textbook example of planned obsolescence. It's a shame, really, because it was the first EV that was "good enough", and it could be just that for decades to come. Used onboard chargers are a scarce item in Norway now, where the Leaf was the most sold car for a brief period of time. It seems that they will fail on all cars, eventually, but very much at random. My 85k km 2012 model is now being charged through a 170k km 2011 charger. I honestly believe that if we help each other out with tips to simple, but time-consuming work routines like this, everyone benefits from these cars lasting just a little bit longer. That's why I consider it worthwhile to give away or sell for pennies the old, broken charger. In my experience, there's always someone more competent willing to go one level up in keeping these appliances on the street.
 

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@Sjalabais I want to thank and congratulate you on a well written and comprehensive guide. Informative and lucid it shows what can be done with a little determination. Well done.
Cheers Tony.
 

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Thank you (and well done!) for the clear and descriptive guide to onboard charger changing - perhaps a repair that will be common for those who run their Leaf well into 'old-age'. I've one suggestion - purchase suitable HV electrical gloves from suppliers on the internet...

I've a naiive question; could you replace the 3.3kW charger with a 6.6kW (from a wrecked car); like for like ? Or, are there other additional parts that would need to be changed ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the kind and positive feedback!

I'm not sure about the stronger charger. Muxsan seems to be selling both, looks like just a price difference. Maybe someone with better insight can provide a definitive yes or no? The parts nr. of mine was 296A0-3NA8A and it appears to be backwards compatible, at least.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
...what I forgot to mention: Some people seem to be pulling the charger up into the car, without removing stuff underneath it. Given how stuck the piping was, and how short with almost zero maneuvrability, I decided I wasn't Mr. Nimblehands enough for that. But that could be a time-saving alternative for some.
 

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...what I forgot to mention: Some people seem to be pulling the charger up into the car, without removing stuff underneath it. Given how stuck the piping was, and how short with almost zero maneuvrability, I decided I wasn't Mr. Nimblehands enough for that. But that could be a time-saving alternative for some.
I did that, saved me lot of work. But you will feell having more control when you als0 have access from bellow,
 

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It would be interesting to get the failed charger to an electronics expert who can ascertain what’s failed and whether it can be repaired.
 

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It would be interesting to get the failed charger to an electronics expert who can ascertain what’s failed and whether it can be repaired.
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I opened mine. One capsitor burned. Bougt new in eBay, same spec,soldered in ($5) and my old charger sit as a spare now. If the one I put in (From a 2011) fails, I will try the old I reparied. Can be that other parts was damaged to, but similar happens om IMEV cars, and with a new capasitor, they work again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Mr. @Leafnor above here is kind of the Norwegian nestor of DIY Leaf. He helped me out a lot when my issue occured and the info I compelled here was in large part provided by him. Very happy for that!

Somebody else on the Norwegian EV forum opened my old charger and it was another part that had burned. They keep it as a spare.
 

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@Sjalabais
Do you have the circuit reference of the capacitor that failed? I presume it was an electrolytic capacitor. They are usually the weak link. There is even a forum called badcaps.
Tony. ex TV engineer.
 
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That’s what I’d expected might be the case. So we have a perfectly functional car potentially scrapped because of a capacitor. I’m hopeful there’ll be decent indie repair options for many of these very expensive modules.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
@Barfly, sorry, whenever I experience a capacitor go poof, I have to rely on others to guide me. Just experienced the same on an electric wood splitter... @Leafnor might have the specs from his unit.

@idiotzoo, that's exactly the thing! With access and repair being kind of labour-intensive, we're seeing perfectly adequate cars being wrecked. It's unspeakable and I hope we can avoid this as much as possible. Hoping for the Google algorhithms to hark up guides likes this to people in need of them.
 

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I used to buy a bunch of faulty ECU's on fleabay and refurbish them. Mostly all that was wrong were the connection tags had a "dry" joint. The garages used to rip off their customers with a new one depending on the car make model it could have been a bill of anything North of £800 for a spot of solder and two minutes work.
Tony:mad:
 
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@Barfly, sorry, whenever I experience a capacitor go poof, I have to rely on others to guide me. Just experienced the same on an electric wood splitter... @Leafnor might have the specs from his unit.

@idiotzoo, that's exactly the thing! With access and repair being kind of labour-intensive, we're seeing perfectly adequate cars being wrecked. It's unspeakable and I hope we can avoid this as much as possible. Hoping for the Google algorhithms to hark up guides likes this to people in need of them.
The new one:
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OK that is a standard mains filtering cap. Normally used in the first stages of a Power Supply--which is exactly where it is in this unit. They do give trouble, but is not that common, they and the coil in the picture are in the first line of defence of the psu when the mains is applied to smooth the starting inrush.

The usual suspects are the electrolytics that dry out over time, they are much further up the chain normally on the output side of the inverter circuits to smooth the outputs. What happens is as the caps dry out, the output rail becomes more "choppy" and the waveform gets very ragged. This affects the units the power supply is feeding and they shut down/fail to operate with a dodgy power supply.

Tony.
 
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
OK that is a standard mains filtering cap. Normally used in the first stages of a Power Supply--which is exactly where it is in this unit. They do give trouble, but is not that common, they and the coil in the picture are in the first line of defence of the psu when the mains is applied to smooth the starting inrush.

The usual suspects are the electrolytics that dry out over time, they are much further up the chain normally on the output side of the inverter circuits to smooth the outputs. What happens is as the caps dry out, the output rail becomes more "choppy" and the waveform gets very ragged. This affects the units the power supply is feeding and they shut down/fail to operate with a dodgy power supply.

Tony.
When you put it like that, is there any way to prevent this kind of damage? Why is it so erratic, happening seemingly independent of mileage or charging patterns?
 

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When you put it like that, is there any way to prevent this kind of damage? Why is it so erratic, happening seemingly independent of mileage or charging patterns?
Not really, the mains filter caps do not regularly fail, whereas electrolytics do on a regular basis. The problem is usually the hot environment in which they are working. The electrolyte solution (in this case a paste) just dries out over time. Basically electrolytic capacitors are twin sheets of metallic foil separated by the electrolyte paste and rolled into a cylindrical shape with electrodes connected to each metal sheet that are then soldered into the circuit.
Until a new differently constituted electrolytic capacitor with new materials can be invented/developed we are stuck with this issue.
Cheers Tony.
 
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thank you for taking your time to explain this. I am baffled to understand that cars get wrecked over a dried out paste. No clear boundaries between planned obsolescence and technological boundaries here, but it's about pennies worth of material, indeed.
 

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Thank you for taking your time to explain this. I am baffled to understand that cars get wrecked over a dried out paste. No clear boundaries between planned obsolescence and technological boundaries here, but it's about pennies worth of material, indeed.
I really do not think it is actually "planned" obsolescence! There is no planning involved. When these things are first mooted, such as the onboard charger, the prime objectives for the Nissan design team I am sure were:
  1. Cost constraints
  2. Ensure the unit is not subject to undue RF interference.
  3. Water ingress.
  4. Japanese outside sourcing of completed pcb's which from what I can gather is a complicated labyrinth of tiny subcontractors given the input and the output specs. which are required by Nissan. They then design and produce the circuits at as small a cost as Nissan (or other Japanese car makers) can get away with, and even Nissan never get the circuit diagrams and are not interested in what is in the module.
  5. Nissan will then design a casing and where it fits in the car.
That leads me to realize there is no big conspiracy on the car makers behalf, it is just the way things are done in Japan.
I always think incompetence, indolence and inertia trumps conspiracy every time. That's not to say that I think car makers are squeaky clean....you only have to look at the cost of spare parts.

I once owned a Toyota Tarago in Australia. The toggle switch for the electric roof went faulty, I enquired the price of a replacement from Toyota - a cool A$ 80.00 I went to my local electronics parts store and bought exactly the same switch identical part numbers stamped on it for A$ 0.45c.

The problem is poor regulation of the spare parts after-sales market, not just in the UK but world-wide. Even the heavily over-regulated EU does badly here, probably because of the vested interests of BMW, Mercedes and the Audi-VW VAG groups. Can you imaging the intense lobbying in the halls of power were such legislation be mooted?

So to sum up; the difficulties of repairing these modules are primarily because of the way the Japanese motor industry subcontracting system works and therefore the complete lack of schematic diagrams of the internals available to anyone other than the original Japanese designers/circuit builders (who may be in some dingy back-street in the middle of Tokyo-who knows). There are two ways of tackling this; reverse engineering, a very difficult and time-consuming enterprise for even a specialised electronics engineer (let alone a hack such as I), or design and build your own unit - not as daft as it sounds, with so many new enthusiasts in the Rasberry PI field a renewed interest is taking place in all things electronic for the talented layman.

Sorry for the extended missive, I just wanted to try and explain why things are not as straightforward as at first glance.

Cheers Tony.
 
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To add to this-I just had a thought-there is a massive gaping hole in the marketplace for a group of talented electronics people to design and build some of these modular components.
The input and output specifications are there in the open, if a replacement onboard charger from Nissan for instance is North of £1000, then a great opportunity exists for a open-source type group to come up with a design, or even a commercial company.
Just musing aloud.......
 
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