Battery Problems

Both my wife and daughter have given up on this process, so now it falls to me to get this rectified. For clarity’s sake, I will start from the beginning. We own a 2011 Nissan Leaf that we bought used from CarMax in 2016, as I mention in this post on my blog. CarMax lead us to believe that we could get the batteries for the Leaf replaced through them if we paid them for an extended warranty, which we subsequently purchased. We knew that the process would be an uphill battle if it turned out that we needed to replace the batteries, but we never realized how impossible it would be to get the batteries replaced at all. From anyone, not just Carmax.

When the battery health meter dropped by four bars, the critical level described to us by the salesman who sold us the car, we promptly took the car to the Carmax shop and started the long argument that you are just hearing the tail end of now. Carmax at first made the argument that they didn’t replace batteries, as was waived explicitly by the extended warranty. When we countered with the valid argument that this was a critical part of the car and not something that should be replaced by an end-user in regular maintenance, Carmax then said that we had to go to a Nissan dealer to get the batteries replaced since that wasn’t something that they did in their own shop.

Most of the warranty work that Carmax is responsible for is apparently sent out to third-party repair shops, so we didn’t argue too hard and took the Leaf to Round Rock Nissan, having had bad experiences with Maxwell auto group in the past. Maxwell owns a good percentage of the car dealerships in and around Austin including both Nissan dealerships. They even own Round Rock Nissan, although we didn’t know this at the time.

Round Rock Nissan told us that the batteries were not showing enough wear to qualify for being replaced under the vehicle warranty. We pointed out that we had an extended warranty from Carmax, but they insisted that even then the batteries were just fine, but to bring the Leaf back to them if the range dipped too low, or if the battery health took a nosedive. Six bars down is what they told us. So we drove the Leaf for the next few years, keeping an eye on the range and the health meter, occasionally taking the car back in only to have Round Rock Nissan insist that the batteries were still not bad enough.

In December of 2018,  we decided we’d had enough. We took the car to Happy Hybrids here in Austin (Excellent shop. Highly recommended) and asked them to replace the batteries that Round Rock Nissan and Carmax refused to replace. We knew the replacement cost would be expensive, but we wanted to get the driving range back up to distances that allowed us to make round trips within the city of Austin comfortably. 

Happy Hybrid told us that the batteries were still under the ten year manufacturers warranty, and that we should call Nissan to try to get the warranty on the batteries honored. It was at that point that my wife called Nissan corporate to explain the problem, as well as determine where in this process we had gotten off track and how we could get back on track, so that the car could be repaired. She was livid when Nissan corporate told her that the batteries should have been replaced before the car had even been sold to us, much less when we took it in for service. They also told her that Round Rock Nissan had been less than truthful about the warranty. When we looked over the paperwork from the maintenance visits we discovered that the service records showed the recorded battery health as being higher than the level they were at the time. So Maxwell had been forging the maintenance documents to show that they didn’t need to do the work that they should have already done.

We tried over the course of the next few months to get Round Rock Nissan’s attention. We made several calls and even a visit to the shop in person, all to no avail. They were not interested in replacing the batteries, or even discussing replacing the batteries. They have yet to ever return one of our phone calls.

This is the point where I stepped in, because I could see we were just going in circles, and the batteries still needed to be replaced. The battery health bars are now less than four, and the range is generally about twenty miles when fully charged. So I called Happy Hybrid back and asked them if they could replace the batteries even if they were under warranty. We just wanted the car repaired. After a bit of embarrassment on their part, since they had initially told us that they could replace the batteries, they explained that the refurbished batteries that they had been relying on were not performing as expected. So they couldn’t install them into our Leaf.

They further explained that they couldn’t get the new batteries we had authorized them to purchase if they needed to, because the battery manufacturers who had made replacement batteries for the Leaf had been blocked from selling them by Nissan, who has exclusive rights to manufacture and install batteries for their cars. This meant that my preferred shop couldn’t even get the batteries from Nissan to install for us themselves. I would have to take the Leaf into a local dealership and submit to whatever prices that Maxwell wanted to charge us to replace batteries in an electric car that should have had the batteries replaced for free several years previously.

2011 Nissan Leafs Start Losing Capacity Bars: Should You Worry? and What four bars down looks like. (ours are eight bars down)

That brings this narrative to today. I still want the batteries in the car replaced. I’m not interested in doing business with Round Rock Nissan again, or any other Maxwell owned dealership. I’ve been burned too many times working with them. I’d like to get Happy Hybrid to do the install, but they can’t get batteries. This puts the problem into the current warranty holders hands. Both Carmax and Nissan have issued warranties for this vehicle, warranties that include the battery packs that drive the electric motor in the car. I don’t really care who pays for the replacement so long as acknowledgement is made for the faulty manufacture of the original batteries, along with some amortized reduction in the cost of replacement.

I would like you to arrange for the repair with some shop that isn’t Maxwell owned. I will happily drive the car there if it will make it on its own power, although I don’t think it will make the drive to another town or city now. It is regrettable that my initial joy at buying my first electric car has turned sour, and that this quest to get clearly required work done on the vehicle looks to turn me away from doing further business with both Carmax and Nissan at this point. It is up to you to make this into an experience that we won’t end up regretting.

Sincerely,

(Letter sent to CarMax and Nissan)

Postscript

When we confronted CarMax with the warranty problem, they said “All good” and handed us back the money we paid for the warranty. I will be doing business with CarMax again if I need another used car. Any business that hands you back several thousand dollars and says “we’re sorry” while doing it is a business that is at least honest in their dealings. I like that in a business.

Nissan didn’t do that. Nissan said “the batteries are now out of warranty, you have to pay to have new batteries put in the car.” Since the Maxwell dealership had destroyed all evidence that we had reported the failure while the batteries were in warranty, we were forced to agree with this assessment and we paid out of pocket to replace the batteries for the Leaf. It now has the kind of battery life it should have had when we bought it. Better battery life, even, because they are the new Leaf batteries and not the old versions of them which were clearly riddled with manufacturing flaws. The Leaf is probably the last Nissan we will own because of the way the entire process was handled.

I will never consciously do business with the Maxwell auto group again. Their behavior has finally convinced me that the dealership model in Texas is dominated by fraudsters and criminals (I’m coming to believe that pretty much everything in Texas is a fraud) and I applaud Tesla’s decision to build a manufacturing plant here rather than have to do business with the gangsters who run dealerships in Texas. I’m thinking it is time to revisit the reasoning behind creating dealerships in the first place.

Author: RAnthony

I'm a freethinking, unapologetic liberal. I'm a former CAD guru with an architectural fetish. I'm a happily married father. I'm also a disabled Meniere's sufferer.

Attacks on arguments offered are appreciated and awaited. Attacks on the author will be deleted.