This is Hoja, a new (to me) 2013 Nissan Leaf. Hoja was rear-ended sometime around December or January, and was “totaled” by his insurance company, The Travelers Indemnity Company. They used Copart, an auto-auction company to sell the remains with a salvage title.
I purchased Hoja just to obtain the LiIon modules in the battery pack, and was happy to find that the dash console reports that the battery has the full 12 bars of capacity, even though he has almost 19K miles under his tires. I may also be able to use a few other parts such as the J1722 charging port (and possibly the built in charger…), but the majority of the car will be junk sitting in my back yard until I can get rid of it.
My hope is that I will be able to sell many parts from the car to help reduce the overall purchase price, and in this respect I think I am lucky that the majority of the damage was to the rear end, in that the motor/inverter/charger and front mechanical systems look to be in good shape. (Update: I’ve sold everything from the car, sorry.)
Details about the purchasing process
In Georgia, due to good lobbying by the established auto industry players, only licensed “auto brokers/dealers/dismantlers” can purchase used cars at the Copart auctions, but private individuals (with some cash) can purchase cars with a Salvage title. All you need is a web browser, and an established account on copart.com.
Note to potential buyers: You will want to set up your account with Copart several days before the first auction you want to bid on. They require that you send them a copy/scan of your drivers license (before you can bid). It takes a few days to process, so don’t leave it to the last minute.
You will also need to pay them a 10% deposit. For example, if you want to be able to bid up to $5,000, you need to pay a $500 deposit. The deposit can be applied to your final purchase (by calling their customer service agents) or simply refunded to your credit card after the fact using their website.
Then, all you have to do is search for the type of auto you want (making sure it has a salvage title, unless you are a licensed auto broker/dealer/dismantler, etc) and place a bid.
Note that the bids you place on the Internet before the day of the auction just sets the “starting bid” at the actual physical auction, so even if you are “winning” the bid, you are not likely to win the car unless you watch and bid in the “live” auction (unless you bid so much that nobody at the live auction will go over your maximum bid amount).
Some cars are sold on a “pure sale” basis, which means that the highest bid will win the car. Most of the Leaf auctions that I watched were listed as “on approval” which means that even if you win the auction, the insurance company (seller) has the final say if they want to accept the cash for the car, or if they want to keep the car and try re-listing it at a later auction.
(I had one auction where I won the bidding but the maximum offer was not accepted by the insurance agency seller.)
My tips for finding a cheap Nissan Leaf (for the battery pack):
- Look for the most damaged car you can find. The more expensive it will be to repair, the less likely somebody else wants it. The battery is relatively well protected from front/rear collisions, and should hopefully still be good.
- Cars with multiple points of damage (front and back, or rollover) are a good bet. Any car with “Biohazard” as a secondary damage type (e.g. blood) also tend to sell for a lower price.
- Look for cars with a low initial bid on the Internet the day of the auction. (This may be a reason to NOT bid before the live auction!)
- Keep a watch on all of the leafs, and if possible, watch the live auctions to get a feel for the prices that they sell for so you know what a “good” price is.
- Know your maximum price point. Use a spreadsheet to calculate to total cost including all fees (see below). Compare this to buying new LiIon cells from your favorite distributer. Consider the extra labor costs involved in removing the pack from the car and the modules from the pack and re-packaing them into the form you need. I ended up paying about 15% of the cost of used Leaf (2011/2012) modules purchased on the Internet, but this took a LOT of work selling parts from the car piecemeal.
- When you see a car at a good price, bid aggressively (e.g. as soon as possible after somebody else bids) until you reach your maximum price point. The faster you match/counter an opponents bid the more they may think you are willing to keep incrementing the price until you get it and back away.
- Don’t be in a hurry! I watched and bid on leaf auctions for around two months before I won Hoja at a good price.
To give you an idea of the average selling price of a salvage Nissan Leaf (in Atlanta in the spring of 2015), here are some numbers I collected while watching Leaf Auctions:
- These are auctions where I actually saw the live auction final ending price:
- 2015 Leaf, front collision damage: $5400
- 2014 Leaf, side damage, 11K miles: $7200
- 2015 Leaf, lots of front damage, 2K miles: $4200
- 2015 Leaf, moderate front end damage: $6500
- 2015 Leaf, “run and drive”, with rollover/biohazard damage: $7000
These are auctions where I did not see the live auction ending price, but I did record the highest “pre-bid” on the Internet, so the final price was at least as high as these numbers, and most likely higher:
- 2015 Leaf, front/side damage + biohazd: $4650
- 2013 Leaf, side damage, 11K miles: $6600
- 2015, all over damage, biohazrd: $4750
- 2013 Leaf, not to bad damage, pure sale: $4750
- 2015 Leaf, Side impact damage: $6400
Note that the final bid price is NOT a full reflection of the actual cost, because CoPart adds a good number of fees and taxes (plus a delivery charge). Pay special attention to all of the fees, such as a secured funds fee of $400 on any car in the 3-5K range, (it costs more if you pay with a credit card instead of a wire transfer) an “Internet bid fee” of $79, A gate fee of $50, and a delivery fee (for me) of $135.
After San Francisco, the Atlanta area is the 2nd best place to buy a used/salvage Leaf, and I was lucky in that CoPart has 3-4 auction sites all around the metro area with relatively inexpensive delivery costs to my location.
Of course, you are buying a “used” battery pack, and it will take a lot of labor to make it usable (unless you are putting it into another Leaf) for your EV project, so you want to buy your car for no more than $4000-4500 total cost.