Not everything goes as planned

Just so you don’t get the impression that making modifications always works out wonderfully, here’s a story about one that failed.  Badly.  I bought the Leaf SV (the lower-end model).  The SL came with a cargo-area cover, while mine did not.  I decided to make my own.

Black Display Board

Black Display Board

I bought a black display board from Staples.  I took my time and cut it out into a shape to fit the supports for the OEM cargo cover.  When I was finished, it looked great!  It was easy to put in, easy to remove, and covered the area nicely.  Sure, it didn’t lift up when you opened the liftgate, but that seemed a small price to pay when my cover was a lot less expensive than the OEM.

That first day, I took the car out shopping.  Parked it in a parking lot.  It was a warm spring day.  When I got back to the car, the display board had basically started to melt.  It had drooped down in the center and had fallen down into the opening.

So, that modification didn’t turn out too well.  Use something sturdier if you want to make your own cargo cover.

I could use a little support here

One of the things that I missed about my old car when I switched to the Leaf was the adjustability of the seat.  I had a power driver’s seat in my last vehicle.  But the Leaf didn’t have that as an option.  You’re stuck with a manual seat.  That in itself isn’t too bad.  I’m usually the only one who drives it, so once the seat is adjusted I’m done.  But my old car allowed you to raise & lower just the front of the bottom seat cushion.  The Leaf doesn’t offer this adjustment.  And when I positioned the seat to where my feet could comfortably reach the pedals, then the steering wheel was too far away.  A telescoping steering wheel adjustment, or pedal adjustments, could have also solved this issue, but those aren’t available either.  What I wanted was to raise the front of the bottom seat cushion.  That way my legs could be bent a little, my thighs would still be supported, and I could reach both the steering wheel and pedals comfortably.

Hillman Nylon Spacers, 1

Hillman Nylon Spacers

If you look under the front of your seat in the leaf, you’ll see that there are two bolts that hold the front of the seat cushion to the seat frame.  I removed these bolts and replaced them with longer bolts that allowed me to add a spacer between the frame and the bottom seat cushion.

Once again I was off to Lowes.  I picked up several nylon spacers, and two longer bolts.  It’s a little tricky to get everything back together, because the part of the frame that the bolt goes through is on a hinge, and it will swing a bit while you’re trying to get everything lined up correctly.  Be careful not to force the bolt in – you don’t want to strip the threads.  But once it’s done, it makes a noticeable improvement in the angle of the bottom seat cushion.

Adding headroom

Starting in September 2009, car manufacturers started complying with a new federal law that required head restraints to be no more than 2.2″  from the back of a passenger’s head.  Unfortunately, it seems that the passengers they used to determine this correct distance have horrible posture, and tend to slouch forward in their seats.

A few years ago, I strained my back while playing basketball.   Really bad.  I was diagnosed with a couple of herniated disks.  I couldn’t sit at a desk at work for almost a month – I switched to a standing desk.  It was painful driving to and from work – I tried to straighten out my back as much as possible.  Ever since this incident, I’ve paid a lot more attention to my posture.  Now I sit up nice and straight in my car.  Unfortunately, this mean that the head restraints of modern vehicles pushes my head forward.  Very uncomfortable.


24″ Black Iron Pipe

So I set out to fix this.  You can too!  This modification is applicable to any 2009 or newer vehicle that has removable head restraints.  In fact, I also performed this mod on my minivan.

I went to Lowes and bought a 24″ piece of iron pipe.  I took out one of the head restraints, wrapped it in an old piece of carpet (to protect it from getting dirty or ripped), and placed it into a vice.  I then took my piece of pipe, and slid it over one of the head restraint posts all the way to the head restraint.  Then I torqued the pipe to bend the post.  There’s some “spring-back” when you let go, so you need to go a little further than want you want.  Repeat with the other post.  Make sure the two posts are parallel when you are done.

That’s all there is to it.  More headroom.  Plus you get a nice self-defense weapon when you’re finished.

Let’s keep the noise down

My Nissan Leaf is a 2012 model.  The 2011 models have a switch that allows you to turn off the VSP.  This is the device that creates extra noise at low speeds to people know that your EV is trying to sneak up on them.  I think this is a silly thing – we don’t require bicycles to have VSPs installed to warn pedestrians that a bike is coming.  But I do like the “reverse beeping” sound that the car makes.  It’s similar to a truck’s sound, but not as loud and abrasive.  So, I wanted to be able to turn off the noise when I wanted, without permanently disabling it.

It turns out that the 2012 retains the same wiring harness and electronics that the 2011 had, but they simply didn’t connect a VSP off switch.  So I added a switch of my own.  I ended spending about $2 at the local Radio Shack for a momentary SPST pushbutton switch, and an afternoon in my garage, and came up with a rather elegant-looking solution to the problem.

Picture of the VSP off switch

VSP off switch, on right

I’m quite happy with how this turned out.  I was able to remove one of the blank switch inserts and fit the new switch into it.  It almost has an OEM look.

When the vehicle is first started, the VSP will be on.  If I want to turn it off, I just have to press this switch.  If I want to turn it back on, I just need to press the switch again.  It’s elegant, and it works.

EV modifications

I ended up buying my Nissan Leaf instead of leasing it because I knew I would be playing around with it and making a few modifications.  So, what was the first modification I made?  Adding mudflaps.  I hate having to clean the mud & dirt that gets thrown up by the tires onto the lower sides of the car.  I haven’t noticed any real affect on mileage either.  I bought a plain black set because I didn’t want them to be readily noticeable.  I know, not too exciting of a “modification”.