Thermography shows the efficiency of the Nissan Leaf

Friday, January 4, 2013
I borrowed a Fluke Ti 25 Thermal Imaging camera...and got my geek on.  These cameras are fun to play with since they let you see the world in completely different way.  These cameras "see" heat...or more specifically, the infrared spectrum, and display how hot things are with different colors, i.e., blue is cold and red is hot. 

For example, I took this shot of my shower head right when the hot water was starting to flow.  The hot water shows red and the everything else shows blue.  The scale on the right side shows the hottest (103.8F) and coldest (76.8F) temperatures the camera captured with a color scale in between.

If you didn't ask for it, Heat = Waste

The whole point of a car is to move people from place to place.  Unless you need heat to keep you warm along the way, any heat the car makes is wasted energy (fuel).  Why?  Because heat doesn't directly power your's a necessary evil in an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) that relies on explosions to work.

Given that conventional gasoline vehicles only convert about 20% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels, it follows that when gasoline is $5/gallon, $1 goes toward getting you to your destination and $4 goes to heat the earth.  Stupid eh?

EVs, on the other hand, convert about 60% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels.  That's a 3x efficiency...and EVs can recover even more energy with regenerative braking.

"Seeing" Efficiency in Infrared

To "see" how efficient the Nissan Leaf is, I drove my car for 15 miles on an 85F day.  I did not turn on the climate control.  The first 13 miles were at high speed (65 mph)...with the last few miles spent driving at 45 to 35 mph to get home.  The whole trip took about 30 minutes.  Once I parked in my garage, I jumped out of the car and started taking these cool pictures. 

The first thing I took a picture of was my front brake.  You can see the rotor is warm from the braking into the driveway.  In the last 1/4 mile of my way home, I brake from 40 to 25, along with the final stop into the garage.  In my ICE powered car, I can't touch my brakes when I park, but the Leaf's regenerative braking recovers most of the stopping energy back into the battery.

Then I opened the hood and took some pictures of the engine.  The following photo is a legend for where I took the next few photos...

#1 - The photo below is a shot of the left side of the engine bay.  The hottest thing in the photo is a relay labeled "PBW SSOFF" in the upper looks like a dot in the photo.  I took the cover off the relay and it was 141F...seems odd, but seems designed to handle the heat since it was solid (not soft, warped or discolored after 1y/12Kmi).  That's the issue with "seeing" something in infrared for the first don't know if it's broken or normal.

#2 - The photo below is looking down onto the electrical motor/transmission itself.  You would think this would be the hottest part of the engine bay, but in this photo, the hottest part is 110F.  This is the right end of the assembly which is mostly the transmission housing.  I couldn't get a good shot of the motor housing since there were hoses in the way. 

#3 - In the photo below, you can see the right side of the engine bay.  The battery is in the middle of the picture.  Like in photo #1, the hottest part is a relay in the upper right.  Taking the cover off shows a relay labeled "M/C" at 105F.

As you can see by these few infrared photos, the Leaf is a pretty cool car to drive (ha!).  This also translates into slightly lower home A/C cost for me since I no longer park a very hot car in my attached garage. 

I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison with an ICE powered car to show the difference in waste heat, but I didn't have the time with the camera.  It would have also been nice to put the car on a lift and shoot the motor from below.  Maybe this would be a good project for a school to do?

Parting Shots

Here are a few more photos I took with the camera... Bombay cat

Cars driving AWAY from me on the Interstate driving 70 mph.  I'm on a bridge above traffic.  You can easily tell where the exhaust pipes are!

Cars driving TOWARD me on the Interstate driving 70 mph.  I'm on a bridge above traffic.  Even at 70mph, you can see the heat reflecting off the road from the very hot engine.

The photo below was at a major intersection at night.  You can see where cars queue up for the light.

Here's a car that just stopped from a 35mph speed limit road.  You can easily see the hot brakes and engine radiating from the road...but you can also tell the car hasn't been "on" too long since the hood is just starting to heat up.  The disk brakes are probably much hotter than the indicated 131F since I was so far away (accuracy decreases with range).

Street Light

Trees in the forest just after dark.

My Feet!  You can see my prior steps to the right of my feet.

Disclaimer: I did not adjust for emissivity for each photo...all of these photos were taken at .98.  This means the scale on the right of the photos may not be correct. If you know what your doing, I could share the native Fluke files so you can school me...see the About page for contacting me.


  • Terry Hershner

    Awesome Mark! I love the photos at the bottom too! Always knew the Leaf was a cool car!! ;)

    Here's a "cool" picture of the electric bike from my trip after a dyno run and it shows how in comparison the motor is one hot mama!

  • DaveinOlyWA

    Wow! great illustration of just how efficient the LEAF is. One thing that I noticed right away (besides the lack of smell) is how much cooler the garage remains in Summer after parking the LEAF. I used to leave the garage door open for 30 minutes with my Prius partly because of smell but mostly because of the heat!

  • Elmer Steve

    Perhaps various car dealer companies should perform this kind of check up on the cars they are selling. Just, you know, to make sure that everything is safe and fine even if the car is said to be used already.

  • Jack Hayward

    I am delighted that this kind of technology came to play. Having an assessment couldn't be more easier. It would both benefit the buyer and also the manufacturer.

  • Jessica Sinclair

    Thermal cameras are indeed great help for our daily lives. We can determine the heat levels of an object just by taking photos. It lessens the risk of accidents and injuries that can occur when someone check heat levels.

  • Victoria Freycinet

    That is one cool engine. And with 60% efficency it does beat the old ice engines. However, the problem with EV is the availability of charging stations. Maybe in the future charging stations would be as common as gas stations.

  • Taylah Sato

    Nice experiment! Good thing you found a purpose for your thermal imaging camera. I was wondering how "efficient" Nissan Leaf is, but I've never thought of basing it on the heat (probably because I didn't know a way to do so). Thanks for this!

  • Mike Grey

    This is cool, you can detect the efficiency of the car just by using your thermal camera! I hope I can do this to cars before buying them!

  • Justine Ellis

    Well, there's another argument for making more electric cars. Now if only they can also make electrical vehicle developments like that for motorcycles; we wouldn't be wasting so much energy on excessive heat.

  • Charli Morrice

    I want to try this Thermography test on one of Ford's Sedans. I like to see how efficient they are, because I wanna buy one, soon!

  • William Nicholson

    I’ve been hearing a lot of positive feedback about this thermal camera and a lot of my friends recommend this thermography test to me. Well I think, this is somewhat cool but I do agree with Victoria, since it’s an EV car, they should provide enough charging stations for these cars.

  • Unknown

    Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is a French citizen. (He also runs Renault.) Far as I know, he's legal wherever he travels.