A Step-by-Step Guide to Buying a Used Electric Car
Electric cars are some of the most expensive vehicles on the market, but it’s not hard to find a good deal on used battery electric vehicles. In fact, you’ll find plenty of fuel efficient cars for under $10,000, including fully-electric cars like the Nissan LEAF.
But is buying a used electric car really the best option for your budget? What if you have to replace the battery or install a home charging station?
While there are definitely some disadvantages to buying a used electric car, there are quite a few reasons to look into it. All things considered, the benefits of a used electric car stack up well against both used conventional cars and new electric vehicles.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of buying a used EV, as well as some of the most affordable options on the market.
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Pros of Buying a Used Electric Car
First, it’s a good idea to think about your reasons for wanting to buy an electric car. Do you want a car that’s more affordable up front, or that will save you the most money in the long-term? New electric cars have a higher sticker price than gas cars, but have lower annual fuel costs and lifetime maintenance costs.
With secondhand electric cars, it’s a little more complicated. But if you get the timing right, you can come out ahead in three key areas.
One of the best reasons to buy a used EV instead of a new one is depreciation. All cars depreciate, but electric cars depreciate at a faster rate than conventional cars. A recent article in Forbes claims that the Nissan LEAF depreciates a shocking 71% over the first five years of ownership, compared to 30% for a Jeep Wrangler.
Because of that, it can actually make more financial sense to buy a used electric car than a new one. According to Consumer Reports, “the relative cost savings of an EV purchased when it is 5 to 7 years old can be two or three times as large.”
Essentially, the first owner bears most of the cost of depreciation, and the new owner gets a fuel-efficient car at a bargain price. Because of depreciation, you’ll pay less for a three-year-old EV than for a comparable gas model. For the same price, a used gas car would likely be an older model with much higher mileage.
While EV depreciation is good news for used car buyers, it’s a major drawback if you’re thinking of buying a new electric car. Unless you plan to keep it for several years, you’ll lose money if you sell it too quickly.
Extended Warranty and Lower Maintenance Costs
The next thing to consider is the cost of maintenance. Many buyers are hesitant to buy a used electric car because they know that EV batteries are expensive: A new battery for the Chevrolet Bolt EV can cost over $15,000.
But electric car batteries have turned out to have a longer lifespan than expected, and are usually covered by warranty for at least eight years or 100,000 miles in the U.S.
That means if you buy an electric car that’s three years old, you’ll still have five years left on the warranty. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer to confirm that the warranty is transferable from one owner to the next.
Aside from the battery, EVs typically have lower maintenance costs than conventional cars, because they don’t have an internal combustion engine and other parts that are likely to break down. A used gas car might need substantial repairs, but a used EV shouldn’t need anything more than a tire rotation or other minor tune-ups.
Another point in favor of buying a used electric car is its environmental impact. An EV doesn’t produce any tailpipe emissions, and you can lower your carbon footprint even further by charging it with solar power or other renewable energy sources.
While some critics have argued that lithium-ion battery production is unsustainable, one review determined that EVs offset their production costs within 1.5 years of driving.
That means that if you buy a used EV, you’ll be doing even more for the environment than buying a new one, because it will likely have already been driven enough miles to make up for the resources used in production. The longer you drive your EV, the more value you’ll get out of the raw materials that were used to produce it.
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Cons of Buying a Used Electric Car
Despite all of these advantages, there are a few ways in which newer electric vehicles come out ahead. If you have some flexibility in your budget, then be sure to consider these disadvantages of used EVs before going ahead with your purchase.
Limited Range and Features
EVs are some of the most high-tech cars on the road, and new models are rolling out at a rapid rate. Every year brings new battery capabilities and charging technologies that can increase an EV’s range, charging speed, and overall performance.
For example, the 2021 Nissan LEAF has a 40 kWh battery and a range of 149 miles, and the Nissan LEAF Plus has a 62 kWh battery and 226 miles of range. Compare that with the 2017 LEAF, which has a 30 kWh battery and just 84 to 107 miles of range.
While that may be more than enough for your daily commute, it can limit your options if you want the flexibility to go on long-range trips.
If you want access to the highest possible mile range and battery capacity, then you’re going to have to look for a new car, not a used one.
Just because an EV battery is still under warranty doesn’t mean it has the same battery life that it did when it rolled out of the factory. Some warranties only cover batteries that are incapable of holding a charge, not just those with diminished capacity.
Electric vehicles can lose some of their battery capacity over time, especially if they’ve been frequently charged at DC fast charging stations. Other factors that impact battery life include driving in extreme temperatures or draining the battery completely. A used EV may only provide 75% of its EPA-rated range.
While this isn’t a dealbreaker, it is something you’ll want to consider before buying a used EV. You can view some details about its current charge status on the display screen, or take it into a dealer to check its battery health if you have any doubts about its battery life or how long it will take to charge.
No Tax Credits
The third point against used electric vehicles is that you won’t be able to make use of federal or state tax credits for buying a new electric car. Federal tax credits are as high as $7,500 for new electric vehicles, which can significantly reduce the sticker price.
This isn’t an option for used EVs, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There may still be local rebates or incentives you can benefit from, such as a $1,000 rebate from Southern California Edison for pre-owned EVs.
Other deals to look out for are incentives for installing a Level 2 home charging station, or rebates on your energy bill for charging at off-peak hours.
What to Look for When Buying a Used Electric Car
If you’ve decided that a used electric car is right for you, then it’s time to start comparing your options — and maybe even test-drive a few. We’ve put together this step-by-step guide to buying a used EV so you know what to ask and what to look out for.
1. Consider Buying a Certified Pre-Owned EV
If you aren’t comfortable buying a used electric car from a private seller, then a certified pre-owned vehicle might be the way to go. Certified Pre-Owned programs are backed by the automaker and administered by the dealership, so while you can expect to pay more for the car, you’ll know that it’s fairly priced and in good condition.
CPO vehicles go through a multi-point inspection, so all of the key EV components will be double-checked for reliability, and any minor issues will be repaired.
The other benefit to CPO programs is that they often include a warranty. It won’t be as extensive as the eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on new EVs, but it will still give you peace of mind if the battery doesn’t last as long as you expected.
Some CPO warranties start from scratch, while others extend the original warranty. If it starts from scratch, it’s likely to be no more than two years and 24,000 miles, but it totally depends on the manufacturer.
2. Ask About the Vehicle History
Whether you buy your EV from a private seller or a dealer, it’s important to ask them for maintenance records and other information about the vehicle history so you know what kind of work has been done on the car.
Since electric cars don’t need as much maintenance as conventional cars, it’s likely that they won’t have many records to give you. Fully-electric vehicles don’t need oil changes or tuneups, so they may only have receipts for brake pad or tire rotations.
This isn’t a red flag and doesn’t mean the car hasn’t been cared for. If there have been any issues with the battery or other components, this is where they’ll show up.
Some older EVs may have had their battery replaced already. This can be good news: You’ll be driving around with a brand new battery pack and don’t have to pay for it!
3. Confirm the Battery Warranty
Unless the EV you’re buying is eight or more years old, there’s a good chance that its battery pack is still under warranty. This means if the car is three years old and has 30,000 miles on the odometer, you’ll still have up to five years and 70,000 miles of coverage remaining if the battery needs to be replaced
Don’t just take it for granted, though: Some warranties can’t be passed along from one owner to the next, and you may need to do some paperwork to transfer it. Be sure to do the math to determine how much warranty is remaining, and call up the manufacturer to confirm it using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).
Remember, this coverage is specifically for the battery pack, not for any other vehicle components. Standard warranties are usually much shorter in length.
4. Check the Battery Life
Next, find out what condition the battery is in. You can do this yourself by bringing the battery to a full charge and checking its predicted range on the internal display. Is it close to what the EPA reports for that make and model?
Some reduction in battery life is normal, but if it provides less than half of its total range, then there may be something wrong. Ask the owner about their driving habits and which types of public charging stations they used.
If you still have concerns, you can take it to a dealer to get a more thorough review of the battery pack.
5. Research Chargers and Accessories
Finally, find out if the purchase price includes any charging accessories, such as an EV charging cord, adapter, or EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment).
Different makes and models have their own charging requirements. For example, Tesla connectors are designed for the Supercharger network, and you’ll need an adapter if you plan to use it on other charging systems.
All electric cars are compatible with standard 3-prong power outlets (Level 1 charging), but many EV owners install a Level 2 charging station at home for faster charging.
This requires a 240-outlet or a wall-mounted charging unit, and you can expect to pay around $500-$1,000 for equipment and installation.
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Used Electric Car Financing
The next thing to consider when buying a used electric car is where to purchase it and how to pay for it. Your options include buying from a private owner or a dealership, or purchasing a Certified Pre-Owned vehicle. You may also be eligible to take out a used car loan or lease an electric car.
Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that financing an electric car may come with different limitations than financing a conventional car.
Buying vs. Leasing
First, if you’re concerned about the range or battery capacity of a used electric car, then you might want to consider leasing an EV instead. By leasing an EV, you may be able to drive a more advanced make and model at an affordable monthly price. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the depreciation and ownership costs of a new EV.
This may be a good option if you plan to drive your EV for a few years before trading it in for a newer model. If you own the car, then the combination of depreciation and a reduced battery capacity may diminish your car’s trade-in value. With a leased EV, you’re only on the hook for the costs outlined in your lease.
Used car leases are hard to come by, though, so your only option may be to lease a new EV. If you choose this option, you won’t be eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit that’s available to drivers who purchase a new electric car.
Instead, the manufacturer will be able to claim the credit. Be sure to ask if they can give you a better deal by factoring that credit into the price of the lease.
Used Car Loans
Financing a used EV can be harder than financing a new one, because some lenders have different requirements for used car loans. They may not provide any financing at all for cars that are beyond a certain age or mileage limits.
If you’re buying from a dealer, they can usually arrange a loan for you, but you may not get the best interest rates. Your other options include banks, credit unions, and online lenders, which may offer better interest rates depending on your credit score.
If you’re buying from a private seller, you can still apply for a loan, but you’ll need to get pre-approved in advance, and you may pay more in interest.
You can expect a loan term of around 60-72 months, but ecause the principal balance on a used car is lower, you may be able to pay it off in less time compared to a new EV.
Electric Car Insurance
Purchasing costs aren’t the only thing to factor in when buying a used electric vehicle. You’ll also need to consider ownership costs like car insurance. EVs cost more to insure than conventional cars. This isn’t because they’re more dangerous to drive, but because they contain a lot of high-tech parts that are expensive to replace.
Your insurance costs will vary depending on your age, where you live, and your driving history, but you can expect to pay up to 20% more to insure an EV compared to a similar gas-powered vehicle. For example, a conventional Chevrolet Trax LS costs $100 per month to insure in California, while an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt costs $119 per month.
Fortunately, the more EVs there are on the road, the more insurance costs are expected to go down. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that “rates of injury claims related to the drivers and passengers of electric vehicles were more than 40 percent lower than for identical conventional models.”
In a few years, there may not be much of a difference between electric and conventional car insurance. For now, you can estimate your monthly premium by comparing prices for auto insurance in your state.
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Where to Buy a Used Electric Car
You don’t have to go to a specialist to buy a used electric car. In some cases, you may not even have to leave your house at all! Let’s take a look at some of the best places to begin your electric car search.
Used Car Websites
Websites like Edmunds and Cars.com are a useful source of information, but new sites like Vroom and Carvana promise to make the experience of buying a used car entirely digital.
For example, Vroom delivers the car directly to your house, and offers a 7-day return period, so you can test drive it around for up to a week (maximum 250 miles) with no commitment. They claim to cut down on the pressure and haggling you’ve come to expect from a used car purchase, and perform a full inspection of every car.
Of course, you can still buy a car from a private seller on Craigslist and other online marketplaces, but you’ll have to do more of the legwork yourself.
Be sure to look up fair market prices at Kelley Blue Book and run a Vehicle History Report (VHR) at a site like AutoCheck before closing the deal.
Dealerships and Used Car Lots
Another option is to visit a new car dealership, where you can test drive multiple cars, including Certified Pre-Owned vehicles. Other benefits to buying from a dealer include access to better financing options and an on-site service department.
Keep in mind that a new car dealership is different from a used car lot. Used car lots may have lower prices, but won’t offer the same level of service.
Direct From Manufacturer
Some EV manufacturers allow you to buy used cars directly from their website. For example, Tesla has a used car inventory and offers “touchless delivery.” Teslas are at the higher end of the used car price range, and you’ll still have to pay for transport (up to $2,500), but they come with a clean vehicle history and battery warranty.
Chevrolet also allows you to search for used EV inventory at a dealer near you and initiate the purchase on their website.
Best Used Electric Cars
Now that we’ve covered what to look for in a used electric vehicle, what are some of the top models currently available at bargain prices? While you’re not likely to find a used Tesla Model S for less than $30,000, there are plenty of other EV models on the secondhand car market.
Here are a few of the most popular used electric cars today.
2017 Nissan LEAF
Battery capacity: 30 kWh
Range: 107 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 112 miles
Time to charge battery (Level 2): 6 hours
Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP): $30,680
Used price: $9,000-$12,000
The Nissan LEAF was one of the first EVs to hit the market in 2011, and some of those early models are still around. While those can be found for as low as $5,000, the 2017 hatchback will give you a better balance between price and battery life.
With its 30 kWh battery and 107 miles of range, the 2017 LEAF isn’t as impressive by 2021 standards, but it’s more than enough for everyday commuters, especially those who live and work in metro areas.
Some models include a Level 3 charge port and higher-capacity batteries, so the more flexible your budget, the more options you’ll have.
2017 Ford Focus Electric
Battery capacity: 33.5 kWh
Range: 115 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 105 miles
Time to charge battery: 5 hours
Used price: $9,000-12,000
The Ford Focus EV was discontinued in 2018, so you won’t find any recent models of this electric car. Your best bet is the 2017 model, which has a battery capacity of 33.5 kWh and an estimated range of 115 miles.
Pre-2017 models have a smaller battery with only 76 miles of range, and don’t have a Level 3 charging port. While earlier models will be available at lower prices, they don’t provide the range that today’s EV owners expect.
2014 BMW i3
Battery capacity: 22 kWh
Range: 81 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 124 miles
Time to charge battery: 4 hours
Used price: $8,000-$12,000
With a sticker price of over $40,000, paying less than $10,000 for a used BMW i3 is a good deal by any measure. This car’s 22 kWh battery is on the small side, but you get 81 miles of range, enough for everyday driving.
Early models offered an optional Level 3 charging port, so make sure your used car has this feature if you want faster charging. There’s also an “range extender” model called the i3 REx, which recharges the battery from a fuel tank, but if range matters to you, then you may be better off springing for a newer model with a larger battery.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf
Battery capacity: 24.2 kWh
Range: 83 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 116 miles
Time to charge battery: 3.7 hours
Used price: $9,000-$13,000
The 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf has a 24.2 kWh battery capacity and a range of 83 miles, putting it on par with other makes and models from that time period. The 2017 model has a larger battery — 35.8 kWh — and a range of 125 miles, so this may be a better option for some drivers.
Whichever model you choose, the e-Golf is known for its handling, with a zippy engine and a tight turning radius. It’s also less futuristic-looking than many EVs, so it’s perfect for those who want to drive an EV that looks just like a conventional vehicle.
2015 Kia Soul EV
Battery capacity: 27 kWh
Range: 93 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 105 miles
Time to charge battery: 4 hours
Used price: $8,000-$11,500
The Kia Soul EV was only sold in a limited number of states when it first hit the market in 2014, so used models may or may not be easy to find where you live. Early models come with a DC fast charging port, a 27 kWh battery, and 93 miles of range.
The 2014 Kia Soul EV is best for those who want built-in features like a backup camera, power seats, and an “infotainment” navigation system. Some models even have a sunroof, making this a sportier option than many of the other affordable EVs on our list.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV
Battery capacity: 21 kWh
Range: 82 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 119 miles
Time to charge battery: 7 hours
Used price: $5,500-$8,000
The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is one of the most affordable used EVs on the market. It was originally released in California and Oregon, and it was discontinued in 2016, so it may be harder to find than some of the other options on our list.
The Spark EV has a range of 82 miles and a 21 kWh battery that takes seven hours to charge using Level 2 charging. That’s longer than other electric cars of its size, and it isn’t compatible with DC fast charging, which may be a concern for some drivers.
2013 Fiat 500e
Battery capacity: 24 kWh
Range: 87 miles
EPA combined MPGe: 116 miles
Time to charge battery: 4 hours
Used price: $4,000-$6,000
Originally priced at $31,800, the 2013 Fiat 500e can be found for as little as $4,000. It has a 24 kWh battery and 87 miles of range, similar to other EVs from that year. Like the Spark, it doesn’t have the capacity for DC fast charging.
The 500e is a good choice for those who want a classy Italian exterior to go with their electric motor and powertrain. Technically, it’s an electric conversion of the Fiat 500, not a purpose-built electric vehicle. The 2020 model, the Fiat New 500, was designed to be electric from the start and has a range of 199 miles.
Taking Home a Used EV
These are just a few of the most popular used EVs on the market, and should give you some idea of what’s available in your price range. If you aren’t sure about any of these models, and want the increased range or battery capacity of a newer model, then you may want to consider leasing an EV.
Buying a used EV is a big decision, but by taking the time to get it right, you can save yourself money and have a positive impact on the environment at the same time.
Luckily, we’ve brought used EV shopping to you by compiling all the local used electric car listings in your area all in one place. Simply click “Start Comparing” below and be well on your way to lowering your carbon footprint and saving money while you’re at it!
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