Blog Used Electric Cars (What to Check Before Buying)

Used Electric Cars (What to Check Before Buying)

May 6, 2020

“I recently noticed some great deals on used electric cars on the market,” says Andrea. “So we decided to start shopping used EVs and it was a great move. We bought a used 2016 Nissan Leaf and it’s serving our family very well.” Andrea is a working mother of two living in San Jose, CA and her recent purchase of a used electric car represents a growing trend in the used car market. Many people around the country are buying used electric cars because they’re a great way to save money on gas in the future while you drive an emission-free vehicle. More importantly, the cost of a used electric car can be much less than the price of a new one. Plus, plug-in electric vehicles can also save their owners money in the future when it comes to maintenance and service. But buying any used vehicle in 2019 can be scary and many shoppers still have questions about the battery technology of used EVs.

What are the five best benefits of buying a used electric car? 

There are many benefits to buying a used electric car instead of a new or used traditional gas powered vehicle. And with the growing popularity of electric vehicles there are more models to choose from than ever. Buyers shopping used EVs can select cars from Tesla, Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Fiat and others. Here are the five best benefits to buying a used electric car.

  1. Low cost of purchase over a new EV or equivalent gas-powered car.
  2. Low costs of maintenance and service in the future.
  3. Low price of charging at home and at public charging stations.
  4. Save time by not stopping at the gas station and buying fossil fuel.
  5. When you drive an emission-free vehicle, you’re not harming the environment.

Does a used electric car make sense for me? 

Used electric cars make sense for many buyers, but it does depend on your driving habits and your situation. Some electric cars have a battery range of less than 100 miles, so if you have a long commute those models wouldn’t fit your daily needs. However, other used EVs, like the Tesla Model S, can be driven much farther on a charge, so they would fit your daily lifestyle. If you have a long commute, used electric vehicles with a range of less than 100 miles may still make sense as a second or third car that you could use for transportation on the weekends or for running errands after work. It’s very important to always check the estimated battery range on an electric vehicle before buying. Many people are also buying used electric vehicles for new drivers. In these situations the limited battery drive range of some models can be an advantage until the driver gets more experience. Teenagers are also drawn to used EVs because they can charge them at home and avoid the cost of gas, which isn’t as low as it once was. 

Are used electric cars cheap?  

Many people that purchase a new electric vehicle choose to lease for a term of two to three years. The result is a constant supply of low mileage used electric cars in great condition that can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a new EV. Most electric vehicles also depreciate faster than traditional gas powered cars because the market is smaller and most buyers are after the latest battery technology, which usually offers more driving range. However, like any used vehicles, pricing varies for cars in average condition.

Some used electrics depreciate faster than others. For instance, top models like the Tesla Model S depreciate slower than the Nissan Leaf or Fiat 500e. This is because there’s just more demand for the high-end Tesla, which offers more range and seating capacity than the smaller Nissan, Fiat, and other models. When new, the Tesla also cost significantly more than the Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500e, and other more affordable models like the BMW i3, Ford Focus EV, and Volkswagen e-Golf. This will be reflected in their used prices. The Tesla Model 3 is the brand’s least expensive model. It’s another possible option for used EV buyers, but Tesla didn’t really fire up deliveries of the Model 3 until 2018, so there aren’t as many used examples out there. This keeps their pricing higher as they haven’t yet had a chance to depreciate significantly. 

Where can I find a good used electric car? 

Shopping for a good used electric car is very much like shopping for any used car. They can be found at new car dealerships, which often offer used EVs in their Certified Pre-Owned programs. They’re also commonly advertised by used car dealers and by private parties. Start by searching local dealer inventory online to see what’s out there. Certified Pre-Owned dealers will always have their latest inventory listed on their websites, and these vehicles are thoroughly inspected before being offered. They also tend to be lower mileage examples and they’ll have a clean vehicle history report. Buyers should know that Tesla also has it own Certified Pre Owned program and has listings on its website. And there’s a growing number of used car dealers around the country that specialize in used electric cars. To search the listings of smaller used car dealers and private parties, you can check websites like Craigslist and eBay. But don’t share you personal information with anyone until you’re purchasing the car and signing the paperwork. 

What should I look for when buying a used electric car? 

When buying any used car it’s important to give it a thorough inspection. Although a used electric car is powered differently than a used gas-powered car, many of it’s other functions and features aren’t different at all and they should be thoroughly checked out. You should also always inspect a car in person. Some issues won’t show in photos, but you’ll notice them when walking around and sitting in the car. A car that looks in perfect and top condition in photos may actually be in average condition when you see it in person. Also, it’s always important to take a test drive to make sure it performs properly and you like driving it. During the test drive notice how electric cars offer immediate power off the line when you hit the throttle. Here’s a quick checklist of things to inspect when buying a used electric car:

  1. Have the batteries been tested to make sure they are functioning properly? If not ask to have them tested.
  2. It’s also a good idea to check the cars safety ratings to make sure you’ll feel safe behind the wheel.
  3. Does the heat and air conditioning function properly?
  4. Are the tires in good condition?
  5. Does the overall condition of the interior seem to match the mileage on the odometer?
  6. Do the windows roll up and down and seal as they should?
  7. Do all the gauges work?
  8. Are the audio and other infotainment features working?
  9. Do the brakes and steering feel responsive? Do the brakes squeak or make any other undesirable noises?
  10. Are they’re any undesirable noises coming from the suspension?
  11. Does the car have a clean vehicle history report without any reported accidents or damage?
  12. Has the car received its scheduled maintenance and service? Ask the seller to share the cars maintenance records.
  13. Does the used electric vehicle have a clean title?

This checklist also applies to hybrid models and plug-in hybrids including the Toyota Prius, as well as others from Cadillac, Hyundai, Kia, Audi, Volvo, Chrysler and Honda. If you’re not buying a Certified Pre-Owned electric vehicle and you’re shopping cars from smaller used car dealers and private parties, ask yourself if the seller feels trustworthy. If you get a bad vibe, trust your instincts, even if you like the car. Remember, you always have the power to walk away.

How do I know if the batteries are good in a used electric car? 

It’s also extremely important to determine the health of a used EV’s battery pack. A qualified service technician can plug in a diagnostic tool into the vehicle and determine if the electric car’s batteries are healthy or not. CPO cars will have already had this test performed, so don’t be shy about asking for the results. If you’re shopping for a car from a smaller used car dealer or private party ask if you can take the car to a local dealership of the same brand for the test. For instance, any Nissan dealer can perform this test on a used Nissan Leaf and it’ll just take a few minutes. It’s worth the cost for the peace of mind.

You should keep in mind that performance of the batteries does degrade over time depending on its mileage and use, but it’s slow and it should be minimal. If you’re buying a used electric car from the 2017 model year, for instance, expect an energy loss of maybe 5-10 percent. If the car originally had a range of about 100 miles, it’s probably now about 90 miles. If you’re buying an older model, like a 2012 Nissan Leaf, it’s possible for the batteries to have lost about 25 percent of their performance. Take this or any reduction in range into account when you’re buying. And never buy a used electric car with a damaged or sick battery pack. If the car is out of warranty, the cost of replacement is in the thousands of dollars. Buyers in extremely cold or hot climates will also see a reduction in the range of any electric vehicle. And charging times can be longer in particularly frigid or hot weather. 

Are used electric cars reliable? 

Many people think electric cars are less complicated and have fewer moving parts than traditional cars powered by internal combustion engines, and that’s true. But this fact doesn’t necessarily make them any more or less reliable. Electric cars are generally reliable, and their batteries have been proven to last a very long time, but they can also have problems just like gas-powered cars. This truth includes Tesla models, which have a long history of software and battery life issues, all of which have been well documented in the news media. But it isn’t always an electric car’s electric propulsion systems that can need repair. Teslas are also known for sticky door handles and failing infotainment systems. Buyers should keep in mind that reliability issues can plague any aging used car, whether it’s powered by electricity or gasoline. Air conditioning systems fail. Brakes and tires will eventually need to be replaced. Sensors don’t last forever. Just because a car doesn’t run on gasoline and have moving pistons doesn’t mean it’s never going to need a fix or two. 

Do used EVs come with a warranty? 

Every new electric vehicle sold in the United States came with a comprehensive warranty, and it’s always transferable to the cars next owner. The term of these warranties vary from auto manufacturer to auto manufacturer just as they do on conventional gas-powered models. Generally the batteries of any electric vehicle are covered by a warranty with a longer term than the warranty covering the rest of the car. Most battery packs are under warranty for either eight years/100,000 miles or 10 years/150,000 miles. Keep this in mind when you’re buying and always research the remaining term of any vehicle’s warranty. If for some reason the warranty has been voided, walk away and find another car. 

Where can I get a used electric car serviced? 

The process of getting a used electric car serviced is about the same as servicing a gas-powered car. Electric cars are serviced by the same network of dealers and they’ll have a regular schedule of maintenance recommended by its manufacturer.

Regardless of its age or mileage any electric vehicle can be serviced at any dealership around the country of the same brand. For instance, any Volkswagen dealer in America will gladly service or repair your VW e-Golf, and any BMW dealer in the country can service and support your BMW i3. Plus they’ll have access to the right parts. However, keep in mind that electric cars don’t require oil and filter changes, so they require less scheduled maintenance than a gas powered car. It’s also possible to have your used electric car serviced at the many independent EV shops springing up around the country. But this is really only an option if the age and or mileage of your electric car are beyond the terms of its warranty. 

Which used electric cars offer the best value? 

If you’re comfortable with a used electric car that gets less than 100 miles of battery range, the Nissan Leaf and the Fiat 500e offer the most value. These cars have been on the market for quite some time, so they’re plentiful and their limited range and small size keeps them from being highly popular. Depending on their age, condition and mileage it’s possible to buy a used Nissan Leaf or Fiat 500e for about $5,000. And extremely clean low mileage examples are available for less than $10,000. Other models that are equally affordable are the Chevy Spark EV and the Ford Focus EV. Clean accident free examples of the Volkswagen e-Golf tend to cost a little more. Buyers should know that the purchase of used EVs does not qualify for the Federal Tax Credit or any State Tax Credits that help fuel the purchase of many new electric cars. 

Which used electric cars offer the most battery range? 

If battery range is your number one priority then we have one word for you, Tesla, Tesla, Tesla. The Tesla Model 3, Model S and Model X get more range than most other used electric cars available. They also cost more than other electric models, but for many buyers the additional range, and the cache of the Tesla brand, is worth it. If a used Tesla isn’t a practical option and you still want significantly more than about 100 miles of range, check out used examples of the Chevrolet Bolt EV. No, not the Volt, which is a plug in hybrid, the Chevrolet Bolt, which is a full electric. It’s been on the market since 2017 and the roomy hatchback offers a driving range of about 238 miles. Whatever brand and model you decide is best for you, buying a used electric car currently makes a lot of sense for a growing number of people. More and more Americans have figured out that used electric cars aren’t just fun to drive, but they’re affordable and they don’t cost much to keep them driving down the road.