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Used Electric Cars

By Michael Boxwell

For the first time in around 80 years, it is possible in many parts of the world to buy a used electric car.

What to Buy

Electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Tesla Model S and the Coda have been around for a few years. It's a buyer's market. A recent USA Today study found that battery-electric cars lose their original value fast, due not to any performance or quality issues but simply their status as a 'niche' purchase, which is good news for consumers looking for a used EV.

nissan leaf silver

The Nissan LEAF in particular, which remains the highest-selling EV on the mass-market, can be bought for a very good price after just two or three years of use. Typically retailing new for around $21,000 a three year old LEAF can be bought for around $9,000. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is also a popular family passenger car, particularly in states such as California, and can be bought used for an average of $7,000 after a few years.

For those looking for a luxury vehicle, growing numbers of the Tesla Model S are appearing on the market. Although these naturally come with a higher price tag they also, due to their luxury branding, retain their value for a lot longer. A used Model S retails on eBay for around $85,000 dollars, and sells new close to $100,000 (after rebate).

There will soon however be a cheaper option for those looking to purchase a used luxury EV, as Tesla recently announced plans to start a CPO program; Model S cars traded in by buyers next year will be serviced and resold as used by Tesla themselves in the range of $35-50,000. Still expensive, but a considerable drop from the original price. The benefits of buying a used car from the automaker themselves include warranties covering battery strength and a regular service.

What to Look For

red chevy volt

If you find an electric car for sale that you are interested in, it is worth finding out as much information about that particular make and model as possible.

Thankfully, the internet is an excellent resource for this sort of research and a lot of owners have posted reviews on their electric cars on various websites.

There are quite a few electric car clubs around the world. Some cater for a particular make or model, others cover all electric cars. Some are local, regional clubs; others cover a whole country or are worldwide.

Electric Auto Association in North America is the best-known car club. They also cater for electric car conversions, so if you're tempted by an electric Beetle on eBay, they're a good source of information to start with. There are also manufacturer-specific car clubs for most cars as well.

You will also find a number of web forums dedicated to electric cars. Join in. Ask questions; find out the good points and the bad points about the car you are interested in.

When you have found a particular vehicle you are interested in, it is important to make sure you inspect before you buy, and not purchase it unseen.

Most used electric cars have typically been bought as second vehicles. As a result, they are often available with very low odometer readings. 10,000-20,000 miles for a four or five-year-old car is not uncommon.

tesla roadster cockpit

Mechanically, there are a number of areas that you need to check when buying an electric car and so it is important to make sure you ask the seller the right questions. For example, the mechanical brakes tend to be underused on an electric car due to regenerative braking.

This underuse can lead to sticking brakes, where one or more of the wheel brakes does not release when the brake pedal is lifted. This issue affects the performance and range of the car, as well as wearing out the brakes prematurely. Ask the owner if they have had any problems with sticking brakes. Also make sure you test the brakes properly when test-driving an electric car.

Here are a few questions that you should ask:

  • What is the performance like?
  • What range will the car do with good batteries?
  • What range will the car do in winter? (Most electric cars will have a reduced range in extreme cold.)
  • What is the heating and/or cooling like?

When you arrange to inspect an electric car that is for sale, ask for the car to be fully charged before you arrive and ensure that you can carry out a lengthy test drive in order to assess the performance and range of the car.

To make sure you do not run out of charge, it is worth ensuring that you remain close to the seller's location when carrying out these tests as the batteries are running down. If there are battery problems, they can fail quite suddenly and you do not want to end up stranded a long way from base if that happens!

If the batteries are failing, you will need to factor the cost of a new set of batteries into the purchase price of the vehicle.

Servicing Your Used Electric Car

ford focus electric under hood

Electric cars do need specialist servicing. If you are buying a mainstream model, this should not be a problem as your local dealer will be able to help you. Check that they have the facilities for servicing electric cars, however, as it is by no means universal.

A few of the more specialist electric vehicle companies that were around a few years ago, such as Coda, no longer exist. There are specialist companies set up by ex-employees who can provide servicing and spare parts for these models. Do check that they can cover your area, however.

Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to live close to an electric car specialist, it is a good idea to let them service your car for you.

What are you waiting for?

If you want an electric car but have been put off by the high purchase price, now is a great time to see what used bargains there are to be had. They cost a couple of cents per mile to run, they're fun to drive and enough have been sold to ensure a good supply of used models near you. Happy Driving!

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