It has been well over 20 years since the first mass-produced hybrid vehicles hit the market. Toyota’s Prius success helped to spur other carmakers to invest more in the development of improved range electric vehicles (EVs). Now anyone looking for an EV is spoilt for choice thanks to the slew of offerings from both established and new car brands.
However, another market is also opening up. The used electric car market. As newer arrivals offer better benefits, those that invested in earlier models are now looking to sell off their dated vehicles. And those looking to buy an EV on a budget do make for willing customers.
Much as with the traditional fuel-powered cars, the used option does come with its own share of pros and cons. Let’s discuss these issues that will have a bearing on whether or not to buy used.
Advantages of Used Electric Cars
Most people that buy used are typically looking for a bargain. And there is no better bargain than what the used EV market has to offer. Thanks to such factors as reduced starting prices on new EVs and the lower demand for EVs as compared to fuel-powered cars, the resale value is surprisingly low. Many older models can be snatched up for as little as £2,000-£5,000.
Another factor is that technology is rapidly evolving. Improved performance and features on newer vehicles have rendered older models far less attractive, and thus cheaper. This is bad news for the initial buyers but great for the subsequent buyers. The decline in value can vary based on age, with most EVs depreciating by as much as 30% within 3 years.
However, despite the lack of bells and whistles that new model EVs may offer, older cars are still better for the environment than fuel-powered options. You can rest assured that you are reducing your carbon footprint and doing the environment a favour by going electric.
The performance on these vehicles is also better than with gas-powered cars. Without engines, they run more quietly and with less vibration. And with fewer moving parts there is less chance of costly repairs and breakdowns. The service requirements on EVs are also much fewer and can be more generously spaced.
Because older model EVs have shorter ranges, their mileage also tends to be lower than gas-powered cars of a similar age. This makes it likely there will be less wear and tear to contend with.
Disadvantages of Used Electric Cars
As said, the steep decline in value of EVs is a downside for the initial buyers. Depending on such factors as length of use and mileage, they may not be as well compensated despite the savings on such costs as fuel and servicing, when compared with gas-powered cars.
Diminished battery performance is to be expected with EVs. Older models, in particular, would be worst affected and suffer a decline in range. Other factors that have been found to have a negative impact include high temperatures, fast speeds, and charging frequency. However, if the battery pack degrades past a certain point while still under warranty, the manufacturer may be obligated to replace it.
Carmakers do provide a warranty for their batteries. This is typically around 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. If the used car that is bought is past this warranty, then you risk having to foot the bill on your own if it fails. There may however be lease options available to help mitigate this expense. It is highly advisable to ensure that the warranty is transferable to the next owner.
With older models already having low range, it can be disappointing to experience a further reduction due to battery degradation. All while the latest models come with better batteries capable of much longer distances.
Despite the low cost attached to used EVs, this is not the only expense that buyers should factor in. Charging issues makes it advisable to install your own station at home. This is an added expense that increases the level of investment for used EV buyers. It can also become complicated if you lack your own driveway or reside in a flat.
Do I Get a Grant for Buying a Used Electric Car?
One of the reasons there has been a surge in EV sales has to do with government grants. Those buying new low emission vehicles may qualify for a government grant of up to £3,000. This, however, applies to only new vehicles and specific models.
However, both new and used EV buyers do qualify for the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS). This grant provides a £350 funding towards the installation of a home charge point station.
What To Check On When Buying A Used EV
If after weighing all the pros and cons you do decide to delve into the used EV market, you will need to be aware of what to look out for. Doing a little research is always advisable. Since we are talking of models that have been on the road for a while, you should be able to easily find plenty of expert and driver reviews. Take note of issues such as recalls in case there is a component that should have been replaced or repaired.
1. Car Battery
As mentioned, there are a host of issues when it comes to EV batteries. As they are the most important component of the vehicle, you will need to be discerning. As said, check on the warranty policy. Ensure that it is transferable and under what conditions.
It is advisable to get the battery checked at a specialist workshop or a dealership for the brand. This will provide valuable diagnostic data on such issues as range and capacity. Some brands do offer certificates that guarantee performance on their vehicles when being resold. This is a good way to ensure battery status and qualify for certain benefits in case of failures.
Verifying range will help in determining if the vehicle is suitable for your use, given your commuting needs. This testing will also ascertain what level of degradation the battery may have undergone. It may qualify for replacement. If already replaced, you need to ascertain if it was bought or under a lease arrangement. Several brands, like Mercedes Benz, do offer a leasing arrangement for those in need of a new battery. You may even find that replacing a few cells may be good enough to restore capacity.
2. Braking System
One of the most underutilized components of electric cars is the braking system. Thanks to the process of regenerative braking or recuperation, kinetic energy is redirected for use or storage rather than being lost through heat to the brake discs. Consequently, the brakes do suffer less wear and tear but tend to suffer a build-up of rust. A thorough check of the braking system is recommended for used EVs.
While EVs do not have as many moving parts requiring regular servicing as gas-powered cars, they still need regular checks. The seller should be able to provide car maintenance records that show regular checks and servicing. This information is also vital as it will track software updates that can even affect range and safety.
Do pay attention to parts that receive plenty of wear and tear. From tyres to wipers, do check on their condition. If worn, you may be able to negotiate for a cheaper price given that you will need to buy replacements.
You will need adequate access to a charging station to keep your EV running. Since there are grants available to used EV buyers, it is advisable to consider installing your own station at home, if permissible. It is more convenient and faster than using a domestic socket charger such as a 3-pin to type 2 charging cable or 3-pin to type 1 charging cable.
An evaluation of the vehicles charging capacity will let you know what kind of range to expect. This should guide you in ensuring what level of charge you need before setting out on your commute, or in looking for charging stations along the way that will help keep you on the move.
Also, check on the condition of the charging cord. Ensure it does not have any obvious signs of damage and plug it in to ensure it is in good working order. You can also have it checked when the battery is being tested.
5. Test Drive
Never simply rely on a picture. You need to take the car on a test drive to get a real-world feel of how it performs. Here are some of the most important aspects to consider on this drive and inspection.
- Ask the seller to have it fully charged when you come to test drive. You can compare the battery level at the end of the journey to see how well the capacity holds up. Try to pick a time when there is less traffic so you can vary speeds comfortably.
- Ask about the special features that make it distinct from gas-powered vehicles. Or look them up online before the test drive. Options such as driving modes can help you decide on the level of control you want while driving.
- Check the aesthetics. Ensure the exterior, seats and rest of the cabin are in reasonable condition.
- Be sure to roll up and down the windows. They should be moving smoothly and completely sealed when closed.
- Test out the sound system to ensure the speakers are working well and the audio features function.
- Make use of the braking system. Get a feel for the regenerative braking and how it can allow you to control speed by just manipulating the accelerator.
- Try out the air conditioning and heating systems to ensure they are performing as expected.
- Pay attention to any unusual sounds. EVs are typically quiet so any squeaking or other noise could indicate a problem.
- Alter the terrain. Be sure to use a route that allows you to drive over different types of surfaces, and around curves and corners. You will want to see that the EV is still comfortable to handle even under different driving conditions. Try to include some highway driving along the way. This way you can learn how it performs at higher speeds.
- If not accustomed to the size and shape of the vehicle, be sure to identify blind spots and how you may need to navigate them when performing such tasks as parking.
Recommended Second-Hand Electric Cars
2014-2016 Nissan Leaf (£5,000+)
As one of the bestselling EV models, it is no surprise that the Nissan Leaf is so highly sought after. This hatchback has been around since 2011 so should be an easy find in the resale market. The 2014-2016 models are a top choice thanks to a range of 84-107 miles, with later models traveling as much as 226 miles on a single charge. Newer models can achieve a top speed of about 93mph.
2014 Leafs have been recalled 5 times so ensure all the issues have been addressed. Older models are likely to have suffered more severe battery degradation, especially in hotter climates.
2013 Renault Zoe (£5,600+)
As the all-time second bestselling EV in the UK, the Renault Zoe is a great little hatchback with an impressive range of between 130-250 miles. It is another highly affordable option that offers the added benefit of a battery leasing program. However, despite this, it does not charge as fast as the Leaf.
It does handle well despite the battery being under the floor and creating a low centre of gravity. It is a simple safe and reliable choice of used EV. Be sure to check on the history of servicing as several models have had multiple recalls.
2015 Volkswagen E-Golf (£15,995+)
Another appealing hatchback, the E-golf has proven surprisingly spacious and easy to handle. The electric version of the classic and enduring VW Golf, it has a design that is quite familiar. Its early models could achieve a range of 83 miles on a single charge. Newer models can achieve as much as 186 miles.
Though the range may be limited on older models, the VW E-Golf is still a good buy thanks to its smooth driving performance and responsive motor. Be sure to run a battery health check and ensure all software updates and servicing.
BMW I3 (£11,990+)
This rear-wheel-drive hatchback is the first zero-emissions offering from the famed German brand. Its compact sporty design helped make it amongst the top-selling EVs in 2014-2016. Its 60Ah model achieves a range of about 120 miles, with its extender version able to achieve 186 miles.
BMW has done much to keep updating its software. Do check on its history of servicing and inspect for any damage to the body of the BMW I3. Its ultra-lightweight carbon fibre construction may make it costly to perform repairs.
2012 Tesla Model S (£30,000+)
The Model S is probably the best option for those looking to join this premium brand at a discount. Its sharp yet elegant exterior is a perfect complement to its smooth handling. It comes chockful of high-end features including autopilot navigation, over-the-air updates, and all-wheel drive. Though the interior is minimalist, it does come equipped with touchscreen controls, very much in keeping with its futuristic leanings.
Tesla’s Supercharger network offers the fastest charging times and is continually being expanded. Be sure to check that the car still maintains unlimited supercharging access. This model starts with a range of between 248-381 miles. Besides checking on the electrics and servicing history, do review warranty terms, especially on the battery that may come with an extension on resale.
Making the switch from gas-powered to electric can be a bit of a shock to the system. From the nearly silent driving experience to rarely needing to use the brake pedal, it takes some getting used to. We strongly recommend that first-timers consider renting an EV first.
Take a few days to get a feel for what it takes to drive and maintain an EV. From charging to handling, there are a few things that will feel different, but not unpleasantly so. It will also give you more confidence on what to look out for when you eventually begin shopping around for your own used EV.