RateWorks' Used Electric Vehicle Buying Guide
If you’re thinking about going electric, you’re not alone. In 2016, there were only 1.2 million electric cars in use around the world. By 2021 that number had grown to 11.3 million. Vehicle manufacturers are ramping up EV production, with some estimates saying that by 2035 almost a quarter of new cars will run on electric. But what about buying used electric cars?
Buying a new car isn’t always an option, especially if you’ve never had an EV before. Buying used can help you get used to charging up instead of fueling up, and calculating your battery range instead of how long your tank will last. Buying used electric cars is a great way to stay on budget, save money on gas, and get a feel for a new type of machine.
So what do you need to know?
Battery range and life
Buying used electric vehicles means understanding that the battery range will shorten over time in a process called battery degradation. Battery range may not be consistent through the year, either, due to climate, temperature, and use.
But if you can find a gently used EV that’s just come off lease, you’ll pay less than a new car and get a higher battery range than other used EVs on the lot. In this case, gently used means the car was mostly charged at home on a 120 Volt plug (a standard household plug) overnight. A battery that is charged with a DC charge (Direct Current), although faster, may degrade the battery faster.
The good news is that though your battery range may shorten, the battery is unlikely to die completely. When under warranty, batteries can usually be replaced when they reach under 70-75% capacity, but check the warranty and have the seller walk you through that portion.
EVs come with battery warranties, sometimes of 8-10 years, so you should ask about how many years the battery has left on the warranty, or if anything has happened to take the battery out of warranty. You can also purchase a secondary warranty to cover you if the manufacturer's warranty is almost up.
If you do need to replace the battery outside of the warranty, you’ll be looking at a significant cost. A dealership might quote you $2,700 to upwards of $17,000 to replace a battery. So before you purchase a used electric vehicle, ask about the car’s battery life, maintenance record, and health.
If you plan to charge your vehicle while you’re at work, or if you will need to charge midway through the day during errands, you’ll want to think about the speed of charging. Some cars come with adapters or plug types that make charging fast and efficient. Some older used electric cars don’t have those options. That may make them less expensive, but you’ll have to rely on charging at home overnight.
Direct Current charge time is faster, but just how fast depends on the car itself. Consumer reports notes that “Current EVs span in their maximum charging rate from 50 kW for a Chevrolet Bolt to 300 kW for the Lucid Air.” They tested to see how much time it would take to charge a car from 30% battery to 80% battery, and then how many miles of range that would produce.
They found that cars like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Tesla Model Y, and the VW ID.4 needed roughly half an hour to charge. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 SEL needed only 16 minutes. That charge time got all the cars an extra 100-150 miles of range.
But remember that DC chargers aren’t always available where you are when you need them. These represent optimal conditions; instead of stopping at the gas station on your way home and taking an extra five minutes, you’ll need to plan your trip with a top-up in mind.
Cost difference between used and new EVs
Used EVs saw astronomical price increases during the pandemic. Prices for used EVs are now starting to come back to where they were. This is good news for used car buyers, as it makes cars with more inherent risk more affordable.
So what are some sample price differences? Here are some examples:
Used car prices based on mid Atlantic market from https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/used-cars, Sourced 2/17/2023
“These prices all depend on the wear and tear of the vehicle, the battery health, and the market that the car is in.”
List of best used EVs
Check out Mototrend’s full list of their best used EVs from October 2022. Here are six of our favorites:
1. Tesla Model 3
- Teslas are usually really pricey, but you can find 2017 or 2018 Model 3s for $~37k. Be careful of the quality of the specific car you’re interested in. Make note of squeaks, rattles, and glitches during your test drive, and get a mechanic to go over the car thoroughly.
2. Chevrolet Bolt
- Chevy had to sort out some issues with their batteries when this model first rolled out, so make sure you guarantee that the dealership has replaced the battery packs on the vehicle you’re interested in. 2019 bolts can get 238 miles of range, which isn’t bad.
3. Nissan Leaf
- An affordable option, Leafs before 2018 had a low mileage range. This is fine if you don't need to drive that often or that long. For greater mileage, look for a Leaf from 2019 or more recent.
4. Audi E-Tron SUV
- The Audi E-Tron is a luxury car that drives well but offers less than 200 miles of range, so savvy buyers can get a luxury vehicle without the luxury price tag.
5. Hyundai Kona Electric
- The Kona came out in 2019, and has a competitive range of 258 miles. It’s fun to drive but has a small interior.
6. Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- Great for everyday use, the Hyundai Ioniq has a relatively low range (124 miles for pre-2020 models, 170 for post-2020 models) but lots of cargo room and a quick charge-up rate. Its efficiency is what makes it stand out.
So is buying a used electric car better?
Better is in the eye of the beholder. Buying a used EV tends to be more affordable, and if you’re smart about how you shop, you can still get a great mileage range.