Should I buy a used electric car?
Last week we brought you the low down on buying a new electric car; this time we’re turning our attention to the used EV (electric vehicle) market. Much of what was written in last week’s article also applies to used EVs, and for potential buyers the considerations are largely the same. However, if you’re buying a used EV, unless it’s an almost-new model you’ll probably be taking on a car that’s already outclassed by newer arrivals, thanks to the pace of change within the segment.
However, just because newer, better EVs are now in the showrooms, it doesn’t follow that the two-, three- or four-year old model that you might buy instead is unfit for purpose. It might be just as well suited to your needs, yet you’ll be able to buy it at a much lower price than its first owner did.
Usability, range and charging
It’s amazing how quickly things have improved in the world of EVs, when it comes to packaging and costs. Just within the past few years we’ve seen the arrival of battery packs that are generally bigger than before, but the more advanced tech that they incorporate means they’re capable of providing a disproportionately greater range. So if you buy a used EV you’ll almost certainly have to live with a range that’s not very great, and as a result the section about charging convenience in our previous article is even more relevant.
Things are compounded by the fact that as a battery pack ages it degrades, so it delivers a shorter range than when new. Some early EVs were doing well to keep going for 100 miles, especially in the winter. Batteries don’t like the cold as they don’t hold their charge so well, and in the winter you’re also invariably driving with lights, wipers and heater going at full tilt, which only increases the rate at which the battery goes flat.
Despite all this you might well find that the range is ample for your needs. Even an early Nissan Leaf should be able to give 60-80 miles at minimal cost in terms of fuel. The thing is, some early EVs can be bought for peanuts, which neatly brings us to…
Much of what applies to buying a new EV applies here, which means free road tax, Congestion Charge and Clean Air Zone exemptions, potentially free parking and possibly even free electricity depending on where you recharge. Servicing costs should be low thanks to an EV’s simplicity, and an added bonus is a lower purchase price than when buying new; early Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes can be bought for as little as £7000.
When buying an older EV ensure the battery pack is included because it might not be. Some packs were leased in a bid to reduce the initial purchase price, and you’ll have this monthly cost to factor into the equation. Renault was the brand most likely to offer a lease option; it wasn’t possible to buy a Twizy’s batteries outright for example, but the Zoe’s pack could be leased or purchased. Buy a car with leased batteries and you could easily end up paying an extra £70 per month.
Perhaps the biggest carrot for many buyers is the cost of fuel. If you have solar panels on your house you could charge your EV for free, but even if you’re paying it’ll cost you much less than if you were filling up at the pumps. The original Nissan Leaf has a 24kWh battery pack which costs around £3 to fully charge from empty; an equivalent petrol-powered car is likely to cost more like £10 to cover those 60-80 miles.
Buy a more recent car with a 90kWh battery pack, such as a Jaguar i-Pace or a Tesla Model S and it’ll cost around £12 to fully charge it. That should give you a real-world range of 250 miles or so; do that in a 40mpg diesel alternative and it’ll cost you almost £37 – so three times as much in fuel costs.
The bottom line is that an EV should cost around 3-5p per mile to run in terms of the electricity used; you’ll be doing well to run any ICE car for much less than 12p per mile and that’s if it does 50mpg. If the car does more like 30mpg you’re looking at fuel costs of 20p per mile.
One thing to bear in mind is that as petrol and diesel cars get older, the rate at which they lose value slows down. But for an electric car the opposite is likely to be true; the older it gets, the faster it depreciates because the cost of replacing a battery pack is disproportionately high compared with the car’s value. So in the short term a used electric car can make an excellent used buy. Whether it proves to be a money-saving move in the longer term remains to be seen.
Although this is something that puts off many potential buyers, an EV’s simplicity means it should be far more reliable than any conventional car. That’s with the exception of the electronic control systems and it’s these that could lead to you being left stranded or facing ownership problems. Increasingly it’s the electronics that mar a car’s reliability, rather than mechanical glitches, but that’s the case for any car.
The killer for many buyers is how long the battery pack will last. So far they seem to be holding up pretty well, with failure seemingly very unusual. That’s just as well because any battery pack will cost thousands to replace, although it can be possible to replace individual cells rather than an entire pack, which slashes repair costs. How many times the pack has been recharged and whether or not it’s been left discharged for any long periods of time will have had an impact on its health, so buying an especially high- or low-mileage car is best avoided.
There’s one thing that we haven’t covered above, and that’s the driving experience. For many, the refinement and ease of driving is what clinches things, because driving an EV is so different from driving a car with a petrol or diesel engine.
However, while EVs are easy to drive, cheap to refuel, potentially very cheap to service and should be reliable, it’s hard to escape the fact that the battery packs could be a financial liability. That’s why you need to pin down what warranty comes with the car. Expect the balance of at least a five-year guarantee, but some came with as much as eight years, although in reality any pack should give at least a decade of service before it throws a wobbly.
The older the car you buy, the greater the danger of the battery pack failing as they degrade over time. You need to temper this with the price you’re paying, but if you fork out £7000 for an elderly Nissan Leaf of Renault Zoe and the batteries go, it’ll be on the margins of being economically viable to repair. Spend that £7k on a Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa instead, and you’re less likely to be hit with a huge repair bill in the next few years.
Note: If you’re thinking of buying a used EV, it’s important to run a background check, as you would with any secondhand car.
You can get a free MOT history check here.
Check if it’s stolen, a write-off, still on finance and a whole host of other information about its history with an hpi check
And… a free accurate car valuation will help make sure your negotiation game is strong.