Buying a used electric car

Cheap to buy - and you'll never need to visit a petrol station. Here's how to buy a used electric car

Chris Knapman
Apr 10, 2018

Electric cars are infamously expensive to buy new, thanks to their costly battery packs which can cancel out many of the savings that you’ll make on fuel.

So buying a used electric vehicle (EV) that could be half the price of a new model - or less - makes a lot of sense, especially when combined with the tax, fuel and servicing savings that an electric car also brings.

Although you won’t benefit from the government’s new car plug-in grant, prices are still competitive and the cars are proving extremely reliable with batteries backed by warranties that last for up to eight years.

Running costs are much cheaper than for a petrol or diesel car, there are benefits to local air quality and EVs are generally good to drive.

 

All of this means that demand for electric cars are increasing too. When the first Nissan Leaf was launched in 2011, buyers were wary of the new technology, and manufacturers were focused on selling new, rather than used electric cars, according to Andrew Mee, senior forecasting editor at car valuation firm cap hpi.

“These elements have now changed,” says Mee. “Used buyer perception is more positive, technology has improved and proven itself, and manufacturers and dealers are now much more geared to selling used electric cars to the right buyer.”

As a result, says Mee, the used value of electric cars is now starting to increase, so there may be a limited time to grab a bargain. Scroll down for our guide to getting an electric car that's right for you.

Buying a used electric car: the good

✔ They can represent good value
✔ All the zero local emissions benefits of a new EV
✔ Batteries are proving to be very durable

Buying a used electric car: the not-so-good

Hard to check battery condition
Battery hire agreements not always clearly advertised
Same infrastructure limitations as any other EV

 

Find the right used electric car

Ignore what's powering the car's wheels for a moment and ensure that the car is right for you: opt for a Renault Zoe or Volkswagen e-up! and boot space could be a struggle. There's more of that in the Nissan Leaf, but you could have a higher driving position if you can find a rare Kia Soul EV, or a considerably more expensive Jaguar I-Pace.

Then it is worth considering the electrics, particularly the range. It may not even be a concern if you only cover 30 or 40 miles a day, but longer journeys might require the latest Nissan Leaf or a large-capacity Tesla. If you're likely to use public charging, then it's worth ensuring that your car is compatible with rapid chargers, which can top up the battery to 80% of its capacity in 35 minutes in some cases.

Finally, you should check that you're buying the car that you think you are. There has been rapid progress in the development of electric car technology, which means that cars are regularly updated. For example, the Renault Zoe went on sale in 2013. In 2015, it gained a better motor, known as R240, which increased the car's realistic range between charges from 71 to 106 miles, according to Renault.

The following year, Renault updated the car again offering a new battery, called Z.E.40, with a real-world range of between 124 and 186 miles. This year, the car has been renewed yet again with a more powerful motor and the same range. You can check our buying guides for more information on the the changes to each car throughout its lifetime.

  

Battery hire barriers

Some EVs such as first generation Nissan Leafs and Renault Zoes were sold without a battery, which owners instead hired separately. The theory was that this made the cars look cheaper to buy and would also protect owners from shelling out thousands of pounds for a new battery in the event that the original failed.

But what happens when these battery hire cars move into the used market? The short answer is that the new owner must continue to lease a battery, which costs from £50 a month. Fair enough, you might think, except that while the car itself has lost value the battery hire continues to cost the same, making running costs disproportionate to the value of the car.

As a result it is very important to clarify with a seller whether an EV is on a battery hire arrangement or what is described as ‘battery owned’, meaning the price of the car includes the battery.

 

Check the used car battery agreement

Most electric cars come with a warranty for the vehicle and a separate (usually longer) one for the battery pack. These vary, with manufacturers offering different levels of protection. Renault, or example, offers five years of cover on electric cars where the battery is owned, up to a maximum of 60,000 miles. This includes a guarantee against battery degradation: if your battery drops below 70% of its capacity when new, Renault will repair or replace it (the limit is slightly lower on some versions of the Kangoo Z.E. van.

BMW’s battery warranty lasts for a maximum of eight years or 100,000 miles and comes with the same 70% capacity guarantee. Nissan’s eight year, 100,000 mile battery warranty is less transparent: if the capacity drops below nine bars on the car’s 12 bar gauge, then the battery will be repaired or replaced, but it’s no clear whether each bar represents the same proportion of capacity.

Tesla’s eight year, unlimited mileage warranty sounds like the most generous of the lot, but it doesn’t include any battery capacity guarantee. That said, in 2016, a group of Tesla owners monitored 286 of their members’ cars and found that over 200,000 miles, a battery was likely to lose no more than 5% of its capacity. That’s no guarantee of the latest models’ performance, though.

   

Servicing a used electric car

The good news is that electric cars have far fewer components than those with an engine, so there’s less to go wrong and no oil changes needed.

However, finding a specialist with the training to service a high-voltage car, may not be straightforward and you may be restricted to the main dealer network, which is often more expensive than visiting an independent mechanic.

 

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