A used 2019 Nissan Leaf SV on the 2022 lot during the chip shortage that depleted new car supplies.
Boston Globe | Boston Globe | Getty Images
Affordable electric cars have been sold in the US for more than a decade, and data analytics company Experian says about 2.2 million were on the road at the end of last year. Sales of electric vehicles also continue to grow. In 2021, total sales of battery electric vehicles in the U.S. were below 450,000, but Kelley Blue Book says sales topped 800,000 in 2022 and are expected to top one million this year. Although the used EV market is still very small, the growth trajectory of EV sales means that shopping for a used electric vehicle will become more common and easier over time, and will include more choices of brands and models.
In many ways, shopping for a used electric vehicle is the same as shopping for any other used car or truck. Does it fit your budget and fit your lifestyle? Is it reliable and convenient? But beyond those criteria, there are some specific considerations EV buyers should make related to charging options and range.
Here are some of the key EV-specific issues to consider.
Loading remains limited in many areas
There are currently about 145,000 gas stations in the US, but only 53,000 public charging stations. While charging infrastructure is improving, it’s still limited in many parts of the country, which could be a problem for someone looking to go electric. While this is an issue with any electric car purchase, new or used, it’s important to understand before you get into how it informs your used electric car purchase decision.
Consumers should determine what range they need, then research EVs that fit that, said Tom McParland, a writer for Jalopnik who runs the vehicle-buying service Automatch Consulting. They also need to consider what type of charging infrastructure is available in their area and whether home charging is feasible, he said.
Chris Harto, senior energy policy analyst for Consumer Reports, noted that buyers should set realistic expectations. “Ask yourself where and when you’re going to charge,” he said. “If your answer is that there’s nowhere to charge it while you’re at home or at work, you might want to consider a wider range of car types, including hybrids, which can offer outstanding fuel economy and low maintenance costs. “
Your driving habits and mileage matter
Some expensive EVs boast such impressive range that charging infrastructure may never be an issue, such as Clear Air (EPA range estimate: up to 516 miles) and Tesla Model S (up to 405 miles). However, more affordable electric vehicles tend to have lower mileage.
Battery electric vehicles with list prices below $35,000, such as GMThe Chevy Bolt EV and Hyundai Kona Electric have an EPA range of nearly 260 miles, but are unlikely to get that far in real-world driving conditions. This is especially true in cold weather, which can interfere with the electrochemical reactions inside the batteries.
The EV range will decrease
This is where general battery considerations when going electric become a more specific concern. EV mileage is likely to deteriorate over time.
Batteries can lose 5% to 10% of their capacity in the first five years and continue to deteriorate thereafter due to a variety of factors, including age, exposure to extreme temperatures and the use of fast charging. If the deterioration is excessive, you may need to repair or replace the battery, which can be expensive.
Batteries are also one of the most expensive parts of an EV and can cost upwards of $10,000 to replace, but federal rules require they be covered by a warranty for at least eight years or 100,000 miles, so buyers looking at a lightly used BEV , probably still has coverage left. Plus, even a well-used battery may still have enough capacity to meet your needs.
It is difficult to measure the exact battery life
Determining the exact condition of a used BEV battery can be difficult – the US auto industry does not have a standard set of metrics for measuring it. But there are still ways to get a general idea of battery health.
Recurrent, a Seattle startup partnering with automotive site Edmunds, offers EV and plug-in hybrid users a free prediction of remaining battery life based on statistics gathered from mileage, age, climate and other factors.
A long test drive can also give you an idea of the battery’s health because you can observe how quickly it loses charge. This is especially true if it involves sustained driving at highway speeds, which tends to drain batteries much faster than stop-and-go driving.
As with all used car purchases, getting a professional inspection can be worth the price. “In general, I recommend that consumers visit the service departments of the dealerships they sell to [EVs]said Ronald Montoya, Edmunds senior editor of consumer advice. “Compared to independent mechanics, you can be sure that dealership mechanics have been trained in [EVs] from the manufacturer,” he said.
Electric vehicles depreciate faster but require less maintenance
Electric cars typically depreciate faster than ICE vehicles, according to Kelley’s Blue Book. The automotive research company says three-year-old EVs hold 63% of their value, compared to 66% for vehicles using internal combustion. Depreciation after five years is even more pronounced, with EVs holding 37% of their original value and ICE vehicles 46%.
This depreciation can make used EVs a good deal compared to buying new, but don’t be surprised if the price is still high – many EVs are expensive to begin with.
The average used EV sold for $42,895 in March, noted Kelley Blue Book Executive Editor Brian Moody. That’s down 1.8 percent from February, but still significantly higher than the used vehicle market as a whole, where prices averaged just over $27,000 in the first quarter.
However, low maintenance costs can help offset the higher purchase price. Consumer Reports found that EVs cost half as much to repair and maintain as gas-powered vehicles. “[EVs] they don’t have fluids to change, and electric motors are less complicated than gasoline and diesel engines,” noted Benjamin Preston, the organization’s automotive reporter. “Simply put, there are fewer things that can wear out.”
He pointed to a recent study showing that EVs cost less to own over time than gas-powered cars. The study found that used EVs can save even more than new ones. That’s because depreciation reduces the EV’s price premium, but used car buyers still get the same fuel and maintenance savings.
Qualifying for the used electric car tax credit
In addition to these benefits, a used EV may qualify for state and federal incentives.
Used EVs (plus plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles) purchased for up to $25,000 from a licensed dealer can qualify for up to $4,000 in federal tax credits. Learn more from the IRS.
Many states also have their own tax credits. See what each state has to offer in Kelley Blue Book.
Where are the used EV deals
Higher priced models are often better value in the used car market.
“The luxury [EV] space is where buyers will find the best value for their dollar, especially in the sedan segment,” McParland said. “If you look at models like the Audi e-tron GT or the Volvo S90 T8 PHEV, you can really benefit from some depreciation . “
Luxury vehicles often depreciate faster than the mainstream market, he said, adding that changes in federal tax credits are also impacting the luxury EV market. (Among other requirements, the federal tax credits for new plug-in hybrids, fuel cell electric vehicles and full batteries only apply to SUVs under $80,000 and cars under $55,000.)
Another attractive option is Tesla’s Model 3, which boasts plenty of room for a family of four and up to 358 miles of range. Used Tesla prices have been falling since 2022, with used Model 3s selling for less than $43,000 in the first quarter.
For buyers on a budget, the best deals are models including the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV that offer a good mix of mileage and relative affordability, according to Montoya.
“The best value is electric cars that are either old and out of warranty, and those that were cheap — relatively — when they were new,” Moody said.