Buying A Used Electric Car: How to Find a Great One
With many new electric cars entering the market, the number of used EVs is also growing. Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to buy one.
As carmakers sell more and more new electric vehicles, the number of used EVs on the market is following close behind. If you’re looking to buy a new-to-you car, the improving variety and capabilities of used electric vehicles may mean a gas-free car is now a viable option. When shopping for a used EV, the most important rule of used-car buying is unchanged: Your top priority should be finding a vehicle that has been properly maintained and well cared for. But beyond that, there are some EV-specific considerations to keep in mind when buying a used electric car.
Battery Health and Charging
The heart of an EV is its battery. Since the battery is quite expensive—often more than $10,000—it’s vital to ensure its health is good. “Most car dealers will know how to find the battery's state of health (SoH), but if you'd like to verify this yourself, you can look in the car’s settings,” says electric vehicle expert
When the battery is fully charged, you should also compare the range listed by the manufacturer with the current estimated range. While it’s normal for the range to fall short of the original window-sticker figure, a significant difference may be cause for concern. Degradation of around 2% a year is average, but factors like weather and how the battery was cared for can increase this number. Extreme heat tends to degrade the battery quicker, making the purchase of an electric car in regions with sweltering summers riskier, especially if the vehicle is regularly parked outdoors.
When buying a used electric car, charging ability is a critical consideration. Electric vehicles have three levels of charging. All EVs are capable of Level 1 charging, which uses a 120-volt cable that plugs into a normal household outlet and adds only a few miles of driving range for every hour charged. Level 2 charging, which uses a 240-volt circuit, is also universal among EVs. Many owners install dedicated circuits in their garages to add roughly 20 to 30 miles per hour with Level 2 charging.
Level 3 is what’s known as fast charging, and on some older EV models it was either optional or not offered at all. If you plan to drive long distances, you’ll want a vehicle with Level 3 charging, and you should also know that not all Level 3 charging is equal. The maximum charging power can range from 50 kW to 350 kW, depending on the vehicle; higher power reduces the charging time. Tesla claims its vehicles can add as much as 200 miles of range in 15 minutes using its public Supercharger stations.
You want to be sure the seller will provide you with a charging cable. At minimum, this might be a Level 1 cord, but some new EVs are sold with cables that work for both Level 1 and Level 2 charging. This can save you from having to spend several hundred dollars on a dedicated Level 2 charging unit.
For Level 3 charging, there are three standard connectors: CHAdeMO, which is found in the Nissan Leaf and a few other EVs from Japanese automakers; CCS, common in European and American vehicles such as the Rivian R1T, Volkswagen ID.4, and Ford Mustang Mach-E, and finally Tesla, which has a proprietary connector. While most non-Tesla charging stations currently offer both CHAdeMO and CCS compatibility, customers considering a vehicle that uses CHAdeMO may find their charging opportunities are limited in the future, as CCS is becoming a de facto standard among all brands except Tesla.
The Battery Warranty
Warranties are one of the easier parts of buying a used electric car, since EVs universally come with long coverage of the battery, which is the most expensive part of the car. While they come with at least an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty, “you should have the expectation that the vehicle’s range will likely be diminished relative to the range of the vehicle when it was brand new, due to EV battery degradation,” says Ronald Montoya, a senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.”
Some manufacturers specify how much degradation is normal before they’ll consider a battery “bad” and replace it under warranty. “Most manufacturers fall in the 60-70% range for expected degradation within a vehicle’s standard eight-year warranty period,” says Montoya. “Ford, Tesla, Nissan stand at 70%, while Chevrolet is at 60%.” Carefully research the vehicle you are considering and read the fine print.
The Electric Lifestyle
If you work from home, have a short commute, or generally don’t do a ton of driving, most EVs will likely work for you. On the other hand, if you do a lot of long-distance driving, you need to be pickier to avoid buyer’s remorse. Since EVs come in all shapes and sizes, finding one to fit your lifestyle is key. Consider your driving needs: EVs are limited by their range and available charging stations, plus charging time when you do find a station. Always buy more range than you think you need, because highway speeds, temperature extremes, and hilly terrain, among other things, will impact your real-world driving range.
The ability to charge at home is another important consideration. “Have an electrician look at your home to inspect the wiring and ensure your circuit breaker box can handle the energy consumption required from an EV,” says Montoya. If your home isn’t properly equipped, the cost of installing Level 2 charging equipment can increase several thousands of dollars, and you’ll want to consider whether an EV is the ideal car for you.
The Depreciation Factor
With few exceptions (and despite what Tesla CEO Elon Musk says), cars are depreciating assets, but electric vehicles have particularly steep depreciation because of the speed of innovation in the industry and the lifestyle changes required to buy one. That can lead to a limited pool of buyers for used models, which can actually help you get a much better deal.
According to Montoya, to get the best deals and avoid the largest depreciation hit, buy a used electric car that’s three or more years old. “The largest depreciation hits occur in the first two years. Once you're past that, depreciation levels off and the vehicle won't lose as much value.”
However, Shanahan says to stay focused on buying the best car for your needs and budget instead of getting stuck on how much the car will depreciate after you buy it.
Mileage and Maintenance
When it comes to maintenance and mileage, electric cars have a strong upper hand over vehicles with internal-combustion engines. Electric vehicles require very little maintenance, as the most common services like oil changes, tune-ups, and transmission services are unnecessary. Even the brake system doesn’t wear as quickly due to regenerative braking, which uses the motor to decelerate the vehicle.
Electric vehicles also tend to have much lower mileage than ICE vehicles of the same age, says Montoya. “Owners are less likely to take their EVs on long road trips due to the time required to charge,” he says. This keeps the likelihood of having major problems right away fairly low.