Why You Should Consider a Used EV if You Have a Short Commute

Older, more affordable EVs may have found their calling.

Red 2014 Nissan LeafNissan


Just like your smartphone doesn't seem to hold a charge as well as it did when it was new, aged electric vehicles experience battery degradation. Losing a few miles of range in a vehicle originally rated for 300 miles on a full battery might not be a big deal, but it's a different story when it comes to the earliest EVs.

The original 2011 Nissan Leaf offered just 73 miles on a full battery when it was new. That's about 230 miles less than a new Nissan Ariya. The archaic battery-cooling tech in the Leaf led to a 20% driving range loss in just five years of use.

Now that they're a dozen years old, these old EVs may seem borderline useless with about 40 or 50 miles of estimated range. They're not ready for the junkyard just yet, though.

Unlike a 2010-era Apple iPhone 4, which was last supported by its maker in 2014, the earliest Nissan Leaf models can still perform a viable version of their original purpose. The Leaf remains capable of offering commuter-car transportation — albeit one with considerable limitations.

EVs Are Better at Short Commutes

Internal-combustion engines (ICE) typically operate best when they've had time to warm up. Once at operating temperature on the road, tailpipes spew fewer noxious emissions and oil lubricates an ICE's internals most effectively.

That's not the case with electric cars. Just like your vacuum cleaner, EVs are ready to go immediately when they're turned on. Unless you need to warm up or cool down the interior, electric cars don't need to be preconditioned before a drive. You can simply hop in and go.

Statistically Speaking, an Old EV Can Probably Handle Your Commute

If you're only going to use an EV as a short-distance, in-town runabout, massive battery degradation may not matter.

The median one-way commute in most states is somewhere between 5 and 10 miles, which is well within the range of a typical used EV. The math is simple: If you drive 15 miles a day and you find a used Leaf that still offers 40 miles of estimated range, you should only need to charge it every other day.

Those in extremely hot or cold climates, however, might want to plan for more charging. Older EVs lack the heat pumps and liquid-cooled batteries that make winter or summer range anxiety largely a non-issue in today's latest electric models.

Old EVs Cost Little for What They Deliver

In terms of metal for the money, an older electric car makes an exceptional value. We looked at Kelley Blue Book private-party values for EVs in good condition that had been driven around 7,000 miles a year and found these examples (using a Southern California ZIP code for consistency):

  • 2011 Nissan Leaf SV for about $4,000
  • 2014 Fiat 500e for around $6,000
  • 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV 1LT for around $10,000
  • 2015 BMW i3 for about $11,000
  • 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL for around $12,000

Those EVs cost less than a new four-seat golf cart, and they offer considerably more comfort, with power windows and locks, climate control, multiple airbags, and even a decent stereo. Besides that, they're street legal across the country.

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz has had cars in his blood ever since he gnawed the paint off of a diecast model as a toddler. After growing up in Dallas, Texas, he earned a journalism degree, worked in public relations for two manufacturers, and served as an editor for a luxury-lifestyle print publication and several well-known automotive websites. In his free time, Andrew loves exploring the Rocky Mountains' best back roads—when he’s not browsing ads for his next car purchase.