What you need to know before buying a used electric car

Buying a used car is a challenging experience, and buying a used electric car is no exception. Since electric vehicles are relatively new entrants to the auto market, the majority of EV sales are from new cars—unlike gasoline cars, where 70% of U.S. vehicle sales are used cars.

As the electric vehicle market grows, the percentage of used cars for sale also increases. Knowing what to look for and what to avoid will help you navigate this growing market.

Why buy a used electric car?

Similar to buying a gas car, buying a used electric car comes with potential uncertainties about the car’s prior use and condition, as well as a variety of places to make the purchase. But don’t let that deter you – there are plenty of good reasons to buy a used electric car.

sufficient range

While older electric cars have a lower range than newer models, developments in the range of cars have plateaued in recent years; Manufacturers realize that few people need cars with a range of 200 miles or more. Also, as public charging stations for electric vehicles are becoming more plentiful, “range anxiety” is not a concern for electric vehicle buyers.

The average American driver only drives 29 miles a day, so an old electric vehicle with less than 100 miles of range may be all you need for your daily or even weekly needs. And if you have an easily accessible electric vehicle charging, you might be able to charge your car overnight and have it meet your commute needs in the morning.

If you rarely take long trips in a car, you may find it cheaper to rent a petrol car (or a better range electric car) than to spend more on a car with more range that you rarely use.

Nissan Leaf.
Smith Group/Gado/Getty Images

hidden deals

Due to the rapid pace of advances in battery technology, electric vehicles are depreciating faster than gasoline-powered cars, so you are more likely to find a bargain. For example, the 2015 Nissan Leaf with 84 miles of range lost more than 70% of its original purchase price by 2021, in large part because newer models had a range of more than 200 miles. (This is not the case with the latest electric cars, however, because they are in high demand. A late-model Tesla Model 3 can cost more than a brand new model.)

low range low

Studies have shown that electric vehicle batteries lose approximately 2.3% of their energy annually. However, the range displayed on the new electric vehicle’s dashboard is approximately 80% of the battery’s total physical energy capacity – which means about 20% of the battery’s total capacity is reserved to protect the battery.

As an electric vehicle ages, EV software reduces the vehicle’s reserved power to maintain as much of the vehicle’s original range as possible.

Low operating costs

Whether it is new or used, running a car with electricity is always cheaper than running it with gasoline, and the price of electricity is more stable and predictable than the price of gas. Moreover, with age, electric vehicles lose fuel efficiency much slower than gasoline-powered cars. Consumer Reports It found that a five- to seven-year-old used electric car saved owners two to three times more fuel costs than a new electric car saved compared to a new gas-powered car.

With fewer moving parts than gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles are on average lower in maintenance costs and last longer. Consumer Reports It is estimated that, on average, the cost of maintaining an electric vehicle is about $0.03 per mile—half the cost of maintaining a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Tax exemptions for used electric vehicles

The purchase of a used electric vehicle qualifies for tax credits from the federal government. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August 2022, contains a requirement for a 30% tax credit for the purchase of a used electric vehicle — with some limitations:

  • The total tax credit is limited to a maximum of $4,000.
  • The selling price of the vehicle must be $25,000 or less.
  • The car must be purchased from a dealer.
  • The vehicle must be a model year or older when sold.
  • The tax credit can only be used once during the life of the vehicle.
  • The buyer must wait three years before using the same tax credit again.

There are also income restrictions for buyers of used electric vehicles who claim the tax credit:

  • $75,000 for individuals.
  • $112,500 for heads of household.
  • $150,000 for shared files.

Fortunately, dealers can apply the tax credit to lower the vehicle’s selling price, which means buyers don’t have to wait until they file their tax return to get the credit.

Cost factors Gas powered cars Used EV
Purchasing price $23653.00 $20,914.00
fuel per year USD 1434.52 $573.81
Annual maintenance 1,017,12 USD $508.56
the total cost $40814.51 $28490.59

Tips on buying a used electric car

Dashboard screen on an electric car.
Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

In many ways, buying a used electric car is like buying a gasoline car: you’ll want to know the ownership history, maintenance, and recalls. You may also want to take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic to have it checked. But as with buying a new electric car, there are things to look out for that are unique to buying a used electric car.

dealer vs private sale

You can search all the usual places for a used car, including websites like CarGurus or CarMax, Craigslist, and other sites for sale by owner. But to get a potential $4,000 tax credit when you buy a used electric vehicle for less than $25,000, you need to buy it from a dealer. It may be better to buy a more expensive car from a private seller.

Check the range

Before seeing a potential electric car in person, check out the original range of the car when it was new. If the potential EV is not fully charged when checked, the EV’s instrument cluster will not only tell you the available current range but the percentage of battery charge. Calculate the vehicle’s current maximum range, then compare it to its original range.

Extreme and cold temperatures can affect a vehicle’s range an average of 12%. This can be more of a factor for an electric vehicle in use as it likely has a really low range. If you live in these extremes, subtract 12% from the EV’s specified range to ensure it’s the right vehicle for your driving needs.

Check warranty

As with gasoline cars, different EV parts come with different warranties. The federal government requires electric vehicle manufacturers to issue a minimum eight-year/80,000-mile battery warranty. In California, that mandate is 10 years/150,000 miles.

However, not all warranties are transferable to subsequent owners. With a vehicle identification number, you can ask the customer service department of the car manufacturer to give you details about what is covered and what is not.

Check charging capabilities

Silmore / Getty Images

EV charging can have a steep learning curve, although once you’ve settled into a pattern it can be as simple as charging your phone. Make sure your vehicle is equipped with charging cables and that you understand what type of charging connector(s) it has since there is no universal charging port.

Some electric vehicles can support DC fast charging at public charging stations, while others cannot. You may also find that your neighborhood has a few public charging stations with the type of charging port a potential electric vehicle requires.

While any EV can be charged with a regular 120-volt outlet, you’ll want to purchase the right kind of charging station if you plan to install a high-speed charging station at home.

Consider the end of life

Often people who change cars think about the resale value of a used car before they buy it, hoping to get the most money back when they sell it. However, as noted above, EV generally declines more quickly than a gasoline car, although this may not be the case with newer models.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can used electric car batteries be replaced?

    The EV battery will likely last longer than the rest of the vehicle. However, if the battery needs to be replaced, the cost can be prohibitive, especially if you don’t pay a large upfront price for your car. You can reduce losses by reselling or reusing your battery as a residential energy storage device.

  • Can used electric vehicle batteries be recycled?

    Electric vehicle batteries can already be recycled. Although the electric car battery recycling industry is still in its infancy, it is growing rapidly and may be available to you by the time the battery gives up its specter.

  • Are there other incentives available for used electric cars?

    Check with state and local governments, as well as your local electric utility, for availability and standards for any incentives. You can also check the State Incentives Database for Renewables and Efficiency. The combination of federal and state incentives may make buying a new electric car instead of buying a used one. Other perks may also apply, such as access to carpool lanes, reduced registration fees, or vehicle taxes.

  1. Iganovich, Amila. Electric cars: a solution or a new problem? Environment, development and sustainability 20 (2018), 7-22. https://doi-org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10668-018-0190-3.

  2. Harteau, Chris. Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs: Electric vehicles today offer significant savings to consumers. Consumer ReportsOctober 2020.

  3. Based on the average selling price of a used sedan. CarGurus, “Used Car Price Trends,” 2022, Sedan.

  4. Based on average Nissan Leaf price, March 2022, minus a $4,000 tax credit.

  5. A small sedan assumes 11,467 vehicle miles per year at 14.37 cents/mile for fuel and 10.64 cents/mile for maintenance. U.S. Department of Energy, “Average Annual Vehicle Miles Driven by Major Vehicle Class;” American Automobile Association, “Your Driving Costs,” 2022.

  6. Electric cars are 60% cheaper to fuel than gasoline cars and 50% to maintain, according to Consumer Reports.

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