Buying a Used EV

two people checking out the hood plug of an electric car
  • 1-5 hours
  • Beginner
  • 5,000-50,000

What began as a product straight out of a sci-fi film is now an increasingly-available option for your daily commute. Electric vehicles are getting cheaper and more reliable, with longer ranges and more charging options. If you’re considering buying used, here's what to look for along the way.

Adjusting to Electric Cars

From a sustainability and financial standpoint, electric cars are appealing because they don’t rely on gasoline, which means no stops at the gas station or fuel costs. It also means EVs have far fewer parts, which makes them much less likely to need regular repairs.

Moreover, companies are starting to phase gas cars out because of the pollution they emit. Many places have decided to ban them entirely starting in ten or twenty years as of this writing. So in the long run, you might be better off adjusting to the new reality sooner rather than later.

The main thing this means at home is that you'll need a charging station, so call your electrician and price that in if this is your first EV purchase.

Where to Find Used Electric Vehicles

Now that they’ve been on the market for several years, used electric vehicles are more readily available than ever before. They can be found online, through dealerships, or from private parties.

What About the Battery?

lithium ion electric car battery pack

The EV battery pack is a major concern when buying new or used electric vehicles. That’s because, unlike a regular car battery, this system can cost $4,000-$15,000 to replace. Installation can tack on another $1,000-$4,000. But don’t let those numbers scare you off. First of all, electric car batteries can, and do, regularly last 200,000 miles. Depending on how many miles you put on the car, that can be between 10-17 years of driving.

Secondly, the warranties on electric vehicles commonly cover the battery for at least 100,000 miles, and a minimum of eight years. You’ll want to verify the warranty is transferable, but if you buy a used EV that’s a few years old, you’ll likely have a lot of coverage left. Terms of the warranties differ among manufacturers, so read the fine print. Some offer a complete coverage only if there’s a battery pack failure and others will cover costs if a battery capacity drops below 60% or 70%, for example. Also look at exclusions on the policy.

Speaking of battery capacity, it’s important to do some detective work around the health of your EV battery. Electric car batteries suffer from battery degradation. That means when a car is new, the expected battery range is at 100%. Once driven, that percentage begins to drop, which means the maximum mileage you can travel without recharging is affected. You can expect every used EV to show this effect, typically averaging 1-2% per year for newer models.

The point here is to be aware of the current range capabilities so you can calculate whether that will work for you. There are several ways you can go about this. First, ask the current owner or dealer if the battery has ever been replaced. A Carfax or similar report may also provide this information. Whether or not it’s been replaced, you can turn the car on and look at the display to see the current estimated battery range. Also look at the battery health report.

Even if the battery health measures 75%, that simply means getting 75% of the maximum range. Say the initial range was 220 miles. You can assume you can travel 165 miles without recharging. If your daily commute is 15 miles, it likely won’t be an issue.

Ask About Other Maintenance

man inspecting hood charge port of electric car

Electric cars don’t have an engine so there’s no concern about a blown head gasket or cracked radiator. But just like any other car purchase, you’ll want to ask about maintenance. Find out if the car has ever been in an accident. Ask when the tires were replaced and maybe get the brakes checked out.

Check into Tax Incentives

Electric cars are more eco-friendly than their gas predecessors, so local and federal governments have implemented several tax incentives to encourage drivers to buy EVs. Look into current incentives in your area on government websites or ask your tax advisor.

Understand Charging Capabilities and Requirements

Not all EVs are created equal. They charge at different rates so you’ll want to find out if the vehicle you like has the capacity to charge to the level you need in the timelines you can provide.

Similarly, you’ll need to know about the types of charging stations. A basic, household plug-in can boost your charge about four miles for each hour of charge. That’s pretty slow. A second option requires an outlet with 240 volts of power, and offers a charge up to six times faster than the basic. Finally, commercial chargers can fully charge your battery in less than an hour, but you’ll need to know where to find one.