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Should I Buy a Used Electric Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2016

Hello everyone, and welcome to Ask Doug, your favorite weekly segment, wherein you ask Doug a question about cars and he provides a short, well-researched response which thoroughly addresses your issue.

Hah! Just kidding. What actually happens is that you ask Doug something, he chuckles at your question, and then he forwards your email to his friends and makes fun of your grammar. If it sounds like you want to participate in this lovely tradition, you can! Just send me a note on my Facebook page, or email me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com. While I can't promise I'll feature your letter on the site, I can promise I will read it, unless your subject line is awful.

Anyway, this week's letter comes to us from the Netherlands, which is not to be confused with Never-Never Land, Holland or Neverland Ranch -- all of which, my editor assures me, are different. The reader, who I've named Daan, writes:

Dear Doug,

I am considering buying an electric car (like a Renault Zoe, a Renault Twizy or a Chevrolet Volt) as a second car. The only thing that stops me is the price tag. They're too expensive for me when I buy one new. Are secondhand electric vehicles reliable and a good option as a second vehicle?

Kind regards from the Netherlands,

Daan

You ask a good question here, Daan, although I must admit that I am not especially familiar with the Dutch market for used electric vehicles. So I will answer the question from the perspective of an American who is also not especially familiar with the American market for used electric vehicles.

Here's what I've noticed: Used electric cars are cheap. Not sort of cheap. Not kind of cheap. I mean so cheap that I believe many used electric cars are cheaper than items they sell at Room & Board that have no purpose, such as a bowl full of sticks.

In the United States, the reason these used electric vehicles are so cheap is that the government has enormous incentives on new electric vehicles. Right now, the federal government will give you a $7,500 tax rebate here in the States if you buy a new electric vehicle. Meanwhile, some state governments offer similar additional tax rebates, and some offer even bigger tax rebates, to the point that when you're filling out your taxes, you just write "ELECTRIC VEHICLE," and the state, by law, must buy you an Amazon gift card.

So what happens is that nobody pays sticker price for these things, which means their initial depreciation is already something like 35 percent -- before you factor in regular vehicle depreciation, which only drops values even further.

And the result of all this is that used electric vehicles could be seen as a tremendously good deal.

But wait: There's a problem. Is it really safe to buy a used electric vehicle? What if it doesn't hold a charge? What if its battery needs a costly replacement? What if it uses outdated electric-vehicle technology and you can't properly plug it in? What if it breaks into your home at night and snacks on your Room & Board bowl full of sticks?

Here's the reality: Buying a used electric vehicle is probably a lot less risky than buying a regular used car, if you know what you're getting into. You won't have to worry about oil leaks, timing belts or leaking head gaskets. But you will have to worry about range depletion, or range loss.

What exactly is range depletion? Imagine an electric car as your cellphone -- which it is, except it has wheels and people can sit inside it. After a year or two, your phone doesn't hold as much charge as it did the day you bought it, before you cracked the screen so you can no longer use the front-facing camera. Right? Well, the same thing happens with electric vehicles. After 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 miles, they won't quite go as far on a single charge as they did when they were new. This is something you have to consider when buying a used electric vehicle.

The question is: How much range loss will you suffer? Unfortunately, the answer to this varies on a number of factors, including time, mileage, and even the temperature at which the vehicle was operated, so it's hard to answer for sure. But there's no doubt that range loss is real, and it's worth testing out before you sign the papers on your next electric vehicle.

But in spite of that, Daan, here's the thing: No matter how much range loss an electric vehicle suffers, it'll still be more practical than that bowl full of sticks. And maybe even less expensive.

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RELATED INVENTORY
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
Are you sure you want to delete?
Used 2013 Chevrolet Volt Premium
Used 2013 Chevrolet Volt
$14,500
Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
Are you sure you want to delete?
Used 2013 Chevrolet Volt Premium
Used 2013 Chevrolet Volt
$13,588
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Should I Buy a Used Electric Car? - Autotrader