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Is Buying a Used Electric Vehicle a Good Idea?

If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, should you consider a used one? For shoppers who don’t want to pay up for a new model, a used electric vehicle might seem like a good idea. What are the benefits and drawbacks? We’ve listed a few of each to help you decide whether it’s best to buy a used EV or a new one.

Are there tax incentives for used EVs?

When you buy a used electric vehicle, you unfortunately miss out on some nice tax benefits of buying new. It’s widely known that car shoppers who choose a new electric vehicle can take advantage of a range of tax incentives. Most importantly, there’s a $7,500 federal income tax credit on most EVs, which is highly enticing to many shoppers. Some states also offer additional state income tax credits, with a few generous ones even coming close to the federal figure. That can help make it a lot cheaper to buy an electric vehicle than the MSRP suggests.

Unfortunately, these tax incentives aren’t available if you buy a used electric vehicle. As a result, a used Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt will cost exactly what the purchase price says, and you won’t save a penny when tax time comes. However, used EV buyers can still take advantage of some perks on a state level. Some states offer cheaper registration for EVs, carpool lane access for EVs, and a tax credit for installing an EV charging station in your home. Some cities even give free municipal parking to EVs.

Although you might not get help from your local or state government on buying a used EV, some power companies are willing to offer rebates as a reward for contributing to reduced gas consumption. For example, Edison International offers a Clean Fuel Reward Program that applies to both new and used EVs and plug-in hybrids. You can go on their website and confirm your eligibility, fill out a form, and get up to $1,000 back. This specific offer only applies to Southern California Edison residential customers, but there are a few other programs like this that could be in your are and are worth researching.

For some shoppers, however, the lack of a tax credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if the purchase price of one of these vehicles has gotten low enough, buying used may still save a lot of money compared to buying new, even if you factor in the lost tax savings. Shoppers who don’t live in a state with heavy tax incentives may not even see much of a difference between new and used pricing. Find a used electric car for sale near you

Do the batteries need to be replaced?

Battery life is another issue many drivers are concerned about. More specifically, many drivers are worried about whether they’ll have to replace the batteries in an electric car — an unfortunate reality that could lead to a 4-figure repair bill.

The short answer is that, yes, an electric vehicle’s batteries will eventually need to be replaced. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be the one replacing them, though, unless you keep the car for many years. The battery is likely to last well over a decade — and since the first Nissan Leaf models came out in 2010, that means even the earliest batteries are just now starting to need replacement a decade later. Batteries that fail prematurely are covered by most EV warranties, which typically last up to 10 years.

What is the resale value of EVs?

The resale value of EVs is generally below average. By and large, electric and plug-in hybrid cars are depreciating faster than the average gas-powered car. This is good news for used car shoppers, but bad news for folks who paid a lot for a new EV without a lot of help from their state government. However, newer, longer-range EVs like the Chevrolet Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 are holding their values better than earlier examples of electric cars with lower range numbers. If it gets over 200 miles of range, it’s more likely to hold its value better.

As of this writing, there almost 1,000 used electric cars for sale on Autotrader for under $10,000. These are mostly the more common EVs like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, and the Fiat 500E. If you up that budget to $15,000, you’ll see more variety with options like the Kia Soul EV and even some from luxury brands like the BMW i3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class.

The point is; a pretty modest used car budget can get you a nice, modern electric car with plenty of life left in it. You won’t get a tax credit on your used EV, but the purchase price of used EVs is generally low enough that it doesn’t really matter. Not to mention what you’ll save in gas money.

Will the EV lifestyle work for you?

If you’re shopping for a used EV, there’s a good chance that means you’re making the big switch from a traditional gas-powered car to your first EV. Unless you’re going with a plug-in hybrid that can also be powered by gas, the big EV switch requires a lifestyle change with a few things to consider.

Range anxiety is something that’s constantly being engineered away in new EVs with longer range. But if you’re shopping for a used EV, the range is definitely something to think about. Some EVs have a range as low as around 100 miles, would you be able to use a car that can’t go father than 100 miles at a time? This requires a little homework on your part to determine how much range you realistically need and which used EVs can provide that range.

Another thing to consider is charging. Do you have your own garage where you can keep your car plugged in when you’re home? Can you use a regular outlet to meet your charging needs or will you need to instal a faster level 2 charger? Most used EVs can get a full charge overnight with a traditional 120 volt outlet, but a more sophisticated level 2 charger can cut down on charging times significantly. If you live in an EV-friendly city with a lot of public charging stations or if your employer has some charging stations in the parking lot, those perks can go a long way in making EV life more convenient.

Our Take

Between the affordable purchase price and the amount you’ll save in gas by switching to electric, a used EV is actually a pretty strong value proposition as long as you can handle the necessary lifestyle adjustments for EV life. If you’re worried about battery life, we suggest not worrying about it just yet unless you’re looking at very early EVs that are 10 years old; most batteries have years of life left in them. As for frugal shoppers interested in buying an EV to save money: Before signing the papers on a used EV, check your local tax laws, and check out new EVs on Autotrader. If your state has significant EV tax incentives, you might be surprised to learn that a pre-owned model can cost about the same as a new one. Find a used electric car for sale

Related Used Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. What if you buy a used but never titled plug in hybrid?  I purchased a Federal Government Surplus (Auction) (GSA) vehicle.  Since it was never never titled in CA or anywhere, am I entitled to the full tax credit?  Anyone know who to ask?

  2. If you want to test the waters of EVs, find a used Mitsubishi i-MiEV (or, in Europe, Citroen C-zero or Peugeot iOn – all the same car). They are very cheap – 2011 ones are going for as little as UK£7k form dealers sill with a years drive train warranty! – and extremely accomplished vehicles. Mine is showing 0% battery degradation after 11k miles. It is very comfortable with excellent head room and easy to get in and out of, 4 proper seats + a half decent boot, very nippy, is well equipped, costs virtually nothing to run and will happily cruise at 70mph+ (top end is around 84) but only for about 50 miles at that speed (70 miles at a steady 50mph). I do 45 miles round trip every day on half and half dual carriageway/local roads (with heat enough to keep the windows de-misted) and have about 30 miles remaining. £0 road tax, free parking in some bits of central London, £0 congestion charge… What is stopping you?

    • That really does seem great, but I would still be held back because of the range thing. It would be nice to be able to afford and have the room to have one car for commuting and another to use for the frequent trips I need to take. I would have to recharge at least once just to get up the road to Birmingham (if I were prepared to annoy everyone else on the M1 by doing 50mph) and I would arrive there nearly out of charge again.

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