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Buying a used electric car

New electric cars can be too pricey for many people’s budgets. But with one in four UK households planning or hoping to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle in the next five years, is a second-hand model the way to go?

Our guide to buying a used electric car covers some of the key factors you need to look out for.

New electric cars can be too pricey for many people’s budgets. But with one in four UK households planning or hoping to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle in the next five years, is a second-hand model the way to go?

Our guide to buying a used electric car covers some of the key factors you need to look out for.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
27 JUNE 2023
7 min read
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Should I buy a used electric car?

Going electric may soon become a necessity, not a choice. But if you don’t have the budget for a brand-new electric car, you might want to consider used options.

The good news is that electric cars are finally starting to take off in the UK, with 662,000 plug-in and battery electric vehicles (EVs) registered in 2022. At the end of December 2022, there were 1.114 million licensed plug-in vehicles in the UK. 

This growing appetite for green vehicles means that more used electric cars are coming onto the second-hand market than ever before.

As they become more mainstream, it’s expected that this will lead to lower prices and more choice, as well as better performance than ever. Battery-powered vehicles are also much cheaper to run than petrol and diesel cars and, of course, kinder to the environment.

But, as with buying any used car, it’s important to do your homework before committing to a second-hand EV. Thoroughly check the car, its battery and its paperwork before making any rash decisions. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s possible to get a great deal on an EV.

What are the advantages of buying a used electric car?

Along with the obvious green credentials, there are many plus points to buying a second-hand electric car, including:

  • Purchase price – the prices of second-hand EV cars are getting more competitive against standard petrol and diesel prices all the time. You can now buy a used electric car for under £5,000, while popular sellers like the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe can go for under £10,000 used. To buy new, they would cost from around £30,000.
  • Long warranty – some battery packs on new cars, including the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, have a warranty of eight years or 100,000 miles. That means you might still be covered when buying second hand, depending on the age of the car.
  • Tax benefits – if you own a new or second-hand pure electric vehicle, you won’t have to pay any road tax. Though, this may change in future. Drivers who use their EVs for work could also take advantage of tax breaks.
  • Low running costs – our research shows that the annual running cost of an electric vehicle is now £528 cheaper on average than a petrol car. This is down to lower fuel costs and no road tax charges.
  • Performance – EVs are surprisingly speedy, thanks to the instant power and torque of their electric motor. They’re ideal for zipping around town.
  • Smoothness – EVs are far smoother than petrol or diesel cars and can feel more luxurious due to how quiet and refined they are. If you hate the sound and vibration of old diesels, they’re worth looking into. This includes older models.

What are the disadvantages of buying a used electric car?

There can also be downsides to buying a second-hand electric car that you should be aware of, including:

  • Range anxiety – EV batteries tend to degrade over time, so the distance they can travel on a single charge may be shorter than when new. Many older models will only have a range of about 100 miles or less, so this could be an inconvenience if you want to use the car for long distances regularly.
  • Battery lease – some of the first EV cars, like the Renault Zoe, were sold without a battery to reduce the car’s initial purchase price. This meant the battery had to be leased separately at an additional monthly cost. Be sure to check whether the battery pack is included in the purchase price or whether you’ll have to pay a monthly battery lease bill once you buy the car.
  • Battery replacement if you own the battery – depending on how old your vehicle is, the battery might need replacing at some point while you own the car. This could cost you several thousand pounds and potentially up to £10,000 for some models. So, you may need to factor this into any affordability calculations.
  • Limited charging points – drivers of used electric cars are faced with the same infrastructure challenges as new EV buyers. The network of public chargers is growing, but you’ll need to make sure you can easily access charging points or have one installed at home.
  • Lack of driving fun – some drivers complain that electric vehicles deliver a dull driving experience, particularly the older, more basic, models. While others love the quiet. If you crave engine noise and the thrill of changing gears, an EV may not be for you just yet.

Are there any used electric cars to avoid?

It’s not so much particular models that you should avoid, but you should check the age of an EV before you buy.

Electric cars have been around for a while now, and older electric cars might need charging more often. This could be a hassle if you don’t have a home charging point.

Many electric cars have an eight-year battery warranty, so you might want to avoid used models that are older than this. Others may have warranties that run up to a set mileage limit. Check how close the limit you would be if this applies to the vehicle you are considering.

Do electric vehicles hold their value?

All vehicles lose value over time, so depreciation (the difference between the car’s value when bought and sold) affects any car, not just electric ones. That said, when EVs first appeared on the scene, owners experienced big drops in value when they came to sell them on. This was because not many people were interested in buying electric cars.

But, in recent years, electric cars have started to hold their value better. This is due to more desirable makes and models coming on to the market, as well as greater awareness of the benefits of driving electric and hybrid cars.

Broadly speaking, petrol cars can be worth around 40%-65% of their original purchase price after around three years on the road. Electric cars are catching up with that figure, but some models retain their value better than others.

Is car insurance more expensive for electric cars?

In the early days of EVs, car insurance was more expensive than for an equivalent petrol model, because providers had no historical data to work with. There was also a lack of information about how much it would cost to fix EVs if they went wrong.

But as electric cars have become more common and there’s more statistical evidence about the cost of repairs, insurance costs have come down. Our research shows that the average cost of EV car insurance in 2022 is £565 compared with £556 for a petrol car.

Like any vehicle, regardless of how it’s powered, the key to getting a good deal on car insurance for an electric vehicle is to compare quotes from different insurance providers. That’s where we can help.

What else should I look out for when buying a used electric car?

Unlike with a standard petrol or diesel car, you can’t do things like check the oil dipstick to learn about the condition of the engine.

Electric cars have fewer moving parts than cars with traditional combustion engines, so there should be less that can go wrong. But do give the car a good visual inspection and check that all the lights and electronics work okay.

Make sure you get a full service history as this will be one of the best ways to assess the car’s condition when you buy it.

It’s also a good idea to take the car for a test drive, especially if you’re new to electric vehicles, to get a feel for it. Listen out for any unusual noises, bumps or vibrations. If you have any doubts, walk away and look for another car instead.

Top tip:

If you’re likely to use public charging points, make sure the car is compatible with rapid chargers at a rate that suits you. These charging points can top up the battery to 80% of its capacity in 20-40 minutes.

Just be aware that the charge time could depend on the size of the battery, the speed of the charger being used and the speed at which the car can accept electricity.

Find out how much it costs to charge an electric car.

Frequently asked questions

Can I get a grant to buy a second-hand electric car?

There’s no subsidy available to help you buy a used electric car. But if you live in a flat you can get up to £350 off the cost of installing a home charging point.

If you can’t afford to buy a second-hand EV outright, many dealers offer car finance – or even let you lease a used electric car.

But, as with any finance deal, check the terms and conditions carefully so you understand exactly how much you’ll need to repay before you own the vehicle outright.

How do I check the battery in a pre-owned electric car?

Most EVs have a battery status indicator that shows you how much charging capacity or battery health they have. Simply check the display to see how many of the bars are full.

If you’re concerned about the battery health, ask a dealer to carry out a more detailed diagnostics check.

How do I service an electric car?

Servicing an electric car isn’t massively different to servicing a petrol or diesel car – except there are fewer parts to check and no oil filters to change.

The main areas checked include the:

  • Electric motor
  • Battery pack
  • High-voltage electric cabling
  • Suspension
  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Wheels
  • Tyres
  • Lights.

Despite there being less for the dealer to do while servicing or performing an MOT on an electric car, they’ll often charge you the same price as servicing a petrol car.

Because EV technology is still relatively new, it can be harder to find a local garage with the necessary skills to service an electric car. But a growing number of mechanics are undergoing training, so this is improving.

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Rory Reid - car and technology expert

Rory Reid is a car and technology expert. He serves as the main presenter on Auto Trader’s YouTube channel and was previously a host on BBC Top Gear and its sister show Extra Gear. He is also a presenter on Fifth Gear. Previously, he hosted Sky TV’s Gadget Geeks, CNET’s Car Tech channel, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition and on the YouTube channel Fast, Furious & Funny.

Learn more about Rory