Pros and cons of buying a used electric car

New electric cars can be too pricey for many people’s budgets. But with 39% of drivers planning to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle, is a second-hand model the way to go? Our guide to buying a used electric car covers some of the key things you need to look out for.

New electric cars can be too pricey for many people’s budgets. But with 39% of drivers planning to buy an electric or hybrid vehicle, is a second-hand model the way to go? Our guide to buying a used electric car covers some of the key things you need to look out for.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
4
minute read
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Posted 5 JULY 2021

Are second-hand electric cars worth buying?

Electric cars are finally starting to take off in the UK, with 107,000 pure electric vehicles (EVs) registered in 2020, an increase of 184% on the previous year. 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, drivers looking for used EV cars could benefit from lower prices, improved performance and more choice. They’re also much cheaper to run than petrol and diesel cars, and not to mention 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 EV?

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

  • Purchase price – used EV prices 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 £26,000.
  • Long warranty – some battery packs on new cars, including the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, have a warranty of eight years. That means you might still be covered when buying second hand.
  • Tax benefits – if you own a new or second-hand pure electric vehicle, you won’t have to pay any road tax. Drivers who use their EVs for work can also take advantage of tax breaks.
  • Low running costs – electric vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain than petrol and diesel cars. They have fewer moving parts, so you can avoid some of the weighty bills associated with ageing petrol cars, like having a new exhaust or water pump fitted.
  • Performance – EVs are surprisingly speedy away from traffic lights, thanks to the instant power of their electric motor. They’re ideal for zipping around town and can outpace many new petrol cars.

What are the disadvantages of buying a used EV?

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, so this can be a problem if you want to use the car for long distances.
  • 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 cost. Be sure to check whether the battery pack is included or not.
  • 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 – many drivers complain that electric vehicles deliver a dull driving experience, particularly the older, more basic, models. If you crave engine noise and the thrill of changing gears, an EV may not be for you just yet.

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 thanks to more 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%-50% of their new purchase price after about three years on the road. Electric cars are slowly catching up with that figure, but you’ll still find variations in how individual makes and models retain their value.

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 and there was a lack of knowledge about how 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.

The key to getting a good deal on car insurance for an electric vehicle is to compare quotes from different insurance providers – we can help with that.

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

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. And make sure you get a full service history as this will be the best way 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 – and, if you have any doubts, 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. These can top up the battery to 80% of its capacity in 20-40 minutes.

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. The government’s £2,500 plug-in car grant only applies to new EVs. But 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.

Which is the cheapest second-hand electric car to buy?

Used electric cars can be surprisingly affordable these days. And, as more people join the green revolution, prices will be pushed down even further. To give you the widest choice, look for models that were most popular when new. These include the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3.

You could get a 2016 Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf, for example, for around £7,500-£9,000, while a 2015 BMW i3 would set you back around £13,000-£14,000.

How do I check the battery in a used electric car?

The battery is the most valuable part of an electric car, so it’s essential to make sure it’s in a decent shape before forking out for a used EV car. Most EVs have a battery indicator that shows you how much charging capacity they have, so check what the display says about battery health. See if you can count how many of the bars are full, or 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 and lights.

An electric car needs servicing at roughly the same intervals as any other car, but it’s generally much cheaper to maintain an EV because not as many things can go wrong.

But finding a local garage with the necessary skills to service an electric car might not be easy and you may be restricted to the main dealer network. This is often more expensive than going to an independent mechanic.

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