Why it Makes Sense to Buy a Used EV

But They’re So Expensive?

Every EV detractor says electric cars are too expensive. And that’s broadly true.  Compared to their diesel and petrol counterparts EVs cost more. But given the low sales volumes, huge R&D costs and the price of lithium ion batteries carmakers have had to price higher to try and recoup their production costs. I’d be surprised if any car manufacturer out there has made any profit at all on their electric EV programmes so far. That’s the sad reality of supply and demand in an emerging market. But new prices are coming down with EVs like the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf now looking much more competitive than several years ago.

But what all those EV detractors don’t realise is that a used EV can work out even cheaper than a conventional car. Right now you can buy used Citroen C-Zeros for £4,000, Renault Zoes for £6k, used Leafs for £8k, Vauxhall Amperas for £9k, BMW i3s for £20k and BMW i8s for £65k. Look hard and you’ll even fine a secondhand Tesla model S for £50k.  First year depreciation on EVs is harsh as the general market struggles to accept them but by year two and three prices begin to level off and make low mileage EVs look like bargains. Not many people know this.

Do The Sums

Let’s say you bought a three-year old 25,000 miles Citroen C-Zero or Renault Zoe for around £6,000. Use it as a second car for town journeys doing 6,000 miles a year and you’ll save up to £1,500 pa in fuel, £140 pa in road tax and around £250 in servicing. So even with limited use every year you save around £1,800 compared to the running costs of a petrol or diesel motor. Keep it for three years and you’ll have saved £5,400 or almost what it cost to buy in the first place. This may sound nuts but running a small secondhand EV can almost be free. As long as the initial buying price is low, the fuel and maintenance savings will, over time, wipe out the purchase price. Do an even higher mileage and the savings are even more.

But What About the Batteries?

There was a lot of early negativity talked about battery packs failing, costing £8,000 to replace and making used EVs worthless. We’ve had EVs running round US, European and UK roads very successfully for the last seven years and tons of battery life data has been built up. Route Monkey has one of the largest data sources of battery degradation and life cycles in the world and when you analyse the information available the results are very encouraging. We’re just not experiencing the battery failure rates that all those dissenting voice predicted when the EV revolution begun.  And now we’re seeing 150,000 mile EVs like Nissan Leaf Taxis coming off fleet still with 98% battery efficiency. I’ve talked to carmakers and they too are surprised at how resilient modern-generation lithium ion batteries are and how well they stand up to repeated rapid charging cycles without loosing efficiency.

To counter misgivings about battery life car manufacturers deliberately factored in long standard battery warranties on new EVs. Most have a 100,000 8-year battery warranty that’s transferable to new owners (which if you think about it is more warranty cover than you get on the engine of a normal car) so used EV buyers have the reassurance of battery warranty cover. And if you’re leasing the batteries – like on a Renault Zoe – you’ll get a replacement if the efficiency ever drops below 70%. We won’t know what’s going to happen when battery packs reach 10 and 15 year life cycles (by then there’s likely to be an independent after market offering reconditioned or re-energised units) but in the short term used EV buyers shouldn’t get stressed about battery longevity.  To reassure used buyers Nissan recently announced that it would offer new replacement batteries for its Leaf for around £5,000 - although nobody has yet needed one….

What Should I look For?

Like any used car you want EVs to have low mileage and a fully stamped up service history. There are lots of EVs that have covered lots of miles (I’ve seen Renault Zoes, Peugeot iOns and Vauxhall Amperas with 90,000 miles racked up) but the majority of used EVs haven’t covered monster mileages. Many are coming off manufacturer test fleets with less than 20,000 covered and these are the bargains you should look for.  On the plus side most EVs are carefully and gently driven so you’re looking at different wear and usage patterns to normal cars.  In general EVs don’t get spanked and most drivers are trying to stretch as many miles as possible from a single charge so don’t race around. Data from insurance companies show that EVs are one of the most carefully driven cars of all (Tesla excepted) and so far very few have been involved in accidents. If you’re buying directly from a private owner or the car’s last user its worth asking how often they have used rapid chargers? If an electric car is charged say, twice a day, every day on a rapid charger this can degrade the battery life by 1% a year. Slower regular home charging tends to retain battery efficiency.

Apart from the obvious stuff like scuffed alloys, cracked screens, ragged interiors and parking dings there’s not a lot to watch out for. The electrical stuff isn’t something you can check over but it might be worth asking your local dealer (they must be an EV specialist) to inspect any prospective purchase and hook it up to their diagnostic machine to give you an idea if there are any fault codes in the systems.  This is an entirely new generation of used cars so a lot of the normal buying rules don’t apply to secondhand EVs. But one thing’s for sure - the general condition of a three to four year old EV is likely to be much better than its petrol or diesel equivalent by virtue of two simple facts: it will have covered less miles and have been driven more gently. And that’s good news for used EV buyers.

What About Depreciation?

First and second year depreciation on EVs is horrific and unless you’re a company car driver or company owner and enjoy Benefit in Kind tax reduction and 100% write down allowances, the initial loss in residual value is huge. That’s why most private buyers don’t buy their EVs new. The depreciation continues over years two and three but I’m seeing a gentle leveling off in the market at years four and five where used EVs get to a point where they start looking irresistible.  Glass’s Guide who publishes used prices for all secondhand cars in the UK say that the gap between EVs and normal car residuals is now narrowing. A BMW i3 will retain 40% of its value after three years and 60,000 miles and a Tesla Model S 43%. Both those figures are very close to the second values of a conventional BMW 3 and 5 Series.  Glass’s also say that as we get more clean air legislation against polluting cars in cities and benefits like free parking for EVs their appeal can only increase. While its very hard to predict long-term EV residual values the general industry consensus is that we’ve reached a point where the technology is becoming more accepted familiar, trusted and desirable. Values may even strengthen over time as a new market evolves of privately bought used EVs as second cars.   

Who Do I Buy From?

The market for used EVs is no new that there isn’t as established route for buyers yet. Dealers will have a selection (Particularly Nissan, BMW, Toyota and Renault) and there’s a few EV only buying sites like www.nextgreencar.com  www.eco-cars.net  and www.ecocars4sale.com. Plus the usual used car sites like www.autotrader.com and www.motors.co.uk . The good news is that prices vary wildly and you really can spot bargains like the 11 plate Nissan Leaf with 50,000 miles I saw for sale direct from its one owner on a website for just £3,995. Keep looking on the web and putting your choice into search engines and plenty will come up. But remember it’s very much a buyers market at the moment and it doesn’t matter if your buying from a dealer or a private seller advertised prices are always going to be very negotiable indeed. So always make a spirited offer.