The Pros and Cons of Buying a Used EV (Updated)

If you’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle, but driving a new Tesla Model X off the lot seems like a fairytale, then purchasing a used EV may be an excellent alternative. 

Used EVs can offer significant savings if you’re eager to drive electric. Compared to a used gas-powered car, an EV will likely last longer and provide additional maintenance and fuel savings during its lifetime. 

The good news is that more used EVs are coming onto the market as manufacturers release new EV models and current EV owners upgrade their electric ride. The bad news is that there is not a huge inventory of vehicles to meet demand, so they can be sold quickly. 

Here are a few other pros and cons to consider. 

PROS: 

  • Used EVs are cheaper. Purchasing a used EV that fits your driving range needs could save you tens of thousands of dollars compared to investing in a new one. EVs, on average, experience a higher level of depreciation when compared to their gas-powered counterparts (with the exception of Tesla’s) largely because the resale values account for tax credits and the technology is changing so quickly. These discounts present savings opportunities for the savvy used car buyer, particularly for EVs with shorter ranges. EV models released in the past few years tend to have higher range due to newer battery tech so they will hold their value a bit longer, but they can be in high demand with limited supply. 
  • New! Federal Tax Incentives. In addition to credits for new vehicles, starting in 2023, certain buyers that meet income requirements can also get a tax credit for used EVs, up to $4,000 or up to 30% of the EV cost, which opens up even more access to the EV marketplace (see guidance from the IRS). These vehicles must be at least two years old and have at least 7 kWh battery capacity, which includes most plug-in electric vehicles and all-electric vehicles. Buyers may also qualify for state and local tax incentives and rebates. Check EnelX’s EV regulatory database for more information. 
Cheryl with her used Tesla Model 3; Photo Credit: Cheryl Castillo-Pope, 2021
  • EV motors and drivetrains last longer. Compared to internal combustion engines, electric motors and drive systems have fewer moving parts that can fail over their lifetime. There’s only one gear (no need for a multi-speed transmission) and there are no liquid fuels or lubricants needed to protect the engine. The result is that they are fun to drive and should last significantly longer. Under test conditions, electric motors can keep on turning for 400,000 miles providing 15-20 years of driving. In 2018, Tesla showed off a Model 3 drive system that was tested for one million miles and it looks flawless. With internal combustion engine cars, there are very few manufacturers with models known for rolling past the 200,000-mile mark and they tend to be the most expensive used vehicles on the market. 
Ozlem with her used BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid Photo Credit: Erika Myers, 2022

CONS: 

  • Limited selection for used EVs. Depending on your location and timing, it can be difficult to find your ideal used EV. Unsurprisingly, there is a greater supply of used EVs in states that adopted EV-promoting policies early like California, New York, Washington, Florida, Texas and New Jersey. Keep in mind that more recent models are in high demand and can sell quickly. It’s rare to find a used EV sitting at your local dealership or used car lot, but it’s possible. Alternatively, online marketplaces are available to find a used EV that can fit your lifestyle. Most online car marketplaces can be filtered for EVs, but here are a couple dedicated EV online marketplaces:
  • Finding an EV Mechanic. It can be challenging to find a mechanic that is certified to assess and work on an electric propulsion system and battery. There just aren’t as many EVs out there and therefore fewer mechanic shops that are certified to work on EVs (and plug in hybrids). However, there are numerous mechanics that can take a look at the rest of the vehicle to make sure it’s safe to drive and in working order.

    There are a couple options for finding a mechanic. The best place to start are dealerships that actually sell electric vehicle models. However, keep in mind that not all dealerships are certified to sell or work on EVs, even if the company offers an EV model. An alternative to dealerships could be third-party mechanic shops that specialize in EVs. You can find your local shop by searching online (I recommend searching for: “electric vehicle mechanic near me” in your preferred search engine). 
  • Knowing your battery capacity. The battery capacity — which determines how much ‘life’ is left in the battery — of a used EV is your primary concern. Before you jump behind the wheel for a test drive, do your homework on the specific model you’re considering. A typical rule of thumb is that older EVs (e.g., 2011-2014) have earlier battery technology, which may degrade more quickly. For example, the battery technology of older EVs with lower ranges, such as first-generation Nissan LEAFs, have been known to have more challenges as they age.  Here are a few ways to assess the battery capacity yourself if you can’t make it to an EV-certified mechanic:
    • You can usually check battery status (or remaining capacity) through the car’s infotainment system. During the car’s lifetime, the battery capacity should remain above 80% at the very least. 
    • If available, find out what kind of charging the previous owner did. If the owner frequently recharged at a DC fast charging station (e.g., Tesla Superchargers), that’s not great for the battery in the long-run. 
    • What was the last users’ car climate? Too hot and too cold aren’t great for the longevity of the battery life. 
  • Limited warranties. When purchasing any used vehicle the warranty options are limited. New EVs come with full warranty and powertrain coverages that can be up to 10 years and 100,000 miles. Certain manufacturers allow these original warranties – including the battery coverage – to transfer between owners within a certain timeframe. Additionally, Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) EVs have some warranty (and greater certainty), but like CPO gas-powered cars typically come with a higher price tag. 

Note: Originally posted on March 6, 2021; updated on January 5, 2023.

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this well-balanced, well researched piece! I’m a fan of buying used items in general, for both environmental and financial reasons. But car-wise, Thor and I have been leasing an EV, a Kia Soul, with our three year lease ending in June (I have loved this car, incidentally) Since Thor likes researching cars more than I do. I’m afraid I’m not among the 85% of women making the household car buying decision. But he and I will be carefully reading EV Love as we ponder how to replace our current EV!

    Like

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