How to buy a used electric car – 10 tips to make your EV purchase hassle-free

Read our checklist before shaking hands on a second-hand EV

Sales of used electric vehicles are soaring, reaching record-breaking levels in 2023. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), second-hand EV sales grew 81.8% in the second quarter (April, May, and June) to 30,645 cars, representing 1.7% of the total used car market (up from 1.0% in 2022).

However, unless you know your stuff, buying a used electric car may seem intimidating – especially if you’ve never owned an EV.

The good news is that, apart from a couple of obvious differences, finding and checking out a second-hand electric vehicle is much the same process as it’s always been with petrol and diesel cars.

Once you’ve decided on a budget and whether you’re going to buy privately or from a trader, it’s just a case of researching which model is best for you, asking the right questions, and then viewing and test-driving your shortlisted vehicles.

> Most affordable used electric cars – 10 of the best EV options

Here’s some essential advice to help you find a used EV that suits you…

  1. Buying any used car is not without risk. If you want to play safe, consider purchasing from a dealer because you have more consumer rights should something go wrong. If you’re confident around cars, or you know someone who is, there are some bargains to be had if you buy privately, but unless it’s unroadworthy, it will be ‘sold as seen’.
  2. Make sure the make and model of the electric car you’re buying match that on the V5C, as well as the number plate. You can also check that the Vehicle Identification Number (known as the VIN) on the V5C, matches the VIN on the vehicle.
  3. Just like any second-hand car, look out for low-mileage examples that have been well looked after and have a good service history (full if it’s a relatively new car). And it goes without saying, the newer the better, because it won’t depreciate so much. Plus, the chances are that an EV with genuine low miles (50,000 or under) will have more life left in its battery.
  4. When viewing a used car, start with basic visual checks. Are there dents or scratches? Do the body panels fit properly? Is the interior in good condition? Any rips, stains or excessive wear on the upholstery? Is there plenty of tread left on the tyres and are there any cuts or bulges in the tyre wall? Check the basic electrics work too – windows, seat adjustment, lights, horn, air conditioning, radio and infotainment system, if fitted.
  5. Obviously, the biggest difference between buying an EV and an ICE car is that there’s a battery and an electric motor instead of a petrol or diesel engine. As there are fewer moving parts, it means there’s far less to go wrong, so the most important task is to check the status of the battery. At its most basic, you’ll want to see the indicated range from a 100% charge. And if you’ve done your homework, you’ll be able to compare that with the car’s claimed range when it was new. Ideally, you’ll want to see a SOH (State of Health) Certificate, including a complete report on the electric car battery. It’s hoped SOHs will become compulsory soon. If there’s no SOH, then it may be possible to plug in an OBD2 reader (a vehicle diagnostic device) which can scan the battery and give an indication of degradation.
  6. Carry out the normal checks when buying any second-hand car. Is it HPI clear? Has it been an accident write-off? Does it have a sound MOT record? Use the free tool on Gov.uk to check the car’s MOT history status and mileage, while an HPI report (for a small fee) will tell you if there’s any outstanding finance, it’s been stolen or it’s been in a serious accident.
  7. Make sure the charging cables are present and correct because these are expensive to replace and your EV is useless without them.
  8. Check there’s no damage to the charge port, and if possible, plug the cable into the owner’s home wall box (if they have one) and switch it on for a few minutes, so that you can see whether the car is taking the charge.
  9. As with any used car, test drive an EV thoroughly. Make sure it handles properly, doesn’t pull to one side when braking and accelerates smoothly. Also, listen out for any odd noises and vibrations, and drive on a mixture of roads – some with poorer surfaces, and uphill and downhill too.
  10. During the test drive, check the brake regeneration is functioning properly (it should charge the battery when braking and coasting downhill). Ask the vendor if you’re unsure how to access the relevant regen display on the dashboard.

Check the documentation

Here’s a piece of general advice, which applies to any car sale. The most important document you need to check when buying a second-hand car is the V5C, also known as the registration document or logbook.

As previously mentioned, it’s worth checking that the make and model of the electric car you’re buying match what is on the V5C (check the number plate, too). You can also check that the Vehicle Identification Number (known as the VIN) on the V5C, matches the VIN on the vehicle.

If you’re buying privately, check that the name of the registered keeper is the same as the person you’re dealing with (ask to see their driving licence or some other form of ID) and that the address matches the property you’re buying the car from.

If it’s not, then unless they come up with a proper explanation, walk away, because the seller might be a dealer pretending to be a private seller, or the car could even be stolen.

The V5C will also tell you how long the seller has owned the car, and how many previous owners it’s had. You should be concerned if the car has had lots of owners over a short period of time because it might be problematic.

> Pros and cons of an electric car – tips for buying a second-hand EV

How to pay for your used EV

As long as you are sure the seller is genuine, then the best way to pay for your new car is using a bank transfer (via app, online or telephone banking).

The process is almost instant, and the seller can see that the funds have been cleared before releasing the keys.

A banker’s draft is also possible, but it will need setting up and you will have to pay a fee for this.

If you’re buying a car from a dealer, you’ll also be able to use your debit or credit card. You might also want to take advantage of a finance deal (PCP, or OR Personal Contract Purchase) unless you’ve already taken out a personal loan or signed an HP (Hire Purchase) agreement.

Lastly, ask for a receipt for the car and money. Ideally, you should both have a signed copy and it should include the date, names, addresses, basic car details (make, model, registration plate, mileage) and the amount of money that has changed hands.

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