The high upfront cost of new EVs is one of the main factors slowing down the switch from polluting internal combustion engine cars to zero emissions vehicles. There are now more than 810,000 fully electric cars on UK roads and a further 510,000 plug-in hybrids, according to Zap-Map (as of the end of June 2023).
This means that the used car market for EVs is also growing by the day, making affordable electric cars a reality. Buying a second-hand electric vehicle is much like purchasing any used vehicle, but there is an obvious difference – instead of petrol or diesel engines, there are battery packs and electric motors.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a used electric car.
Lower price – One of the biggest advantages of buying a used EV is the cheaper price, which can be significantly lower than a brand-new model. For instance, a new Nissan Leaf with a 39kWh battery is priced just below £30,000, yet a same-spec 2021 model with just 13,000 miles on the clock can cost as little as half that amount. What’s more, older first-generation Leafs from 2011 start at less than £3,500.
Zero emissions – Running a second-hand EV means you’re doing your bit to save the planet because there are no tailpipe emissions of harmful gases released into the atmosphere.
Lower maintenance – Compared to a petrol or diesel car, there are fewer moving parts and there’s less to go wrong in an EV. It’s estimated a switch to electric could save you as much as 20-30% on service and maintenance costs compared to an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.
Cheaper running costs – Just like a new electric vehicle, a second-hand EV will work out cheaper to run, especially if you can charge from home. Additionally, there’s no annual road tax to pay or a charge if you live in an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ).
Issues ironed out – There are sometimes problems with new cars, often technological. They can even be recalled to replace faulty parts. If you buy a used electric car, it’s likely that it has received any software updates to iron out bugs and has already gone through any necessary recalls.
Advanced safety features – Most EVs feature the latest driver assistance and safety systems, making them some of the safest second-hand cars on the road.
Driving pleasure – Just like a new EV, buying a second-hand electric car means you get to experience the same instant torque, smoothness and refinement as a new model.
Peace of mind – Most electric vehicles have an eight-year/100,000-mile battery warranty.
Keep on running – Older EVs may not be as efficient as they were new, but ultimately it’s a better environmental decision to keep them on the road than to buy a brand-new car because the process of making EVs from the ground up generates more carbon than a normal combustion-engined car.
Battery degradation – No batteries last forever but EV batteries are proving to be more resilient than many people predicted. Most battery warranties guarantee an acceptable battery capacity of at least 70% of the original specification after seven or eight years.
Lower driving range – EV batteries degrade over time, so the distance a used electric car can travel on a single charge is likely to be shorter than when new. At the cheapest end of the market, we saw a first-generation “school run” 2011 Nissan Leaf advertised for £3,675 with 30,000 miles on the clock. It has an indicated 51-mile range on a full battery charge – about half the original claimed range.
Wear and tear – EVs may well have fewer moving parts but just like used petrol or diesel cars, some parts still need replacing over time – so older electric vehicles will still need new brake and suspension parts, for instance.
Warranty may have expired – Most new cars have a warranty of three years, but some stretch to five (eg Hyundai) or even seven years (Kia, MG). So, depending on the make and age of the used EV, it may have run out of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Longer charging time – Battery technology is moving fast, so newer EVs tend to be able to receive a faster rate of charge than older ones. This isn’t an important factor if you’re home charging, but it is if you have to boost your battery pack at faster public charge points during a journey, for instance.
Battery lease – When buying a second-hand electric car, be sure to check that the battery pack is included. Batteries on some older EVs (eg Renault Zoe) were sometimes leased in a bid to reduce the car’s initial purchase price, so you’ll need to factor in an extra monthly cost if your used EV has a leased battery.
Charger anxiety – Whether you run a new or used EV, finding a public charger in some areas is still a challenge. If you run an older EVs with a shorter range and you’re unable to instal a charger at home, this can be even more of an issue.