Guide to Buying Used Electric Cars

Electric cars have become a popular choice for saving on gas money and being eco-friendly. Understand the pros and cons, costs, and steps to buying a used electric car.

HOME GUIDES Guide to Buying Used Electric Cars

Carpages Staff

Anyone searching for a new car may find the process overwhelming and exciting. However, if you’re new to the world of electric vehicles and searching for a used vehicle, that process can be even more stressful. In this article, we’re here to guide you on whether buying a used car is right for you and different factors you should consider when buying a used electric vehicle.

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Should You Buy a Used Electric Vehicle?

Buying used can lead to substantial savings in the long run, which is likely why you are considering this option. However, there are also several disadvantages associated with buying secondhand. Below are the major pros and cons of buying used electric cars:

Pros of Buying a Used Electric Vehicle

  • If you’re switching from gas-powered to electric, you’ll save thousands of dollars on fuel during the life of the vehicle. 
  • Used electric cars tend to be in better condition than the average gas-powered car, requiring less maintenance.
  • Used EVs typically have less mileage since drivers tend to stick closer to home. 

Cons of Buying a Used Electric Vehicle

  • While you might get a steal on buying the used EV, the car will have lost nearly half of its value if it’s four or more years old. 
  • Your choices may be limited depending on where you live and the type of vehicle you want. For example, in 2020, just 100,000 electric cars were registered in Canada, compared to 1.3 million gas-powered vehicles. 
  • Until better information is available about the durability of their parts and battery life, it may be challenging to predict future issues.
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Nine Steps to Take Before Buying a Used Electric Car

Now that you are familiar with the pros and cons of buying a used electric car, here are nine essential points you need to consider before you make your decision.

Check the Battery Life and Warranties

Before buying a used electric car, you’ll want to check out a few issues related to the battery.

First, ask the owner to charge the battery to 100% and then note the available range. You can then compare that range to the car’s original rating and determine how much battery life remains.

Also, ask the owner if the car has its original battery. Depending on the car’s age, an early battery replacement may signal a red flag. 

Find out how much of the battery warranty remains. Most electric cars have extended warranties that cover the battery longer than they cover the vehicle, meaning there’s a good chance there will be some warranty remaining. 

Understand the Car's Safety Features

Understanding the car’s safety features and ratings is a critical component of your car-buying decisions. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publishes safety ratings every year, making it easy to see how the vehicle you’re considering stacks up.

According to the IIHS website, “there are six IIHS crashworthiness tests — driver- and passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints,” and the top safety picks require good ratings in every category.

You can search the IIHS to make sure your car of choice hits the mark. 

Inspect the Car Inside and Out

Getting a good sense of the car's exterior condition requires more than a passing glance. If you have access to a local mechanic with expertise in electric vehicles, paying for an independent inspection is a good idea. 

If you’re inspecting the vehicle on your own, pay close attention to exterior features such as dents, hard-to-open doors, and wear-and-tear on the tires. It is crucial that tread wear is even throughout tire width and is the same on both sides of the car.

Inside the vehicle, sit in every seat, inspect the upholstery, and adjust the driver and passenger seats to ensure controls are in good working order. Pay special attention to the instruments and controls, and take a few minutes to look through any guides or features specific to the car’s make and model. 

Check That the Gauges and Brakes Are Working Correctly

Instead of showing a low fuel light, electric car gauges display the amount of charge remaining on the battery and an estimated driving range. Therefore, a brief test drive should be ample time to ensure that all gauges are in good working order. 

The braking system works differently in an electric vehicle, so it’s essential to understand those differences and evaluate the brakes and steering before purchasing a used electric car. 

As brakes are applied, EVs send kinetic energy back to their batteries. Smooth braking enables your car to catch most of the energy it uses to brake. In some EVs, the gauge will display what percentage of the energy the vehicle recaptured. 

Also, inspect the brake pads before purchase, even though they will need replacing much less often than a conventional car.

Get a Copy of the Vehicle’s Service History

Using a service like CARFAX helps you avoid any costly mistakes when purchasing a used vehicle. Most reports are available through most registered dealers and typically identify any accident or damage repairs, service records, and even recalls. 

If a seller is unwilling or unable to provide a service history on the vehicle, move on to the next option. 

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Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Used Electric Car

Here are some questions worth considering before you commit to your decision to buy a used electric car:

Why do I want an electric car? 

Before jumping into the first great deal you find on a used electric car, evaluate what you need from a new vehicle. Are you looking for an everyday vehicle to drive to and from work? Are you looking for a weekend car that showcases your personality and is fun to drive?

There are hundreds of different makes and models of electric cars, so being clear on what you hope to get out of your purchase will help you make the best decision. 

How much can I afford to spend?

The cost of electric cars is typically higher than its gas-powered equivalents, and buying used is a smart cost-savings strategy. Before you fall in love with the first car you drive, set a realistic budget.

Since you’ll spend less on regular maintenance and never have to buy fuel, you may be able to afford a slightly higher price vehicle. However, don’t forget to budget for charging costs, both in your increased electric utilities at home and on-the-go charging. 

How far do I need to drive?

One of the most significant differences between electric vehicle models is the range they offer. To understand which range you’ll need, track your miles per day for a few weeks. Then, select a used electric vehicle that meets those needs once you have a reasonable estimate of how far you regularly drive.

There are also significant differences between gas-powered vehicles and electric vehicles based on your local climate. For example, if you live in a frigid part of Canada, it’s important to know that wintry weather can cause electric car batteries to lose more than half their range. 

Sites like PlugShare offer a great trip planner that allows you to enter your route and find charging stations along the way.

Are there enough EV chargers near me?

To avoid “range anxiety,” scope out the availability of EV charges in your area, especially along your commute route. According to Plug ‘N Drive, “there are over 5,000 public charging stations in Canada, 250 of which are Level 3 DC-Quick chargers that will charge an EV battery from empty to 80% in 30 - 45 minutes.”

Many companies offer charging stations as an employee benefit, so it’s wise to check with your employer to see if this is available in your company. 

Are government incentives available to me?

Some provinces offer incentives and discounts that can make buying used electric cars more affordable. Quebec, for example, offers rebates of as much as $8000, and British Columbia provides rebates of as much as $5,000.

Drivers in Ontario can receive $1,000 toward purchasing a used fully electric car, with some stipulations like having a resale price below $50,000 and being designated for personal use.

These incentives make buying a used electric car a more appealing and affordable option.  

What do I need to buy other than a charger?

If you’re new to the electric vehicle market, it’s best to hire a licensed electrician to install your charging station. Since an EV charger is a high voltage appliance, you may also need to apply for a permit and have a safety inspection. 

Depending on the size of your charging station, you may need an upgrade to your residential electrical service, as well.  

You may also need additional charging accessories, so ask the seller to include these in your purchase price. 

Where can I find a reliable dealer?

When it’s time to make the deal and buy your new electric car, ensure you’re dealing with a government-registered dealer or identity-verified individual. Sellers should be willing to answer all of your questions without hesitation and provide any agreements in writing. 

Do I even like driving an electric car?

There’s no better way to evaluate a used electric vehicle than to get behind the wheel and take it for a drive. If the owner allows, take the car for a drive along your regular routes to get a feel for how it handles the drive and what percentage of the battery it uses for your daily commute. 

What should I know before making the purchase?

If you’ve had the used car evaluated by a mechanic or someone well-versed in electric cars and thinks you’re ready to make the deal, it’s best to be clear and firm with the seller about your expectations and bottom line.

Whether you need to secure financing or you’re buying in cash, be prepared to walk away from the deal if something isn’t sitting right about the conversation or if the seller is hesitant to answer all of your questions. 

If you’re working with a private seller, it’s also best to have a formal written agreement about the purchase, including any refunds or guarantees you’ve discussed. When possible, using a government-registered dealer will likely result in a better, more secure buying experience. 

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Does a Used Electric Car Make Sense for Me?

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to purchase an electric car comes down to your individual needs. Take everything you’ve learned into consideration, such as if you’re willing to accept a vehicle in a less ideal condition or with a used battery, and decide if the savings justify the potential shortcomings you might experience in the future from buying a used electric car.

Are There Any Used Electric Cars to Avoid?

Avoid buying from companies no longer manufacturing electric vehicles or brands that aren’t available to purchase new as this may indicate problems with that particular model and make. It may also be difficult to get parts or services for them.

Due to the damage extreme temperatures can cause to the battery, it is also best not to buy cars that have been used primarily in very hot or very cold climates. 

Where Can I Find a Good Used Electric Car?

To narrow down your choices, begin with an online buying guide to learn more about finding the right used electric car for you. Then, use all of the information you learn through your research to choose your top two or three choices and head out for a test drive.