Automotive Research

What to look for when buying a used electric car

Electric vehicles or EVs are growing in popularity, but new models can be pricey. For many, buying a pre-owned model is a more affordable way to go electric.

As the number of new EVs sold has risen, so too has the number of used EVs going on the market. Market analyst Cox Automotive expects annual new EV sales in the U.S. to hit 1 million for the first time in 2023, and they estimate that used EV sales in the U.S. grew 32% in the first quarter of 2023.  

If you’ve decided to buy a used EV, the process is a lot like buying any used car. Ultimately, you want to find a vehicle you like at a fair price for its age and mileage. Though, a few things are different for battery electric vehicles, such as range considerations, battery wear, and warranties. We look at what those differences mean in practice when shopping for a used EV.

What is an EV?

Two types of vehicles are considered electric: battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). BEVs are powered entirely by electricity stored in a battery pack and are likely what people think of when they hear the term “EV.” PHEVs have a battery pack as well as a gas engine and can run on battery alone for a limited range (typically 20-50 miles) before operating like a gas hybrid.

In this article, EV refers to BEVs.

Choosing a make & model

Once you’ve decided to buy a used electric car, the next step is to determine what model (or models) you’ll be looking at. As with buying any car, that means finding a vehicle that’s the right size for your family, has the characteristics you want (handling, comfort, safety, technology, and so on), and that the cost of ownership is within your budget.

For an EV, picking a model also means considering your vehicle’s battery range and how fast it can recharge. 


The key is to understand how long your typical routes are and to know your charging options along those routes, if any. 

Limited battery range was the main barrier to EV ownership in the early 2010s, the start of the modern EV era. In recent years, that has lessened as models featuring ranges of 200-350 miles have become common, and many have now filtered down into the used market. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2020-2021 American Driving Survey, people drive an average of 32.7 miles daily, meaning a typical EV driver can go days without charging.

If your driving is mostly around town or your household has a gas car for longer trips, a 200-mile range may be sufficient. If you plan to use your EV on a long highway commute, take frequent road trips, or drive in a cold climate (cold weather can reduce EV driving range), a longer range is likely a better fit.

Charging speed

Models will differ in how fast they can charge. Cars with similar ranges may vary when it comes to charging speeds, and sometimes even different trims or model years of the same car have different charging speeds, too.

Level 2 chargers are the ones that EV owners can have installed at home, and the kind of charger most commonly seen at public charging stations. They typically add 10-30 miles of range per hour.

Most EVs have similar Level 2 charging rates of about 6 or 7 kilowatts (kW). New models sometimes accept higher rates around 10 or 11 kW. In practice, this is a small difference – a car that can charge at 6.6 kW might add 23 miles of range in an hour of Level 2 charging, compared to 32 miles for a car charging at 9.6 kW.

Level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, can refill most EV batteries to 80% in less than an hour. But not all EVs can charge equally fast on them, and older models sometimes can't fast charge at all.

Level 3 chargers are also known as DC fast chargers and are only seen at public charging stations. They’re the chargers that make longer-distance trips in an EV practical and can add 180-240 miles of range an hour.

Unlike Level 2, there is wide variation in the Level 3 charging speeds that different models can accept. Some older EVs lack the hardware to use Level 3 fast chargers at all; in the earlier days of EVs, it was sometimes optional or only available on certain trim levels.

  • Among cars that can charge at Level 3, the low end is 50 kW, which can bring a car from 10% battery to 80% in about an hour.
  • A middle-of-the-pack model might be able to fast charge at 150 kW, offering 10%-to-80% charge time of about half an hour.
  • High-end chargers can go as fast as 350 kW, capable of charging from 10% to 80% in less than 20 minutes in ideal conditions.

If fast charging is important to you, be sure to pick a model and trim that offer it at the speed you desire.


Depreciation is the difference between the price paid to buy a car and the price it is eventually sold for. It’s usually the largest cost of owning a car, and in the past, EVs were known to depreciate faster than gas vehicles. That’s not necessarily true anymore, and not all EV models depreciate at the same rate. Teslas, for example, tend to hold their value well.

Used EV buyers benefit from depreciation by getting a lower sale price, and buying used mitigates depreciation costs somewhat. Still, how quickly a given model of EV will continue to depreciate over time is an important consideration.

You can find estimates for depreciation over 5 years of ownership for vehicles going back 5 model years at AAA’s Your Driving Costs online tool.

Choosing an individual vehicle

Having picked a model of EV, it’s time to find one that’s for sale and do your due diligence. Used EVs can be found at dealerships, used car lots, and online listings.

While they’re growing, EVs remain a small part of the market. Depending on where you live, there may not be many to choose from, in which case you may have to spend more time searching and traveling to find your ideal EV. Older models also are mostly sedans and small SUVs, with electric pickup trucks and other types being more recent arrivals.

Car & battery condition

As with all used cars, it’s critical to know what shape a pre-owned EV is in before you buy it. If available, consider an independent pre-purchase inspection by a company specializing in EVs or the brand of the car you’re considering. You should also get a copy of the car’s service record from the seller or from a service like CARFAX. Look for records indicating future problems, like past wrecks or missed service.

AAA BENEFIT: Members get a discount on CARFAX vehicle history reports. Find out if the car you’re buying has any costly underlying problems by getting a CARFAX report today. 

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Most important is the condition of the car’s battery. Like other batteries, the high-voltage traction battery in an EV gradually loses capacity over time. Check service records for battery repairs or replacements. Battery repairs may suggest an aging battery that could require more service, while a battery replacement could mean the battery has a longer life.

You should specifically request information on the battery’s state of health, since this is a potential future expense that can cost thousands. Dealerships or independent inspectors may be able to perform a battery evaluation.

Otherwise, find out the current maximum capacity of the battery and compare it to the as-new capacity stated by the manufacturer. Many EVs will provide the battery’s current max capacity in kilowatt hours (kWh) on the dash. If not, at least ask to check the driving range in miles when the car is fully charged.

Comparing the capacity or range on the dash to the manufacturer’s as-new value can show how much the battery has already degraded. 


Make sure you understand how the warranty works on any EV you might buy. Most manufacturers (but not all) transfer the warranty if the vehicle is sold to a new owner. Since a battery replacement can cost thousands or potentially tens of thousands of dollars, warranty coverage—and how much of the warranty period is left—can be a key difference-maker between makes, models, and individual vehicles.

Federal law requires manufacturers to offer at least an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty on EV batteries, and California requires a 10-year/150,000-mile warranty. Some manufacturers provide warranties longer than the legal minimum, but the small print is important.

For example, manufacturers have sometimes offered lifetime battery warranties that are only valid for a car’s first owner. Different manufacturers also have different thresholds for when a battery is replaced under warranty; one might replace a battery if it reaches 70% of its original capacity, while another may only do so if the battery fails completely. 

Tax incentives

One final consideration is whether the car you’re looking at qualifies for a tax credit. As of January 2023, buyers can get up to $4,000 or 30% of a vehicle’s price when buying a used EV if the following conditions are met:

  • The EV’s model year is 2 years prior to the purchase year
  • The purchase price doesn’t exceed $25,000
  • The buyer’s income doesn’t exceed $75,000 when filing single, $112,500 when filing as the head of a household, or $150,000 when filing jointly
  • It’s the car’s first sale after the original purchase

Unlike the tax credit for new EVs, there are no requirements related to where a used EV is assembled or where its battery materials come from. For more details, visit the Used Clean Vehicle Credit page on the IRS website.

Looking for a dealer you can trust?

AAA members can enjoy a great car buying experience with AAA Car Buying Service. Find the car you want from a certified dealer and feel confident in the price you’re paying.

AAA Car Buying Service is only available to AAA members. Outside of Southern California, AAA Car Buying Service is managed by TrueCar, Inc. Only car buying research tools are available in Hawai‘i.


Used EV Buyer's Guide

AAA's Used EV Buyer's Guide goes into more detail about EV driving range and charging, used EV ownership costs, and the used EV shopping process. 


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