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5 things you need to know before buying a used EV

Photo by slavun/stock.adobe.com Photo by slavun/stock.adobe.com

Fully electric vehicles (EVs) have been on the market for nearly a decade. Nissan’s 2011 Leaf was a pioneer among EVs, and the much-ballyhooed Tesla Model S sedan debuted in 2012. Now EVs are popping up on used-car lots more and more frequently. Here are some things to mull if you’re considering buying a used EV.

1. EVs can be great deals

Throughout 2021, used-car prices have been higher than usual because of a shortage of inventory; nonetheless, near the end of the year, you could buy a 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Electric with less than 20,000 miles on it for $21,000, around 70 percent of its original $30,000 MSRP. Similarly, a 2019 Chevy Bolt Premier with less than 12,000 miles was offered for $27,000, as compared with its original $42,000 price tag.

Be forewarned, though:

  • You’re much less likely to find really great deals on Teslas, because they hold their value better than most EVs.
  • Also, used-EV buyers don’t benefit from the thousands of dollars in credits and rebates that federal and state governments lavish on many new EVs.

2. Maintenance costs could be lower

Used EVs lack dozens of components found in conventional cars—such as fuel injectors, exhaust systems, timing belts, and catalytic converters—that might need to be serviced or replaced. You can also say adios to routine oil, spark plug, or timing-belt changes.

And because electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines, EVs also save money on fuel—charging an EV is equivalent to paying less than $2 for a gallon of gasoline.

3. Pay attention to range

Older EVs are likely to be short on range. In 2011, the three EVs on the market could go between 63 and 94 miles on a full charge. Today, there are nearly 20 EV models available—several of them reasonably priced—and many can travel 200 or more miles between charges. Long range—which diminishes range anxiety—is what folks really want.

4. Beware the battery

An EV’s Achilles’ heel is its battery pack. Whether in a smartphone, laptop, or EV, lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, limiting their storage capacity. Battery stressors include too many deep discharges (more likely with short-range EVs), very cold or very hot weather, routinely keeping the battery at a high state of charge (above 90 percent), and using a so-called Level 3 fast charger too often, rather than charging with a slower Level 1 or 2 charger at home.

Unlike hybrids, EVs don’t have government-mandated lengthy battery warranties. And the batteries aren’t cheap to replace, ranging from around $5,000 to $15,000.

In Teslas, faulty individual cells, rather than the entire battery pack, can be switched out for about $500 a cell (there are 20 to 30 cells per pack, depending upon the model). But the entire battery pack must be replaced in other EVs.

The good news is that automakers voluntarily give EVs long battery warranties, typically 8 to 10 years or 100,000 miles (sometimes more). Some automakers warrant the battery pack only against total failure, while others replace it if it’s only partially degraded. A used-EV buyer could be stuck with a degraded pack and diminished range even if it’s still under warranty.

5. Do the research

If a used EV appeals to you, pay particular attention to a prospective purchase’s state-of-charge indicator—to see if the battery can still support a full charge—and to the details of the car’s warranty, in addition to the usual checks (body damage, cosmetics, brakes, etc.) you’d do for any used car.

Who knows? You might wind up with a screamin’ deal.

Veteran automotive journalist Peter Bohr has been writing about cars for more than four decades.

You may also like: A how-to guide to buying an EV home charger

With AAA’s free Car Buying Service, members can enjoy a no-hassle experience when purchasing a new or used vehicle. Get estimated pricing and access to online inventory before visiting a AAA-recommended dealer near you. For details, go to AAA.com/auto or call 800-709-7222.

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