What you need to know about buying a used electric car

Buying used is a great way to make electric motoring even cheaper, with prices of cars like the Nissan Leaf starting from £3,000. But you’ll need to make sure you know what you are looking for and learn some new terms too. We’ve answered some of the common questions below so you can become an EV expert before you venture onto the dealer’s forecourt.

Tom Barnard

28.3.2020

Are used electric cars expensive?

As new electric cars are a bit more expensive than a petrol or diesel, they are inevitably more costly when used too. Nearly-new models can give you a decent saving on the list price if you are not fussy about being the first owner on the registration document, but some electric cars have a waiting list and could even command a premium as dealers cash in on the demand.

Once they get a little older though, the prices become much more reasonable. Bear in mind that the technology used in electric cars evolves quickly though, so a five year old EV will not have the same battery range as a new version of the same car.

The very oldest electric cars are now a decade old and are almost in banger territory. They might only be able to go 50 to 100 miles on a charge, but that might be plenty to get you to work and back at very low cost. You can just plug it in overnight and wake up with a full battery. An option like this works brilliantly if you driver shorter, regular journeys or are looking for a second car. You’ll never have to go to a petrol station again!

What do I need to check when buying an electric car?

Electric car technology moves on fast. So, a car from eight years ago won’t have the same range or tech as something you’ll find in a showroom. The range will also have shrunk a bit compared to when the car was new. When the new generation of electric cars appeared, there were rumours spread around that the powerpacks would need replacing after three years or so and cost thousands to replace. That turned out not to be true, but there will be some degradation. 

The batteries in a modern EV have been proven to be really reliable, probably more than petrol or diesel engines. But they do lose some of their performance over time and after a lot of charges, so you need to check they’ve been looked after and how much range is left. 

There is usually a way of checking the health of the battery in the car’s electronic menu or it will be mentioned in the service documents. 

You also need to check that you’ve got a way of charging it. Any electric car should also come with at least one cable in the boot, and usually more. If it hasn’t got them, or they don’t work, you’re looking at a few hundred pounds to replace them. Especially the so-called ‘granny” cables which plug into a three-pin socket. 

The other thing which can easily get lost is the SD card which contains the sat nav data. You don’t get them on more modern EVs but you will on something older. They are removable and if they go missing you can’t just slot in any card – they need to be programmed by a dealer.

Some versions of the same car seem to be much cheaper because they have a battery lease. What does that mean?

In basic terms, battery leasing is where you buy most of the car, but you pay a monthly fee to use the battery. The cost will depend on how many miles you do and the length of the contract. It’s most common on Renault EVs, the occasional Nissan Leaf and early electric Smarts. The benefit is that the car will be cheaper to buy and the battery is guaranteed for as long as you keep paying the lease fees.

But they are comparatively expensive payments on an old car, with the current cost being at least £50 per month.  It will make it more difficult to sell on – so be careful and know what you are getting in to.

How important is a service history on an electric car?

In theory electric cars don’t need as much maintenance as a petrol or diesel, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect them. A trained technician will be able to make sure your electric car is working well, safe and has the latest software updates. 

There are very few independent electric car specialists and you need training to be able to wield the spanners on these cars. So, most used EVs will have been maintained at an official dealer. 

It’s OK to have tyres, brakes and other non-electric parts done by a local garage or fast fit but you’ll want evidence that the electric parts have been probed by someone who’s been on a few courses and got a certificate to prove it.

Can any garage do the MoT on an electric car?

Yes, any garage which carries out MoT testing should be able to test an electric car without any issues. The tester simply enters the registration number into their computer and it will guide them through the relevant sections. There is no need to worry about the emissions, obviously!

However, some garages might be a bit funny about testing an EV as they will not feel comfortable doing repairs if the car were to fail on anything related to the electric powertrain. It’s better to mention it at the time of booking to make sure, or just get it done at the same time as your annual service.

Should I consider a used electric car which has been involved in an accident and repaired?

Electric cars need a bit of specialist knowledge to fix, so make sure any work has been done to a proper standard by someone who knows what they’re doing. As they become more in demand and prices rise, there are a few cowboys who will buy a bashed EV and try to repair it on the cheap. If you are in any doubt, run a check online to see if the car has been written off and consider a professional inspection.

How do I know how much a used electric car is really worth?

You just need to do research. Look around the internet at adverts to get a decent idea of price from what sellers are asking for similar models. The best and most expensive cars will be at franchised dealers, but this will be reflected in the condition and the warranty you’ll get. Specialist dealers will be a little cheaper, with private sales next in line. 

You might be able to pick up an electric car at auction too, but make sure you know what you are doing before you go into a bidding battle with professional traders.

What is an ex-Motability car? Should I be put off buying one?

Motability is a charitable organisation which supplies brand new cars to people who have a disability. It currently registers about 10% of all new cars in Britain, so there are a lot of ex-Motability cars around. 

They are replaced after three years and all of the servicing is paid for by the charity, so they should be well maintained. The dealer supplying the replacement gets the first dibs on the used car, and often they will keep them for stock. Otherwise they’ll be offered to traders in an online marketplace or sent to auction. 

Motability cars tend to be really well looked after, but there will always be the odd wrong ‘un, so check it as you would with any other used car.

Will my used EV be worthless in a few years?

It’s unlikely. Even if the battery has lost a chunk of its capacity, it will still be an attractive proposition to someone as a runaround which will cost buttons to run. In addition, the battery itself has a resale value, as they are used in the power generation industry to store energy from wind and solar. Whereas a petrol engine just gets scrapped, an EV battery will have a second and maybe even third life before being recycled. 

A used EV is nothing to be scared of, but do some swotting up before you buy

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