Thinking of Buying a Used Electric Car? Here’s What You Should Know
As the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) becomes more widespread, more used electric cars are entering the market and offering a more affordable option for those looking to go electric. In fact, 7% of electric vehicles registered in Vermont in the first quarter of 2020 are used, according to the most recent report from Drive Electric VT. This number is only expected to grow along with the increased availability of used EVs.
If you’re looking to go green with your next vehicle and think you might be interested in a used EV, here is a list of important questions to ask and information to know as you start your search.
WHY SHOULD I BUY A USED EV?
There are three main reasons to purchase a pre-owned electric vehicle:
- They retain their value better than a new EV. All cars depreciate in value as soon as they leave the lot. But new EVs drop in value even more dramatically. New models and technologies are always emerging and incentives for purchasing a new EV effectively lower the sale price—both of these factors are reflected in the resale value. As the second owner, you benefit by avoiding the significant drop in value on your initial investment.
This is why many EV drivers lease their vehicles, at least to start. It allows them to benefit from federal tax credits, lower the risk of depreciation, and inexpensively upgrade to newer models. Leased EVs at the end of their lease terms are one of the primary drivers (no pun intended) of the continued increase in supply on the used EV market.
- They require less maintenance than a used gas-powered car. If you’ve settled on getting a used car and are debating between green and gas, you may save more money in the long run with a used EV. With fewer moving parts than their gas-powered counterparts, electric cars don’t need as much upkeep. Not only do you save money on gas, but you can also keep your money in your pocket instead of springing for a new sprocket.
- They cost less! This, of course, is one of the biggest selling points of any used car. You may even find that you’ll receive discounted financing and extended terms on the purchase of qualifying vehicles, which can help lower your monthly payments.
As you might expect, the answer depends. Pricing for used EVs is model-specific, and varies depending on the brand, model, age, range, and other factors.
WHAT INCENTIVES WILL I QUALIFY FOR?
Unfortunately, used EVs don’t qualify for federal or state incentives. (For a new electric car, federal incentives can save you up to $7,500 in tax credits. Vermont state incentives were recently refunded and can provide up to $4,000.)
You’re not entirely out of luck, however. Because these incentives are factored into the resale value of the car, in effect you still benefit by getting a lower sale price.
While you may not get a tax break from the government, you can qualify for incentives through other means. Did you know your utility company offers incentives? Burlington Electric Department, Green Mountain Power, Stowe Electric Department, Vermont Electric Coop, and Vermont Public Power Supply Authority all offer rebates or bill credits on your used EV purchase. Capstone Community Action also offers up to $5,000 to help income eligible Vermonters with the purchase of an efficient used vehicle through its MileageSmart program.
As incentives can vary in amount, be based on household income, and may be subject to expire, visit the Drive Electric VT incentives page to see the current offerings.
LOOKING FOR A NEW ELECTRIC VEHICLE?
Our car finder tool can help you search for a car near you.
HOW DO I START LOOKING?
As with buying any kind of car, or making any other significant investment, the first step is research. See which models best suit your needs based on size, range, price, and other factors.
Once you know what you’re looking for, check local dealerships for availability by calling or looking at their online inventory. If you want to increase your options, you can use Cars.com to search farther afield, filtering by distance and your criteria from your research. Even then you may want to follow up with specific dealers or investigate other websites, as Cars.com doesn’t always list every available vehicle.
One item to keep in mind if you’re deciding who to buy your used EV from: You may have more bargaining power in a private sale than buying from a dealer. However, make sure you’ve done your homework on the vehicle if you go this route and consider asking your mechanic to take a look before you finalize the sale.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT THE BATTERY LIFE AND RANGE?
“Worried” may not be the correct term, but you certainly want to make sure the battery works well and that the range fits your driving needs.
EVs in general are very reliable, and the same goes for electric car batteries. Some models have onboard diagnostics that allow you to see the health of the car’s battery on your smartphone. Where the car is coming from can also tell you something about the battery’s condition. Since heat is harder on the battery than the cold, you’ll want to factor in the origins of the previous owner as you evaluate the battery’s longevity.
Still, the battery is one of the more expensive parts to replace on an electric vehicle. At around $5,500, it is worth your while to have the battery examined by a professional. You’ll also want to ask that the battery be fully charged before finalizing any purchase; a fully charged battery allows you to properly assess its performance.
Range is another critical factor to consider before buying a used EV. Based on your usual driving habits, does the model’s range get you where you need to go? Consider this in conjunction with nearby charging stations, particularly DC Fast Charging ports that could give your car an 80% charge in under an hour.
At the end of the day, the most important factors to consider might be the car’s age and mileage. Electric car batteries are built to last eight to ten years, and studies show that EV range decreases 15% on average after seven years.
What’s more, the car that you’re planning to buy may still be under warranty. In addition to the manufacturer’s warranty, there are also federal and “California Emissions” warranties (applicable to Vermont) that could cover critical parts for as much as 15 years or 150,000 miles. If you experience any battery issues with your used EV, your repair or replacement costs might be covered. (To learn more about warranties for low emission vehicles and which models qualify, visit the Department of Environmental Conservation website.)
If a used EV is approaching a decade on the road, a purchase could still make sense. You just may want to include the cost of a new battery in considering how much you want to pay.
WILL MY USED EV SOON BE OUTDATED?
The answer to this question is: it depends. As EV technology and popularity grow, range and battery performance are advancing quickly. But outdated doesn’t mean obsolete. The more accurate question might be, “How up to date does my EV need to be?”
This, of course, is a matter of personal taste and individual circumstance. Depending on what model you buy and how long you plan to keep it, you’ll have to decide whether a used electric car’s technology and capabilities will suffice for you. As long as the battery has life and the range gets you where you need to go, it may be just fine.
At the end of the day, you’ll be saving money and the environment with your EV.
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.
About Laurie Fielder
Laurie directs VSECU’s statewide VGreen energy savings loan program. Previously, she worked for the weatherization program at the Central Vermont Community Action Council (now Capstone), and for a successful residential solar installer. She enjoys helping Vermonters learn about efficiency and renewable financing options that maximize the savings of these smart investments. She lives in Woodbury with her family and enjoys the outdoors, walking the dog, and tackling home improvement projects.