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Lifestyle Guides

Pros and cons of buying a used electric car

Not only is switching to an electric car good for the planet, but it's good for your pocket too

renault-zoe-electric-car

Go Ultra Low calculated that running an electric vehicle (EV) can cost a quarter or less of what it costs to run a conventional petrol or diesel car, while zero tailpipe emissions are kinder to the environment.

In 2019 a total of 2.3 million new cars were sold in the UK, compared to 7.9 million used vehicles, with alternatively fuelled vehicles (including hybrids) accounting for 1.7% of second-hand transactions. That's an increase of 23.4% with 135,516 changing hands.

There's no doubt that the used EV market is going to expand dramatically (there are now more than 265,000 on UK roads), so we thought we'd look at the advantages and disadvantages of buying a used electric car.

On a basic level, buying a second-hand EV is the same as purchasing a petrol or diesel-powered car – you still need to check the documentation and the car's history etc. But when it comes to the viewing and the test drive, there's a lot less to go on. 

Sure, you can check the general condition of the car, plus the handling and brakes during the test drive, but without an oil dipstick, for instance, there's more of a reliance on a good service history and a lower mileage. 

The good news is that EVs have fewer components than cars with combustion engines, so there’s less to go wrong. 

Advantages of buying a used EV

Save money 

The cost of electricity to power an EV for a mile depends on the tariff used, but it's estimated to be around 2-3p, compared to 11-13p to fuel a typical diesel car.

Greener 

Pure electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, making them kinder to the environment than any petrol, electric or hybrid car. Less pollution means cleaner air and a healthier planet. 

Purchase price  

You can now buy a used electric car from as little as £2,000, while big sellers like the Nissan Leaf can be bought from £5,000. 

Reliability 

Electric vehicles are cheaper to maintain than petrol and diesel cars because they have fewer moving parts and there’s reduced wear and tear. It's estimated that switching to an EV could save 20-30% on service and maintenance costs – significant, especially when cars get older and less reliable.

Warranty 

Buying a used EV can offer extra peace of mind. Some battery packs on new cars have a warranty of eight years (eg BMW, Tesla and Nissan), meaning you’ll still be able to benefit from that when buying second-hand. 

So, broadly speaking, if the battery's capacity drops below a certain percentage, it’ll be repaired or replaced.

Tax benefits 

Apart from zero road tax, business users can save thousands of pounds a year. Under the latest tax changes, fully electric cars pay no company car tax in 2020/21, just 1% in 2021/22 and 2% in 2022/23.

Comfort 

With no engine noise, EVs offer a refined, relaxing driving experience.

Simplicity 

There's no traditional manual gearbox in an EV, so it's simply a case of accelerating and braking, just like a conventional automatic car, but easier.

Performance 

Thanks to the instant torque delivery of an electric motor, EVs are surprisingly quick away from the lights, capable of out-sprinting many an expensive performance car.

Disadvantages of buying a used EV

Range anxiety 

EV batteries degrade as they get older, delivering a shorter range than when new. The jury’s out on this, but there’s evidence that they don't lose as much capacity as was once feared. That said, many older electric cars typically had a real-world range of around 100 miles when new, so any drop in range is unwelcome. 

Battery lease 

When buying a second-hand electric vehicle, check the battery pack is included. Batteries on some older EVs (eg Renault Zoe) were leased in a bid to reduce the car’s initial purchase price, so you'll need to factor in a cost of at least £49 per month if your used EV has a leased battery. 

Purchase price 

All cars lose their value over time, so depreciation affects any vehicle. However, electric cars (with their relatively high prices new) have historically lost value at a high rate. However, as newer, competitively priced EVs go on sale and buyers see older electric cars reliably plying the roads, perceptions will change.

Charging time 

The same problem, whether you buy new or used – you’ll have to factor in time to stop and recharge on longer journeys.

Driving fun 

Whether you're buying new or used, many petrolheads argue that electric vehicles deliver a dull driving experience, devoid of engine noise, the thrill of changing gears and exciting handling characteristics. 

This is a controversial argument and manufacturers are improving driving dynamics for their latest EVs. Test drive one for yourself. There are many converts out there!

Maintenance 

If something goes wrong with your EV, you may have no choice but to go to a main dealer, because many independent garages don’t specialise in electric vehicles.

Charging points 

Buyers of used electric cars suffer from the same infrastructure limitations as new EV buyers. The network of public chargers is growing, but if we all switched to electric this year, there wouldn't be anywhere near enough. Also, drivers living in flats or houses with no driveway are snookered.

Warranty 

Most new electric cars come with a generous eight-year battery warranty, and so far, there's no evidence that battery packs on older EVs degrade massively, although we know they lose some range with age. However, there’s always a worry that future owners could be landed with an expensive battery replacement bill out of warranty.

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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