Buying a used electric car

It's a good time to buy a used electric car - they're more affordable, still reliable and much cheaper to run than a petrol or diesel car

Chris Knapman
Oct 28, 2021

Brand new electric cars are expensive to buy, thanks mainly to their complex and costly battery packs, and that additional cost will generally cancel out many of the savings you’ll be expecting to make on fuel and road tax. So if you're trying to save as much money as you can on that initial purchase cost, your best option is to look for a used electric car.

Although you won’t benefit from the government’s plug-in car grant, used electric car prices are much more competitive in comparison with standard petrol or diesel prices, although some of the earlier models may not offer quite so much range per charge as newer alternatives.

If you're hesitant about buying into this relatively new technology, there is plenty of evidence around to calm you nerves. Used electric cars are proving to be extremely reliable, with manufacturers offering up to eight-year warranties on those all-important batteries. In terms of battery life, while we don't have the full picture just yet, all evidence points towards electric cars surviving for at least as long as petrol or diesel cars, with Tesla owners in particular reporting batteries retaining more than 90% of their charge potential after 100,000 miles.

Just as importantly, they're generally good to drive, and the instant power you get from an electric motor is bound to tempt drivers who spend the majority of their time in the city.

There are 1121 used electric cars currently available on BuyaCar, with prices starting at £7,990 or £218 per month. It's worth bearing in mind that certain older models such as the previous-generation Renault Zoe may require you to lease the battery separately at an additional cost, so watch out if you'd rather avoid that kind of deal.

Used electric cars

The electric car market has become much more established recently, and with mainstream manufacturers investing heavily in broadening their electric offerings, demand for zero tailpipe emissions is growing.

When the first Nissan Leaf was launched in 2011, buyers were wary of the new technology, and range anxiety was big news, but those worries have been quietened with each new model that's released. Next to the second-generation Leaf, there's the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia e-Niro SUVs, and a growing selection of smaller electric cars including the Peugeot e-208, Vauxhall Corsa-e and Honda e, and well as the second-generation Renault Zoe, all of which are offering much more substantial battery range.

Buying a used electric car: the good

They can represent good value
All the zero local emissions benefits of a new electric car
Batteries are proving to be very durable

Buying a used electric car: the not-so-good

Hard to check battery condition
Battery hire agreements not always obvious
Same infrastructure limitations as any other electric car

Find the right used electric car

Ignore what's powering the car's wheels for a moment and ensure that the car is right for you: opt for a Zoe and you will find boot space is limited, but something like the Kona will offer a much more practical alternative and a much higher driving position. If, on the other hand, it's poise and quality that you're after, something like the Jaguar I-Pace might be more to your liking - if at a much higher price point.

The buzz-word of electric car consumers is 'range', or the number of miles the car can go from a single charge. This will probably not be a concern if you only cover 30 or 40 miles a day, but the latest generation of electric cars has gone a long way towards addressing the worries of those with a lengthier commute. Where previousy, a Nissan Leaf or high-end Tesla would be a necessity for journeys over 100 miles, all of the cars mentioned in this article will take you well over that distance in a single charge - the Kona claims a whopping 258-mile range.

On a side note, if you're likely to use public charging, then it's worth ensuring that your car is compatible with rapid chargers, which can top up the battery to 80% of its capacity in 35 minutes in some cases.

Finally, you should check that you're buying the car that you think you are. There has been rapid progress in the development of electric car technology, which means that cars are regularly updated. For example, the Renault Zoe has undergone several upgrades since went on sale in 2013. In 2015, it gained a better motor, known as R240, which increased the car's realistic range between charges from 71 to 106 miles, according to Renault.

The following year, Renault introduced a new battery, called Z.E.40, with a real-world range of between 124 and 186 miles, and again in 2019, the car has been renewed with an even more powerful motor. You can check our buying guides for more information on the the changes to each car throughout its lifetime.

Battery hire barriers

Some electric cars such as the first generation Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe were sold without a battery, which then had to be hired separately by owners. The theory was that this made the cars look cheaper to buy and would also protect owners from shelling out thousands of pounds for a new battery in the event that the original failed.

But what happens when these battery hire cars move into the used market? The short answer is that the new owner must continue to lease a battery, which costs from £50 a month. Fair enough, you might think, except that while the car itself has lost value the battery hire continues to cost the same, making running costs disproportionate to the value of the car.

As a result it is very important to clarify with a seller whether an electric car is on a battery hire arrangement, or what is described as ‘battery owned' - meaning the price of the car includes the battery.

As of 2020, no new electric cars are currently being sold with the battery leasing option, meaning all of the latest models are guaranteed to have batteries included in their price.

Check the used car battery agreement

Most electric cars come with a warranty for the vehicle and a separate (usually longer) one for the battery pack. These vary, with manufacturers offering different levels of protection. Renault, or example, offers five years of cover on electric cars where the battery is owned, up to a maximum of 60,000 miles. This includes a guarantee against battery degradation: if your battery drops below 70% of its capacity when new, Renault will repair or replace it (the limit is slightly lower on some versions of the Kangoo Z.E. van.

BMW’s battery warranty lasts for a maximum of eight years or 100,000 miles and comes with the same 70% capacity guarantee. Nissan’s eight year, 100,000 mile battery warranty is less transparent: if the capacity drops below nine bars on the car’s 12 bar gauge, then the battery will be repaired or replaced, but it’s not entirely clear whether each bar represents the same proportion of capacity.

Tesla’s eight year, unlimited mileage warranty sounds like the most generous of the lot, but it doesn’t include any battery capacity guarantee. That said, in 2016, a group of Tesla owners monitored 286 of their members’ cars and found that over 200,000 miles, a battery was likely to lose no more than 5% of its capacity. That’s no guarantee of the latest models’ performance, though.

Servicing a used electric car

The good news is that electric cars have far fewer components than those with an engine, so there’s less to go wrong and no oil changes needed.

However, finding a specialist with the training to service a high-voltage car may not be straightforward and you may be restricted to the main dealer network, which is often more expensive than visiting an independent mechanic.


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