Buying a used electric car

Cheap to buy - and you'll never need to visit a petrol station. Here's how to buy a used electric car

Chris Knapman
Jul 29, 2020

Electric cars are infamously expensive to buy new, thanks mainly to their costly battery packs which will cancel out many of the savings you’ll make on fuel and road tax. So saving a huge percentage of that initial fee - in some cases over half of the cost - by opting for a used electric car makes a lot of sense.

Although you won’t benefit from the government’s plug-in car grant, used 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 the newer versions.

Used electric cars are proving to be extremely reliable, though, with manufacturers offering up to eight-year warranties on those all-important batteries. Just as importantly, they're generally good to drive, and that instant power delivery is bound to tempt drivers who spend the majority of their time in the city.

There are 985 electric cars currently available on BuyaCar, with prices starting at £6,300 or £126 per month, while certain models such as the previous generation Renault Zoe may require you to lease the battery seperately at an additional cost.

Used electric cars

The electric car market has become much more established recently, and with more and more mainstream manufacturers broadening their electric offerings, demand for zero tailpipe emissions is growing. 2020 has proven to be the busiest year for new electric cars so far.

When the first Nissan Leaf was launched in 2011, buyers were wary of the new technology, but there are now several highly competent and ultimately usable competitors to what is now the second generation Leaf in a rapidly growing sector.

Now, there is a much more desirable list of cars to chose from, with the Renault Zoe representing the cheapest option, and more expensive alternatives like the Hyundai Kona Electric, BMW i3 or Volkswagen e-Golf.

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 seperately 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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