How to Buy a Used EV

Sebastian Blanco | Aug 08, 2022

According to the Department of Energy, Americans have purchased more than 2.6 million new "electrified" vehicles in the United States since 2010. That figure includes battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), hybrids (HEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and fuel cells (FCEVs)—all generally referred to as electric vehicles (EVs). As sales of new electric cars have grown, the number of available used EVs has also increased. Recurrent, which tracks used electric-vehicle sales, found that about a third of the roughly 160,000 EVs sold in the first three months of 2022 were pre-owned.

How to Buy a Used EV

If you're shopping for a pre-owned electric vehicle, here are some tips on how to buy a used EV.

Treat It Like Any Other Used Car

Before buying any used car—no matter the powertrain—there are some things every shopper should do, including:

  • Calculate how much car you can afford
  • Do your research to find the right model
  • Obtain a vehicle history report
  • Take a test drive
  • Have a mechanic inspect the car
  • Check how the new purchase will affect your insurance rates

You can accomplish most of these things the same way you would if you were shopping for an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. Some, however, will be slightly different. For example, you will need to find a mechanic familiar with EVs.

Be Aware of Battery Degradation

All batteries, including those in electric vehicles, degrade over time. That means a "full" charge in a five-year-old EV provides less range than when the EV was new. If the battery has lost 10 percent of its capacity, you can expect to get 10 percent less range out of a full charge. When buying a used EV, knowing the battery's status will allow you to estimate the vehicle's range accurately.

One way to check a used EV's battery performance is to ask the seller to let you test drive the car when it's fully charged. Electric vehicles whose batteries can no longer fill to 100 percent will make this evident in the dashboard display. For a more precise answer, Recurrent offers independent, online battery analysis that compares battery data from your potential new electric vehicle with that from thousands of other EVs. Using this information can help you identify if the EV you're thinking of buying has an abnormally low battery capacity.

Know About EV-Specific Warranty Information

Buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) EV is the best way to get a warranty for your new purchase. Tesla, for example, offers a limited warranty for the used vehicles it sells that continues any coverage from the original 4-year/50,000-mile basic vehicle warranty and adds an additional year or 10,000 miles of coverage, starting the day you take delivery.

You don't have to buy a CPO EV to get some warranty benefits. All Chevrolet vehicles transfer their warranty to a new owner, but Chevy will only replace the battery if its capacity level is less than 60 percent of what it was when new. If you buy a used electric vehicle from FordKiaHyundai, or some other brands, you will be eligible for any remaining warranty coverage for the battery and related components.

You might need a replacement pack if the battery's capacity is unusually low. This could cost you thousands of dollars if the used EV doesn't have a warranty or is over 10 years old. Each automaker has slightly different rules for their warranties, but all automakers selling EVs in the U.S. must warranty their batteries for at least eight years or 100,000 miles. These warranties allow for some degradation, often 70 or 80 percent of the original capacity during the warranty period, though actual degradation is typically far from that level.

Take Advantage of Any Government Incentives

There is currently a $7,500 federal tax credit available to most EV buyers, but it only applies to new EVs. However, legislators are now discussing a $4,000 credit for used EVs. Some local governments and utilities offer incentives for used EVs. Contact your local agencies and providers for details.

Keep Your Car Updated

Many electric vehicles' infotainment, safety, and operating systems stay current via over-the-air updates. You can check to see if a software update is available for your used EV; if there is, you should download it as soon as possible.

After you transfer ownership, you will need to reset any personal data from the previous owner and enter your information. Doing so will help you connect the car to any compatible smartphone apps you want to use and prevents the previous owner from getting information about what you're doing in "their" car.

When you buy a used EV, you won't get all the free charging benefits of some new EVs. Signing up for an account with an EV charging network like Electrify America or ChargePoint will still provide you with public charging options. That will likely mean adding your details to the EV through the infotainment screen or a connected app. Some EVs use this information to automatically pay for and start charging when connected to a compatible public charging station using a technology called Plug & Charge.

Summary

Buying a used EV requires some legwork, but not much more than shopping for a pre-owned gas-powered car. You'll likely have a positive ownership experience if you do your homework.

Once you have a vehicle in mind, search our Cars for Sale section to find one near you. You can also learn more about EV technology from our Shopping Guides.

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