What are the downsides of second-hand electric cars?

In theory, there’s never been a better time to buy a used electric car. Zero-emission vehicles have been growing in popularity for the past decade, so there’s a sizeable selection of second-hand electric cars to choose from.

Indeed, at the time of writing there are around 3,000 electric cars for sale on Auto Trader, with prices starting from £4,000. But what are the downsides of opting for a used electric car rather than a new one?

Reduced electric range

An electric car battery will lose around two percent of its capacity every year. This might not seem like a lot, but after a decade, it could be the equivalent of 10 or 20 miles, depending on the electric car in question.

Although battery packs can be refurbished – or replaced at great expense – you’ll have to factor this into the cost of the car to see if upgrading to a newer electric car would make financial sense.

Old technology

Citroen C-Zero

Even without taking the diminished battery performance into account, a new electric car is likely to offer more miles per charge. At the bottom end of the market, you’re looking at the likes of the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot Ion – cars that could only muster around 93 miles of range when new.

Meanwhile the Nissan Leaf – which accounts for more than a third of all electric cars for sale on Auto Trader – offered between 109 and 155 miles of range, depending on the age of the car.

Today, even the sub-£20,000 Seat Mii Electric offers 160 miles – and this is a car originally based on a petrol model. Although you might not achieve this figure in everyday use, it shows how far the technology has come. A range of between 150 and 250 miles is becoming the norm.

It’s not just the battery pack: manufacturers have also developed the electric motors, cooling, charging, connectivity and driving experience. This means an older electric car will feel its age faster than a conventional vehicle.

Heavy depreciation

Renault Fluence

New cars start to lose money the moment you drive away from the showroom. Depreciation is particularly heavy in the first year, but the car will continue to shed value until the point at which it becomes a classic – which could be a long way off.

Great news if you’re in the market for a used electric car, then? Not necessarily, because unless you’re buying a really old electric vehicle at the bottom end of the market, the value could continue to drop at an alarming rate.

There are a couple of caveats. First, the depreciation curve is at its steepest in the first three years, so there are less risks associated with buying an EV from this point onwards.

Second, depreciation affects all new cars, so it would be wrong to single out electric vehicles. Besides, as electric cars grow in popularity – and the petrol and diesel backlash continues – the rate at which electric cars lose their value could start to slow.

Are the batteries included?

Renault Zoe

This is a big consideration to be wary of when buying an early electric car. Some models, most notably the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf, were sold without the battery pack included in the price of the car.

Instead, the original owner selected to lease the battery from the manufacturer, with the price varying according to the length of the agreement and the number of miles covered within a 12-month period.

Nissan and Renault have abandoned the leasing model, but many second-hand examples of the Leaf and Zoe are available without the battery pack included. Indeed, battery leasing accounted for 60 percent of all Zoe sales from 2014 to 2019.

This company offers battery rentals for the Zoe from £49 a month for 4,500 miles a year, to £110 a year for upwards of 10,501 miles. Costs for the Nissan Leaf range from £70 to £129 a month.

It’s worth noting that electric cars with the cost of a battery pack included tend to be around £5,000 more expensive than those without. Do some sums – it could work out cheaper for you to lease the batteries. You won’t have to worry about diminishing performance.

No new car warranty

The length of warranty varies depending on the make, model and age of the vehicle. Regardless of the age of the car, you’ll enjoy less time before the battery and vehicle warranty expire. In the case of some older cars, the warranties may have expired.

As an aside, new electric cars are available with a £3,000 plug-in car grant discount from the UK government, which you won’t get when buying used.

Worn components

Renault Zoe charging

Although an electric car has fewer moving parts, the weight of the battery pack puts a strain on the suspension, steering, brakes and tyres. All will need to be looked at when viewing a used electric car – and these are unlikely to be covered by a warranty.

Aside from the above, the usual considerations apply. Do you have access to a charger at home? Can you live with the official range (plus the leeway for real-world driving)? Can you afford the monthly payments?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ – and you’ve taken our advice into account – there should be nothing scary about buying a used electric car.

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