The high price of electric vehicles puts them out of reach for many potential car buyers. If you want an EV but can’t afford to buy one new, it’s natural to consider purchasing a used example.

Even though the volume of used electric cars remains low compared to ICE vehicles, when browsing the second-hand market these days, you will inevitably come across a wide selection of very tempting possible buys. EVs still depreciate more than their combustion counterparts, and this might bring many models down in price enough that buyers who couldn’t afford them new can now consider them.

Your used EV search will probably yield quite a few killer deals on cars that aren’t very old and don't have anything wrong with them. A gently used model can be half the price of a new one.

Buying a used electric car is similar to buying any other vehicle. You have to check its service history, find out if it’s been involved in accidents and also do a general inspection of the exterior, interior and underside of the vehicle before you buy.

However, given the specifics of electric powertrains and battery packs, there are certain things that you need to look out for in a second-hand EV.

What’s The Difference Between New And Used EVs?

Tesla Model 3 (Highland)

If you’re comparing a new EV with a second-hand example of the same model, if the used vehicle has been well maintained, the experience will be almost identical. Most EVs are still relatively new, so you won’t find too many old and worn-out examples out there.  There's only one component you really have to worry about: The battery pack.

The cells in a battery pack suffer degradation as it ages—Tesla claims its cars will lose about 12 percent of their battery capacity after 200,000 miles—but this degradation can be accelerated based on how the vehicle is used. If an electric vehicle has been regularly DC fast-charged to 100 percent or brought close to depletion, it will suffer accelerated degradation.

This means the biggest difference between two identical EVs—one new and one old—is in their respective ranges. A one-year-old EV that has been used as a taxi or as part of a ride-hailing service and is fast-charged every day will have a lower range than one that was almost always charged at home and kept in a temperature-controlled garage.

Why Would Someone Buy A New EV?

2016 Nissan Leaf charging

If you have the money to buy an EV brand-new, that’s the best way to ensure you will have the most stress-free ownership experience. Your car will have no scratches or wear, its battery pack will be new and you will also have at least three years of manufacturer warranty coverage (though often around eight years for the battery).

The biggest con of buying new is the cost, and that’s what makes many potential buyers go for a used car instead. 

Why Would Someone Buy A Used EV?

Buying a used EV is a cost-conscious decision. You can get what is essentially the same car as the new one but for a lot less, and this prospect is very attractive. However, unless you’re really lucky and happen to stumble upon a great deal, finding a good used EV that is both fairly priced and in great condition can be difficult.

Used EV buyers will still want to get as much of the new car experience as possible, so they will look for a vehicle that still has some of its manufacturer warranty intact. If the used EV you’re looking to buy is less than five years old, finding one that’s still under warranty (which is usually transferrable to the new owner) should be a priority.

How Much Do EVs Hold Their Value?

Used 2023 Tesla Model S P85 sold for $7,800

EVs don’t hold their value quite as well as other vehicles. One recent study found that the rate of EV depreciation over five years has gone down from 67 percent in 2019 to 49.1 percent in 2023, but it’s still higher than all other types of vehicles—hybrids and pickups fared best.

Another study says used EVs saw a significant drop in price in 2023 versus 2022. Comparing used EV prices from October 2023 with the same month in 2022, iSeeCars says they dropped by over 33 percent, down from $52,821 to $34,994.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Buying A New EV?

The pros of buying a new EV include full warranty coverage, a new battery pack that delivers its full range potential and, of course, the unmatched satisfaction of peeling the plastic protector off the car’s infotainment screen.

The biggest con of buying a new EV is that you have to pay the full price for one. You may also have to wait from several months to over a year in some cases to take delivery of your electric vehicle, especially if it comes from manufacturers impacted by the compound effects of the pandemic and component shortages.

If your EV is a brand-new model running new software, you may experience some glitches that can range from mild annoyances to the vehicle bricking itself on the side of the road. The likelihood that your vehicle will be recalled is also higher in this instance. If you buy an older EV that has been on the market for longer, these bugs will be ironed out by the time you get the vehicle.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Buying A Used EV?

Mercedes-EQ dealership in Yokohama, Japan

Paying a lot less is obviously the biggest plus point of buying used, but there are plenty of cons if you go down the used EV route. You can never be completely sure what its history is or how the vehicle has been used. It may be a relatively new and seemingly blemish-free car, but if it’s an ex-ride-hailing car that has only seen a public fast charger, its battery will provide noticeably less range compared to when it was new.

What to look for when buying a used EV

The first thing you should try to find out about the EV that you want to buy is where the owner lives and what types of chargers they have access to. If you buy it from someone who can’t slow-charge the car at home overnight and instead has to rely on the public charging network where it was frequently fast-charged, the battery could be affected.

This applies to vehicles with or without a plug, but it’s ideal to find a vehicle that still has part of its original manufacturer warranty left and make sure it covers the battery pack. Warranty coverage is even more important in an EV because if you buy the vehicle and its battery pack fails out of warranty, you could be looking at tens of thousands of dollars for a brand-new replacement pack.

When you arrange a meeting where you can inspect the used EV that you want to buy, ask the owner to fully charge it and check the vehicle’s range estimation against the EPA claim. If there’s a small difference, then it means the battery pack is in good condition. Be sure to also take note of the outside temperature, as an EV’s range can drop quite drastically in winter when it’s very cold.

You should ideally avoid high-mileage vehicles, especially ones that were used as taxis or for Uber and Lyft, as well as former rental cars (although ex-rentals will be among the cheapest EVs you can find). Make sure that none of the car’s features are linked to the former owner and can’t be transferred, or if you discover this is the case for a feature they advertised that the car had, this can be a good bargaining tool.

Finally, if the second-hand EV you're thinking of buying is under $25,000 and it's sold by a licensed dealer, you may be able to claim the used EV tax credit that can slash 30 percent of the car's price, or up to $4,000.

Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com