Used Electric Vehicle/PHEV Buying Guide


Looking At Buying A Used EV?

Looking At Buying A Used EV?

I’m not normally the kind of person to buy new vehicles. But when the first plug-in vehicles came to market, I wanted in and the only way in was to buy new. Or in my case, to lease new. I have a lease coming to an end on one of our EVs soon and so I’ve been researching what I can buy a used model for. Some plug-in vehicles have been on the market long enough that it is now possible to get really good deals on them in the used market.

When Buying A Used Plug-In, Make Use The 12V L1 Charging Cable Is Still With The Vehicle

When Buying A Used Plug-In, Make Use The 12V L1 Charging Cable Is Still With The Vehicle

Obvious there is a lot to know and look for when buying any used car. And there are plenty of websites that will tell you negotiating tactics, how to spot previous damage, or how to spot mechanical problems that the dealer may be trying to hide from you. It is my intention to simply cover those things that are unique to plug-in cars.

  • Out-of-State Purchases. Unfortunately, most of the great deals are coming out of California and some areas of the country have almost no used (or even new) inventory of plug-in cars. So, one thing to consider is the possibility of having a car shipped. I realize this reduces the ability to make a proper inspection. Shipping will generally cost around $500. But the deals available out of state may more than compensate for that.
  • Tax Credits. Used cars don’t qualify. However, in a way, you are still getting the credit. The fact that the new vehicles still qualify for the credit is what is keeping the price of the used ones down so low.
  • Factory EVSE. Check that the used EV also includes the factory 120V EVSE (“the charger” in layman’s terms) because sometimes they get misplaced, lost, stolen, etc. If it does not include that, keep in mind a replacement will cost several hundred dollars.
  • Battery Degradation. Understand that any used EV might have less range than what it was advertised with new. I’ll address this on a case by case basis below. It is less of a concern with a PHEV, obviously, as the gas engine will always be available as a backup.
  • Warranty. Understand that most manufacturers are including 8 or 10 year/100,000 mile warranties on the battery pack and even the drive train. So unless the mileage is high enough to void the warranty, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about the battery or drive train failure. Also keep this in mind when the dealer is trying to sell you an extended warranty.
  • Compliance Cars. Beware of cars that are only sold in California or just a handful of states. These are low-volume cars that are sold to comply with California’s zero-emissions requirements. If you buy one outside of California, you will likely never be able to get it serviced when it breaks. And all cars break eventually. Known compliance cars: Fiat 500e, Toyota Rav 4 EV,, Chevrolet Spark EV, Honda Fit EV, Honda Accord PHEV

Now for the cars. I have them arranged from what is generally the most affordable to the least affordable. I didn’t bother to list cars that are highly specialized (such as the Tesla Roadster, for example). I also didn’t include cars that have just recently hit the market as there aren’t going to be many used ones to chose from and even the ones that exist will be almost as expensive as buying new.

We checked with a variety of sources for each model. Sources included ebay,, craigslist, and auto-trader. Obviously it is possible to find cars which are priced higher than my range shows. I consider those to be unrealistic and will most likely never sell at that price. On the flip side there are occasionally vehicles being sold below the ranges I listed, but those are a rare exception and not indicative of current trends.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-Miev

  • 2011-2014 models range between $9,000 and $16,000

Things to know about buying a used Mitsubishi i-Miev

  • Only around 1,900 have been sold in the USA so far over 4 years. It has been a very low-volume seller. Replacement parts and service may be difficult to find when it is out of warranty.
  • The most affordable EV available in the used market, if looking for the most rock-bottom price. However, If you start looking at any of them that cross over into the price range of a used Leaf, I’d highly recommend going with a Leaf instead.
  • No significant changes between model years.
  • No reported battery degradation issues.


Nissan Leaf

  • 2011/2012 models range between $11,000 and $16,000
  • 2013/2014 models range between $18,000 and $27,000
For Some 2014s (and all 2015s) A New, Heat-Resistent "Lizard" Battery Was Introduced

For Some 2014s (and all 2015s) A New, Heat-Resistent “Lizard” Battery Was Introduced

Things to know about buying a used Leaf.

  • Although they look the same, there are significant differences between the 2011/2012 and the 2013+ models. Starting with 2013 the entire drivetrain is new. The battery is new. Extra features were added like faster charging, a heat-pump, heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc.
  • Check the battery. The 2011/2012 models are notorious for significant capacity loss. Learn how to read the battery-health gauge on the dash. Some dealers have been known to reset the computer to give a false reading. If possible, take the car for a drive on a full charge and see how far it actually goes. Also know the battery warranty. Nissan will replace the battery if it falls below 70% during the warranty period.  In 2015, the new “lizard” battery, which was more resistant to heat was introduced.
  • Some VIN numbers are exempt from the battery warranty due to the original owner opting out of a settlement case. There’s no easy way to figure out if this is the case without calling Nissan.
  • Many online dealers never think to post a picture of the charging port, and often do to mention in the ad whether the car is equipped with DC fast charging. So it is often difficult to tell if the Leaf is equipped with it or not. Many used car dealers won’t know what the difference is. So the best way to find out for sure is to ask for a picture of the charging port.
  • There have been over 70,000 sold in the USA and considerably more outside of the USA (~155,000 total). So replacement parts and service are going to be easy to find, as well as diagnostic help on internet forums from people who are familiar with the cars.


Most Likely The Fastest Depreciating EV Money Can Buy - Good News For The Used Car Buyer

Most Likely The Fastest Depreciating EV Money Can Buy – Good News For The Used Car Buyer

Ford C-Max Energi

  • 2013/2014 models range between $12,500 and $24,000

Things to know about buying a used C-Max Energi.

  • There have only been around 15,000 of these sold. That might sound bad when it comes to finding replacement parts. However, keep in mind that most of the parts in this car, even the drive train parts, are interchangeable with the standard C-Max Hybrid. So unless it is related to the battery pack or charging system, parts should be easy to find.
  • We have not seen any reports of battery degradation yet, but the car is still relatively new.
  • Appears to be the most affordable PHEV available on the used market.


2015 Ford Focus Electric Got A Slight Refresh - But Indistinguishable To The Common Person

2015 Ford Focus Electric Got A Slight Refresh – But Indistinguishable To The Common Person

Ford Focus Electric

  • 2012/2013 models range $15,000 to $20,000

Things to know about buying a used Focus Electric

  • Only around 4,500 have been sold in the USA. Although most of the body parts will be interchangeable with the gasoline focus, parts for the drive-train will be difficult to find outside of the dealer. Which means any repairs to this car for drive-train related problems will be expensive.
  • The Focus Electric has been reported to have a lot of weird computer related problems that cause the car not to operate. These have been somewhat difficult for dealers to diagnose. This could be a problem with an out-of-warranty car, especially years from now when the model has been discontinued and technicians are no longer trained on this model.
  • No significant battery degradation has been reported on these cars. Most likely this is because the batteries are liquid cooled.


Chevrolet Volt

  • With The New 2016 Coming, The Older Models Are Sure To Take A Price Hit Soon

    With The New 2016 Coming, The Older Models Are Sure To Take A Price Hit Soon

    2011/2012 models range $15,000 to $22,000

  • 2013/2014 models range $17,000 to $25,000

Things to know about buying a used Volt.

  • The battery size has been increased twice since the original volt. The EPA rated range for the 2011/2012 was 35 miles, then was upgraded in 2013 to 38 miles, and many 2014s and all 2015s should have around 40 miles.
  • There have been no reported cases of battery degradation in the Volt. Even 2011 models with 100,000 miles seem to still have the same EV range as when new. This is most likely due to the great liquid cooling system on the Volt.
  • Some Volts have driven their entire life on gasoline (typically company leased cars) and some Volts have driven their entire life on battery. Most Volts seem to fall in the middle somewhere. However, looking at the history will give you an idea of which systems have the most life left in them. For example, since I drive almost entirely in EV mode, it wouldn’t bother me much if the engine had high mileage on it. I’d rarely be using it myself.
  • There have been more than 70,000 Volts sold in the USA, plus some in other countries. Spare parts shouldn’t be too hard to find when the car is out of warranty.
  • The next-generation 2016 Volt is due to be revealed very soon. I anticipate this will cause a drop in value for 1st generation Volts over the next 6 to 12 months. People will prefer to have the new generation and many people who have the 1st generation may be trading them in to upgrade, thus creating even more inventory for the 1st gen.


Toyota Prius PHV At Nürburgring (not kidding)

Toyota Prius PHV At Nürburgring (not kidding)

Toyota Prius PHEV

  • 2012-2014 models go between $17,000 and $24,000

Things to know about buying a used Toyota Prius PHEV

  • Even though it is technically a compliance car being sold in a handful of states, over 38,000 have been sold in the USA and considerably more overseas. And considering it shares most of its parts with the standard Prius, it should be fairly easy to get parts and service even out-of-state for everything not related to the battery pack or the charging system.
  • Difficult to find these on ebay because ebay doesn’t offer a search feature to separate out the Plug-in model in the same way they do for the C-Max Energi, for example. Best bet will be on regular car sites like
  • There are no significant changes to the Prius PHEV between model years.


Ford Fusion Energi, An EV Favorite Amongst The Staff

Ford Fusion Energi, An EV Favorite Amongst The Staff

Ford Fusion Energi

  • 2013-2014 models go for between $23,000 and $32,000.

Things to know about buying a used Fusion Energi.

  • There have only been around 17,000 of these sold. That might sound bad when it comes to finding replacement parts. However, keep in mind that most of the parts in this car, even the drive train parts, are interchangeable with the standard Fusion Hybrid. So unless it is related to the battery pack or charging system, parts and service should be easy to find.
  • We have not seen any reports of battery degradation yet, but the car is still relatively new.


Categories: Chevrolet, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Sales, Toyota

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50 Comments on "Used Electric Vehicle/PHEV Buying Guide"

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Well done David. This article needed to be written and you did a very nice job of presenting the necessary information.

I think there is a very large number of people primed for this market. The wave increases this year as even more leases finish.

Why didn’t they mention Tesla with the Roadster and model S? They are the top 100% Electric in the world. I have not heard of any significant battery degradation.
Make sure the Model S 60 has the Super Charger option or it’s $2,500 to add.
Note the Roadster can’t use the Super Chargers so be aware.

Andrew Lane aka Captain PLaneT

Greetings Good Sir,

I agree with your post here especially the Model S from Tesla. There are many many for sale on Ebay and so David Murray might want to reconsider including them. I found one for only $57,000 recently.

Yes, and at $57,000 it is almost twice the price of his most expensive vehicle included in his list…

You might want to note a relatively high number of on-board charger failures in the Chevy Volt. It is not a cheap repair for a used, out-of-warranty vehicle.

Great job with the presentation of information!

That was early production versions of the EVSE. For example mine was a 2012 and the EVSE worked great for three years.

Also worth noting that the 8 year 100,000 mile warranty of a Volt is transferable so in many cases the entire voltaic system is still covered. I am sure that is not the case in lesser EV warranties.

I havnt heard of this either. The early EVSE units (external) had a high failure rate but those units were eventually replaced by a unit from a different manufacturer with a great track record. I don’t read anything about high rates of failure with the onboard chargers.

I don’t know where you get this information from. Care to back it up with some evidence?

On board charger is the 3.3kW charger and I don’t see how it can have a problem.

The early 2011/2012 portable EVSE that comes with the car did have some issues with the charging plugs.

I am sure you know the difference between an onboard charger and an EVSE, unless of course you like to bash the Volt like you always do.

Very useful article, but why is the Model S missing? The first cars are from 2012 and upgrades to the D are to be expected, so significant used inventory should appear this year.

Used Tesla’s start at 65,000 if you can find one…. and that’s the smaller 60kwh battery version…

Great overview of the market with lots of useful information to buyers.

I agree the Model S needs to be added. Even though it is more expensive, the extra range will be worth it for many buyers that otherwise would buy a PHEV or ICE car.


There are some good prices out there. You always want what isn’t a good price yet though. I’d like a pre-owned BMW i3, which doesn’t really exist yet.

I wonder what will happen with the C-max now. The Ford commercials I’ve seen recently don’t even mention it anymore. They talk about all the other cars including the Fusion Energi, but nothing about the C-max hybrid or energi. Sounds like they might be killing it off in a couple years if they are done advertising it.

The 2015 CMax seems to have No improvement in the battery-engine combination. Making me think it will soon be abandoned. Had they given us a modest incremental change it’d be on my list.

Also, not getting good Reliability ratings on Consumer Reports, and there doesn’t seem to be any move to address those issues.

I’ve bought too many cars that Ford has abandoned.

Interesting observations. I personally like the C-Max Energi, as it has the largest cargo space of any PHEV or EREV in the US. I was thinking a used one may make a good compliment to my Leaf. But if what you guys are saying is true, maybe I should steer clear and wait for one of the future PHEVs.

Be careful how you measure that cargo space. Much of it is unusable or awkward because of the battery bump. Personally I don’t put as much emphasis on cargo room when much of it is vertical and blocking the back window. If you can slam on the brakes and have half of your cargo fall into the backseat then it’s nearly useless IMO except for rare occasions when you’re trying to haul a washing machine.

I agree, it’s all about intelligent use of the space. I personally measured the space by loading suitcases into the trunk. If you place a large suit case, standing up, there is no risk of it flying over the seat in a sudden stop. It would be wedged into the trunk, with the bulk of it solidly below the seat. It’s all about knowing how to pack.

Again, I packed this car myself just to see what I could fit. It really can hold twice as much luggage as a Volt. I’m really hoping that the Volt 2.0 fixes this problem.

Brian, I own one, 2013 C-Max Energi. Love the car. Received it in September, 2013 and now have 20000 miles on it. I drive in AZ and CO and that has added a lot of highway miles. But in the city, I drive a lot on electric and there are lots of charging stations in Phoenix and the CO front range. I bought the C-Max instead of any other because I can use it to haul stuff.

The C-MAX gets refreshed for the US for the 2016 MY(launching in Europe for MY2015) with quite a few aerodynamic improvements. Which will carry the current model until the new model for MY2018 riding on the new C2 platform.

Just because it gets refreshed doesn’t mean that they will continue it forever. Remember what happened to the Escort? It was “refreshed” in ’97 and 3 years later Focus came out and replaced it and the Contour. It still lived for another 2-3 years afterwards only as a “Sporty Coupe” ZX2. But by then it was already dead. It was ignored after sales tanked when it was refreshed.

I have been checking the prices of a used electric car for the last few weeks in that I’m planning on buying a used Mitsubishi i-miev or a used Nissan leaf when the prices drop below $9,000.

The current plan is to buy it in a city where they are cheap and drive it home by using the growing system of DC fast chargers.

Living in PA, i’m more worried about cold battery performance, how is the Leaf there?

Here in Colorado we’ve been having temps at or below 0F. With careful driving I can still get up to 50 miles on a charge with our 2011 and 2012 LEAFs with the heater running if I set it manually (68F, blower on medium, mode to mix of defrost and feet) and speeds under 60, which in recent conditions have been required.

However, I would not recommend a purchase of a used 2011/2012 LEAF for a winter climate if you require a range higher than 40 miles before recharging. Friends with 2013 and later LEAFs have consistently reported more range than I get with my older LEAFs, even after taking into account age of the cars, so if I were buying used I would definitely go for a 2013 SV or SL model (for the heat pump).

Be aware the leaf heat pump is good down to 15F and by 10F you’re back on the resistance heater.

“Warranty. Understand that most manufacturers are including 8 or 10 year/100,000 mile warranties on the battery pack and even the drive train. . . .” David, In CARB states, aren’t the batteries in a BEV required to be warranted for 10-years or 150,000 miles? With regards to plug-in hybrids, the warranties on batteries are longer in CARB states, and the warranties on electric motors are also longer in most CARB states. In all CARB states, “PHEVs must also warranty their traction battery for 10 years or 150,000 miles.” With regards to the drive train, in most CARB states (CA, DE, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI, & VT) plug-in hybrids have a longer warranty on their electric motors than in non-CARB states, since CARB and the EPA consider electric motors to be part of the emissions system in all PZEVs (hybrid vehicles). As Kdawg pointed out in the comments of a prior news story, in most CARB states “All emissions-related components must be warrantied for 15-years or 150,000-miles. This includes the electric propulsion components of a hybrid electric vehicle.” In non-CARB states and CARB states that did not opt-in (PA, OR, and WA), the warranty on the electric motors… Read more »

Sven, if true, that is very useful information. Has anyone verified this with Nissan? Also a list of the qualifying source CARB States would benefit less familiar consumers.

Actually, tax credits do apply to used EVs here in Colorado, if the car was not previously registered in Colorado.

The formula is complicated, but basically is a percentage of the car price based on the size of the battery. For example, the LEAF has a 24 kWh battery, so a used out-of-state LEAF nets you a 24% tax credit when you register it in Colorado. You have to be a resident, of course, but the tax credit is paid whether or not you owe that much tax. The maximum amount is $6k, and only certain plug-ins qualify.

The net result is that several enterprising people have set up businesses that import LEAFs from other states and resell them here in Colorado. We’ve seen some arrive already down 3 bars and even a few with batteries that were replaced under warranty.

That’s kind of interesting.

Perhaps the best way to play it is to find a Leaf with a very degraded battery, say from Arizona, have the owner/dealer replace the battery, then sell it to somebody in Colorado at a price that includes the cost of the replaced battery.

That way you get the credit for the price of the car plus the price of the new battery. It’s like getting a 24% discount on a replacement battery.

Actually most of these used EVs represent poor value compared to buying a brand new one. New ones are almost the same price or even less, post rebates, in many states.

Recent dealer advertised examples in my neighbourhood:
New Focus Electric for <$15k, post rebate (7.5k + 2.5k)
New iMiev for <$11k, post rebate (7.5k + 2.5k)
New base Leaf <$17.5k, post rebate (7.5k + 2.5k)
New base Volt <$22k, post rebate (7.5k + 2.5k)

Actually another recent insideEVs article shows new 2015 Volts for $29.5k, which is only $19.5k post rebates.

Great post. Getting a new base model PEV, with fresh warranty, would save money over the vehicle’s life.



I was not aware that the drivetrain and battery on the 2013 LEAF are different from the 2012 LEAF. In fact I’ve read the opposite elsewhere. Can anyone elaborate?

Nissan has been very very quiet about battery changes made in 2013. We know something changed because the replacement battery program requires a special adaptive harness for 2011 and 2012 model year LEAFs, and we know that different replacement part numbers are given for parts of the drive train. The challenge for Nissan may be that admitting a low quality battery was shipped for the first two LEAF years could result in them being forced to replace the battery in all of those LEAFs. Instead, they have tried to address the problem with the 5-year, 60k mile 4-lost-bars warranty – but the class-action-lawsuit settlement for this is still at issue so we don’t know if that will work. Thus, Nissan may feel they have to keep quiet about the differences introduced in 2013. We do know that published rumors have come out in recent months that Nissan engineers recommended a 2-year delay in introducing the LEAF due to battery issues and were overruled. We also know that owners of 2013 and 2014 LEAFs are reporting minor capacity loss compared to owners of 2011 and 2012 LEAFs 2 years ago. We know that technical specification for the 2013 battery suggest that… Read more »

Why buy used when you can lease a brand new one for less?


I’m going to be in need of a car July 2015. I’d prefer a new 2016 volt but if it’s not out by then, a 2015 1st gen might have to suffice. Do you think GM will have good incentives on it?

I recently bought used, a 2012 Volt. Could not be happier, and I came from a leased Mitsubishi I-MiEV. The prices on quality, low mileage used Volts were great. Given GM’s track record on battery longevity, I knew that I’d be getting a car that I could drive on EV for my commiute(32 miles per day)and come home and still put in whatever amount of miles I needed using the generator. In the winter, the car has been so much better than my Mitsu. My “I” did not have QC, and the on board charger was just 3.3(same as Volt, I know). With the small battery size and reduced range, it was not a perfect fit for me…I was afraid to use the heater in winter, for example). If I lived in San Diego, for example, had an “I” with QC, easy access to public charging stations, then the range would have been absolutely fine. Mitsu wisely included the QC as standard on its 2014 model year(although I have not seen any in the Philly area on sale!). Morale of the story here is that you need to determine what your needs are, how much you can afford and then… Read more »

Smart EV?

I had a 2012 Volt coming off the 2-year lease this past summer. I wanted a 2013 used with certain features. I found one in another state through CarMax but I would have to pay $500 to have it shipped. I was hesitant to do that. I did finally find a used 2013 with my required features about an hour and a half away in a different state, and ended up buying that. It was higher mileage than I wanted, but it was about 70% gas engine. Since I’m 90% electric, I figured it would be a good choice. It was certified, so I got an extra 12 month/12k miles warranty, making the total warranty 4 yrs/48k. I’m very happy with my decision. I love this car more than I did the leased one, and at this point, don’t plan on trading up for a couple years.

If the author would add the usable kWh capacity (ie @80% on 11-13 leaf ) for each vehicle that would aid used buyers.

Also, the author should warn Volt shoppers of the plastic bearing carrier failures in the MG unit, even if it is covered under the warranty.

I would like to see this expanded to include the Smart ForTwo Electric which are in good supply used in Canada and also it should be noted that many i-MIEV are also available here.