Used Electric Vehicle/PHEV Buying Guide
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.
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, cars.com, 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.
- 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.
- 2011/2012 models range between $11,000 and $16,000
- 2013/2014 models range between $18,000 and $27,000
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.
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.
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.
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 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 cars.com.
- There are no significant changes to the Prius PHEV between model years.
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.