Second-Hand Electric Cars — Buyer Beware

Want to buy a LEAF?

By David Waterworth, with suggestions from Paul Wildman

It’s a long time since I have bought a second-hand car. But over the years, I have had a quite a few. In the ’70s, it was old British cars that were cheap to purchase and I had a Vauxhall Viva and a Hillman Hunter. They didn’t last long. Neither did the General Motors Holden Kingswood. In the ’80s and ’90s, Ford Falcons were next. Then came the new cars from South Korea — too good a bargain to pass up — a Daewoo, then a Hyundai. Now I drive a Tesla Model 3 SR+.

What about those people who want an EV but cannot afford a new car? Is buying a second-hand electric vehicle different to buying an ICE age banger? Yes, it is.

For starters, second-hand EVs are not super cheap and it is likely that the dealer knows very little about the car. A quick google search I conducted a few BMW i3s, Nissan LEAFs, and one lonely Mitsubishi MiEV revealed. Why are there so few 10-year-old EVs? Because 10 years ago there weren’t many models for sale and not many people were buying them.

The stated range on one LEAF was 175 km. A bit optimism methinks.

The buyer of any second-hand vehicle needs to do a lot of research and be wary of purchasing someone else’s problems. This is even truer when we consider second-hand electric cars. Here and here are some good news stories from happy buyers, but not all will get what they expect.

The customer should be aware of how much EV technology has changed in the last decade. Would you buy a 10-year-old mobile phone? Or laptop? One of the key areas of change is in battery technology. Does the vehicle still achieve the original range? Almost certainly not. I would suggest that the purchaser of such a vehicle have an extended test drive, with the air conditioner and radio on, to check out what the actual range is.

In addition, you may wish to factor in the cost of a battery upgrade.

Of course, the purchaser’s lifestyle will determine the suitability of any vehicle. A low-range, 10-year-old EV might be fine. As a rule of thumb: A great electric car may lose only ~1% battery capacity a year. A Nissan LEAF with no thermal battery management can lose 15% a year. Though, those batteries do better long term in colder areas than in hotter areas. So, if you live in a cooler climate, a second-hand LEAF may well suit your needs.

Further, make sure you are clear about whether battery capacity is covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Usually, warranties cover reduced capacity of the battery if it drops to less than 70 percent of original capacity. Having made your purchase, here are some tips to enhance the life of your EV batteries and thus your EV itself!

Consumers are safeguarded when purchasing a second-hand electric car, as in all car purchases. However, the argument is being made by some that there needs to be additional protection, especially around the truthfulness of stated range. “Who has the ‘duty of care’ to ethically and reliably and reasonably represent range to prospective buyers?” This is the question.

Dealers have a legal responsibility to sell “goods as represented,” and range is crucial for “accurate representation.” This is a consumer affairs issue and can be taken up with them in cases where a blatant gap appears between a vehicle’s actual range and advertised range. Overall, dealers need to better understand the used EVs they are selling.

One buyer’s experience: “We just bought a 2012 leaf with about 20k on the odometer, and it does around 100km (when the air conditioning is off) with 9 bars of battery health … But dealers just don’t seem to understand how to advertise second hand EVs or PHEVs, with most it’s ignorance more than malice.”

As the EV presence in the second-hand vehicle market increases, I would expect that dealer scrutiny will increase. Let’s hope their knowledge of EVs does also. In the meantime, make sure you check for the range on your future EVX purchase, not just what it says in the owners’ manual. And as ever, buyer beware.


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