(NerdWallet) – You’ve probably heard the horror stories of insanely high battery replacement costs for electric cars. Fear of battery failure, limited range and high purchase prices may make you question whether buying a used electric vehicle is a wise decision.
That answer is, it depends – it depends on the condition of the electric vehicle you choose and how much you pay for it.
If you can find an older EV with a battery in good condition, it could be a bargain, says Ivan Drury, senior manager of insights for auto site Edmunds.com. But if you’re buying an EV flipped at a premium that doesn’t qualify for a tax credit, that could be a trap.
While used EVs cost more than gas-powered ICE cars or ICEs — with an average transaction price of about $41,000 — you need to look at the total cost of ownership, says Jesse Toprak, principal analyst for Autonomy, an EV subscription service. For example, he says that driving an electric vehicle could save up to $5,000 in gas costs in a year.
Buying an electric vehicle differs from buying an internal combustion engine in many ways. Here’s a look at the key differences and how they change the buying equation.
It’s all about the battery
The lithium-ion battery in an electric vehicle is comparable to the motor in an internal combustion engine. But with a battery, after a number of charge cycles, it begins to lose the ability to be fully charged. This means that the range will gradually decrease.
Battery degradation doesn’t happen overnight and won’t leave you stranded at the side of the road. But as the range decreases, the car is worth less, so to speak.
How fast how much?
According to Recurrent Motors, an electric vehicle shopping and research site, consumers should expect EV battery life to last 10 years or more. Looking at the car’s original battery warranty can help you determine when you may see some battery degradation – but that doesn’t mean the battery is near death.
Fears of battery failure “are a little overblown,” says Toprak. He believes the concern comes from people who think an EV battery is like a cellphone battery that degrades quickly. But in reality, a Tesla Model 3 battery was built to provide power for over 300,000 miles, he says.
Battery costs and guarantees
But what if the battery degrades to the point that it needs to be replaced?
Estimates for the cost of new batteries are all over the map, from $0 (meaning they were replaced under warranty) to $20,000.
Almost all new EV batteries are guaranteed for at least eight years or 100,000 miles. In California, EV and hybrid batteries are covered for 10 years or 150,000 miles through 2030 under the Advanced Clean Cars II regulations.
You may be able to buy a used one from a scrap EV or find a refurbished one at a reduced price.
Expensive electric vehicles
Another factor preventing more people from buying used electric vehicles is the high purchase price compared to internal combustion engines. According to Drury, recent Edmunds data shows that electric vehicles less than two years old — a market dominated by Teslas and car fins — are listed for an average price of $58,179. But a 4-year-old EV costs an average of $30,400.
While the purchase price is higher than a gas car, Toprak says electric vehicles save money in the long run because:
- Incentives and Discounts: Some state and federal incentives could effectively lower the price of a used EV.
- gas costs: Depending on how much you pay for electricity, charging an electric vehicle is cheaper than petrol.
- Maintenance: EVs don’t require oil changes and are less likely to have repairs that internal combustion engines are prone to because there are fewer systems to check on an EV. Also, because EVs use a braking system that recycles energy to charge the battery, the brake pads wear out slowly.
Buying a used electric car
Because an electric vehicle has fewer moving parts, the buying process is actually much more transparent, says Toprak. The main factor is the health of the battery. The potential area can be checked as follows:
- Observe the maximum range of the electric vehicle specified on the manufacturer’s website.
- Ask the seller to fully charge the vehicle’s battery before a test drive.
- Check the mobility device’s odometer to see the indicated range of the fully charged battery.
- Take an extensive test drive with the air conditioning switched on and simulate your typical driving style.
- Check the remaining range at the end of the test drive.
- Calculate whether the displayed range was mostly accurate by subtracting the final range from the maximum range.
- Get a used vehicle inspection from a make specialist or local EV mechanic.
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