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Thinking of Buying a Used Electric Car? Here’s What You Should Know

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As the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) becomes more widespread, more used electric cars are entering the market and offering a more affordable option for those looking to go electric. In fact, 7% of electric vehicles registered in Vermont in the first quarter of 2020 are used, according to the most recent report from Drive Electric VT. The number of new EVs increased by 2,225 in 2021, or 51%, and this number is only expected to grow along with the increased availability of used EVs.

If you’re looking to go green with your next vehicle and think you might be interested in a used EV, here is a list of important questions to ask and information to know as you start your search.

First, you will want to understand what kind of EV you are shopping for. There are all-electric vehicles (AEVs), which operate on electricity only—no gas at all. Then there are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) which operate on electricity and gas—which is why it’s called a “hybrid.” There are different costs of ownership for these options, but they both save money on maintenance over their gas-powered counterparts.

 

WHY SHOULD I BUY A USED EV?

There are six main reasons to purchase a pre-owned EV:

  1. There are so many more models. EVs are rapidly making their way onto the market. Even with the supply chain challenges of the last few years, we are beginning to see advances in EV technology and the market is reaching beyond the “early adopters” so more used vehicles are available. This handy fact sheet from DriveElectric Vermont gives an overview of the options on the market today.
  2. They are fun, quiet, clean, reliable, and perform well. EVs accelerate faster than gas-powered vehicles, and their battery provides extra weight that improves traction, which is especially useful on snowy roads. They are quiet and clean—they fit right into our Vermont landscape!
  3. They save you money on fuel. You are probably very interested in this benefit, especially with the rising cost of gasoline. Instead of filling up regularly at the gas station, you’ll plug in at home or at a public or private charging station. With the current gas prices, you can expect significant savings. Some Vermont utilities also offer electrical rate savings for off-peak EV charging—check with yours to learn more. Once you adjust your transportation routine and expectations, you can be very happy with an EV purchase. For instance, instead of fueling at the gas pump during your trip, you’ll fuel up ahead of time at home or when you arrive at your destination. “Charging” is your new fueling method, so learn about how your vehicle charges up. There are three levels of charging, and you will need to know which are best for your model. Research charging station availability in your area and plan for activating an account with one or more charging networks. Learn your battery (remember it is used so may be capable of lower ranges), and how to maximize power in the colder months.
  4. They are eligible for some utility incentives. While not eligible for the federal tax credit, some Vermont utilities offer rebates for used EVs (both AEV and PHEV options), making your choice even more affordable. Some even offer free charging equipment and additional rebates for lower-income households. Check with your electric utility to learn more about availability. MileageSmart is a program through Capstone Community Action where eligible Vermonters can access a very generous rebate for the purchase of a used EV or hybrid vehicle.
  5. They require less maintenance than a used gas-powered car. Whether debating between electric- or gas-powered vehicles, you should take the cost of ongoing maintenance into account. AEVs have a fraction of the moving parts of gasoline vehicles and are very reliable. They use fixed gears instead of transmissions and don’t require oil changes, spark plugs, catalytic converters, or emissions equipment. It’s pretty much just a check-up once or twice a year and tire rotations or replacement. PHEVs do have internal combustion engines but require less maintenance than all-gas-powered vehicles as the engines are used less. Both types have regenerative braking systems, which save on brake wear and tear. Not only do you save money on gas, but you can also keep your money in your pocket instead of springing for a new sprocket.
  6. Their overall cost of ownership is much less! This, of course, is one of the biggest selling points of any used car. A Consumer Reports study estimated that EVs could cut typical maintenance costs in half when compared to gas-powered vehicles, with average savings over the life of an EV of $4,600. You may even find that you’ll receive discounted financing and extended terms on the purchase of qualifying vehicles, which can help lower your monthly payments.

 

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SO, WHAT DOES IT COST?

As you might expect, the answer depends. Pricing for used EVs is model-specific and varies depending on the brand, model, age, range, and other factors.


WHAT INCENTIVES WILL I QUALIFY FOR?

The nature of incentives and rebates is variable, so you should research availability and the eligibility guidelines before making a purchase. Unfortunately, used EVs don’t qualify for federal incentives. (For many new electric cars, federal incentives can save you up to $7,500 in tax credits. Vermont state incentives can provide up to $4,000 depending on the type (AEV or PHEV) and income limits for vehicles with a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) up to $40,000.

 

HOW DO I START LOOKING?

As with buying any kind of car, or making any other significant investment, the first step is research. See which models best suit your needs based on size, range, price, and other factors.

DriveElectric Vermont is a great resource, where you can compare models and see if they are eligible for Vermont State Incentives. Once you know what you’re looking for, check “Vermont Incentive Participant” dealerships for availability. See what’s available by calling or looking at their online inventory. If you want to increase your options, you can use Cars.com to search farther afield, filtering by distance and your criteria from your research. Even then you may want to follow up with specific dealers or investigate other websites, as Cars.com doesn’t always list every available vehicle.

One item to keep in mind, if you’re deciding whom to buy your used EV from: You may have more bargaining power in a private sale than buying from a dealer. However, make sure you’ve done your homework on the vehicle if you go this route, and consider asking your mechanic to take a look before you finalize the sale.

 

SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT THE BATTERY LIFE AND RANGE?

“Worried” may not be the correct term, but you certainly want to make sure the battery works well and that the range fits your driving needs.

EVs in general are fun and very reliable, and the same goes for electric car batteries. Some models have onboard diagnostics that allow you to see the health of the car’s battery on your smartphone. Where the car is coming from can also tell you something about the battery’s condition. Since heat is harder on the battery than the cold, you’ll want to factor in the origins of the previous owner as you evaluate the battery’s longevity.

Still, the battery is one of the more expensive parts to replace on an electric vehicle, and if you’re purchasing a used EV, this is something to consider. After 8-10 years, you may need to replace your vehicle’s battery system and currently, this cost is estimated at $5,000-$10,000 or more. This is probably the largest maintenance expense an EV owner will incur. Just know that battery prices are anticipated to drop considerably in the years to come as EVs become more prevalent. You may be able to refurbish your old battery or even sell it as they have some storage capacity and may be marketable for some purposes. Regardless, you’ll also want to ask that the battery be fully charged before finalizing any purchase; a fully charged battery allows you to properly assess its performance.

Range is another critical factor to consider before buying a used EV. Based on your usual driving habits, does the model’s range get you where you need to go? Consider this in conjunction with nearby charging stations, particularly DC Fast Charging ports that could give your car an 80% charge in under an hour.

At the end of the day, the most important factors to consider might be the car’s age and mileage. Electric car batteries are built to last eight to ten years, and studies show that EV range decreases 15% on average after seven years.

What’s more, the car that you’re planning to buy may still be under warranty. In addition to the manufacturer’s warranty, there are also federal and “California Emissions” warranties (applicable to Vermont) that could cover critical parts for as much as 15 years or 150,000 miles. If you experience any battery issues with your used EV, your repair or replacement costs might be covered. (To learn more about warranties for low emission vehicles and which models qualify, visit the Department of Environmental Conservation website.)

If a used EV is approaching a decade on the road, a purchase could still make sense. You just may want to include the cost of a new battery in considering how much you want to pay.

 

WILL MY USED EV SOON BE OUTDATED?

The answer to this question is: it depends. As EV technology and popularity grow, range and battery performance are advancing quickly. But outdated doesn’t mean obsolete. The more accurate question might be, “How up to date does my EV need to be?”

This, of course, is a matter of personal taste and individual circumstance. Depending on what model you buy and how long you plan to keep it, you’ll have to decide whether a used electric car’s technology and capabilities will suffice for you. As long as the battery has life and the range gets you where you need to go, it may be just fine.

At the end of the day, you’ll be saving money and the environment with your EV.

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