How to Buy a Second Hand Electric Car

Choosing a second hand EV can seem challenging, this guide offers some tips for making sure you are confident in your decision.

Summary

Buying a second hand electric car can be a smart way to go electric. You can bypass the limited availability, longer waiting times and higher list prices of new electric cars. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Pick a type of Electric Car - BEV, PHEV, REx
  • Create a shortlist of models that suit your driving needs
  • Talk to the EV community for tips on what to look out for
  • Do your due diligence on the second hand EV you’re thinking of buying
  • Sort a home charging solution

1. What type of electric car? BEV, PHEV, REx?

The difference between full Battery Electrics Vehicles (BEV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) and Range Extended vehicles (REx) is explained in our EV Dictionary.

Here are the key things to consider when deciding which one to buy second hand:

BEV

BEVs are the future. They are the only way to get the full benefits of electric motoring. They are also quickly improving with each new model released - particularly in terms of their range. This means second hand cars will usually have limited range compared to their newer variants.

For example, if you get an early Nissan LEAF with a 24kWh battery your range will be circa 80 miles, whereas the latest 62kWh version will do more like 200 miles. That’s fine, the vast majority of UK cars average much less than 80 miles a day, but you need to be an enthusiast to use these BEVs for your longer journeys.

Likewise if you are not certain where you will charge your car, particularly if you can’t charge at home or work, we would caution that owning a BEV is currently for enthusiasts, regardless of range. Of course most drivers can charge at home or work, and if this is the case, there’s little reason not to get a BEV.

Pros
Cons
  • Immediate acceleration
  • Good handling, low centre of gravity
  • Low running costs
  • Greenest option
  • Constrained range in earlier models
  • Regular charging (ideally at home or work) is imperative
PHEV

The Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle seeks to offer the best of both worlds - electric miles, charged from a chargepoint, with a petrol engine as back-up for longer journeys.

For some users this is ideal, with typical commute type driving taking place under electric power, but the “safety net” of petrol power meaning they never fear getting stuck, even when charging isn’t available.

However, there are compromises here. The weight of the battery/engine when they aren’t being used impairs performance and efficiency. And the electric range is often limited to around 20 miles or so.

While plugging in isn’t absolutely necessary, it is critical to achieving low running costs and thus seeing the benefit of these models. For those regularly doing long motorway miles, often a PHEV isn’t the most suitable vehicle.

Pros
Cons
  • Petrol back-up “safety net”
  • Easy introduction to electric motoring
  • Compromised performance & efficiency
  • Reliance on petrol (expensive & environmentally harmful)
REx

There are only a few REx vehicles available, but they make an interesting form of PHEV, where a petrol generator is used to keep the battery charged, but petrol never drives the wheels.

The generator is lighter than a typical engine, so the car is more efficient than a traditional PHEV, and this can mean better electric range, efficiency and performance. Albeit, it will still have less of each than a BEV variant will.

Pros
Cons
  • Better performance & range than many PHEVs
  • Petrol back-up “safety net”
  • Easy introduction to electric motoring
  • Compromised performance & efficiency
  • Some reliance on petrol (expensive & environmentally harmful)

Tip: As demand for BEVs grows, but the supply of new models remains well below the demand level, the second hand BEV market is extremely buoyant, with prices even showing upwards pressure since 2018.

2. Choose a model

So you’ve decided which categories of EV interest you, now it’s time to research specific models.

We would recommend starting with the Pod Point Vehicle Guides for key info on available models. But beyond these guides, we’d recommend seeking out online reviews and then...

3. Ask the EV Community!

To paraphrase a mean-spirited joke:

“How do you tell an EV driver? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

EV drivers are often passionate advocates of their technology and they actively participate in communities set up online and attend regular real-life meet-ups. They will be delighted to give you tips on what the best EVs are and what to look out for when buying a second hand model.

Some leading EV forums include:

Then there are brand/model specific forums:

Tip: In our experience these forums and clubs are thrilled to meet new members and answer their queries. The level of knowledge they possess is really high and we recommend taking a look.

4. Things to look out for...

Once you’re going to view a potential second hand EV, it’s worth looking out for the following:

Model specific issues to check

Just like a conventionally fuelled vehicle, EVs have their own snags. Different models will have their own trouble signs, and this is where the brand/model specific online communities can be invaluable to learn a sensible checklist of things to be vigilant for.

Battery degradation

A universal concern with EVs is degradation of their battery, particularly within BEVs.

Electric drive trains are quite simple contraptions, comprising of a battery and electric motor(s). Electric motors are extremely reliable, with no metal-on-metal wear, but over time the batteries will degrade and they are expensive to repair/replace.

Happily the rates of battery degradation have proven to be lower than feared in EVs, but different makes and models have different performance in this area.

Again asking an owners forum is a great start and for some models you may be able to tell simply whether a BEV has lost a concerning amount of range or not from its range dial. Otherwise it may be necessary to use a diagnostic tool typically held at the OEM service centre.

On-going maintenance

With no head gaskets, cam-belts, exhausts, clutches or spark plugs to change, and brake pads that often will last the life of the car (regenerative braking takes almost all the work), BEV maintenance usually means occasional cleaning, keeping washer fluid topped up and changing tyres. Anything else (e.g. minor faults and niggles) requires “on-condition” maintenance. Genuinely that’s it - we told you they’re the future!

Of course, PHEVs are more complex and there are good insights in the online communities on how best to maintain them.

Tip: Tesla models have an online crowd-sourced feed that shows battery degradation over time, and it is truly impressive with just ~7% degradation over 250,000 miles!

5. Get yourself a home charger

To really get the most out of an EV, you want to be able to charge it when you are busy doing other things. The best time for this is probably overnight at home. If you can get a home charger, we strongly recommend it.

You can start your home charge installation journey with Pod Point online.

Of course workplace charging is another great option for regular charging, and the Pod Point Network offers thousands of other charging opportunities at public destinations.

Tip: It’s well worth looking out for deals. For example, used Nissan LEAFs bought from approved Nissan dealers are eligible for free Pod Point home chargers. To claim the discount, select ‘Used’ when ordering a Pod Point home charger for your Nissan LEAF online.

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