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Tips and advice

How to buy a used electric car

Depreciation can potentially make a used electric car a real bargain

Used electric cars

With the dawn of the electric car age already upon us and EV ownership taking off, there are more and more used electric cars flooding the market, so you may find yourself considering buying a second-hand EV. Your choices aren’t just limited to the most common electric cars such as a Nissan Leaf, because nowadays there’s a wide variety of different used electric cars to choose from across bodystyles. That said, there are some things to look out for to help you decide which used electric cars to avoid and which to go for.

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There are some subtle differences between buying a used electric car instead of a used petrol or diesel model. The good news is that because electric cars have fewer moving parts than those with combustion engines, there’s actually less to go wrong. Electric cars are also much quieter, giving you a better opportunity to listen out for concerning graunches or rattles while on a test drive.

How to buy a car: Top tips

On the other hand, there will be different questions you might want to ask a previous owner to suss out how their usage may have affected the battery and how much capacity it still holds. We’ve put together a guide to electric car batteries for more on how to care for them and prolong their usable life.

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While used electric cars will often still cost more than the equivalent petrol and diesel model, you’ll save money when it comes to the running costs in the long run. Electric cars tend to lose more of their value in the first few years, so with more options on the market than ever before, the possibility of finding a bargain used electric car is more likely.

What should I look for when buying a used electric car?

Pay particular attention to the brakes and tyres of a used electric car. The large batteries used in electric cars mean that they’re heavy, and EVs tend to be powerful, so tyres can wear out and be expensive to replace. Because regenerative braking lessens the need to rely on the physical brakes so much, the brakes fitted to some early EVs can actually suffer issues through lack of use.

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As with any used car purchase, check the EV has a consistent service history (preferably from a main dealer or specialist) and that any recall work has been carried out if necessary. It’s also very important to make sure the software is up-to-date, as this can often cure issues in earlier versions such as infotainment glitches. In an electric car, ‘over-the-air’ software updates the ability not only to keep the in-car media system working properly, but it can also improve the car’s range and battery life by updating its programming.

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Check all the equipment works as it should, particularly the car’s screens – which are vital to monitor the car’s charging status, – and that the charging cable is in good condition. If you’re unsure, you could seek the advice of an electric car specialist to check for any potential mechanical problems.

V5C close up What is a V5C? Your car’s log book explained

The most important check you can make, whether you’re buying a used electric car, or any other kind of used car, is a vehicle history check. You can do this online for a few pounds, and it’ll reveal if the car has been recorded as a write-off, stolen or subject to outstanding finance.

You should also ensure the seller has all the relevant documents. The V5C (logbook) is essential. You can conduct MOT history checks online at check-mot.service.gov.uk and make sure you get a receipt from the seller if you decide to buy.

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For our full guide to the questions you should ask when buying any used car, click here.

Used electric car batteries

The biggest worry for the majority of people looking at a used electric car is likely to be the condition of the batteries. Car manufacturers tend to offer five to eight-year warranties on the batteries in their electric cars, so it’s worth checking the details of the particular car you’re looking at to find out how much of its battery warranty is left, and whether it’s transferable when the car is sold on.

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The latest crop of electric cars haven’t been on sale for long enough to warrant complete battery replacement, however the cost of eventual replacement could run into several thousand pounds, or even cost more than the car is worth, so it’s worth investigating beforehand.

Many makers of electric cars offer battery leasing schemes. Depending on how long the lease runs for, and how many miles you cover annually, the cost will vary. But because the way the market is set up, if you buy a Renault ZOE, for example, you’ll often need to continue leasing the battery from Renault for as long as you own the car.

There are advantages to paying for the batteries as part of the car or leasing them separately. If you buy them outright, all the costs are upfront and you avoid paying £50-100 per month in fees and adhering to a mileage limit. But leasing the batteries means you won’t have the worry or expense of maintaining or replacing the batteries when they reach the end of their useful life, or if they develop a fault out of warranty.

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Whichever you decide is best for your circumstances, just make sure you’re aware of any leasing agreement that may be in place when you buy the car.

Do I need to get a home charger?

Make sure you factor in the cost of installing a home wallbox charger if you have off-street parking, such as a driveway. While it’s certainly possible to charge an EV through the public charging network in a similar way to filling up a conventional car with petrol, or by using one of the growing number of kerbside charging ports in residential areas, the cheapest, most convenient way to charge an electric car so it’s ready when you need it is by using a home wallbox charger.

Public EV charge pointHow to charge your electric car without a driveway

It’s also possible to charge an electric car using a domestic three-pin socket in your house with a long cable, but most manufacturers advise against this unless it’s an emergency. Charging through a domestic socket can take an extremely long time and the socket could overheat if the wiring isn’t suitable for the prolonged demands of charging an EV.

The government offers a grant to cover some of the cost of installing a wallbox charger, but this was more recently limited to those living in rented accommodation or who own or rent a flat.

Electric cars made simple

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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