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Buying a second-hand electric vehicle

Switching to an electric car can save you money over the long term, but brand new models can be pretty pricey, so here are some handy tips to getting the best value when buying used.
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Electric vehicles can be eye-wateringly expensive when bought new. But with the number of hybrid and fully electric cars on the road steadily increasing, a solid resale market has developed in the UK. 

If you want to become a greener driver, there are a number of factors to consider when buying a used electric vehicle (EV), from the status of the battery to the vehicle’s overall reliability. 

Here are some things to watch out for to ensure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Are used electric vehicles a good deal? 

Buying a used EV can represent good value, particularly as the batteries powering them have been shown to be very durable. The cars themselves also have a good reputation for being reliable, with some car makers offering warranties of up to eight years. 

But it can sometimes be difficult to check the condition of an EV battery, making it harder to know how long you’ll be able to continue running the car before needing to replace the parts.

In addition, battery leases can sometimes complicate things, as some older cars were first sold without batteries. This meant that past owners would have to hire the battery separately. 

But if you know what you’re looking for, it’s possible to get a good deal on a reliable EV.

Advantages of buying second hand

The up-front cost

As mentioned above, buying a brand new electric car can be expensive. According to the Department for Transport the most popular pure electric car on the market today is the Nissan Leaf, while the most popular plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is the Mitsubishi Outlander.

A brand new Nissan Leaf starts at around £26,000, while an Outlander fresh off the assembly line will put you back around £28,000.

But if you’re happy to go down the used route you can pick these cars up at up to half the price of a new model, depending on age and mileage.

Just make sure you check the car’s history and paperwork carefully, as you would when buying a second-hand petrol or diesel vehicle. 

When buying an EV you’ll need to make sure you get a comprehensive service history - as this will be the best way to gauge the car’s condition when you buy it. Unlike a conventional petrol or diesel car, you can’t do things like check the oil dipstick to learn about the car’s engine condition.

However, electric cars tend to have fewer components than cars with traditional combustion engines, there should be fewer things that can go wrong with the vehicle.

Full details on the costs involved when buying an electric vehicle.

Tax benefits

Owners of both new and second-hand ‘pure’ electric vehicles are exempt from paying any vehicle excise duty, commonly known as road tax. 

Car tax is charged based on a car’s carbon dioxide emissions, so drivers of PHEVs or other kinds of hybrid cars will still need to pay some road tax, as they are not solely powered by an electric motor.

Full details in our guide to road tax

Under the latest rules, drivers who use their EVs for work can also take advantage of tax breaks. Operators of fully electric cars pay no company car tax for the tax year 2020-21, just one percent in 2021-22 and two percent in 2022-23. 

You can claim mileage back for work use through the HM Revenue and Customs’ Approved Mileage Allowance Payments scheme (AMAP).

This scheme works whether you drive an electric car or a petrol or diesel vehicle, but should still be factored in as a potential saving.

Under HMRC rules, you can claim 45p for each mile you drive for work up to 10,000 miles a year. You can then claim back 10p a mile for any distance you travel over 10,000 miles that year.

If you’re not sure how the scheme works, it’s worth speaking to your employer. Otherwise you can find full details of how the AMAP scheme works by logging on to the GOV.UK website.

Disadvantages of buying a second-hand EV

Range anxiety

One question those looking at getting their hands on a used EV always ask is about the distance the vehicle can travel on a single charge.

Worries over range with second hand cars are amplified because EV batteries degrade as they get older, similar to a smartphone battery. This can mean that they can run down more quickly than a brand new battery and see you get fewer miles per charge.

While there’s still a great deal of debate about how much of an issue this is in practice, this is certainly something that you’ll need to factor into your buying decision. Many older models will have had a range of about 100 miles in real world driving conditions. 

As time goes on, the idea of needing to charge the car’s battery more often will certainly be annoying.

Thankfully, as the technology powering EVs has developed over time there is some evidence that batteries now degrade at a slower pace than when these types of cars first hit the mass market.

Battery leases

As mentioned earlier, some EV models like the first version of the Nissan Leaf were initially sold without a battery. This meant that the driver would need to buy or lease a battery separately and have it installed in the car.

This has led to possible complications when these vehicles are sold on. Essentially, if a car in this situation is sold on by its first owner, the new owner has to continue leasing the battery.

The cost of a battery lease can vary, but typically starts from £50 a month. While this may not seem like too much of a problem, over time the monthly cost of leasing the battery may become disproportionate to the value of the car.

This is because although the vehicle’s value goes down over time, the cost of leasing the battery will stay more or less consistent.

So it’s vital to find out whether the EV you’re interested in buying comes with a battery hire agreement, of whether the price you pay will include the battery. 

The good news is that as of last year, no new electric cars are being sold separately from the battery. This should mean that over the next couple of years the number of second-hand EVs requiring you to take on a battery lease should shrink. 

Whatever car you drive, make sure you find insurance that covers everything you need as cheaply as possible by comparing policies.