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  • Spencer Fields (Guest Writer)

Buying a used electric car: The pros and cons

Spencer Fields is Chargely’s first-ever guest writer! He’s the Director of Insights at EnergySage, an avid skier and climber, and the proud owner of a Volvo XC40 Recharge that’s mostly powered by solar.


 

It’s decided: your next car will be electric. Great! Now what should you do?


If you’re like most people, you’ll probably research your options online, maybe get in a test drive or two, and go through the process of configuring and reserving the electric vehicle (EV) of your dreams online. If you’re lucky (and not too picky), you might be able to take delivery of your new EV in no time at all. But for the more customized options, you’ll have to wait several months for delivery. 


That’s all well and good if you plan ahead and have the time to spare. But what happens if your current car dies and you need a new one fast? Like tomorrow fast.




That’s the scenario we found ourselves in two years ago – and is exactly why we decided to forego the wait and purchase a used EV. Here’s what we learned in the process, with some pros and cons for you to consider when deciding whether or not a used EV is right for you. 


Note: these are lessons learned when shopping for an EV in the height of supply chain shortages in 2022, but hopefully many of these lessons will still apply to today’s market conditions.


Here’s what we learned about used EVs:


Pro: Used EVs are actually available


In our scenario, we needed an EV and we needed it fast. While we were able to set up test drives with Hyundai and Audi dealerships for new models of the Ioniq and the e-tron, respectively, all the new EVs we saw on the lot were already spoken for. And in fact, the Hyundai dealership told us that each of the Ioniqs in their next shipment had already been signed for. In other words, despite having new EVs on the lot, and shipments for more scheduled, none of them were for sale and they couldn’t tell us when they’d have one that was actually available.


Not ideal.




That meant the only way for us to find a car that was ready to drive off the lot was to look for used vehicles. There’s certainly a booming secondary market for used cars, from the more dealer friendly Autotrader and CarGurus, to the more enthusiast-focused Bring A Trailer, but we quickly zeroed in on options that were offered through dealerships for peace of mind and warranty support.


Ultimately, we were able to find a certified pre-owned, low mileage Volvo XC40 Recharge sold through a Volvo dealership with warranties and maintenance plans still intact.




Spencer's Volvo XC40 Recharge


2024 update: Lately, there’s been a lot of press around how dealers are struggling to move EV inventory, and how that must mean that demand for EVs is down. It’s not.


People are just buying the cars they want online: Tesla remains the dominant force in the EV market with over a million cars sold in the US in 2023. But this does mean certain EVs from major automakers may be in stock today, even if Rivian and Tesla are scheduling deliveries well into the year.



Con: Used EVs offer less customization


At the same time, being able to select from existing inventory does come with one major drawback: your window for customization has passed. 


If getting to custom design your car with all the bells and whistles you want is a part of the car shopping experience that excites you, then buying a used EV probably isn’t the right choice for you. While you can still find cars with the additional options and more expensive trims that previous owners purchased, it will take much more work to sift through used EV listings and you’re ultimately at the mercy of what’s available on the market. 




But if you’re concerned that by buying a used EV you might miss out on the latest and greatest in technology, fear not! Regardless of whether you purchase a new or used one, EVs come standard with all sorts of features that were considered premium upgrades the last time you bought a car, meaning the driving and in-car experience will definitely be an upgrade over your current ride. 


One other note on customization: if you’re buying a new car, you’ll be the first one to pair your phone to the car, or to connect the car to the manufacturer’s app. Easy! If you’re buying a used car, electric or otherwise, you may run into issues trying to boot the original owner from being paired to the car or the app.


We’re two years into owning our Volvo, and still can’t connect to it in the app



Pro: Used EVs are actually affordable


Like anything, the cost of EVs will drop with economies of scale: the more EVs that are produced, the less expensive it will become to make them. But right now, many automakers (outside of Tesla) are on their first- or second-generation EV, which means the cost of producing and purchasing a new EV remains pretty high. Purchasing a used EV is often a much more affordable option. 


A quick perusal of CarGurus shows a new Ford Mustang Mach-E is around $50k for the base model, while a two-year-old version with low mileage is priced about $15k-20k lower – those are significant savings! With interest rates as high as they are, finding a lower cost option is a great way to reduce your monthly payments:


The difference in monthly payments at current interest rates between a $35k and a $50k car could be close to $300 per month



If affordability is your main concern, there are certainly options on the new car market today that fit the bill, from the Chevy Bolt EUV to the Nissan Leaf S, both of which are priced under $30k. But if you want to experience the best available tech from higher end car brands and a more affordable price point, shopping used is the way to go.



Con: Used EV’s receive a lower tax credit


When we bought our used EV in early 2022, there was a tax credit in place for buying a new electric vehicle but not for a used one. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) changed all of that by  introducing loads of clean energy tax credits, including point of sale rebates for new and used electric vehicles: the new incentive offers credits of up to $7,500 for new EVs and for 30% of the cost of a used EV up to $4,000




However, there are a lot of requirements and criteria that need to be met for an EV to qualify for these fully incentive values, whether new or used: 

  • For one, to make the tax credits more equitable and encourage wider adoption of EVs, the IRA places income limits on being able to claim the tax credits. For used EVs, the income thresholds are actually half of what they are for claiming the credit for new EVs. 

  • Second, the IRA places a limit on the price a car is sold at to be eligible. For a used EV to qualify, it has to be sold for $25k or less, and it must be at least two years old. 

  • And finally, new EVs have to meet certain critical mineral and battery component requirements, and must be assembled in North America. Importantly, this same set of requirements doesn’t apply to used EVs. 


To see which EVs qualify for the full tax credit under all of these criteria, check out this interactive list from fueleconomy.gov.



A quick aside: what about battery life? 


If you’ve gone down the EV research rabbit hole, you’ve probably found the subculture of people buying old Nissan Leafs nearing the end of their useful life and driving them as intentionally idiotically as possible to see just how few miles of range they can squeak out of the battery. While that’s probably not your exact use case for buying a used electric car, it does bring up a valid point: when you buy a used EV, you don’t necessarily know how the previous owner treated the battery.





How a previous owner treated a car isn’t a gray area unique to EVs, but the ramifications might be more significant for electric cars. Just like your cell phone battery, the battery in an EV will degrade in performance over time, but there are ways that you can maintain and extend battery life in the way you charge and drive the car. There’s unfortunately not much you can do here to compare just how well different owners treated the batteries in the cars you’re considering, but it is something to be mindful of when purchasing a used EV.



No matter what type of EV you buy, you’ll need to charge it


Regardless of whether you buy used or new, the biggest question most EV adopters have is, “How will I charge my car?” In our experience, traditional dealers are entirely unequipped to answer this question. They’re not yet used to selling EVs, so you’ll have to do your own research to understand the differences between EVs as well as the key criteria to consider in your comparison. 




You’ll also need a resource to find reliable EV chargers in the wild, which is exactly what Chargely offers. You can search for Level 2 and Level 3 chargers near you, or route plan a longer drive, deciding which EV chargers to stop at based on the reliability of the charger, the range of your car, the amenities offered near that charger, and much more. No matter what type of EV you buy, Chargely is riding shotgun.


Download the app today to see what charging options you have in your area or on your frequently driven routes! 



 

This knowledge drop on buying a used electric car was brought to you by friends of Chargely, a new way to find EV chargers!


It's the ultimate guide for new EV drivers from start to destination.

 



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