Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Check the vehicle’s accident history and get a detailed breakdown of any repairs or major work done. It’s crucial to know the vehicle’s history to avoid potential issues in the future.
  • Consider the battery health and warranty of the electric car. The battery is the most important part, so ask about its health, previous issues, and expected range per charge. Take steps to extend the battery’s life after purchasing.
  • Don’t forget about charging infrastructure. Check for nearby charging locations, the type of chargers available, and the vehicle’s charging speeds. Make sure it fits your lifestyle and daily commuting needs. Consider charging accessories and port type when choosing the right car.

Shopping for a used electric car can be an exciting yet daunting task, especially if you’ve never owned an EV. It’s a big purchase, so it’s vital that you get things right. Like buying a gas-powered car, you’ll want to do some due diligence.

While most of the same used car buying principles still apply, like looking over the body, checking for imperfections, and asking questions about maintenance, you’ll need to adjust your mindset and consider several other factors. Pre-owned EVs are expensive, and here are a few things to know and do.

Check the Vehicle’s Accident History

Close up of the Chevy badge on the back of the 2023 Chevy Bolt EV
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Show me the CarFax! Vehicle accident, service history, and recall reports are important no matter what car you buy, but with how difficult some EVs can be to repair, getting a detailed breakdown of anything is crucial.

For example, a CarFax could tell you if a vehicle had its battery replaced, got into an accident, or had other major work or repairs done. You’ll want to ask the seller for the VIN number, check things yourself, or ask the used car dealership for a detailed printout of the vehicle’s history. Major accidents can cause other issues later in the vehicle’s life, too, which makes this a big deal for any used car purchase.

Additionally, most VIN reports will have detailed information about recalls, if any, service records, and other important information that will help you make the most informed decision possible.

Look Into the Battery Health and Warranty

We all know that the engine is the most important part of an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle, and buyers typically ask about oil leaks and funny noises to ensure the engine is in tip-top shape. The battery is the single biggest factor you’ll want to consider with an electric car. Sure, the electric motors are a big deal, but the battery pack does all the heavy lifting.

Typically, an electric car battery should last longer than you own the vehicle, and most come with an 8-year warranty from manufacturers in the United States. Just like with any car, phone, or laptop, things can go wrong, and batteries can occasionally fail or have problems. You’ll want to ask about the battery’s health, see if the owner has dealt with any issues, and make sure it’s getting roughly the expected range per charge.

On some vehicles, like a Tesla, you can even download third-party apps offering a detailed breakdown of the battery health and stats. Many automakers have similar options available through companion apps. And while some places all over the internet talk about how scary EV battery packs are and how expensive they are to replace, the same goes for a transmission or engine in a gas car. So, don’t make it a huge deal, but certainly take enough time to check it out.

Similarly to how your 3-year-old iPhone doesn’t hold a charge as well as it did the first year, electric cars experience battery degradation. For example, Tesla claims that after 100,000 miles, you’ll still have over 90% battery capacity. Even an aging Tesla Model S with 180K miles should be more than capable, even if you lose around 12-15% of range due to an aging battery. At that point, it doesn’t need to be replaced; it just won’t charge to 100%, which is perfectly normal. Once you buy a used EV, you’ll want to take a few steps to extend the life of the battery.

Don’t Forget About Charging

Rivian R1T plugged into a CCS charger
Tyler Hayes / Review Geek

Before you even start test-driving used electric vehicles, you’ll want to know exactly what you’re looking for. By that, I mean you should already know what type of range you’ll need for your lifestyle, check for nearby charging locations, and make sure your area offers the type of chargers and speeds the vehicle you want can take advantage of. Certain EVs take longer to recharge than others, which is somewhat important.

Do you have enough charging stations around you to drive the vehicle daily? If it’s a Tesla, is the free Supercharging transferable? Is your home capable of getting a level 2 charger installed? Even if it is, you may want an installation quote from a certified technician to know what to expect. Almost every EV in the U.S. can plug into a standard home wall plug, but it’ll charge slowly, and if you commute more than a few miles per day, you’ll eventually need to hit a charging station.

Look into charging accessories, speeds, and port type, then factor all of that into which car is right for you.

Buy Used EVs From a Dealer or Tesla

Front trunk open on a Tesla Model 3.
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

Tesla vehicles are trendy, and you likely see them on the road everywhere you go. As a result, they’re one of the most in-demand used electric cars for sale. Buying a used EV directly from a manufacturer like Tesla is your best bet. They’ll do visual and software inspections that a regular person or used car lot won’t. In fact, Tesla does a 102-point inspection on every used vehicle.

More importantly, buying a vehicle from a manufacturer like Tesla, Chevy, or Rivian will ensure the best experience, extended warranty options, and any issues fixed by a certified mechanic before being sold. Considering how advanced EVs are, you don’t want to take any chances.

Take it For a Test Drive

Front right headlight on the 2023 Chevy Bolt EV.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

This should go without saying, but if you don’t have to, never buy a used vehicle on looks alone. You’ll want to physically inspect the car body, frame, interior, and charging port, to name a few. Ensure everything looks in good shape, well maintained, and fully operational. After that visual inspection, go on a thorough test drive.

Taking a used vehicle for a test drive isn’t just about getting a feel for the car, punching the pedal, or feeling the get-up-and-go. You’re listening for funny noises, ensuring everything feels tight, and testing that the brakes, alignment, suspension, and software like autopilot or lane-assist all work as expected.

Run the heater and air conditioning, maybe go somewhere and try charging it for a few minutes, test all the windows, etc. Again, do your due diligence and check anything and everything that’s important or could go wrong. Then, you can bring anything up with the seller, use it as a bargaining chip for a lower price, or pass on the vehicle and find something better.

Consider Getting a Used Electric Car

With sky-high prices on new vehicles and ever-changing pricing for gasoline, a used electric vehicle could be a great option. Plus, many buyers will still qualify for a partial Federal tax credit when buying a pre-owned EV, so use that to your advantage.

Buying a used Tesla or electric vehicle is a great way to save some money while enjoying a fun, fast, fancy new car. If you take your time and choose the right model for your needs, check the battery health, and do some research before purchasing, you’ll love your new-to-you car.

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By John P.

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