Nissan's electric hatchback is easily the most popular EV in Britain
Electric cars are slowly gaining mainstream acceptance
The i3's battery is included in the price, with no lease option
The BMW has a real-world range of 80-100 miles
"Most issues revolve around the economics of an EV's battery"
Used examples of the Nissan Leaf are priced from £6000
The BMW has a battery warranty of 8 years/ 100,000 miles
An all-electric BMW i8 is on the cards
456 Renault Twizys have been sold in the UK to February 2017
Low mileages, low prices, low running costs: the appeals of second-hand electric cars appear pretty compelling.
These sums are for cars that cost a fraction of a fossil-fuelled motor to feed, can drive into polluted no-go zones, attract limited taxes and, at the very least, don’t locally pollute. If you fancy something more exotic, a BMW i3 can be on your drive from £14,000 and a Tesla Model S starts at around £46,000. But there are hazards ahead, and not just the wellknown issues of limited range and charge-point availability.
There are other things to be aware of. Apart from the obvious issue of whether most of your journeys fall within the range of the EV you’re considering, most revolve around the economics of an EV’s battery. Some are included in the original price of the car, as with BMW’s i models and the Teslas, while others come with a battery leasing deal that works on a monthly sliding scale of prices depending on your annual mileage. Most examples of the Nissan Leaf – easily the most common EV – and Renault Zoe fall into this latter category, although some owners will have bought the battery outright.
Leasing a battery isn’t cheap when you consider that you can have a brand new Renault Clio on a PCP for £149 a month with a £149 deposit. Even if you contain your travelling to 6000 miles per year and commit to the lease for three years, a Renault Zoe battery will cost you £59 per month, or £69 for the latest ZE40 Zoe that goes further on a charge.
A Leaf costs £70 for 7500 miles per year regardless of whether it’s for a 22kWh or the newer 30kWh pack. That’s quite a lot to spend on a used car for which you might also be paying on a monthly basis. You must also factor in a domestic wallbox charger, which will cost £279 for a 3kWh unit, or £359 or £354 for 7kWh (from Podpoint and Chargemaster respectively) with a government grant. But there are compensations, including 2p-per-mile fuelling costs (according to Nissan and assuming a dual domestic tariff and overnight charging) and maintenance charges as much as 75% lower than a conventional car’s. Plus you’re driving a zero-emission vehicle.
Buying a car that includes the battery obviously means no monthly rental fees but also no means of easily replacing it. That said, EV battery life appears to be pretty robust, with the earliest Japanese-market Leafs giving up their batteries for a second life to provide electricity storage for the grid, although most UK-sold EVs are too young to have reached that point. When the battery pack does deteriorate to the point that the range is affected, the owner must weigh up whether it’s worth spending a sum greater than the car is worth to replace the battery, or scrapping a car that will otherwise have loads of life left in it, given that electric motors and gearboxes are good for hundreds of thousands of miles.
Check out the Renault Fluence forums, for example, and you’ll find a few owners contemplating the possibility of scrapping their cars rather than renewing the battery pack, because they can’t bring themselves to commit either to an expensive three-year lease or to pay for an entirely new battery for a car that could be worth as little as £2500 despite it having covered far less than 100,000 miles.
The issue of determining what to do with your car once the battery lease has expired is common to the owners of many electric cars. Is it worth getting into another three-year contract with a bank – because it’s a finance house rather than Renault or Nissan that the battery lease contract resides with – for a car of limited value? The occasional unhelpfulness of banks doesn’t help matters, either.
It’s interesting that Nissan reported a significant improvement in the residual value of the Leaf when it introduced an approved-used £175 per month PCP deal for older models, suggesting that buyers of used EVs are looking for more manufacturer support than another commitment to a finance house for a battery lease.
Issues such as these, together with the new car market’s sensible caution, explain why EVs remain relatively uncommon and help to explain the presence of some quite keenly priced used examples for sale.
The numbers aren’t vast, though. Of the 141,000 or so cars currently on sale with Pistonheads, only 290 – just 0.2% of that total – were pure EVs at the time of writing. That’s partly because EVs haven’t been on sale many years but also because owners are keeping them – the majority of cars are still young and many of them come with the strings of a battery lease. The choice for now is a little limited, then, but there’s an array of second-hand electric cars for sale that are interesting for their popularity, desirability or cheapness.
USED EVS TO CONSIDER
Priced from £6000 Real- world range from 60-90 miles Battery warranty from 5 years/ 60,000 miles
Nissan’s electric hatchback is easily the most popular EV in Britain, and it’s assembled here, too. It’s sold from new with batteries included (badged Flex) or, more commonly, leased. Later models come with an improved range from a bigger, 30kWh battery pack (up from 22kWh). The same monthly rental costs apply to both battery types, the lowest being £70 for 7500 miles per year over three years, up to 12,000 miles per year for £93.
Priced from £14,000 Real-world range 80-100 miles Battery warranty 8 years/ 100,000 miles
The i3’s battery is included in the price, with no lease option, making this a more straightforward buy than the lease options. Battery life is warranted for eight years/100,000 miles, but experience with older EVs suggests that batteries last longer than that. The i3 is also sold with a range-extending petrol engine, usefully improving its range. We found a £14,000 pure EV with only 12,000 miles — good value for such a sophisticated car.
Priced from £2900 (with leased battery) Real-world range 50-100 miles Battery warranty na
Renault’s electric saloon is a virtual unknown and a stonking bargain if you can live with its 50-100-mile range, the lack of a fastcharging facility and the battery lease costs, which look expensive relative to the car’s price. The Fluence doesn’t look very exciting but it drives well and is particularly brisk up to 40mph. Its limited range restricts usefulness, but as a short-range commuter car it’s great value.
Priced from £5000 (with leased battery) Real-world range 70-100 miles Battery warranty na
The Zoe is the second most plentiful EV after the Leaf, and, like the Nissan, is now available with a biggercapacity 40kWh battery. Versions like the £4995 example we found will have the lower-powered pack. Most Zoe’s come with leased batteries – models badged ‘i’ include the pack, although they’re rarer. Many are low-mileage examples, like this one with only 21,000 miles. Unlike the Fluence, the Zoe takes a fast charge.
Priced from £46,000 Real-world range 190-220 miles (60 S) Battery warranty 8 years/ 125,000 miles (60 S)
A used 85 S is quite close to the price of a new, and better-built, 60 S that will also come with a full warranty, so it pays to weigh the two up carefully. However, you can buy an extended warranty covering both batteries and motor, which should provide plenty of reassurance. No Model S is all that old, but the earliest 60 Ss, which will cost from around £46,000, are less well made than later ones. Tesla itself has a large number of used examples for sale.