As electric cars gain mainstream acceptance, more of them are finding their way onto the used market. We've weighed up the pros and cons of buying a second-hand EV

Low mileages, low prices, low running costs: the appeals of second-hand electric cars appear pretty compelling.

You can get yourself a low-mileage Renault Fluence saloon for as little as £3000, a quirky Renault Twizy for much the same and a Nissan Leaf for less than £6000.

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

NISSAN LEAF

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.

BMW i3

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.

RENAULT FLUENCE

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.

RENAULT ZOE

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.

TESLA MODEL S

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.

Our Verdict

Renault Twizy

The Renault Twizy is surprisingly good fun with an endearing character, even though it has obvious flaws

Join the debate

Comments
6

A34

17 April 2017
So the reason the EV cars are cheap is because of the fixed battery lease prices. 720 a year is a lot. Yet 2nd hand cars are often not high mileage cars. Solution? Drop the lease rate 50% from year 3 and watch residuals rise!

17 April 2017
I have looked several times at buying a used EV,Leaf, Zoe etc.
When you do the sums they simply do not make sense.
A small petrol engined car ( Up, Aygo etc) or a used Prius make much more financial sense. If and when used EV's do make financial sense the people will buy them. Until then they will depreciate like a dropped lead battery....

18 April 2017
So go on then Autocar, if these used electric cars are such bargains, why not buy one and demonstrate the cost effectiveness of clean air transport. It's all very well to argue about relative merits of these cars theoretically, but there is nothing like doing the exercise for real. Will a used one have anything like the range it did when new? Will its mechanical simplicity equate to reliability and low maintenance and service costs. And will the frighteningly​ high initial depreciation be arrested in later life? These are all question that I'd like answers for, but fear of loosing a lot of money is holding me back from trying it myself!

18 April 2017
Your Questions "Will its mechanical simplicity equate to reliability and low maintenance and service costs." - YES " frighteningly​ high initial depreciation" This article is about secondhand EV's - READ the OPENINGS HEADINLES" Oh and some people using a secondhand £4,000 EV's in London get their money back in congestion charges in a couple of years, and that's disregarding the low cost of electricity as a fuel.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

19 April 2017
xxxx wrote:

Your Questions "Will its mechanical simplicity equate to reliability and low maintenance and service costs." - YES " frighteningly​ high initial depreciation" This article is about secondhand EV's - READ the OPENINGS HEADINLES" Oh and some people using a secondhand £4,000 EV's in London get their money back in congestion charges in a couple of years, and that's disregarding the low cost of electricity as a fuel.

Still peddling this four x bullshit about the cost of running silly electric cars. If what you say were true, and people switched in huge numbers, the government would transfer all of the tax onto the electricity and a charge would cost the same as a tank of fuel because they certainly won't be losing that money.

Likewise the congestion charge, because they aren't any smaller than real cars, they cause the same length of queues and if in use in large numbers would attract the same charge so as to try and keep people from driving into London(and any other cities which introduce one).

And so being as the cost is the same people may as well stick to petrol, since they'd have to keep a second petrol car anyhow for going long distances or into wilder areas. Hiring would cost as much as the second car would and add even more inconvenience to the impracticality of electric ownership. Some day something may come along which is better than a petrol car, but it sure as hell isn't here yet, and electricity will never be that. Electric cars are going nowhere.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

18 April 2017
This article could do with some fact checking.

For Nissan Leafs, the battery rental option is called Flex, not the other way round. Looking at the used ads it seems that very few Flex versions are on the second hand market - they all seem to have the magic words 'battery owned not leased'. Even Renault, who championed the idea of battery leasing, have had to introduce outright battery purchase.

You don't have to have a charge point installed. Apart from Teslas, pretty well all EVs currently on the second hand market can be charged from a normal domestic 13A socket as long as your wiring is in reasonable condition. It may take a little longer but it still works.

Batteries will die eventually. If you take the Leaf as the effective first mass-market vehicle, then the oldest examples in the UK are about 6 years old now. There's one on eBay right now which still has 12 bars on its battery, meaning that it's got better than 85% of the original capacity. What people are betting on is that by the time they need a new battery, the cost of replacing one (on exchange - remember that the cells in the battery can be recycled for domestic storage) will be low enough to make it worthwhile. There are already a couple of independents specialising in EV battery repair, and as EV numbers grow more independents will start up. Nissan are supposed to have had to slow their domestic storage battery plans because they simply aren't getting enough batteries back to recycle.

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