Car enthusiasts have a saying that the best entry-level Porsche is a used Porsche. For some buyers, the same can be said for electric vehicles (EVs). As the world moves toward electrification of transportation, buying a used EV can help you get your feet wet in the battery-electric world without having to spend the $35,000 to $65,000 that an entry or mid-level new EV costs. The least expensive new EV in the US is the 2022 Nissan Leaf S at $28,365, closely followed by the 2022 Mini Cooper SE at $30,750 and the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV 1LT at $31,995. The rest go up from there, however, some new EVs qualify for federal, state, and local EV incentives, which can total between $7,500 and $10,000.
The first thing to consider if you are thinking of buying a used EV—particularly if you are planning on spending less than $20,000—is that it may not be the right car for everyone. Early EVs had a very short range, often on the order of 100 miles or less on a charge. As batteries age, they begin to lose some of their ability to store electrical energy so the actual range of a used 5-7-year-old EV could be 20-30 percent lower than it was when the vehicle and its battery were brand new. Find a competent EV mechanic to tell you about the battery health of your potential purchase before you sign the contract.
Here’s the thing—If you consider the average US commute to work each day is 16 miles each way, that limited range might not be a big problem if your plan is daily commuting. Even a 60-100 mile range could meet the needs for a daily commute. Because the range is primarily limited by smaller batteries installed in early EVs, that battery also has the virtues of less weight, less cost, and a shorter charging time. Again, not a solution for everyone, but one that might work for you.
The other downside to early used EVs is that they tend to be fairly small in size. Bringing along the whole family might be a squeeze and in our era of mega-huge SUVs and pickup trucks and inattentive drivers, piloting a small subcompact car can be a bit intimidating. On the other hand, a small car is nimble and maneuverable and can fit into almost any parking spot—and they are a lot more fun to drive than a lumbering behemoth.
Why not just buy a used Tesla? They have the range (over 200 miles) and the size, however a used Model S or Model X Tesla—even those that are nearing 10 years old—cost over double our $20,000 price limit.
Buying a used car is a risk. Here are some industry suggestions:
- Always check the Carfax report but ask the dealer to provide it. That way you don’t have to pay for it
- Have a mechanic you trust inspect the car before you buy
- You usually have more recourse when a vehicle has a warranty than an “as is” vehicle
- Ask if there’s any damage and get the answer in writing.
- There are times when a dealer has to tell you if the vehicle is a flood, salvage, or reconstructed vehicle or if the vehicle is five years old or newer and more than 25% of it has been damaged
One more thing to consider—the used car market has gotten hot. According to recent federal data, new car sales are up 9 percent from this time last year while the increase for used cars in the same period is 24 percent. It means finding the used car you are looking for at a price that you are willing to pay can be difficult.
Here are 10 used EVs that you can probably buy for less than $20,000. We have listed them from cheapest to most expensive. Good hunting!
Kevin Clemens is a Senior Editor with Battery Technology.