What to Know Before Buying a Used Electric Car

Knowing what to look for in a used EV will help you navigate the growing market.

People inspecting a used electric vehicle at a dealer.

Maskot / Getty Images

Buying a used car be a challenging experience, and buying a used electric vehicle is no exception. Since EVs are relatively new entrants into the vehicle market, most EV sales are of new vehicles—unlike gasoline cars, of which 76% sold in the U.S. are used.

As the EV market grows, so too will the percentage of used vehicles for sale. Knowing what to look for, and what to avoid, will help you navigate this growing market.

Why Buy a Used EV?

Similar to buying a gas-powered vehicle, buying a used EV comes with potential uncertainties about the prior use and condition of the vehicle, as well as a wide variety of places to make the purchase. But don't let that deter you—there are many good reasons to purchase a used EV.

Sufficient Range

While older electric vehicles have less range than newer models, advances in EV range have leveled off in recent years; manufacturers realize that few people need vehicles with ranges over 200 or more miles. Also, as public EV charging stations become more abundant, “range anxiety” is less of a concern for buyers.

The average U.S. driver drives 30 miles per day, so an older EV with less than 100 miles of range may be all you need to meet your daily or even weekly needs. And if you have easily accessible EV charging, you may be able to charge your vehicle overnight and have it meet your commute needs in the morning.

If you rarely make long-distance trips in a vehicle, you may find it cheaper to rent a gasoline car (or an EV with better range) than to spend more on a vehicle whose greater range you rarely use.

Used Nissan Leaf charging at station in public parking lot.
Nissan Leaf. Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

Low Range Decline

Studies have shown that EV batteries lose 15% to 30% of their energy capacity in the first five years. Keep in mind, though, that a small portion of the battery's total capacity is reserved to protect the battery. As an EV ages, its software decreases the vehicle's reserved energy to maintain as much of the vehicle's original range as possible.

Lower Operating Costs

New or used, running a vehicle on electricity is cheaper than running one on gasoline, and the price of electricity is far more predictable and stable than the price of gas. Moreover, as they age, EVs lose fuel efficiency far more slowly than gasoline cars. In one study, a five- to seven-year-old used EV saved owners two to three times more in fuel costs than a new EV saved its owner compared to a comparable, new gas-powered vehicle.

With fewer moving parts than gasoline vehicles, EVs generally require less maintenance and last longer. In that same report, EV maintenance costs were estimated at $0.03 per mile—half that of a gasoline car.

Tax Breaks on Used EVs

Buying a used EV qualifies you for tax breaks from the federal government. The Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August 2022, contains a provision for a 30% tax credit for buying a used EV—with some limits:

  • The total tax credit is capped at $4,000.
  • The sales price of the vehicle must be $25,000 or less.
  • The vehicle must be purchased from a dealer.
  • The vehicle must be two model years or older when sold.
  • The tax credit can be used only once during the lifetime of the vehicle.
  • A buyer must wait three years before using the same tax credit again.

There are also income limitations on buyers of used EVs claiming the tax credit:

  • $75,000 for individuals.
  • $112,500 for heads of households.
  • $150,000 for joint filers.

Fortunately, dealers can apply the tax credit to reduce the sales price of the vehicle, meaning buyers don't have to wait until filing their tax return to receive the credit.

 Cost Factors  Used Gas Car  Used EV
Purchase Price  $23,653.00  $20,914.00
Fuel Per Year  $1,434.52  $573.81
Annual Maintenance  $1,017.12  $508.56
Total Cost  $40,814.51  $28,490.59

Tips on Buying a Used EV

Dashboard monitor on an electric vehicle
Dashboard monitor on an electric vehicle.

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

In many ways, buying a used EV is similar to buying a used gasoline car: You'll want to know the history of ownership, maintenance, and recalls. You may also want to take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for an inspection. But as with buying a new EV, there are things you should look for that are unique to buying a used EV.

Dealer vs. Private Sale

You can search all the usual places for a used vehicle, including websites like CarGurus or CarMax, Craigslist, and other for-sale-by-owner locations. But to receive the potential $4,000 tax credit on the purchase of a used EV costing less than $25,000, you need to purchase it from a dealer. A higher-cost vehicle might be better purchased from a private seller.

Check the Range

Before viewing a prospective EV in person, check what the car's original range was when new. If the prospective EV isn't fully charged when you inspect it, the EV's instrument cluster will not only tell you the current range available but the percentage to which the battery is charged. Calculate the current maximum range of the vehicle, then compare it to its original range.

Extremes of hot and cold can affect the car's range by an average of 17% to 41%. This can be more of a factor for a used EV since it's likely to already have a low range. If you live in those extremes, make sure you consider the impacts it could have on the vehicle and your travel.

Check the Warranty

As with gasoline cars, different EV parts come with different warranties. The federal government mandates that EV manufacturers issue a battery warranty with a minimum of eight years/80,000 miles. In California, the mandate changes to 10 years/150,000 miles.

Not all warranties are transferable to subsequent owners, however. Using the vehicle identification number, you can ask the automaker's customer service department to give you specifics about what's covered and what isn't.

Check the Charging Capabilities

High angle view of human hand holding electric car charger
sellmore / Getty Images

EV charging can have a steep learning curve, though once you settle into a pattern, it can be nearly as simple as charging your phone. Make sure that your vehicle comes with charging cables and that you understand what kind of charging connector(s) it has since there is no universal charging port.

Some EVs can support faster DC charging at public charging stations, while others can't. You might also find that your neighborhood has few public charging stations with the kind of charging port your prospective EV requires.

While any EV can be charged with a regular 120-volt outlet, you'll want to buy the right kind of charging station if you plan on installing a higher-speed charging station at home.

Consider End-of-Life

People who change cars frequently consider the resale value of a used vehicle before they purchase it, hoping to get as much money back when they sell it.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can used EV batteries be replaced?

    It's likely that the EV battery will outlast the rest of the vehicle. However, should your battery need replacing, the cost can be prohibitive, especially if you didn't pay a hefty upfront price for your vehicle. You can cut your losses by reselling or repurposing your EV battery as a residential energy storage device.

  • Can used EV batteries be recycled?

    EV batteries can indeed be recycled. Even though the industry for recycling electric car batteries is still in its infancy, it is growing fast and may be available to you by the time your battery gives up the ghost.

  • Are there other incentives available for used EVs?

    Check with your state and local governments, as well as your local electric utility, for the availability and parameters of any incentives. You can also check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. The combination of federal and state incentives may make it worth purchasing a new electric vehicle rather than a used one. Other perks, such as access to car pool lanes or a reduction in registration fees or vehicle taxes, may also apply.

View Article Sources
  1. "New and Used Passenger Car and Light Truck Sales and Leases". Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

  2. "New American Driving Survey: Updated Methodology and Results From July 2019 to June 2020". AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 2021.

  3. Yang, Fan et al. "Predictive Modeling Of Battery Degradation And Greenhouse Gas Emissions From U.S. State-Level Electric Vehicle Operation". Nature Communications, vol 9, no. 1, 2018. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04826-0.

  4. Harto, Chris. "Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs: Today's Electric Vehicles Offer Big Savings for Consumers". Consumer Reports, October 2020.

  5. "H.R.5376 — 117th Congress (2021-2022)". One Hundred Seventeenth Congress of the United States of America.

  6. Based on the average sales price for a used sedan. CarGurus, “Used Car Price Trends,” 2022, Sedan.

  7. Based on average price of a Nissan Leaf, March 2022, minus a $4,000 tax credit.

  8. Assumes a small sedan driven 11,467 vehicle miles per year at 14.37 cent/mile for fuel and 10.64 cent/mile for maintenance. U.S. Department of Energy, "Average Annual Vehicle Miles Traveled by Major Vehicle Category;" American Automobile Association, “Your Driving Costs,” 2022.

  9. EVs are 60% cheaper to fuel than gasoline cars and 50% to maintain, according to Consumer Reports.

  10. "Icy Temperatures Cut Electric Vehicle Range Nearly in Half". AAA Newsroom.