What to know about buying a used electric car

BYD Dolphin car parked near beach


Posted March 14, 2024

Choosing to purchase a used electric vehicle might get you in an electric car faster and at a lower price, but there are some important factors to consider before taking the keys. 

With electric vehicle sales increasing and more electric models available from brands such as Tesla, BYD and MG, the price of used EVs has become more competitive, and the market for second-hand electric cars is also growing. This means you have a wider range of electric cars to choose from, allowing you to find a used electric vehicle that suits your needs and preferences.

If you are set on purchasing a used electric vehicle, there’s a few things to keep in mind before handing over any money.

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What to look for when buying a used electric vehicle

Charging port and cable

Most, but not all, new electric vehicles come with a charging cable (Tesla notably stopped providing a charger with new vehicles in 2022). When purchasing a used electric vehicle, it’s worth making sure the seller is at least including a level one (emergency) charger with the vehicle. This will ensure you are able to plug the vehicle into a power point when you take it home.

You’ll also want to check the charging ports on the second-hand car to rule out any damage and give the charger itself a once over to check for wear and tear.

person plugging in EV charger

It's important to check the charging port and charging cable of the car for wear and tear. Image: Ben Weinstein.

Battery and range

When purchasing a used ICE vehicle, you always want to check the engine for faults. 

When purchasing a used electric vehicle, the same applies to the battery. The battery is a crucial component of an electric car, so it's essential to assess its health and lifespan before purchasing. Unfortunately, this can be a little tricky depending on the make and model. 

Some models like the Nissan Leaf have a dash display that indicates the health of the battery. For the more technically savvy you can use an OBD2 (on-board diagnostics) scanner with a smart phone app to obtain detailed vehicle systems information, however this may not be available for every EV make and model. You can also go to some used car dealerships to get a reading from an on-board diagnostic device.

If that’s not possible, an alternative is to have the owner charge the vehicle to 100 per cent then compare the range stated on the dash display to the range stated by the manufacturer. Also inquire with the owner about their charging habits, including the types of chargers used, charging frequency, and any instances of fast charging. An overuse of fast/rapid charging can have detrimental impact on the life span of the car battery, whereas using a lower-powered source generally preserves the battery at a greater rate. This information can give you insights into the battery's health and potential longevity. A well-maintained battery with a consistent charging routine is more likely to have been a properly cared-for used electric vehicle.

You may also benefit from looking for information on the battery's capacity and any degradation over time. Consider factors like the manufacturer's warranty, the number of charging cycles the battery has gone through, and the estimated remaining battery life.

However, don't hesitate to consult with a trusted mechanic or electric vehicle expert for a comprehensive inspection before finalising your purchase.

Vehicle and battery warranty

It is important to find out about the warranty that covers the car and the battery as these are often separate. The battery warranty usually guarantees the battery will maintain at least 70% of it’s original charging capacity for the battery warranty period.

The warranty term differs across the various car brands and models. Tesla cars usually come with a 4-year or 80,000km (which ever comes first) warranty with the battery itself having a warranty of 8 years or 160,000km – 192,000km depending on the model.

Some other models like the older BMW i3 only came with a 3-year manufacturer warranty where as other brands like MG come with a 7-year warranty. So it is essential to get the information on the warranty of the particular vehicle you are interested in buying. 

Choice of electric vehicle 

While Tesla remains the the clear sales leader for EVs with its acclaimed Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, there are now over 60 different models of EVs in the Australian market with more scheduled for release in 2024. Chinese brands BYD, MG and GWM are among the fast-growing brands for electric car sales in Australia.

Families after an SUV might wish to consider second-hand EV models like the Kia EV6 or the BYD Atto 3. If you’re after something small and zippy, MG offers the electric MG4 hatch which is perfect for city driving, while BYD offers Australia's most affordable EV, the Dolphin light hatch. Be prepared to search harder if you’re looking for a non-Tesla EV, however, or consider waiting a few years for more EVs to enter the second-hand market.

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Wear and tear 

As with any used car you are looking to purchase, make sure you examine the exterior of the car for any signs of damage or wear. Look for dents, scratches, or paint chips that may indicate previous accidents or neglect. Moving inside, check the interior for any signs of excessive wear and tear, such as worn-out seats, damaged dashboard components, or malfunctioning controls. A well-maintained exterior and interior can often be a good indicator of a well-cared-for vehicle.

EVs still have some of the same components as ICE vehicles such as suspension, steering, and brakes which you should have checked by a mechanic as you would any other car.

What are some factors that affect EVs resale value?

One crucial factor to consider is the depreciation of electric vehicles over time. Just like any other ICE vehicle, EVs also experience depreciation, but the rate might differ depending on model or brand.

Future market predictions also play a role in understanding the resale value of electric cars. The electric vehicle market is rapidly evolving, with new models and technologies constantly emerging. Keeping an eye on market trends and predictions can provide valuable insights into the potential value of a second-hand electric car in the future.

Battery health is another significant aspect to consider when evaluating the resale value of an electric vehicle. A well-maintained battery with good health will generally result in a higher resale value. Potential buyers are often concerned about the battery's remaining capacity and lifespan, so providing detailed information about battery health can give sellers an edge when selling their second-hand electric car.

Electric car dash monitor showing car charging

It is vital that you check the health of the EVs battery. Image: Ben Weinstein.

Buying an electric vehicle for the first time

If this is your first electric vehicle, you will also want to consider a few additional factors:

Charging infrastructure and habits

A vital factor to consider is the availability of charging infrastructure in your area. Check if there are enough charging stations conveniently located for your daily needs, whether it's at home, work, or public places. Additionally, evaluate your charging habits and determine if the vehicle's range aligns with your typical driving patterns.

Planning for home charging installation 

One of the first things to consider when buying a second-hand electric car is home charging. EVs need to be charged regularly, and having a dedicated charging station at home can make this process convenient and hassle-free. Before making your purchase, it's essential to assess your home's electrical infrastructure and ensure that it can support the installation of a charging unit. If necessary, consult with a professional electrician to determine the best charging solution for your needs.

Understanding the range of electric vehicles

The range of an electric vehicle refers to the distance it can travel on a single charge. It's crucial to understand the range capabilities of different EV models to ensure they align with your daily commuting or travel requirements. Factors such as battery size, driving conditions, and weather can affect the range of an electric car. Research the range of the specific used electric car you're interested in to determine if it suits your lifestyle.

Maintenance and servicing costs

While electric cars generally require less maintenance compared to traditional vehicles, it's still important to consider maintenance and servicing costs. Research the specific model you're interested in and find out about routine maintenance requirements, service intervals, and costs. Understanding these factors will help you budget for ongoing maintenance expenses and ensure that you can keep your electric car running smoothly.

The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.