Easier but not always cheaper: what to know about buying a second-hand electric car

A red Nissan Leaf driving over a bridge in a city

Nicola Dowse

Posted January 23, 2023


Opting for a pre-loved electric vehicle might get you in an electric car faster, but there are some important factors to consider before taking the keys. 

Australians’ hunger to transition to a cleaner energy future, with sales data from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) showing that 33,410 electric vehicles (EV) were sold in 2022. 

The reasons behind the uptick are clear: EVs have environmental benefits and are cheaper to run in the long term than traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, with the upfront cost of some EVs now comparable to that of similar petrol or diesel cars. 

The only problem is that demand for electric cars hasn’t quite kept up with supply, a common problem for EVs and ICE vehicles alike. “Demand for EVs is strong - some new models have sold out in minutes,” says Liam Brady, EV Manager at RACV. "However, limited new supply has created a shortage in the market.” 

“This has led to instances of people paying more for a second-hand EV than a new EV of the exact same model.”

Consumers looking to skip wait times by opting for a used EV will also need to scour the market harder and face stiff competition to secure the vehicle they want, at least for the next few years.

“Due to the relatively low number of EVs on the road in Australia the second-hand market for them is obviously small,” Brady says. 

“This is likely to change in the coming years as state and federal governments have strong mandates to electrify their fleets which they turnover on average every three years – this will significantly spur on the second-hand market helping more Australians afford an EV.” 

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

Learn how JET Charge makes EV charging at home easy and convenient


What to look for when buying a used electric car

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 second-hand Brady says it’s worth making sure the seller is at least including a level one (emergency) charger with the vehicle. “This will ensure you will at least be able to plug it into a power point when you take it home,” he says. Otherwise, you’ll need to source your own post haste. 

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

 

Mini electric hatch

There are alternative second-hand EVs available, like the Mini Electric Hatch, but they may be harder to come by.


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. 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,” Brady says.  “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.” 

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.

Choice of vehicle 

The Tesla remains the poster child for EVs, so much so that the Tesla Model 3 captured more than 62 per cent of the Medium-sized sedan market in 2022. Given their popularity, it’s no surprise that they also make up the bulk of used electric vehicles on the market. 

That doesn’t mean they should be the only car you consider though, especially with a host of new models coming to Australia in 2023. Teslas are often more expensive than other electric vehicles (although financing through a green loan may help alleviate costs) and might not suit your particular needs.  

Families after an SUV might wish to consider second-hand EV models like the Kia EV6, Nissan Leaf or Hyundai Kona. If you’re after something small and zippy, Mini also offers a three-door electric hatch perfect for city driving. Be prepared to hunt harder if you’re looking for a non-Tesla EV, however, or consider waiting a few years for more EVs to enter the secondhand market.

 

Learn how Chargefox is making it easier to transition to an electric vehicle


Wear and tear 

“EVs have far fewer moving parts than an ICE vehicle, therefore typically cost less to service and maintain,” Brady says.  

In theory, that means far less wear and tear to check out when purchasing second hand with no need to worry about how worn out the engine is. Even so, it pays to have a professional give the vehicle a once over. 

“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.”