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8 Jun 2022

Used electric cars: what you need to know before you buy

With manufacturers saying some of their electric cars are 'sold out', many people are turning to the used market. We reveal how much you can expect to pay, what to watch out for and the models to shortlist

With the price of petrol and diesel continuing to reach record highs, you may be eyeing up making the switch to electric to help save on running costs. The trouble is you’re not alone. There is now an unprecedented demand for new electric cars, leading to ever-longer waits for new orders to be fulfilled.

This demand, combined with the ongoing shortage of critical semiconductor components, has led to a backlog so bad that Volkswagen recently stated that it was effectively ‘sold out’ of EVs in Europe until next year.

Volkswagen isn't alone. Kia told us that new orders for its flagship EV6 (read our full Kia EV6 review) are unlikely to be filled until 2023, and other manufacturers are reporting similar delays.

The used electric car market is therefore seeing a spike. According to data from the SMMT, the number of used electric car sales doubled in the first quarter of 2022. It still represents just a tiny fraction of the overall used car market – of the 1.7 million used cars sold in Q1 2022, only 14,582 were electric – but this is only going to increase as time goes on.

Read on to find out what to look out for when buying a used electric car, the ones to shortlist and why your existing car might be worth much more than you think.


Best electric cars for 2022 – find out which models perform best for safety, reliability and more


How much do used electric cars cost?

As with all cars, the price of a used electric car will vary depending on factors such as the make and model, its age and overall condition. Your choice will also be limited due to the used electric car market being relatively small.

If you're looking to buy nearly new (one that's just a year or so old), don't expect to save much money. In some cases, the increase in demand means you could end up paying more for a nearly new electric car than one that's brand new (but out of stock).

As is often the case, the real bargains are found in the older used market. The earliest fully battery-powered cars have been on sale in the UK since as early as 2011, and our research has highlighted a number of models that have stood the test of time, if not the ravages of depreciation. Further down, we've listed some of the used electric cars that are worth shortlisting, with typical prices starting from just over £6,000.


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Are used electric cars a good buy?

With the potential for much lower running costs compared to a petrol or diesel, and a supremely smooth driving experience, used electric cars have a lot going for them. However, there are some important potential drawbacks to consider.

The main issue is that of driving range. In recent years, larger batteries and improved efficiency have seen the latest electric cars manage over 300 miles between charges. However, many older used models struggle to manage 200 miles – some can't even reach half that figure. Depending on the car you choose, you may find yourself looking for a chargepoint nearly every time you set off.

As always, manufacturer-claimed mileage is often wide of the mark. We test every electric car under the same, real-world conditions, so by reading our electric car reviews you'll know exactly how far you'll be able to travel in your chosen car.

Along with reduced mileage, older electric cars probably won't include the latest charging technology. This means it's unlikely you'll benefit from the latest ultra-rapid charging stations, so you’ll be waiting a tad longer to refuel.

That said, the majority of used older models do offer some form of rapid-charge compatibility, so you won’t necessarily be reliant on far slower 7kWh ‘fast’ chargers. For more on charging, read our guide on charging electric car.

Is electric car battery degradation really a problem?

One thing that puts some people off buying a used electric car is the fear of the lithium-ion battery having degraded, reducing the car's range. It's an understandable concern – after all, anyone who’s owned a laptop or phone for a few years will attest to the limited usable life span of their batteries. However, the fact is it's not something you need to be overly concerned about.

Data from our annual car survey shows that reduced battery capacity (and therefore driving range) is far less of a problem for electric car owners than you might imagine. In fact, our data shows that, on average, drivers reported only a minimal reduction in capacity (around 9% over seven years) as their car ages. As the chart shows, electric cars purchased in 2014 still have, on average, 91% of their original charge capacity.

If you're unlucky enough to suffer a greater drop in capacity, the car's manufacturer warranty should have you covered. Most warranties cover the battery pack and will provide for a repair of replacement should it drop below a certain percentage capacity.

Kia for instance, will cover the battery for seven years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first) and will take action should the battery drop below 70% of its original full charge.

What to check when buying a used electric car

If you’re still concerned about the state of the battery and are buying from a dealer, ask them to provide a health check report. This should show the battery's remaining capacity. Kia, for example, now publishes reports for all second-hand EVs sold through its approved used network, while Renault is expected to offer battery healthcare checks in the future, though specific timings are yet to be confirmed.

If you're buying privately or via an online car-buying service, you probably won't be able to get a battery report. However, you should still treat buying a used electric car just like you would any other used car.

Most important of all, ensure the car has a full service history. You should also use the free tool on Gov.uk to check whether the car is subject to any recalls and to see its MOT history – simply enter the car's registration number to find out (and be very suspicious of owners who won't tell you the registration of the car they're trying to sell you).

For a small fee, services such as HPI will tell you if the car's been reported as stolen, written off or saddled with outstanding finance. Buying through a manufacturer approved-used scheme should ensure all these checks have been carried out and you’ll typically get a year’s warranty thrown in if the original one has expired.

Find out more on how to thoroughly check a used car, and how to negotiate the best deal, in our guide on how to buy the best used car.

Where to buy a used electric car

Although dealer-approved used electric cars offer peace of mind and the process of buying one is usually simple and quick, you’re likely to pay a premium – even if you manage to secure a discount.

Of course, there are other ways of buying a used car to consider, especially if saving money is high on your agenda. We reveal the pros and cons of each (from online brokers to car supermarkets) in our in-depth guide on where to buy a car.

Your current car may be worth more than you think

Our pricing data shows that the price of used cars since 2020 has risen by an average of 4%, and some have risen by much more. Depending on the make and model of your car, and its condition, this means you may have a bigger budget than you think for your used electric car purchase (assuming you're looking to replace your existing car, of course).

Although you're likely to get the best price by selling your car privately, online car-buying services such as Webuyanycar, Motorway and Carwow provide a relatively easy way of selling your existing car. Most of these services offer free valuations, so even if you have no intention of selling your car in this way, you can use them to calculate an asking price for a private sale.

For more ways to get the best price on your existing car, read our guide on how to sell a car.

5 used electric cars to shortlist

Kia e-Niro (2019-22): £15,631 to £35,121

Kia’s popular e-Niro SUV has just been withdrawn from showrooms as the brand readies an all-new version. Obviously, we can’t comment on that car until it's been through our labs. However, Kia will no doubt be hoping the new model can match the stellar reliability record of the e-Niro.

We recently revealed the Kia e-Niro to be not only the most reliable electric small SUV, but the most reliable small SUV across all fuel types – an astounding achievement considering electric cars tend to fare slightly worse for reliability than other fuel types.

And if something does go wrong, your used e-Niro should still be backed by the remainder of Kia’s seven-year/100,000 mile warranty.

Kia claims up to 282 miles of range for the 64kWh e-Niro, but as always you need to read our full review to find out what this translates to in real-world usage. There are also other things to look out for, including some issues with storage space. 

Read our full Kia e-Niro (2019-22) review to find out more.

Mercedes-Benz B Class Electric Drive (2015-17): £16,989 to £21,087

Mercedes has an ever-expanding range of dedicated luxury electric car models, but its first offering in the UK was actually a converted version of its lowly B-Class MPV.

It might have seemed an odd choice, but the car’s chassis design made it an ideal candidate for a zero-emissions makeover. There are some subtle differences (the boot is a tad smaller and the rear seats don’t fold fully flat), but the cabin remains spacious and well appointed.

The 132kW electric motor also has the match of its combustion counterpart in terms of performance and feels particularly punchy at low speeds, although its energy consumption in our tests couldn’t match its more frugal rivals.

Find out if the Mercedes compact people carrier has any other flaws, in our full Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive (2015-17) review

Nissan Leaf (2011-17): £6,364 to £14,465

Europe’s first mass-market electric car launched way back when diesel was at the height of popularity, but it remains a decent (and great value) way of switching to electric.

Its popularity lies in its familiarity. The Leaf is a spacious five-door hatchback with sufficient practicality and comfort for easy everyday use. It’s well made and (aside from a slightly odd gear lever) is as intuitive to operate as any other family car. The only real difference is a very pleasing absence of engine noise in the cabin.

The Leaf uses Nissan’s Chamedo connector for rapid charging, which isn’t quite as common as the CCS plug most manufacturers have adopted, although it shouldn’t prove an issue at most public chargepoints. You can read more about the different charging connectors in our guide on how to use electric car charging points.

What’s likely to be more of a problem is the Leaf's very limited range. None of the models we tested could manage 100 miles on a full charge, so you’ll have to think about your driving habits carefully before buying. 

As one of the oldest electric cars on our roads, we’ve got plenty of information on how robust the Leaf is as it ages.

Read all about it in our expert Nissan Leaf (2011-17) review.

Volkswagen e-Golf (2014-20): £15,417 to £22,786

In contrast to the eye-catching designs of some modern electric cars, the VW e-Golf lets you make the switch to electric in a more subtle manner. It’s almost indistinguishable from the subtly handsome petrol model, both inside and out, and offers the same relaxed and polished driving experience.

Being an older electric car, it can’t quite compete with the latest models in terms of driving range or maximum recharging capacity.

Like Nissan's Leaf, the e-Golf's strengths lie in its space and ease of use. However, the conversion to electric has resulted in some compromises.

Find out what these compromises are, and more, in our full Volkswagen e-Golf (2014-20) review.

BMW i3 (2013-22): £13,988 to £37,061

While it’s still currently possible to order a brand new i3 online, BMW has sounded the death knell for its innovative i3 hatchback, with the final car due to roll off the production lines in July this year. Given its nine-year production run, early models are now available for under £15,000.

The i3 was among the first truly premium-feeling electric hatchbacks. Its boxy-styling and futuristic interior may have been worlds away from other BMWs of the time, but the depth of quality and excellent performance were instantly familiar.

Early versions were also available as a range-extender hybrid, with a small petrol motor used to generate electricity, topping up the battery and reducing range anxiety.

If you're planning to use it for long journeys, look for one manufactured from 2016 onwards – these models include BMW's updated battery pack, which increases driving range.

Find out which version of the i3 is the best for you and how they fare for reliability in our full BMW i3 (2013-22) review.


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