Used Electric Cars: Quick Guide For Getting The Best Deal

June 13, 2015

If you think that electric-car ownership is beyond your financial reach, think again.

Due to a matter of supply and demand, and a flood of used models entering the market, electric vehicles (EVs) like the Nissan Leaf are remarkably affordable.

This summer, and likely into the fall, there’s a surplus of electric cars being returned from two- and three-year manufacturer-subsidized leases; and it means that there are some serious deals to be had in buying a used electric vehicle (EV).

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The two models you’ll want to focus in on—the ones that haven’t held their value particularly well on the used market—are the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Both of these models are selling for less than $10,000 as three-year-old vehicles, in good condition. And analysts are anticipating that the continued stock of lease vehicles entering the used market will mean that prices will have even more downward price pressure.

Alternate all-electric models to consider include the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive (ED), and the Ford Focus Electric. These models aren’t showing up at used lots in the same numbers as the Leaf, but they’re also relative bargains as used cars.

Used EV average purchase prices, Jan-May 2015, for 1- to 3-year-old vehicles

Used EV average purchase prices, Jan-May 2015, for 1- to 3-year-old vehicles

All four of these models are retaining less than 40 percent of their value after two years, and the Focus Electric, Leaf, and i-MiEV are all holding at less than a third of their original value after three years. For the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, its three-year used value is only about a fifth of its original MSRP.

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No, the Tesla Model S isn’t part of that; its reputation, for being not just a good electric car but for also being one of the best-rated models on the market, of any kind, from a number of sources—including Consumer Reports—has kept its values buoyed, and its depreciation below that of luxury cars in its same as-new price range.

Part of the issue with the more affordable used EVs is that a federal $7,500 tax credit applies to these vehicles (now and when they were new), and so their effective value started out well below MSRP. Factor in relatively stable gasoline prices, and manufacture-subsidized leases that are built on inflated end-of-lease values, and there’s more downward price pressure in order for used EVs to make sense.

Those are abysmal figures for the industry, but they’re great for shoppers looking to get in on tailpipe-emissions-free motoring.

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