Purchasing a brand-new electric car isn’t getting appreciably cheaper anytime soon, but as more are sold, there are also more options than ever before in the used market.
While the price remains the key barrier to adoption – despite EVs being cheaper overall to own – more second-hand electric vehicles are slowly trickling into the used market to offset the sticker shock and improve accessibility.
And with supply improving for new cars and hiking interest rates, there’s less demand on the used-car market º which is decreasing today’s inflated resale prices.
So, is it time to buy a second-hand EV now?
If you can find a reasonably well-priced, good-condition example, and if the EV model selection suits your driving range needs, the answer could easily be ‘yes’.
Buying a used example is a good way to save money on an EV – and it’s more sustainable, too. But what models are available in Australia now and what specific considerations are needed for a used EV?
Buying a used EV? Here’s what you should consider
As with buying any used car, take the usual precautions like checking its history, exterior and interior condition, roadworthiness and servicing logbook records.
EVs still need routine maintenance as they share many ‘consumables’ with petrol and diesel vehicles like tyres, brakes, suspension, lights, electronics and the 12-volt battery.
Although Tesla, BMW and Mini adopt a condition-based servicing scheme instead of set intervals, regular checkups are still recommended for specific parts – so it’s a myth to say that electric cars don’t need servicing in its lifetime.
There are also EV-specific considerations when buying a used example. However, some questions can’t be reliably answered if you’re purchasing through a car dealership or retailer.
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Battery health: Electric car batteries will degrade over time
Similar to internal combustion engines becoming less efficient over time, electric car batteries do naturally degrade – especially when driven more on the odometer and subject to harsher environments like extreme low or high temperatures for extended periods.
Nearly all EV models already have sophisticated liquid-cooling systems to actively keep the battery at its optimum temperature, to prevent excessive degradation. But, some – like the first- and current second-generation Nissan Leaf small hatchback – only use a passive air-cooled setup, which is more of a concern due to its already sub-par range when new.
Unfortunately, there is currently no easy way to check an EV’s battery health like we can with our smartphones.
However, technicians can diagnose and generate a battery health report when it comes to servicing.
Without it, looking at the car’s estimated remaining driving range is an alternative sign, but be wary the battery management system may not be calibrated properly and won’t show accurate remaining range or state-of-charge indicators.
First-gen Nissan Leafs feature a 12-bar state-of-health indicator in the driver’s instrument cluster, but they haven’t always proven accurate. Meanwhile, Tesla EVs can enter into a ‘service mode’ to identify the state-of-health, though it requires an arduous discharging and recharging process overnight.
All manufacturers cover their models with a separate battery warranty (usually eight years / 160,000km) and some even promise they won’t lose more than 30 per cent of its capacity during the period.
If there’s an issue, car brands can replace individual modules or the whole battery for free, so it’s worth looking at an EV that still has a battery warranty in place.
Likewise, a used model that’s more energy-efficient and with a bigger battery might give more degradation leeway and still offer enough driving range for your needs down the line.
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Charging habits: AC or DC, 80% or full?
How previous owners charge their electric car is also a sign of the battery condition.
To maintain good battery health, it’s best practice to predominantly charge on slower AC power. This includes standard three-pin home power plugs (Level 1) and home or public AC wall boxes (Level 2).
Regularly charging on public DC fast charging stations (Level 3) like Tesla Superchargers, AmpCharge and Evie Networks providers tends to stress the battery more and generate more heat with every session – leading to a higher chance of degradation.
Additionally, most car brands recommend recharging up to 80 per cent only, as it is unhealthy for batteries to be in a high state-of-charge for long periods. Likewise, keeping the battery too low under 20 per cent all the time isn’t ideal.
Conversely, Polestar recommends capping its Polestar 2 liftback at 90 per cent instead, while Tesla suggests fully charging the base rear-wheel-drive versions of its Model 3 sedan and Model Y SUV models, since they use a longer-lasting lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery – and to ensure the system calibrates to always display an accurate battery percentage indicator.
If you are able, it’s best to ask the owner’s charging habits and see whether a charge limit has been set previously (an automatic cut-off feature is offered in most models).
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Tyre wear: Check tread depth
Because EVs are naturally heavier – due to large underfloor battery packs and a stronger chassis to accommodate this system – their tyres are under more stress than with the average car.
While dedicated EV tyre models are made with a more durable structure to alleviate it, they still wear quicker than a petrol or diesel car’s tyres – especially if the driver often engages in moments of rapid acceleration (a compulsion that is hard to avoid in an EV).
When looking at a used electric car, check whether the tyre grooves are on the same level as the built-in tread wear indicator nub, or measure the tread depth by putting a 20-cent coin into the tyre groove to see if it reaches the front bill of the platypus.
If yes, the vehicle needs new tyres.
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Electric cars are much more efficient to drive than conventional combustion engine cars, thanks in part to regenerative braking.
It’s like the EV version of engine braking, but you gain back some ‘fuel’ in return. This is where the electric motors reverse direction to slow down the vehicle and recaptures some of that kinetic energy back into the battery.
But, this also means EV owners don’t use the proper hydraulic brake as often, so the disc can corrode over time.
This is especially true for models that feature one-pedal driving, though even those without this technology will use regen exclusively at the top of the pedal before applying the hydraulic brake. It’s good practice for owners to occasionally turn off the regen function to clean the brake disc, but some EV models offer a dedicated cleaning mode.
A rarely used and unloved brake may cause corrosion and need a replacement, so be wary when buying an used electric car.
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Charging plug and cables: Not Type 2/CCS2? Approach with caution…
Today, car brands have universally adopted the Type 2 and CCS2 charging connector type as the universal standard in all countries except the USA and China.
Yet, older EV models may use an outdated plug type that won’t be compatible with public charging stations today and require an adapter.
Notably, the pre-2018 BMW i3 adopts the older Type 1/CCS1 standard, so an adapter outputting to Type 2/CCS2 is needed to use almost all AC and DC public charging stations in Australia.
CCS ev charging plug
Similarly, the first-gen Nissan Leaf uses a Type 1 port for AC charging and a Japanese CHAdeMO port for fast DC charging. The latter is still found on second-gen Leafs and the Lexus UX300e today, albeit using the common Type 2 plug for AC.
While many DC fast-charging stations still offer a CHAdeMO cable due to requirements set out by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) for federal government-funded chargers, an increasing number of providers like BP Pulse are only providing CCS2 plugs at some sites – as CHAdeMO is likely facing extinction.
You should also check whether charging cables (eg: three-pin trickle charger, Type 2 to Type 2, etc.) and any other adapters are included with the used EV as buying them separately can be costly.
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CHAdeMO ev plug
Are ‘grey market’ imported EVs worth buying?
Many Nissan Leaf hatches and all Nissan e-NV200 and Mitsubishi Minicab MiEV vans in the Australian used EV market are imported from Japan.
‘Grey imported’ electric cars are often cheaper than buying locally, as they’ve already been used by a previous owner overseas, and the model grade usually has less standard features than what’s available here.
Although the niche model and affordable price tag entices would-be buyers away from purchasing at the local car dealer, imported EVs don’t enjoy the same manufacturer warranties, servicing and support.
Still, imported examples are the most affordable way to get into an EV right now – so you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons.
|Cheaper price tag than domestic offerings||No local OEM support for vehicle/battery warranty and maintenance|
|Unique model/features||You’ll need to outsource servicing from trained EV technicians|
|Limited warranty often included by importer reseller||Insurance likely more expensive, only a handful provide cover|
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The road ahead
Australia’s used electric car market is still in its infancy, but that’s set to change in the coming years.
Demand continues to grow, with more new EV models arriving to increase competition and lower the price barrier.
Government fleets and car rental companies have taken on electric models like the Nissan Leaf, the recently retired Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the MG ZS EV, Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 – and all will flow onto the second-hand market.
Likewise, the federal government’s fringe benefits tax (FBT) exemption scheme (backdated from July 1, 2022) is designed to encourage company fleets and novated leases to opt for tailpipe emissions-free motoring today – and ultimately contributes to a larger and more affordable used EV market in the future.
Of course, battery-electric vehicles aren’t suited for all Australians like regular long-distance drivers and fleets that operate outside of urban and suburban areas.
We’ll see whether developments in new battery technologies or other powertrain types like hydrogen fuel-cells will play out to provide more extended driving ranges – but for the majority of Australians in capital cities and surrounds, owning an EV is more efficient, cheaper and easier than being tied to exhaust-polluting petrol and diesel cars today.
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Which used EVs are available in Australia?
The choice of new electric car models has increased substantially in the past few years after almost a decade dominated by just the Nissan Leaf small hatchback, BMW i3 city car, and Tesla Model S liftback and Model X large SUV.
Unfortunately, first-car buyers can mostly only choose the first-gen Nissan Leaf hatch for now – as the most common affordable used EV in Australia – but expect this list to grow.
Flowing from the new EV market, second-hand Tesla Model 3s and Model Ys are the most popular, though they retain high resale values – especially in today’s supply-constrained market.
Used car prices: Ballpark prices (as of January 2023)
NOTE: Prices are estimated based on private and dealer listings on Carsales at the time of writing.
|EV Model||Model years||Price range*|
|Mitsubishi i-MiEV (and imported I-car)||2010-2012||$10,000-$20,000|
|Nissan Leaf (first-gen ZE0 and imported AZEO)||2012-2017||$15,000-$35,000|
|Nissan e-NV200 (imports only)||2014 onwards||$20,000-$40,000|
|Hyundai Ioniq Electric||2018-2021||$30,000-$50,000|
|MG ZS EV||2020 onwards||$30,000-$50,000|
|Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E.||2017 onwards||$30,000-$50,000|
|Nissan Leaf (second-gen ZE1 including imports)||2017 onwards||$30,000-$70,000|
|Tesla Model 3*||2019 onwards||$50,000-$120,000|
|Tesla Model S*||2014-2020||$50,000-$180,000|
|Kia Niro EV (first-gen)*||2021||$50,000-$70,000|
|Mini Electric||2020 onwards||$50,000-$70,000|
|Mazda MX-30 Electric||2021 onwards||$50,000-$70,000|
|Hyundai Kona Electric*||2018 onwards||$50,000-$75,000|
|Tesla Model Y*||2022 onwards||$70,000-$100,000|
|Polestar 2*||2021 onwards||$70,000-$110,000|
|Volvo XC40 Recharge*||2021 onwards||$80,000-$100,000|
|Kia EV6*||2021 onwards||$80,000-$100,000|
|Mercedes-Benz EQA*||2020 onwards||$80,000-$110,000|
|Hyundai Ioniq 5*||2021 onwards||$80,000-$110,000|
|Lexus UX300e||2021 onwards||$80,000-$90,000|
|BMW iX3*||2021 onwards||$90,000-$140,000|
|Jaguar I-Pace||2018 onwards||$90,000-$140,000|
*Some cars listed have a higher price than buying new
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