14 Pre-owned Electric Vehicle Models: An Affordable Way To Electrify

Electric vehicles are reliable and have low maintenance costs—are these good reasons to buy a used one?
  • We are on the cusp of the second wave of battery electric vehicles (EVs). Models coming out now and in the next couple years are larger and more mainstream than the EVs that came earlier. They also will be capable of much longer range: 250 to 300 miles on a charge. But what of those early attempts at electrification from the first wave? Many of them are available on the used market—often for surprisingly low prices.

    Before the arrival of the Nissan Leaf in 2011, the battery electric-vehicle (EV) market was almost non-existent. The Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt proved to be a vanguard of what was to follow. Some automakers sold EVs that were designed solely to comply with the California regulations, which required that car makers offer a percentage of their fleet with zero emissions. Yet others embraced the idea that electrification might be the future. The EVs built in that first wave, between 2011 and 2016, were typically small, expensive, and had a range of 60-100 miles on a charge.


    Buying a used car is always a risk—even with good documentation and service records, it is still hard to know how well a vehicle has been maintained and whether it has been abused. The good news about used electric vehicles is that EVs, with fewer moving parts than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, have been shown to be mechanically robust and reliable, requiring little beyond routine maintenance. In addition, because of their limited range, they often have accumulated quite low mileage for their year, another positive.

    But there is a sword hanging over any used EV: the battery pack. The condition of the lithium-ion battery pack that powers EVs of this period depends enormously on how it has been treated during its lifetime. Repeated fast charging, completely depleting the battery, or operation at hot or cold temperature extremes can result in a battery pack with reduced capability when compared to when it was new. Just normal aging of a pack can result in a reduction of around 5% capacity per year. Many car makers placed warranties on their battery packs, typically 8 years or 100,000 miles, but some early EVs on the used market are nearing that age limit. So the range quoted for a new EV in 2015 may not be reached by a used EV in 2018 with an aging pack.

    Good News

    There are two bits of good news for those contemplating a used EV. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen dramatically, from well over $1000 per kilowatt-hour (kW) just a few years ago to around $200 per kWh today. Secondly, there has grown up a cottage industry of specialists who can rejuvenate a used EV pack, replacing malfunctioning cells and returning them to nearly new capacity. There are also some aftermarket computer tools available to assess to condition of a pack. Suffice it to say that any buyer of a used EV should do their homework before considering such a purchase.

    To examine the prices of some available used EVs, Design News reached out to Kelly Blue Book (KBB) to provide current used car prices. KBB is an industry standard for reliable used car pricing. We chose to price our cars as if they were in Very Good condition and if we were buying from a private party. The prices when buying from a used car dealer might be slightly higher. We reported the current used price for the first year a vehicle was available, the used price for a 2017 model of the vehicle or the last year it was available, and the new vehicle price (MSRP from KBB) for the last year it was available, or for 2018 if the vehicle is still available.

    We also included a few plug-in hybrids in our list. These vehicles allow some electric-only range using a battery pack that is charged at home and then resort to a gasoline engine to produce a longer range. Car companies looked at plug-in hybrids as a way to address the “range anxiety” that was present when EVs only had a range of 60-100 miles on a charge.

    With prices that range from less than $5,000 to more than $60,000, here are some used EVs to consider.


    Photo: 2011 Chevrolet Volt (Image source: Chevrolet)

  • Nissan Leaf SL (2011-2017)

    Nissan was one of the first of the major car companies out of the gate, into production with its all-electric Leaf in 2011. Since that time, the company has sold more than 300,000 Leafs, making it the biggest-selling EV in the world. The Leaf is easy to drive, reasonably comfortable, and well-made. As long as you don’t drive more than 70-100 miles in a day, a used Leaf would make a fine commuter car. The larger 30 kWh battery pack arrived in 2016, but there have been questions about whether it is degrading faster than the original 24 kWh pack. The earliest Leafs are also reaching the end of their 8-year battery warranty period. An all-new Leaf was introduced for 2018.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2018                     $37,085               Range: 150 miles

                   2017                     $20,238               Range: 107 miles

                   2011                     $6,101                  Range: 72 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years/100,000 miles

    (Image source: Nissan)

  • BMW i3 (2014-2017)

    When BMW introduced the i3 in 2014, it was clear that the German car company wanted to make a statement about its EVs. The i3 had a unique shape and architecture that it didn’t share with any other vehicle in the BMW lineup. Its carbon-fiber reinforced body helped reduce weight while its interior was made largely from recycled and recyclable materials. The i3 also was available with a two-cylinder range-extender gasoline engine to help assuage those range anxiety fears. Most of all, the i3 is a BMW—its performance and driving characteristics set it apart from other EVs, new or used.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2018                     $48,645               Range: 114 miles

                   2017                     $33,165               Range: 114 miles

                   2014                     $16,095               Range: 80 miles

    Battery Warranty: At least 70% capacity for 8 years or 100,000 miles

    (Image source: BMW)

  • Smart fortwo electric drive (2013-2017) 

    The Smart fortwo is the smallest car available in the U.S., as it was when the electric drive version was introduced in 2013. With a small 17.8 kWh battery pack, tight dimensions, an incredibly tight turning circle, and just two seats, the fortwo is really designed to be a city commuter. Fortunately, it’s a task at which the Smart excels. That small battery pack can be charged on a Level 2 (220-V) charger in just a few hours. A cabriolet version is also available for open-air electric motoring.


                                                KBB Price

    New       2017                     $24,550               Range: 75 miles

                   2017                     $17,116               Range: 75 miles

                   2013                     $3,557                  Range: 75 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 62,000 miles

    (Image source: Smart)

  • Fiat 500e (2013-2017)  

    Originally available only in California, the Fiat 500e has found its way across the country—although finding one locally may not always be easy. It’s a subcompact without a lot of rear seat room, and its range is limited. But around town, the Fiat 500e is a stylish and fun way to travel. Resale value is obviously low, which is good news if you are in the market for a fun, but cheap, used EV.


                                               KBB Price

    New       2017                     $32,795               Range: 87 miles

                   2017                     $11,902               Range: 87 miles

                   2013                     $6,789                  Range: 87 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Fiat)

  • Volkswagen e-Golf (2015-2017)

    The Volkswagen eGolf is based upon the gasoline-powered version of the car. That’s not a bad thing if you are an avid driver, as the Golf has long been considered one of Europe’s best-handling small cars. The somewhat high price of a used eGolf (relative to other used small EVs) demonstrates the enthusiasm that many have for these cars. VW has announced big plans for electrification of its fleet in coming years, so buying a used eGolf might mark you as an early adopter among fans of the company.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2017                     $37,845               Range: 125 miles

                   2017                     $27,958               Range: 100 miles

                   2015                     $15,169               Range: 83 miles

    Battery Warranty: At least 70% capacity for 8 years or 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Volkswagen)

  • Chevrolet Spark EV (2014-2016) 

    The non-electric version of the Chevrolet Spark was one of the least expensive cars in the U.S., and its electric cousin was available for around $20,000 after incentives. The EV version had a robust 140-horsepower motor, which allowed the small car to race to 60 mph in just over 7 seconds. Initially the Spark EV was only available in California and Oregon. At the end of its run, it also was available in Maryland.


                                                KBB Price

    New       2016                     $26,000               Range: 82 miles

                   2016                     $9,413                  Range: 82 miles

                   2014                     $8,120                  Range: 82 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Chevrolet)

  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV (2012-2017) 

    The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is all about its low initial purchase price. What is hard to live with is a range of just 62 miles—less if it is drive hard. Its funky looks and small size scream “EV,” which may be a good or a bad thing, depending upon your goals. If you have a short commute, want to get your EV feet wet without spending much money, and want the world to know you are driving an EV, the i-MiEV might be for you. 


                                                KBB Price

    New       2017                     $23,845                Range: 62 miles

                   2017                     $10,548               Range: 62 miles

                   2012                     $4,866                  Range: 62 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Mitsubishi)

  • Tesla Model S (2012-2017) 

    It’s hard to imagine that the Tesla Model S is just six years old. It has had a presence in and impact on the EV market far beyond its sales numbers. Over the years, it has been available with a number of different battery pack sizes that can provide a range over 300 miles on a charge, and with single and dual motors for performance up to and including “Ludicrous.” Prices can easily exceed $135,000 for a fully optioned new Model S. For a used one, it all comes down to what you can find and how it is equipped. Add in the Tesla Supercharger system of nationwide charging stations and a used Model S is an attractive prospect.


                                                KBB Price

    New       2018                     $74,200                Range: 250 miles

                   2017                     $61,423                Range: 250 miles

                   2012                     $41,786                Range: 230 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 125,000 miles

    (Image source: Tesla)

  • Tesla Model X 75D (2016-2017) 

    Tesla was ahead of the curve when it introduced an electric cross-over utility vehicle (CUV), the Model X. With competition now on the horizon from Jaguar, Audi, Porsche, BMW, Nissan, Hyundai, and Mercedes-Benz, the Tesla Model X still has the specifications to withstand the onslaught. Every Model X has twin electric motors, a whole range of standard features, and unique “Falcon Wing” rear doors that open upward instead of outward. An optional 100 kWh battery in place of the 75 kWh battery can provide a range of up to 295 miles. The Model X can also access the Tesla Supercharger charging network.   


                                                KBB Price

    New       2018                     $80,700               Range: 237

                   2016                     $69,984               Range: 237 miles

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, unlimited miles

    (Image source: Tesla)

  • Fisker Karma (2012) (Plug-in Hybrid)

    The Fisker Karma was a beautiful four-passenger sedan that lasted just one year in production. It was a hybrid with a 50-mile battery range and an auxiliary gasoline engine to provide additional range. Since the company went out of business, there is no battery or drivetrain warranty, nor a dealer network, so buying one could be a true risk. A new Fisker venture is underway with a promise to build EVs in 2019.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2012                     $103,000             Range: 50 miles (on battery)

                   2012                     $31,225 est.        Range: 50 miles (on battery)

    Battery Warranty: none

    (Image source: Fisker)

  • Prius Plug-in (2012-2015) (Plug-in Hybrid) 

    For 2012, Toyota added plug-in charging capability and a lithium-ion battery pack to its long-running Prius hybrid. Although the battery-only range was small (11 miles), for many people, the extra energy in the battery meant that they could recharge their battery overnight. They only had to fill up the Toyota’s gas tank once or twice a month. The other advantage of the small battery pack is that it charges in just a few hours, even using normal 120-V household current. The Prius Plug-in ended production in 2015, but a new version of the plug-in Prius called the Prime became available in 2017. It boasts a 25-mile battery-only range.


                                                KBB Price

    New       2015                     $30,815               Range: 11 miles (on battery)

                   2015                     $17,590               Range: 11 miles (on battery)

                   2012                     $11,868               Range: 11 miles (on battery)

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Toyota)

  • Chevrolet Volt (2011-2017) (Plug-in Hybrid) 

    Chevrolet recognized that “range anxiety” would be a big factor in the acceptance of electric vehicles, so it equipped the Volt with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. It would take over after the battery reached a certain level of discharge and provide an extended range of over 350 miles. It was a smart way to introduce the American public to EVs and the Chevrolet Volt remains a practical alternative to the Nissan Leaf on the used EV market. A second generation of the Volt arrived in 2016, with more battery power and a more usable interior.


                                                KBB Price

    New       2018                     $34,095                Range: 53 miles (on battery)

                   2017                     $26,231                Range: 53 miles (on battery)

                   2011                     $9,542                  Range: 35 miles (on battery)

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Chevrolet)

  • Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid (2013-2017) (Plug-in Hybrid)

    The Ford Fusion is a roomy and stylish sedan that was made even more attractive by the addition of a hybrid and plug-in hybrid system. The plug-in version provided a modest 21 miles of range before the battery was depleted and the Fusion switched over to gasoline power.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2018                     $32,180               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

                   2017                     $22,056               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

                   2013                     $12,514               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles


    (Image source: Ford)

  • Ford Fusion C-MAX Energi (2013-2017) (Plug-in Hybrid)

    The five-door hatchback has always been a practical family hauler. By adding a plug-in hybrid system, Ford had a competitor for the Prius Plug-in. Sales were never very high and the C-MAX Energi ended its production run at the end of 2017.


                                                 KBB Price

    New       2017                     $27,995               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

                   2017                     $15,102               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

                   2013                     $10,576               Range: 21 miles (on battery)

    Battery Warranty: 8 years, 100,000 miles

    (Image source: Ford)

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

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