How To Buy a Used Electric Car Secrets Dealers Don’t Want You To Know

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The future of transportation is electric, and more drivers than ever before are making the switch to used electric vehicles. As battery technology continues to advance and public charging infrastructure expands, second-hand electric cars offer an affordable and eco-friendly way to hit the road. But buying a pre-owned EV requires careful inspection – these high-tech rides aren’t like the gas-powered cars of yesteryear.

Follow this comprehensive guide to expertly assess a used electric car and avoid costly pitfalls. We’ll walk through what to look for under the hood, during the test drive, and within the car’s service history. You’ll learn how to evaluate battery life, inspect electrical systems, and verify safety updates. With savvy shopping, you can score an economical and exhilarating used EV that will serve you for years to come. Let’s get charging!

The Battery – The Heart of An Electric Car

electric car battery, Engines, DC cable
The Battery – The Heart of An Electric Car

The battery is the beating heart of any electric vehicle, so assessing its condition is essential when shopping for a used EV. There are two key factors to examine closely – battery capacity and battery health.

Battery capacity refers to the car’s driving range on a single charge, measured in miles or kilometers. When vehicles are new, automakers publish EPA-rated range estimates that should match real-world driving. But as batteries age, capacity fades – most lithium-ion packs lose around 2% of range annually. Test drive the used EV until the battery is empty to see the actual max range. Compare it against the original EPA rating to estimate the state of the battery. Dramatically lower than expected range indicates degradation.

Also, run a vehicle history report to check for battery replacements – some manufacturers will swap out depleted packs under warranty. Replacement batteries often restore range close to original specs. Verify if and when the pack was changed.

Battery health describes the battery’s ability to hold a charge and provide consistent power delivery. Internal resistance increases as batteries wear down, which can cause slower charging, inconsistent driving performance, and reduced range. Most electric cars have a dashboard display showing max battery capacity – be sure it’s at or above 80% for a healthy used battery.

Ask the owner or dealer for recent charging time logs – slower charging can demonstrate rising internal resistance. Also check that the battery temperature control system is functioning, critical for battery longevity. Take it for a test drive and make sure acceleration is strong and consistent without fluctuations. Weak or irregular power suggests issues with battery health.

With some premium used EVs like a Tesla Model S, you can request a full readout of battery stats from the software. This will provide diagnostics like total charging cycles, exact battery capacity, and even individual module health. Consider paying for a 3rd party to conduct a complete battery analysis report as well.

While small capacity loss is normal, be wary of used electric cars with big range or performance drops – degraded batteries can be extremely expensive to replace. Properly assess battery life before purchasing any pre-owned EV.

Inspecting Electrical Components

Inspecting Electrical Components
Inspecting Electrical Components

Electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts than gasoline-powered cars – but they contain complex electrical components that enable acceleration, charging, and driving automation. When evaluating a used EV, carefully inspect the following electrical systems:

Charging Port – The charging port door should open and close smoothly. Look for cracks, dents, or damage around the perimeter that could allow water intrusion and short-circuit charging. Check that the charge port light illuminates when the door opens. Make sure the port and cable latch securely during charging and show no signs of overheating. Rapid charging should engage successfully.

DC Fast Charging – If equipped, the DC fast charging port should also be in good condition with a tight seal. Initiate a fast charging session and observe the charge rate and temperature. slower charging speed or excessive heat indicates issues. Verify DC fast charging activates properly when the battery is low.

Charging Cable – Pre-owned EVs come with a Level 1 and Level 2 charging cable. Inspect for damage all along the length of the cable as well as the plug. Connect it to a charging station or outlet and make sure charging begins immediately with no errors. The cable and connectors should not feel hot.

Drive Motors – Listen for odd grinding or whining noises from the electric motors during acceleration and regen braking. The pitch should stay smooth and consistent. The uneven or slipping response can signal motor trouble. Motors should also not overheat – blazing hot drive units after a test drive is a red flag.

Low Voltage System – Electric cars rely on a standard 12-volt battery to power electronics and lighting. Jump start the car to verify the 12V system is working normally. Check fuse boxes for any burned-out fuses. Inspect all interior and exterior lights including headlamps, turn signals, brake lights, and backup lamps. Faulty bulbs indicate possible electrical issues.

Onboard Charger – The onboard charging unit converts AC electricity from a wall outlet into a DC that charges the battery pack. Have a technician verify it charges at maximum amperage for the charge port without overheating or throwing errors. Slow Level 1 and Level 2 charging may mean the onboard charger needs replacement.

Software & Calibrations – Used EVs require the latest firmware for proper functionality. Check service records to confirm all software updates have been applied. If buying privately, connect to Wi-Fi and initiate an over-the-air update. Watch for sensor and power delivery calibrations that may need resetting after software updates.

Test drive the used EV extensively, giving each electrical system a workout over varying speeds, terrain, and temperatures. Serious issues will make themselves known. While electrical problems are rare, identifying them early helps avoid massive repair bills down the road.

Evaluating EV Suspension and Brakes

Evaluating EV Suspension and Brakes
Evaluating EV Suspension and Brakes

Electric vehicles place different demands on suspension and braking compared to internal combustion cars. Their heavy battery packs lower the center of gravity, athletic instant torque accelerates intensely, and regenerative braking slows the wheels while recovering energy. Shopping for a pre-owned electric car requires a closer inspection of suspension and brake components. Watch and listen for these warning signs:

Worn Suspension Bushings – The extra mass of an EV battery stresses suspension bushings. Listen for knocking and creaking when going over bumps and around corners. Excessive movement at the wheels indicates worn bushings requiring replacement.

Sagging Springs/Shocks – Springs may sag and shocks can leak due to an EV’s hefty curb weight. Notice any bottoming out over bumps or uneven ride height side-to-side. Bouncy, floating handling means worn shocks unable to dampen spring oscillation.

Reduced Regenerative Braking EV batteries use regenerative braking to slow the wheels while capturing power. Weak regen response suggests an issue with the brake control module. Make sure the regen activates immediately when lifting off the accelerator to slow the car.

Grooved Disc Brakes – With most braking handled by regen, friction disc brakes see minimal use. Grooved or scored discs indicate overly aggressive stopping. Blue coloration, uneven wear, and excessive rust also signal disc replacement is needed soon.

Regen system operation, brake fluid flush intervals, rotor measurements, and suspension component condition should match maintenance records. Test drive repeatedly to heat systems and notice any issues that crop up. Getting a pre-purchase inspection by a specialist mechanic provides added peace of mind.

Right-sized wheels and tires specifically designed for EVs also matter for proper handling and range. Verify tires match OEM specs – upgrading to lower efficiency aftermarket wheels hurts driving range. All-season or summer performance tires with good tread provide the best grip and safety.

Checking Charging Speed and Range

Checking Charging Speed and Range
Checking Charging Speed and Range

The owning experience with an electric vehicle revolves around charging and max driving distance. Evaluating both during a test drive helps set proper expectations before buying a used EV. Follow these tips for assessing charging and range:

Time Charging Sessions – Fully deplete the battery below 10% and then charge with AC Level 1 and 2 chargers, as well as DC fast charging if available. Clock total charge times and average charging speed in miles added per hour. Compare to manufacturer specs when new to identify any slowdown.

Note Ambient Temperatures – Hot and cold battery temperatures dramatically reduce charging speeds and range. Try charging after the car has been parked in the sun on a warm day, as well as after sitting outside overnight during winter. Observe the impact on charge time and mileage.

Map The Route – Follow a test loop that replicates your real-world daily commute. Mix in highway driving with residential roads and errands around town. See if the car achieves its EPA range in real-world conditions. Add vertical climbs and high speeds for further range testing.

Multiply Range By 80% – EPA test cycle range estimates are optimistic. Knock 20% off the maximum range displayed to account for faster driving speeds, climate control use, hill climbs, and battery degradation. The result is a more accurate real-world range.

Don’t test in ideal 72F weather either – cold winter temperatures can sap up to 30% of an EV’s range until the battery warms up. Test in varying conditions to prevent range anxiety down the road.

If buying from a dealer, request recent charging data logs from the previous owner. Analyze charging speeds and miles added across charging sessions – it’s the best gauge of potential issues.

Home and public charging is essential to enjoy EV ownership – be sure to evaluate charging performance when shopping for any pre-owned electric car.

Read More: How to Calculate Electric Car Range? | Explained

Inspecting an Electric Car’s Exterior Condition

Inspecting an Electric Car's Exterior Condition
Inspecting an Electric Car’s Exterior Condition

While electric vehicles contain radically different powertrains, their body, lights, and glass share much in common with internal combustion cars. Walk around the exterior and look for these issues:

Paint Job – Damage from road debris is common on EV lower body panels due to the low ride height. Check for paint chips, dings, and scratches that may require touch-ups or repainting. Notice any overspray or mismatched paint on repaired panels.

Body Panel Fit – Due to their heft, electric cars are prone to settling and misalignment over time. Inspect the hood, trunk, doors, and fenders for large panel gaps or areas that don’t sit flush. Poor fitment signals a prior accident repair.

Rust Accumulation – EVs are heavy enough to compress and crack rust-prone subframes, suspension mounting points, and rocker panels over time. Inspect underbody components for flaking rust and have a mechanic verify structural integrity.

Cracked Glass – The weight of an EV battery strains the suspension, which can shake and vibrate glass over rough pavement. Check for small cracks extending from the edges of the windshield and rear glass. These can quickly spread across the entire glass pane.

Foggy Headlights – Condensation and cloudiness inside headlight lenses lead to severely reduced nighttime visibility. Replacement is required if moisture has entered the sealed beam headlamps.

LED Burnout – LED accent lighting burning out is common as EV electrical systems age. Note any non-functional LED turn signals or running lights that require bulb replacement.

Water Leaks – Electric ports, exposed charge flaps, and battery compartment ventilation provide ways for water to enter an EV’s cabin and electronics. Notice wet carpets, fogging inside the glass, or oxidation around charging ports.

Wheels And Tires – Rims should be free of curb rash or gouges from potholes. Match tire brand, size, and tread depth across all four tires. Mismatched tires or uneven wear indicate bad alignment or suspension issues.

Take the used electric car through an automatic car wash to reveal any persistent leaks the seller may have missed. Take your time surveying the exterior to get the full picture before purchasing.

Checking Interior Condition and Technology

The cabin of an electric vehicle will likely feel familiar but contains unique technologies to study in detail. Here’s what to inspect within the interior:

LCD Screens – Check all LCDs including the dashboard, infotainment system, and rear camera. Screens should illuminate without any lines, blotches, or dead pixels. Touch response should be quick and accurate.

User Interfaces – Test every button, dial, and touch interface like steering wheel controls, turn signals, wipers, speakers, and door locks. Make sure vehicle menus and apps launch promptly without lag or crashing.

Sensors – Have a helper watch while you test the full range of each proximity and parking sensor. Any dead spots or delayed response could lead to collisions down the road.

Seat Motors – Electric seats should move smoothly in all directions without stuttering or grinding noises. Memorized seat position presets must accurately recall preferred seating positions.

Pedal Sensors – Sensors that track pedal pressure should have a consistent response. Listen for clicks or popping sounds from the brake and accelerator sensors while test-driving.

Cabin Filter – Used EVs driven in polluted cities may require a new cabin air filter to reduce musty smells. Check for leaves and debris collected around the filter housing under the hood.

Floor Mats – Worn, stained, or improperly fitted floor mats allow water to soak the underlying carpet. Damp flooring leads to mold, electrical issues, and rust over time.

Test all features thoroughly – badly aging screens, sensors, and interior electronics tank an EV’s resale value. For premium models, verify smartphone connectivity, navigation mapping, and over-the-air software updating work correctly. Any persisting glitches or lagging technology should slash thousands off the asking price.

Checking Safety Updates and Service Records

Like gasoline-powered autos, electric vehicles require periodic maintenance to stay safe and reliable over tens of thousands of miles. Carefully inspect these essential items:

Recalls and TSBs – The VIN allows checking any outstanding technical service bulletins (TSBs) or recalls that still need addressing. Vehicles must have all safety actions completed before they can be legally sold.

Crash Testing – Search NHTSA and IIHS ratings for the EV’s model year to see if it earned high marks for collision protection. Modern battery packs are shielded, but older used EVs may perform poorly.

Service Records – Every service visit should be documented in detail, with technicians noting issues found and fixed. Watch for gaps between services that indicate neglect by the prior owner.

Fluid Changes – EV systems like cooling loops still need periodic fluid changes. Brake fluid flushes every 2-3 years are critical, as old liquid boils quickly under hard regen braking.

Alignment Records – Rotating and aligning EV tires helps minimize uneven wear from their prodigious torque. Misalignment causes tires to roll and handle poorly.

Software Updates – Automakers continuously improve EV battery control, autonomy, and charging via over-the-air software updates. The used EV must be running the very latest firmware revisions.

A complete service history proves preventative maintenance wasn’t skipped. Undocumented service gaps, unfixed recalls, and outdated software leave you vulnerable to serious faults down the road.

Test Driving a Used Electric Car

Test Driving a Used Electric Car
Test Driving a Used Electric Car

The test drive is every used car buyer’s chance to truly experience how the EV drives and charges. Here are key assessment points for your test drive:

Acceleration – Floor the accelerator from 0 to 30 mph. Acceleration should pin back your head with instantaneous torque. Delayed response or lack of punch indicates issues.

Braking – Brake hard from 40 mph down to 5 mph. The car should stop in a straight line without pulling or odd vibrations. Check for loud squealing or grinding noises.

Steering – Drive on straight roads and around long curves. Since any vibration through the wheel at highway speeds. Efforts should adjust appropriately from parking lot maneuvers up to passing rates.

Ride – Run over bumps, expansion joints, and railroad crossings. Listen for any rattling inside the cabin or from the suspension. A harsh impact sensation means worn dampers are unable to smooth out the ride.

Torque Steer – Accelerate hard out of a turn with the wheels pointed straight ahead. Feel for the steering wheel jerking left or right from excess torque overpowering the front wheels.

Tire Noise – Listen for humming or roar from the tires at high speeds. This indicates wheel balance needed or incorrectly inflated tires.

Charging – Test both AC charging methods and DC fast charging if equipped. Ensure charging begins immediately and continues uninterrupted, without overheating or errors.

Range Testing – Drain the battery below 20 miles while testing the range. Check if the actual range aligns with the estimate. Regen braking should also slow the car noticeably.

Listen closely, pay attention to how the EV rides and handles, and don’t ignore any odd behaviors. Don’t be afraid to drive the car much harder than a typical test drive. Putting the EV through its paces reveals problems lurking beneath the surface.

Pre-Purchase Inspection

Before signing any paperwork, spend $100 to $200 for an independent pre-purchase inspection (PPI) by a mechanic experienced with EVs. They will:

  • Thoroughly assess battery health and capacity
  • Scan for fault codes and check all electronic systems
  • Closely inspect brakes, tires, and suspension components
  • Test charging systems and drivetrain operation
  • Provide an objective opinion about the car’s true condition

A mechanic can hook up diagnostics tools and lift the vehicle to identify issues inaccessible to you as the buyer. Don’t skip the PPI – it provides invaluable peace of mind and may reveal expensive problems that justify lowering your offer.

Crunch the Numbers

With many used EVs still holding their value well, it pays to carefully weigh pricing and budget considerations:

  • Calculate Total Cost of Ownership – Factoring in the purchase price, financing, insurance, maintenance, charging costs, and resale value over 5-10 years of ownership.
  • Review Incentives – Tax credits, rebates, carpool lane access, and other state/local EV incentives improve affordability. Just remember, used buyers may not qualify for all incentives offered to new EV purchasers.
  • Get Pre-Approved Financing – Check current auto loan rates and secure pre-approval from your bank or credit union before negotiating the price. It demonstrates you are a serious buyer.
  • Negotiate Hard – Research fair market value using resources like Kelly Blue Book and don’t overpay. Come prepared with specific reasons (excess wear, high mileage, needed repairs) to negotiate the price down.
  • Consider Certified Pre-Owned – CPO cars cost more but come with extended manufacturer warranties, fixed outstanding recalls, thorough inspections, and peace of mind.

Pre-owned electric cars depreciate slower than gas cars but still represent big savings over buying new – especially higher-range luxury models. Run the numbers thoughtfully when negotiating the best-used EV deal.

Finding the Right Used Electric Car

Finding the Right Used Electric Car
Finding the Right Used Electric Car

Used electric vehicles offer huge advantages over their gas-powered counterparts – instant acceleration, no visits to the gas station, and far fewer mechanical components to fail. However, assessing a pre-owned EV requires following specialized steps to inspect critical systems and identify lurking problems before they become expensive headaches down the road.

Follow this comprehensive EV buying guide to test battery health, evaluate electrical systems, inspect the chassis, confirm safety updates, and thoroughly test drive the car. Know exactly what questions to ask and items to scrutinize. Bring the car to an experienced EV mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Take it for a lengthy mixed-driving test drive to analyze real-world range and performance.

Approach used EV shopping as the trained expert, rather than a novice buying their first car off the lot. There are great deals to be had on pre-owned electric cars as early adopters trade up for newer EVs. You just need to assess them wisely to avoid major pitfalls.

Research electric vehicle brands, model specs, and common issues reported by owners online. Checkenthusiast forums for buyer advice and inspector checklists. Knowledge dispels uncertainty and bolsters your negotiating position.

With diligence and patience, you can land the perfect pre-owned electric car – well-maintained by the previous owner, loaded with features you want, and priced relatively after thorough negotiation. Nothing beats driving away in a certified used EV you scouted expertly, knowing it was engineered for efficiency, connectivity, and autonomous driving capabilities. You made the smart choice for both your wallet and the planet.

Buckle up and plug in for seamless, exhilarating electric motoring. Ditch the gas pump forever and embrace the future with your pre-owned electric car! The open road beckons you to take the electric charge to new horizons.

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