At first glance, it may seem odd to see an article about how to buy a used electric car when new electric cars are in limited supply with pretty much the Tesla Roadster and Nissan Leaf the only electric vehicles consumers can buy as of mid-December 2010.
But all that is set to change with the arrival of 2011. Major car manufacturers are poised to pounce into the electric vehicle market with the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt already accumulating awards - and they're not even widely available yet.
Guess what? As soon as they roll off the dealer's lot, they officially become used cars. CNW Research of Bradenton, Ore., says typically 6 to 8% of new car buyers experience remorse about their purchase decision in the first month after buying a new car. That means within less than a year there are probably going to be used electric vehicles on the market.
Here are the steps you need to take before buying a used electric car:
- Determine which is best for you: Let's look at the Chevrolet Volt vs. the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is a pure electric car and has a range of about 100 miles (depending on conditions and driving habits.) The Chevrolet Volt is an electric vehicle with a backup gas engine. The two combined will deliver about 300 miles. The Volt will work better as a primary vehicle while the Leaf works best as a second, commuter car.
- Where Are You Driving It: This is not so much a question of distance but of location. Do you like to go hiking regularly? Well, if you run out of juice in the woods, you can't walk to an electrical outlet for a can of power. Also, relatives you visit are only going to have outlets that provide a trickle charge.
- Call the New Car Dealer: Say, for example, you're looking to buy a used Nissan Leaf. See if you can get on a waiting list for a used one. Enterprising dealers should have them. The dealer may require a small deposit (say $100). It's your call if you think that's worthwhile.
- Do your price research: This is a fairly nascent area because residual values are just now being set for electric vehicles by Black Book, a company that predicts new car values in three years. Consult Edmunds.com and KBB.com and split the difference. Keep in mind that owners of new electric cars got huge tax credits from the government. Used car electric vehicles are not going to get government handouts.
- Don't Get Sucked In: Make sure your price is locked in when you negotiate. Don't get caught up in a bidding war. Electric vehicles are going to become more predominant. Unless you own Chevy Volt 00001, they're not going to appreciate in value. Never let a dealer play you against another customer to see who will pay more. It's not a dealer you want to have an ongoing relationship with. If you're treated like this at time of purchase, imagine how badly you will be treated by the service department.
- Look at where you live: Don't be surprised but some people actually buy used cars and then don't have the proper place to park them every night (i.e. SUVs too wide for their garages). You will need a place to plug in your electric vehicle every evening. You might be out of luck if you live in an apartment building until public charging stations become more prevalent.
- Determine the Warranty: There is no word yet if electric vehicles are going to be part of certified pre-owned programs, but they probably are. See what coverage is extended to your vehicle once it is bought used. Batteries on hybrid vehicles, for example, have warranties of at least 8 years and 100,000 miles (whichever comes first).
- Info about batteries in used electric vehicles: heat is harder on the longevity of a battery than cold - something to consider when buying a used electric vehicle in Phoenix, Ariz., vs. Portland, Maine;the battery in the Chevrolet Volt has about a 10-year shelf life, but that doesn't mean it's going to fail on its 10th anniversary - it will lose capacity as it ages; and, both age and the number of cycles the battery are put through make a difference. Just because a used electric vehicle has low mileage doesn't mean the battery is going to last longer.
- Get Ready To Be Disappointed: Electric vehicles will have problems in the first generation. It's a new technology being mass produced for the public (for the first time since the beginning of the 20th century). Things are bound to go wrong with electric vehicles until the problems are worked out. That's why the warranty is going to be so important.
- Rent One: Hertz is going to be renting electric vehicles. Check out the Hertz website for availability. It will give you a taste of what it's like to live with an electric vehicle for a weekend before you make the plunge and buy a used electric vehicle.
- Get To Know an Existing Owner: This is common with owners of classic cars. They are always getting approached by people who want to buy their cars. Do you know somebody who owns an electric vehicle? Tell them you will buy the car at the Kelley Blue Book private sale value (assuming it passes inspection) plus 5%. Yes, I'm encouraging you to pay above book value but it might be necessary until 2015 if you really have your heart set on a used electric vehicle.
One last piece of advice: remember you still have to follow all the normal steps when it comes to buying a used electric car. Make sure you test drive it. Get it inspected. Obtain a vehicle history, too. Used electric cars are just like other used cars.