Used EVs are getting cheaper. Should you buy one?

Electric vehicle prices have come down since 2008 when Tesla sold its first model, the Roadster, for $109,000. But they’re still too high for many Americans. 

A recent poll from online auto marketplace Edmunds found that 47 percent of potential EV buyers want to spend $40,000 or less on an electric vehicle, a standard not many EVs in the United States meet.

For budget-conscious consumers, buying a used EV hasn’t always been an option. In fact, during the pandemic and resulting chip shortage, some used Teslas cost more than new ones. 

That has changed. Thanks to Elon Musk’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, used EVs are more affordable – and thanks to improved battery technology, less likely to leave drivers nervous about running out of juice. 

Why used EV prices are falling

Shortly before Musk told executives to go “absolutely hard core” when it came to laying employees off, Tesla shaved $2,000 off three of its models, which came after several price cuts over the last year. 

Tesla owns 51% of the EV market, according to Kelley Blue Book, so when it makes a move, other automakers follow. That downward pressure has affected the cost of used electric vehicles, with sticker prices falling by around 10% since last year, said Liz Najman, director of market insights at EV research firm Recurrent.

Meanwhile, Hertz has been flooding the market with used EVs. Back in 2021, the company pushed a new electric vehicle campaign with retired NFL superstar and recent roast victim Tom Brady as its spokesperson. The plan included buying 100,000 Teslas and renting EVs to Uber drivers. 

The strategy didn’t work. This year, the company has committed to culling its electric fleet by 30,000 vehicles, and its website is full of used Chevy Bolts, Tesla Model 3s, and other EVs for sale.

What to know about used EV batteries

Like smartphone batteries, EV batteries degrade. But your iPhone’s battery consists of a single cell packed into an incredibly thin case. A car battery pack consists of hundreds or thousands of cells packed into modules with enough space for sensors and other hardware to keep it in the Goldilocks zone, not too hot and not too cold, to extend its lifespan. 

“Different EV models’ batteries exhibit different rates of degradation, but typically this can be in the range of 1% to 3% over the course of a year,” said Matt Stock, product director for new technology at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, over email. “At this rate, they might have between 90% to 70% of their original capacity after 10 years, but it is expected for most modern EVs the battery will outlast the vehicle.”

Stock said Tesla has shown preliminary data indicating that its Model 3 and Y have degraded less than 10% after 100,000 miles and 15% after 200,000 miles. 

“When electric vehicles first came on the scene, people were a little hesitant about buying used ones [due to battery concerns],” said Najman. That was back when EVs might only be able to travel 100 miles on a charge. 

Now, if you “lose 10% range on a 250-mile car, you still have 225 miles.” That’s enough for most drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated the average automobile owner drives fewer than 40 miles a day.

And while you can technically replace an EV battery, most people don’t consider it, said Greg Less, director of the University of Michigan’s Battery Lab.

“You can’t even get into your phone to replace the battery anymore,” he said. “We just buy a new phone. And I think that’s probably where we’re going be at with electric vehicles [for the near future].”

How to shop for a used electric vehicle 

When looking for a used EV, you should be laser-focused on the battery. 

Most EVs come with a warranty that covers eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, said Dylan Khoo, an EV analyst at ABI Research. During that time, if your used EV’s battery malfunctions, the manufacturer will replace it. For many models, it’s the same if your battery capacity drops below a certain level, which, for Tesla, is 70%.

Because the market is so young, many used EVs are still under warranty. Regardless, you’ll want to check the state of the battery of any car you’re considering. 

A range estimate is pretty easy to get. Simply ask the seller to charge the vehicle to 100%, said Less, and look at how many miles the dashboard says you can travel. 

While range estimates are useful, you might want to actually test the battery. Drivers can take the vehicle for a spin and see if the range seems to be dropping too quickly. Or they can take it to a technician for a diagnostic scan. 

Since EVs have fewer moving parts than gas-powered vehicles, there is less of a chance that something else is wrong with them. You should do your due diligence, of course, but you don’t need to check “alternators, clutches, gearboxes, the kinds of things that don’t exist in an EV,” Khoo said.

Finally, you’ll want to consider tax incentives. As a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, drivers can get a tax credit of up to $4,000 on used EVs that cost $25,000 or less, as long as the buyer and vehicle meet a list of conditions.

Used EVs under $25,000, especially those eligible for the tax credit, are “getting sold really quickly,” said Najman. If you see one, you might want to snap it up ASAP. 

Ultimately, people should choose a used EV based on their personal circumstances and preferences. Love taking long road trips? You might prefer a newer car with fast charging. Do you just drive to the grocery store occasionally? An older, cheaper model with less range could do the trick. Either way, it’s probably going to cost you less now than it did a year ago. 

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