• Climate hub
  • 12 Apr 2022
  • 11 min read

What you need to know about buying a second-hand electric vehicle

By Joanna Jefferies & Chris Mirams

Until now, one of the barriers to buying an EV was affordability, but EECA's latest research shows that 43% of people would now consider an electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle for their next car purchase. That’s almost double the number of those who considered it five years ago.

Trade Me statistics back up this trend, with a 290% increase in New Zealanders adding EVs to their watchlists in the week following the Government’s announcement about the EV rebate on the 13th June last year.

Since then, the interest in second-hand EVs and hybrid vehicles has remained elevated, which is a positive thing, considering that transport accounts for 21% of New Zealand’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest growing source of emissions. Between 1990 and 2018, road transport emissions increased by 100%, while emissions across the whole economy increased by 24%.

But buying a second-hand EV is entirely different to purchasing a gas guzzler, and it’s crucial to understand what you’re looking for, where to look, how an EV works, and the maintenance required. You’ll also want to be across the acronyms and jargon. Like any big-ticket purchase, it starts by doing your homework. That starts here.

Is a second-hand electric car right for you?

The scale of investment among major car manufacturers across the world is also expected to drive innovation and improvements in technology. General Motors aims to deliver 30 global models by 2025, Toyota plans the same by 2030, BMW anticipates about half of total sales to be EVs by the end of the decade and Nissan intends to launch 23 new models by 2030.

If it is to be your second car and you’ll use it for commuting and zipping around the city, then the range and more advanced technology in newer cars is likely to be of less importance. In New Zealand, about 90% of travel by car is less than 90 km in distance, and we spend, on average, about an hour a day in the car.

You’ll also need to be mindful about the limited range of some older EVs given they will likely have smaller batteries, and that public charging is not yet widespread across the country. That can be expected to change, but it will take time. You’ll also need to be right across what you’ll need at home as an EV owner.

After you’ve done all your research and taken a couple of EVs for a test drive you might still be in two minds. One option is to lease one. Companies like Zilch offer lease options that include using the vehicle between 5pm and 8am (to cover work commutes) and the weekends.

Around 35% of your energy bill is made up of the costs of lines maintenance, distribution and metering – and those costs must still be paid if you use an alternative platform to trade energy. Those costs will still apply when you use a P2P platform, but it could provide more options for users by cutting some of the retail costs.

The most common EVs in NZ

The Nissan Leaf has been the pioneer EV for many Kiwis and is still considered the most popular EV in the country, but you should look at all of your options before you purchase. Appearance, safety ratings, versatility and price all need to be considered.

Most EVs on New Zealand roads have been imported from the UK or Japan and if you want to compare apples with apples, Ecotricity’s buyer’s guide can help you decipher comparative value and price points. There are more nuances among second-hand vehicles, however, so your best bet is to browse Trade Me Vehicles or Autotrader.

Trade Me lists the top 5 EVs in NZ that aren’t a Nissan Leaf as the Hyundai IONIQ, Nissan e-NV200, the Volkswagen e-Golf and the Tesla Model 3. Evdb.nz lists the Tesla Model 3 as the most common EV here with 949 new registrations in March this year alone, followed by the Leaf, MG ZS EV, Polestar 2 and the Hyundai Kona.

How much do EVs cost?

The cost of buying an EV is still higher than the average equivalent petrol car, but electric vehicle affordability is improving. In 2012 a Nissan Leaf would set you back $69,000, whereas now you can pick one up for less than $40,000. Second-hand models are far cheaper, with Trade Me regularly featuring electric cars with around 100,000kms on the odometer for around $10,000. Remember the K’s on the clock are not as important as the battery’s state of health.

Price points fall into roughly three categories:

  • Lower cost: Small EV hatchbacks from around 2012 onwards and with around 100,000kms on the odometer typically fall in the $10,000 - $15,000 range.
  • Medium cost: Anything after 2016 and with less than 100,000kms on the clock will set you back between $20,000 to $35,000.
  • Higher cost: For sports models, SUVs and anything made after 2020 you’re looking at north of $40,000.

Overall, the price of second-hand EVs is trending in the right direction for increased affordability, and owning an EV comes with substantial savings. Given the growing popularity of Tesla’s with Kiwis, the video below offers some good points on buying a second-hand Tesla Model S.

Used electric cars - the complete buying guide

What you need to check when buying a second-hand electric car

EVs and fossil fuel vehicles are completely different beasts. The big difference is you only have to be across a handful of mechanical things with an EV rather than the 20+ components of a petrol or diesel vehicle. There’s no need to worry about oil, fuel, transmission, the alternator, the exhaust, clutch, gears, spark plugs, drive belts and the like. What you have to check are the brakes, tyres, wipers, battery and coolant for the battery’s thermal management system.

Checking the state of an EV battery

The battery is the most important thing to check when looking for a used electric car. It’s way more important than the number of kilometres on the clock. Ask to see the battery when it’s fully charged and check the battery’s state of health on the information screen. Count how many of the bars are full and check this out against the warranty conditions.

The Nissan Leaf made up 91% of all imported second-hand EVs between 2015 and 31 January 2021. When the first bar goes in a first-generation Nissan Leaf battery you’ve lost about 15% of the original capacity. That’s a significant loss given the short range of the car. The New Zealand EV promotion organisation, Flip the Fleet, has collected over 2,000 battery capacity measurements for the oldest Leafs. On average, the data shows that after eight years you can expect the battery to be reduced to around 70% of its original capacity. Previously, there have been degradation concerns about the 30kWh battery which Nissan said wasn’t a battery problem, but due to the car incorrectly reporting how much charge it had and how far it could go before it ran out. A software fix was issued. You can use this tool to help check the health of a Leaf battery.

The Tesla Model S was launched in 2012 and an owners’ online forum in Europe has kept data on battery degradation since the early days. It shows the battery reduced to around 90% of the original capacity within six to eight years with some of the cars logging more than 270,000km. One of the key differences in performance is put down to Tesla having a thermal management system for the battery while the Leafs don’t. If the Tesla is charging outside in hot temperatures the thermal system kicks in and keeps the battery cells at their optimal temperature. The Tesla also has a much larger battery, a bigger range and therefore does not need to be charged as frequently.

For deeper insights on battery degradation in second hand EVs, check out the video below:

The truth about Tesla battery degradation

You can learn a lot more about EV batteries here including how they work, how long they stay charged and what you’ll need to install at home to run your EV. Battery degradation is linked to the number of charge and discharge cycles while high rates of supercharging are thought to have a detrimental effect on the battery. Decreased capacity means the car won’t travel as far on a single charge. Supercharging is widespread in Japan where the majority of our second hand EVs are imported from. In 2020, 98% of our second-hand EVs came from Japan.

Reconditioned Leaf batteries can cost anywhere between $1,000 - $5,000 while you also have the option of putting in a bigger battery which can cost around $15,000. These costs could come down as car manufacturers switch from fossil fuel vehicles to EVs.

How important are EV battery warranties?

New EVs tend to have a reasonably extensive warranty which covers the battery. This is typically between five and eight years from new or for a set distance (ie: 150,000kms). Check the fine print to see if the warranty is transferable to subsequent owners. Some carmakers won’t replace the battery unless it completely fails while others may replace it if capacity drops below a certain threshold. Only some dealers provide warranties with used imports and this is something you should verify and understand. Sales to private individuals should be covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act standard of "fit for purpose."

Batteries take almost as long to charge from 80 to 100% as they do from 0 to 80%. This is because the charging station reduces power the longer an EV is plugged in to avoid overheating.  

Top tip

Is the Tesla Model S really that bad?

What’s regenerative braking?

The energy that’s stored in your EV battery is used to power the electric motor while driving, so it’s usually in a state of discharge when you’re behind the wheel. But there’s another key component to EV battery design called regenerative braking that helps you recharge the battery while the car is in motion. Regenerative braking, or regen for short, can be found in both battery EVs and Hybrids that also have an internal combustion engine. It uses the kinetic energy produced by your brakes to recharge the battery, saving as much as 70% of energy that would otherwise be lost.

What about maintenance and running costs for a second-hand electric car?

The maintenance and running costs of an electric car are a lot easier and cheaper than petrol or diesel vehicles. The car has far fewer moving parts, so far fewer headaches. The top things to keep on top of are care of the battery, coolant for the battery, service and fluid for the brakes, and tyres.

  • Battery care: Look after your battery by knowing it can suffer when sitting in overly hot or cold temperatures for too long, allowed to go totally dead, or charged too much or too often.
  • Brakes: Separate from brake fluid are the brake pads and discs. How often an EV needs them serviced depends on how much you drive, how hard you drive, what regeneration settings you use and the terrain in your area. While most braking is handled via regenerative braking, where the mechanical brakes aren't used, they all have normal brake discs and pads. Those are pressed together via the same hydraulic fluid found in a conventional car, and that fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it likes to absorb water from the air and will corrode your brake system unless you flush it regularly.
  • Coolant: While an EV has no engine, it still needs coolant to keep the battery safe from catching fire. Coolant system-flush intervals vary, so be sure to check the handbook or seek advice from an authorised dealer.
  • Tyres: Checking the tyres regularly is important because EVs have a heavy footing through the battery and exert a lot of torque on the wheels while driving.

You can learn more about servicing your second-hand electric car with this video:

How do you service an electric car?

Insurance for EVs

The good news is premiums are now around the same for EVs as for petrol-fueled vehicles. In the not too distant past it was difficult to get parts for EVs, which meant higher insurance premiums. However that is no longer the case, as EV parts are now widely available and EV repairs are commonplace.

One issue still being investigated by insurers is how to treat damaged batteries, as they can cost up to $15,000 to replace. However, as part of most policies, insurers will replace the battery if it is damaged as a result of an accident or fire, water immersion, natural disaster, malicious damage or theft.

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The other key difference in insuring an electric vehicle as opposed to a petrol-fuelled one, is EVs require a flatbed trailer to tow them when they break down. This is because they can suffer damage, even when put in a neutral gear. However, these days a flatbed is the default vehicle transporter of insurance providers, and many modern cars require a flatbed trailer for transport, EV or not.

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