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Going electric, second-hand

•  Numbers of used low-carbon vehicles increasing
•  We offer some tips on what to look out for

Since financial incentives to buy ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) such as electric cars began in 2011, there has naturally been an increase in numbers entering the second-hand market.

Based on the age of cars in the used car market as presented in ‘The future of the U.K used car market – trends and opportunities’ published by strategy & in 2015, Energy Saving Trust estimate that, assuming used ULEVs have a similar age distribution,  around 8,000 may have entered the used car market in the UK in 2016.

Using the same assumptions, it is anticipated that this figure could have increased to as many as 13,000 in 2017 and up to 27,000 may reach the market in 2018. This is still modest when compared to the total number of used vehicles on the market but growing strongly – potentially trebling in two years.

recharge dial in an electric car showing battery as full and when to recharge the car

A buyer’s market

So, the market’s certainly on the up. But should you buy a used electric car?

Certainly, they’re an attractive proposition. You get all the benefits of low refuelling and maintenance costs, with a price tag that’s comparable to petrol and diesel vehicles.

Fleet Advice Manager Ian Featherstone said: “Once these cars reach the second-hand market, most of the price premium has disappeared. One of the criticisms levelled at ULEV vehicles is that they’re ‘rich people’s toys’, but two or three years after being sold new, they become a realistic, cost effective option for many buyers. The benefits of electric cars are considerable, but they’re even more attractive second-hand.”

Things to think about

What are the key considerations when considering buying a used ULEV?

Firstly, a concern that often comes up is around decreased battery capacity and range – but this has been largely debunked. Most vehicles come with warranties of at least five years (but often more) that guarantee repair or replacement if the battery drops below a certain level of as-new capacity, typically 70 per cent or more, depending on model.

One thing to consider is that driving range has increased in the last two or three years – so it’s even more important to think about driving habits than when buying new. Driving within range capabilities is paramount to getting the most out of ULEVs.

Some vehicles have battery lease – and this monthly cost needs to be considered if that’s the case. This does, however, mean you get full breakdown cover as standard, and vehicles with leased batteries tend to be cheaper to buy.

Many considerations are the same as when buying new. If you’re charging at home, you need off-road parking, but grants are available to help with the cost of installing home charging equipment – something we’d strongly recommend over using standard, domestic three-pin sockets.

The importance of knowledge

A study in the USA found that EVs and hybrids are selling much faster on the used car market than fossil fuel-powered vehicles. It’s clear that the UK industry has to be prepared for ULEVs appearing for sale second-hand in much greater numbers, as well as high potential interest.

Featherstone commented: “There’s no doubt that’s there’s some work to do in educating both the industry and consumers in this area. Certainly, it’s worth doing some research before you start thinking about more specific buying decisions. Knowledge is power in this growing market.”

If buying a used car from a franchised dealer, they’ll generally have people on site who understand their ULEV vehicles. In non-franchised showrooms this is less likely, but Energy Saving Trust is looking to make an impact in this area, working with trade associations such as Trusted Dealers to improve knowledge across the board.

Featherstone added: “We have found a real appetite for knowledge in the used car trade– which is a great start. With more vehicles heading into the used market, then the levels of expertise will have to rise accordingly.”

A cleaner, cheaper option

All considered, used ULEVs, particularly pure EVs, are a strong financial proposition as a second-hand purchase. You can make significant fuel cost savings, while doing your bit to reduce air pollution. If you need to make the odd longer journey, you could hire a petrol or diesel vehicle and still have plenty of those savings intact.

With four times as many used vehicles sold than new, the options for those looking to make a cleaner motoring choice are only set to become more enticing in the next few years. 

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.