What you need to know when buying a used EV or Hybrid

Abigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.

Thinking about buying an EV or Hybrid?

As Dieselgate continues to roil the automotive industry you may find yourself considering a few alternative fuel vehicle options outside of the kind made from dinosaur-era decay. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal showed that resale prices for hybrids and EV's are down as a result of a mix of fear mongering as well as a lack of incentives. That means that those gently used hybrids and EVs are super affordable and readily available as they come off lease, and they can be great options if you’re looking for a more eco-friendly way to get to work. But be warned, there are some things you need to know about getting into the used market for these cars—they can be a bit tricky to buy for a number of reasons.

Hybrid & EV Incentives

First, know that you won't get any incentives. While new EVs and hybrids enjoy the benefit of major cash and tax incentives when they’re bought from the dealers lot, that luxury isn’t passed onto the used car buyer. Don’t fear—that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it—that just means that what you see is what you get. Hybrids and EVs can often cost as much as 20% more than their swamp fuel burning counterparts and many have seen significant depreciation after they make their return as used cars. That translates to tons of deals in the used market.

Battery Life

Second, be aware of batteries. Like your phone, your hybrid or EVs battery can become less efficient and lose its ability to hold a charge over time—but don’t worry—it’s not going to become a brick like your iPhone. Most manufacturers offer extended warranties on those batteries and they’re mandated to do so by the government. Those warranties cover hybrid and EV batteries for anywhere from 8 to 10 years, depending on your state. Plus it’s unlikely that you’ll need to replace a battery because most batteries are designed to last at least a decade or 100,000 miles. Even the oldest Nissan Leaf is only 6 years old—so you are still in the clear. Oh—and that warranty stays with the car when it is sold, so should something go wrong, you’re still covered.

Additional Checks

There are only a few extra steps you need to take to ensure you’re purchasing a good used EV or hybrid. First take a close look at the maintenance records and know what was replaced or fixed. Look for evidence of electrical problems in particular, as sometimes those gremlins can be an indicator of a larger issue.

Also, get the vehicle’s inspection report and any accident reports that might be part of the deal. Many EVs and hybrids carry their batteries in the rear of the car—and if there was a rear end collision, the envelope around the battery can be damaged causing other problems in the car.

Be aware of certain models during certain years, as some well-known issues (that were eventually solved with software updates) plagued specific models during specific years. For example, Honda Civic Hybrids had problems in the model year 2007 and 2008 that needed software patches to fix electrical problems. The same thing recently happened with a whole swath of Toyota hybrids including the popular Prius model from 2010 to 2014. If you’re looking at purchasing one of these on the used market, be sure that the updates have been done before buying.

Understand the Cost of Ownership

Finally—do the math. Whether you go with a hybrid or an EV, they can be complex and sometimes costly to maintain. For example, if you decide to go with an EV, there could be an additional cost to installing a charging station at your house. While you can plug your EV or rechargeable hybrid into a standard home plug, the trickle charge might take longer than you want (or need) and you might want to consider getting a charging station installed. Also— servicing a hybrid or an electric car can be more complicated so you need to find the right mechanic—use the search over at hybridshoplocator.com as a starting point for your area. Generally, they don’t charge more than your average mechanic, but do your research first.

Like any used car purchase, doing your due diligence before plopping down a bag of cash is always in your best interest, and following all of these tips will help you make a better decision when it comes to buying a used hybrid or EV.

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