If you’ve paid any attention to the world of electric and hybrid cars over the past 5-15 years, you’ve probably heard horrific prophecies of the woes of long-term ownership, mostly centered around fears of the battery’s longevity. After all, when your phone is a year or two old, the battery is pretty much toast, right?
But you should ignore those sky-is-falling fear mongers. There are plenty of great reasons to buy a used electric (or plug-in hybrid), and very few reasons not to.
In fact, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt may constitute two of the very best possible used car buys in America today—for the right buyer.
Neither the Leaf nor the Volt have huge Tesla-like ranges on battery power alone. The Leaf is good for 84 miles on its battery, while the Chevy Volt is good for about 40 miles on a charge before it turns on its on-board generator to keep the electric motors turning the wheels.
For most people, though, these smallish ranges are plenty to handle a day’s driving duties—the commute, the grocery run, the drinks with friends. Then you charge overnight and you’re good to go again tomorrow—all without a drop of gas.
In the case of the Volt, you don’t even have to worry about running out of battery power. If your travels take you beyond the battery-only range, the gasoline-powered onboard generator kicks in and takes you as far as you need to go. It’s even still pretty efficient when running in range-extended mode, scoring 37 mpg combined.
So, practicalities aside, why are the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt good used car buys?
First of all, they’re electric (or mostly electric in the case of the Volt). You might be buying a used car, but there’s no reason you can’t have a taste of tomorrow’s technology—and you definitely don’t have to settle for 20th-Century tech.
Second, they’re incredibly affordable. Because people don’t know much about used electric cars, both the Leaf and Volt often go for less than equivalently equipped gasoline-only cars on the used market. Insanity? Yes, but it’s crazy good for your wallet and your driving experience.
Third, the battery stuff is total bunk: the batteries in both the Leaf and Volt are covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. The oldest examples of each car are now approaching the upper end of the 96-month window, but even then, you could have two or three good years of electric driving before you’d even have to worry.
Most of the Leafs and Volts you’ll find on the used market are much newer, however, from the 2012, 2013, or 2014 model years. Here, you’ll find sweetheart prices and generally low mileage—these cars are often bought by people who don’t have very far to drive, after all.
In the case of the Leaf, you can find a huge number of listings from private sellers in the $10,000-$15,000 range, with these cars typically in the 2011-2013 model year span—and frequently with less than 20,000 miles on the clock. In other words, they’re lightly used cars that look pretty much identical to the new ones and tons of battery warranty left.
The Chevy Volt, on the other hand, typically runs in the $15,000-$25,000 range, but is also typically newer, ranging from 2012-2015 model years. Again, the miles on used Volts are typically very low, ranging from 10,000-40,000 miles for most examples.
Bottom line: if you’re looking for a high-tech, efficient, Earth-friendly used car, the Toyota Prius and other hybrids are still great choices—but the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt should be on your list.
automotive freelance journalist