The auto industry has faced multiple challenges in 2020, among them closed factories, shuttered dealerships, and a pandemic that has kept potential buyers at home. As a result, some new electric car models have been delayed, and the supplies of others are limited.
That makes this a great time to buy a used EV. Take the low-mileage 2016 Nissan Leaf in my driveway, covered in bird poop and leaf debris—please! It has proved to be a hard sell, given its modest range and the difficult social-distancing logistics of test drives with me in the passenger seat.
It’s not surprising that consumers are choosy—we’re in a buyer’s market. For example, the private-sale value of a 2016 Leaf SL that cost $36,800 new is now around $9,800, according to Kelley Blue Book. Some EVs fare better in the used-car market. A 2017 Tesla Model S 90D that originally sold for $87,500 now has a very respectable private-party estimate of $57,300.
When you shop for a used EV, range is paramount. Battery technology has improved dramatically. My old Leaf can officially travel only 107 miles (even less in real-world conditions) before needing a charge, but today 300 miles on a charge is a reasonable expectation. You’ll have to think of an older EV as a second or backup car, because it won’t be taking you to Grandma’s house two states away.
Here’s a short guide to some of the better used EVs on the market today.
CHEVROLET BOLT (2017 to 2019)
GM made a big commitment to the Bolt, which now offers 259 miles of range. It’s a fantastic little car, quite advanced for its day, although early models suffered from some gremlins. Expect to pay $17,000 to $26,000. Note that some owners have reported battery-pack issues.
HONDA CLARITY PLUG-IN HYBRID (2018 to 2020)
This hybrid is justly celebrated for its smooth ride, upscale interior, excellent handling, safety enhancements, and ample storage space. The 2020 model can travel 47 miles with just the battery and 340 miles on a tank of gas. (Avoid the 2017–2019 battery-electric version of the Clarity with its laughable 89 miles of range.) Expect to pay $20,600 to $29,000.
KIA SOUL EV (2017 to 2019) AND KIA NIRO PLUG-IN HYBRID (2018 to 2020)
The quirky but lovable crossover Soul EV debuted in 2017 with a range of just 93 miles, but the 2019 model gets 111, and the 2020 model boasts a respectable 243. The 2019 Niro plug-in hybrid (pictured above) offers a battery range of 26 miles and goes 560 miles on a tank of gas (105 miles-per-gallon equivalent). Expect to pay $13,000 to $34,000 for a Soul EV, $20,000 to $26,000 for a Niro. Problems: The older Souls have range issues, and used Niro PHEVs are hard to find.
TESLA MODEL 3 (2017 to 2020)
Tesla offers Model 3s with battery ranges between 250 and 322 miles. If you can afford them, these cars are practical to own and fantastic to drive; the performance model reaches 60 miles per hour in as little as 3.2 seconds. Expect to pay $39,000 to $50,000 for a long-range model. Not everyone likes the huge touch screen, which has also had reliability issues.
Also worthy of consideration are the AUDI E-TRON (a stylish hauler), JAGUAR I-PACE (performance plus off-road capability), TESLA MODEL S (feeling its age; still impressive), FORD MUSTANG MACH-E (a new direction for the brand), CHEVROLET VOLT (the pioneering plug-in hybrid), and the VOLKSWAGEN E-GOLF (a sturdy performer). Don’t count out the NISSAN LEAF PLUS, which extends the capacities of the base model and has a range of 226 miles.
This article appeared in the November/December 2020 edition with the headline “The Used-EV Buyer’s Guide.”
This article was funded by the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.