Though some of the latest electric vehicles, like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3, can run for well over 200 miles on a charge, if you’re on a budget you can find some real bargains among used models with an 80-to-90-mile range. That’s sufficient for a frugal daily commute and/or zero-emissions around-town use.
Best of all, with the exception of the costly Tesla Model S, EVs are dirt cheap in the pre-owned market. Because new EV sales and leases are subsidized by a $7,500 federal tax credit (plus additional incentives in a few states), and their popularity is still limited, their resale values take a huge hit. For example, according to NADAguides.com, a used 2015 Nissan Leaf with average miles on the odometer that originally sold for $29,000 now commands just around $9,000. Want to drive an EV at a rock-bottom price? If you can find one, a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV sells for $4,000 or less.
And that’s on top of money you’ll save in operating costs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average three-year-old EV costs around $550-$650 to run 15,000 miles, while the typical new vehicle drinks $1,600 worth of petroleum over the same distance. You’ll also save money in maintenance costs, given that an EV eschews over two-dozen mechanical components that would normally require regular service. What’s more, given their range limitations, EVs tend to be driven fewer miles than the norm, and thus typically endure less wear and tear. On the down side, depending on where you live you may not find many – if any – used EVs for sale locally.
Which used EVs are best? Considering examples from the 2015 model year, we checked used-EV values from NADAguides.com and long-term reliability data from Consumer Reports to come up with a short list of what we consider to be the top pre-owned battery powered rides for the money. Range and equivalent fuel economy (“mpg-e”) estimates come from the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov website. All used EV prices quoted are what used-vehicle dealers would ask for a 2015 model with average miles and in good or better condition; prices can vary according to region and are subject to negotiation.
While there officially was no Mitsubishi i-MiEV for the 2015 model year, that’s because dealers still had a sufficient supply of leftover 2014 units to sell. Sure, the egg-shaped i-MiEV is tiny and slow, but it’s one of the cheapest ways to own a zero-emissions vehicle. It’s EPA-rated at a frugal 126/99 (city/highway) mpg-e, but with an average 62 miles on a charge, it’s the shortest-range model on our list. A 2014 version can be found selling at retail for just $5,325 with average miles. By comparison, a new i-MiEV in 2017 (its most recent model year) started at $23,845.
The BMW i3 looks like it drove off the set of a science fiction movie, with its funky and futuristic exterior and interior styling. Consumer Reports gives the 2015 version above average marks for reliability in most every operating category except for power equipment and its confounding in-car electronics. It’s rated at 137/111 mpg-e and has an 81-mile operating range. A 2015 i3 retails for $14,100 (brand new it starts at $45,445). Note that this is for the full battery-powered version. The i3 can also be found equipped with a small “range extender” gas engine to run the motor when the battery is depleted.
The boxy-hip Kia Soul EV was initially sold only in California, but its availability was expanded later during 2015 to Georgia, Texas, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. It’s roomy and practical, and makes a great zero-emissions alternative to a small sport-utility vehicle. It’s EPA rated at 120/92-mpg-e and can run for 93 miles on a charge. A used 2015 Soul EV with average miles on the odometer retails for $13,025-$13,800 (a new 2018 model starts at $34,845).
On sale since the 2011 model year, the Nissan Leaf has been one of the segment’s top sellers, which should make finding used models easier depending on where you live. The 2015 version is rated above average for reliability by Consumer Reports, and the EPA pegs it at 125/101 mpg-e with an 84-mile operating range. Though a 2018 Leaf can run for more miles on a charge, it starts at nearly $31,000; you can find a 2015 used model offered at retail for $9,225-$12,125, depending on the trim level.
We almost hesitate to recommend the large and in charge Tesla Model S because of its heady used-car prices (thanks to its remarkable resale value), but it still beats most new EVs in terms of its range and technology. It also looks to the untrained eye exactly like a new one. Depending on which version you choose, the 2015 Model S is rated from 88/90 to 101/102 mpg-e, with an operating range between 240 and 265 miles. Consumer Reports gives the 2015 above average marks for reliability in all respects except for its complex in-car electronics. According to NADAguides.com, a three-year-old Model S retails for between $51,575 and $74,575 (you’ll pay $75,700-$136,200 for a new version).
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