Auto Trader is reporting a spike in searches for used electric cars. But drivers who want to switch to electric motoring still only have a very limited choice. And anyone on a tight budget has no choice at all.
Any driver with funds less than £5000 can forget about buying an electric model outright. The cheapest Nissan Leaf we found across a selection of used car websites was an early model from 2011 for £5400.
Buying used electric cars on finance
The picture isn’t any rosier for anyone hoping to climb onto the electric ladder by buying on finance. Examples given for the cheapest Leafs quote monthly repayments in the £120-150 range.
The Renault Zoe is another popular electric model. Early versions from 2013 sell for around £6000 cash. On finance, Auto Trader’s examples are £145-160 a month. Go for a similar-sized petrol Renault Clio for about £6000 cash and the model you get is a year or two younger (depending on specification). More importantly it is significantly cheaper with monthly repayments of £75-90.
How much are cheap used electric cars?
The average UK salary is around £26,000. Budget a quarter of that on a car and you’ll be spending £6500. For that we found a 2011 Leaf that had done 66,000 miles.
Push the boat out to £8700 and you could get a 2015 15-reg model that had covered 28k miles and had three owners.
The Renault Zoe is smaller and slightly cheaper. For £6300 Auto Trader is showing a three-owner 2014 64-reg model that had done 28,400 miles.
Spending £7890 would get you a 2015 65-reg model with 28k miles beneath its wheels. But with older Zoes like these, you must lease the battery from Renault with the price depending on how many miles you do. For 5000 miles a year, this will work out at around £60.
How do they compare to traditional equivalents?
The Volkswagen Golf is a similar size to the Leaf. For £6500, you can get a 2012, 62-reg 1.6TDI Match model. However, although younger than the similarly priced Leaf, it has covered 60,000 miles. For £8799, you could get a 2015 65-reg Golf 1.6TDI which has only done 32,000 miles, so fairly like-for-like.
Over at Renault, £7000 will give you the choice of a plethora of Clios, all with 25-30,000 miles under their wheels, all 2016 so either 65, 16 or 66 reg. Go up to £7800 and you’re in the realms of 2017 cars that have either barely done any miles (around 5000 in one case) or are very well equipped.
But the big difference is the amount of choice. Obviously with so many more petrol and diesel models sold new, there are far more on the used market.
What’s the advantage of used electric cars?
There are various benefits to electric motoring. And one of their downsides is directly related to a benefit. As range is limited – owners talk of just 60 miles motoring per charge on a 24kWh Leaf – they tend to be pretty low mileage for their age.
Servicing costs too are low because there’s not much to do: no oil to change or filters to renew. All electric cars are automatics so very easy to drive. And you don’t pay any car tax or if you live in London, congestion charge.
Do used electric cars make sense?
A brand-new Renault Zoe costs £25,670 when the £3500 government grant is applied. Prices for the equivalent Clio start at £14,695.
A brand-new Nissan Leaf costs from £26,345 while prices for a new Volkswagen Golf 1.6TDI start at £22,495.
Although electric cars don’t lose their value as quickly as they used to, they do still depreciate heavily. And that means used models make more sense than new in financial terms.
Why are electric cars so expensive?
The basic reason is batteries are expensive things to manufacture. And while the cost of mass producing them will doubtless fall as more are made, the cost of the raw materials such as cobalt and nickel remains volatile because extracting them from the ground is expensive (as well as being environmentally damaging).
As a result, although electric cars are more expensive than internal combustion engine equivalents, many car makers claim that the profit they make on them is negligible.
Used electric cars are definitely much more affordable than new. The canny car buyer might even think that buying electric used is the best way to go because of new models’ heavy depreciation.
But the problem is choice. And if your budget is limited, as we’ve seen, there is no choice. Meanwhile there are far greater numbers of internal combustion engine cars and you can generally buy newer models for the same money.
Buying on finance, it would appear you’ve got to be very committed to the environment to pick an electric model over much cheaper conventionally fuelled alternatives – and that’s if you can afford one in the first place.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.