The Best Used EVs for Less Than $10,000

By · February 20, 2017

Today, you can buy a 2013 Nissan LEAF for about one-third of its sticker price when it was new.

Why do some consumers who want an electric car not go forward with the purchase? Surveys consistently indicate that cost is the prohibitive factor. But what if you could buy a capable battery-powered car—one with plenty of driving range for nearly all your commuting needs—for less than $10,000? That’s highly possible if you consider buying a five-year-old electric car, a cost-effective way to start experiencing all the benefits of an EV.

We recommend the following three electric cars, which currently sell on average at these prices:

2013 Fiat 500e - $8,000
2013 Nissan LEAF - $9,000
2013 Ford Focus Electric - $10,000

These are remarkable deals compared to the sticker price of a new electric car. Keep this in mind: The sticker price of a new EV can be misleading because the actual net transaction price is reduced by a $7,500 federal tax credit. In many states, the net price is cut further by local incentives, including cash rebates. While the buyer of a used EV doesn’t qualify for those incentives, the lower price is already baked in—as seen by prices on popular Internet car sites.

On top of the incentive getting passed to a second owner, prices for pre-owned electric cars are further pushed down by recent advances in EV technology. In other words, as the range of new electric cars increases well beyond 100 miles, the previous generation of electric vehicles with some wear on the battery pack is perceived as no longer acceptable. That misperception can work in a powerful way for the benefit of many used EV buyers, who can commute with range to spare in a very affordable yet aging electric vehicle.

A 2013 Fiat 500e is just as cute as a new one and still provides enough range for typical commutes.

Yes, it’s true that an EV’s battery degrades over time. A general rule of thumb is for an electric car’s range to drop by about 10 percent every three years. There are many reasons why this number could be slightly higher or lower. But if we’re looking at 2013 electric cars that had around 80 miles of range when new, then your daily range today would likely be below 70 miles on a single charge. Over the course the following few years, that range might continue to fall to between 50 to 60 miles, which can still serve the needs of many urban and suburban dwellers. Climate is a critical factor, especially for cars like the Nissan LEAF that use passive air cooling, rather than more effective liquid-cooling of the battery. Used LEAFs that were put in service in Arizona and other very hot climates are likely to have greater reduction in range over time.

If your daily commute is 30 to 40 miles—as it is for the vast majority of American—then a five-year-old electric car provides extremely cheap (and green) transportation. In addition to the reasonable purchase price, the low cost of electric fuel and maintenance makes for bargain-basement costs on a per-mile basis.

Why do we recommend the 2013 editions of the LEAF, Focus and 500e? First of all, those three cars have been on the market long enough to see the prices come down to below $10,000. You have to rewind to 2012 (when those cars first went on sale) to remember how few EVs models were available at that time. You could buy more recent versions of those models—and add a couple of thousand dollars to the transaction—but the best price is more likely to come from buying and driving a car that others undervalue.

The 2013 Ford Focus Electric, an attractive EV, can be found for about $10,000.

Of course, a used EV is probably not a good choice for a long-distance commuter. And even drivers with commutes of 40 to 50 miles per day should question if smaller used electric cars—like a four- to five-year-old Smart Electric Drive or Mitsubishi i-MiEV that respectively had a driving range of 68 and 62 miles when new—could still serve their needs. And yet, there is a particularly vocal group of i-MiEV fans who report little to no degradation of the battery pack over many years.

Meanwhile, a 2013 Chevy Volt is likely to sell for around $15,000, and a 2014 BMW i3 is going for around $23,000. While those are also good deals, the Chevy plug-in hybrid and luxury electric Bimmer have yet to hit the threshold of $10,000.

The savings you derive from buying a used EV can be applied to purchasing a 240-volt home charging station—which typically costs several hundred dollars with installation costs. That charging station will not only refuel your affordable used EV but also your future electric cars. Once you go electric with either a new or used EV, there’s no going back to internal combustion.


· · 1 year ago

15 months and around 6000 miles on, I'm still digging my used 2012 i-MiEV. No regrets and, if anything, I like it more today than when I first got it. With something like 40,000 of these cars out there around the world, stories of battery troubles are extremely rare. It's cheap, reliable and durable. I get up to 75 miles of range per charge on days I'm not running the air conditioner. With the air blasting, 62 miles per charge is typical. Either way, more than enough range for the sort of urban driving I do.

The Fiat 500e is cute and sporty. But if you don't mind the jellybean cum platypus looks, the i-MiEV easily carries twice as much cargo on the same sized footprint . . . something on the order of 40 cubic feet of space back there, with the seats folded down. With the seats folded back up, two full sized adults can sit back there in relative comfort.

Also . . . I'm pretty sure it's going to be nearly impossible to get factory service in states where the 500e was never offered new: fine if you keep it in California or Oregon, but no Fiat dealer is going to help you with anything wrong if you live in Arizona - like me - or Nevada. Not so with i-MiEV . . . and the Leaf and Focus EV for that matter.

As for the Ford, I'm not sure if any of them came equipped with L3 plugs, even if they offered 6.6kW chargers since day one. Not having DCFC could be an issue if you want to take the car significant distances. While the earlier Leafs and all i-MiEVs have only 3.3kW L2 chargers (later model Leafs upped it to 6.6kW,) almost all of them were sold with L3 CHAdeMO plugs.

· · 1 year ago

@Benjamin - Your experience with your 2012 i-MiEV is very encouraging. It's partly what I had in mind when writing this post. I'm finally starting to see how the many thousands of older EVs hitting the market will find great use from drivers who understand that the batteries are durable and can provide great service. In that sense, there are plenty of used zero-emissions cars out there for as low as $6,000 to $8,000 giving a whole new group of cost-conscious buyers a way to go electric. Very cool.

· · 1 year ago

"Meanwhile, a 2013 Chevy Volt is likely to sell for around $15,000, and a 2014 BMW i3 is going for around $23,000. While those are also good deals, the Chevy plug-in hybrid and luxury electric Bimmer have yet to hit the threshold of $10,000."

I got a 2012 Volt with 65K miles last summer for around $12,000 fully loaded.
There was another 2012 volt with about 100K miles in San Antonio a few months ago asking $10,000. Loving the Volt though, I had no idea the used ones were so affordable until I started looking but I'm really enjoying it.

I have a coworker that has an i-MiEV and he got in a little fender bender. It was out of commission for months, I think it was mostly waiting on parts.

· · 1 year ago

Watch out for weak batteries in a LEAF. It's the only EV with no cooling and so it can lose 5 to 10% capacity each simmer. Other EVS with coolING don't lose any capacity, even after 6 to 8 years. Make sure you can get service if you need it too. I'd carry a spare tire if you can since most new cars and EVS don't have a soare.

· · 1 year ago

I heartily endorse the imiev recommendation. Though I get only about 60 un-heated, un-cooled miles. I do caution about relying on a Leaf. My two year old imiev has more range than my two year old Leaf did. Nissan has refused to support many Leafs. Indeed, they have forced owners to go to court.

· · 1 year ago

Thanks for these comments. I slightly modified the post to note how the i-MiEV is providing great service and that buyers considering a used LEAF should be careful of LEAFs that put on a lot of miles in really hot places.

· · 1 year ago

Add-ons to my original comments . . .

Thanks, Brad, for this overview of used EVs. Now that the first generation of modern OEM EVs have been around for 5 years and counting, the phenomenon of how ell used ones are doing is now the new uncharted territory. How well are they holding up now? How well will they be holding up 5 years from now? Will an aftermarket develop for things like battery packs for these first generation EVs, featuring cells that will be cheaper/better/safer? This is an evolving story that we'll all want to revisit in future years.

My fellow Arizonan, Jim Stack, states here that the Leaf is the only (OEM) EV that doesn't have anything other than passive air cooling. Actually, the i-MiEV is also in that passive-cooled battery pack category.

What's different is that the i-MiEV's battery pack featured a slightly more heat-tolerant cell - the GS Yuasa LEV-50 - compared to what 2011 model year Leafs were using. Mitsubishi upgraded the heat tolerance specs even further in mid calendar year 2012 (LEV-50N) and never looked back (Nissan also famously reformulated the Leaf's battery chemistry in early 2013, after the much-reported hot weather pack failures of mid 2012.) Additionally, i-MiEVs built without the CHAdeMO option had a bare-bones passive cooling system - much like the Leaf's - but there is an extra cooling fan inside the pack on all CHAdeMO-equipped i-MiEVs.

Here's a video produced by i-MiEV owner Ben Nelson showing the inside of the pack and the cooling fan (this was a CHAdeMO-equipped car) . . .

Ben bought a non-functioning/scrapped i-MiEV several years ago (flooded in Hurricane Sandy, I think) and documented the disassembly in detail on a series of marvelous YouTube videos. Additionally - and by interesting coincidence - he also bought a functional used 2012 white i-MiEV within days of when I did exactly the same in late 2015. He was brave (crazy?) enough to drive it in the snow from the Chicago area to his Wisconsin home. Me? I played it safe and had mine trucked home from California in shirtsleeve weather.

And . . . other i-MiEV owners in warm climates discovered that it's possible to deflect some of the air conditioned air from the passenger compartment into the battery pack for additional cooling (not possible with the Leaf's cabin A/C vent design.) Details on the simple modification and other information regarding the car's battery pack cooling system can be found on the below 2 links to discussion threads on the My i-MiEV Forum . . .

Last summer in Tucson, when there was a stretch of days in the 112* F range and not getting too far below 90° F at night, I chose to employ extra precautions to not stress the batteries. I didn't charge beyond 80% battery capacity and didn't let it drop to much below 30% before recharging. All charging was done after 10AM and stopped by around 7AM, to avoid the worst of the heat. The 2014-16 vintage Mitsubishi EVSE I have allows toggling between 8A and 12A current draw. I chose 8A on these hotter nights, to cut down on possible heat damage even further.

I don't have a garage, so the car is forced to live outside year round. I also don't park over a paved driveway at home (packed dirt area here) and this might actually work to my advantage on these super-hot days, as the ambient heat coming off paved surfaces (essentially baking the pack from below) is going to be hotter than from soil. When looking for away-from-home parking during this hot period, I also tried as much as possible to park in the shade . . . not only for my own comfort when re-entering the vehicle, but to protect the pack from heat rising off of sun-baked pavement.

· · 1 year ago

Kind of sorry to see nothing at all about the Kia Soul EV, of which I have a 2016 white one.
Range indicator is a bit pessimistic. I ran a 45 mile trip (Google Maps) with four people and luggage plus me to the airport in a hurry at 70+ mph in the rain, and only lost 40 miles of range. Fairly consistent.

On warm days it shows 106 miles fully charged. On cold ones 99.

Very solid construction. VERY quiet.

Ormond Otvos Richmond CA

· · 1 year ago

ormondotvos , I have a 2015 KIA SOUL EV and it has run perfect with no battery capacity loss at all in over 2 1/2 years and 24K miles of use. I recently got 6.3 M/kW on a 100 Electric mile competition and still had 36 miles left with 1 charge. It's been a very good 100% Electric here in the HOT Phoenix area.

We always run in ECO mode and AC seems fine. We also always drive in B Braking High Regen mode. It's efficient and a life saver in a quick stop. Not as good regen as a Tesla S in Hi regen mode but not bad.

We have a Tesla model 3 coming soon. I'd also love to get a BOLT EV for a 3 year lease to test but my neighbor just ordered one so I'll monitor theirs.

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