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.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.