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What to look for when shopping for a used electric car

For the 2016 model year, LEAF adds a number of significant enhancements – beginning with a new 30 kWh battery for LEAF SV and LEAF SL models that delivers an EPA-estimated driving range of 107 miles* on a fully charged battery. The range of a LEAF S model is 84 miles, giving buyers a choice in affordability and range.


Electric vehicles made up fewer than 7,000 of Canada's 1.9 million annual new auto sales last year, but older EVs increasingly are finding their way into the used-car market.

Data supplied to Globe Drive by shows searches on its car-sales website for battery-electric cars rose over the past six months from 0.05 per cent to 0.09 per cent of total searches. List views almost doubled to .23 per cent.

That's a drop in the bucket on a site that gets eight million visits a month, but its a definite upward trend. The Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are the most commonly searched and listed.

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But does shopping for a used EV differ from kicking the tires on, say, a second-hand Honda Civic? What do you need to check besides the usual things, body damage, key systems such as the engine and brakes, and ensuring that all the instruments and controls function?

There are a couple of factors, and both pros and cons to choosing used over new.

In Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia, a new hybrid or EV purchase is eligible for thousands of dollars in incentives and rebates, with the maximum paid for battery-electrics such as the Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Kia Soul or most Teslas. British Columbia's Scrap-It program tops up those spiffs if you're removing an internal combustion-powered vehicle off the road. Ontario and Quebec offer rebates for buying a residential quick-recharge unit.

None is available for second-hand EVs, perhaps out of concern for incentivizing the same vehicle twice. Even the charging-station rebate isn't available.

That has an impact on the used-EV market, says Brian Murphy, vice-president of editorial and research at Canadian Black Book, which tracks EVs and plug-in hybrids trends.

"They aren't holding their value, which is really what we expected," Murphy says. "To some degree, I'd say it's even going a little bit worse than what we expected."

The market appears to have deducted the provincial incentives from the depreciated value of the EV, he says. "If you get an $8,000 rebate that lowers the [new] price and then compare it to the used price, the used price is sort of net of the rebate already."

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A new 2016 i-MiEV, for example, has a retail price of about $28,000 before rebates. Autotrader lists a low-mileage used 2016 in Quebec for $20,000, without rebates. Older models range from $15,000 to $16,000.

Some added depreciation is because of people who don't embrace the technology. Others are waiting for more advanced models such as the new Chevrolet Bolt, with a claimed range of 380 kilometres. Murphy calls it a game-changer.

"Especially as [a] used vehicle two or three years down the road, the Bolt is going to be more attractive to the marketplace than one of its competitors that may have half the range," he says.

But that depreciation can also make a used EV a bargain, assuming it's mechanically sound.

And the increasing number of publicly available charging stations is beginning to allay range anxiety, says Michael Bettencourt, managing editor at, who recently traded a Leaf for a used Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid. It could make older, shorter-range EVs more attractive.

"All of a sudden, that same exact Leaf can become a lot more practical and a lot more useful to a lot of people," Bettencourt says.

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Range in an EV is dependent on the battery's capacity, which raises the second big question mark when buying used: What shape is the power cell in?

A battery-EV is fairly uncomplicated, with fewer moving parts; simple electric motor, one-speed transmission and no engine-needing maintenance.

The battery lithium-ion battery pack, the single biggest component, is covered by extensive long-term warranties, usually eight years or 160,000 kilometres for replacement if charge capacity falls below 70 per cent.

The Leaf's battery's condition can be checked with a battery-capacity gauge on the right side of the instrument cluster. Its warranty kicks in if capacity falls below nine bars out of 12 on the gauge.

George Iny, of the Automobile Protection Association, says the Leaf stores its lifetime charging history, including quick charges that can damage the battery. A would-be buyer could ask for a readout.

If shopping used, check to see if the warranty is transferable. A replacement battery will cost upward of $5,000.

One way to hedge your bet is to buy through an auto maker's certified-preowned program, which generally offers a limited warranty. Nissan, Mitsubishi and BMW, for instance, include EV products in their programs.

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