Used EVs becoming more widely available. Here’s how to choose a reliable one

After a slow start, the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia has been surging over the past year as supply constraints ease and motorists look to make the switch from petrol cars.

But with the price tag of a new EV likely to remain a barrier for many Australians, getting one second-hand could be a more realistic and affordable option.

So when will more second-hand EVs become available, are they reliable, and how much can you expect to pay?

Growing number of second-hand EVs

While EVs might seem like they’re in their infancy in Australia, some motorists have been driving around in second-hand models for years.

Mark Hetherington made the switch from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) about eight years ago, when he picked up a second-hand EV.

“So it was reasonably priced when we got it, and that was a great way to get into things and understand how it all worked,” he said.

“There weren’t many around at that time, especially second hand, so we thought it was really lucky to find one for sale at the time.”

Newcastle electrical engineer Ewan Regazzo had been mulling a move to EVs for some time, and bit the bullet in 2020 after experiencing problems with his “bombed out” petrol car.

“I really couldn’t afford a new EV then, and at that time because of COVID it was hard to buy anything new whatsoever, so that drove me down a limited set of options and importing a second-hand vehicle was the best one in the end,” he said.

A man stands outside in front of his white sedan.
Mark Hetherington picked up a second-hand EV about eight years ago and hasn’t looked back since.(ABC News: Max Tillman)

EVs still only make up a very tiny proportion of the second-hand car market, but Pickles Auctions general manager of motor vehicles Brendon Green said this would soon change.

“At the moment it’s less than a couple hundred used electric vehicles we’re selling right now. That’s likely to turn into over 2000 over the next couple of years,” he said.

Mr Green said the “significant” growth in second-hand EVs expected in 2024 and 2025 would come largely from governments and fleet management companies – among the early adopters of EVs – once their leases reach the end of their life.

What to look for when buying a second-hand EV

It might not come as a surprise that battery health is the biggest consideration when deciding whether to buy a second-hand EV.

That’s because the battery is the most expensive part of an EV and can be very costly to replace.

While checking the battery health can be difficult, depending on the make and model of a car, independent EV consultant Bryce Gaton said that would become easier over time with the growth of diagnostic apps and EV-trained mechanics.

“You can actually extract some of the data that the manufacturer doesn’t generally give you, and that’s something that will be evolving,” he said.

“In newer cars, the batteries are tending to last very well, mainly because they have very [good] cooling systems and very tight battery management systems.”

A man in a button-up shirt and blazer stands in front of a row of electric vehicles.
Pickles Auctions general manager Brendon Green believes EV sales will head into the thousands for his company in coming years. (ABC News: Gavin Coote)

Battery health, tyre wear key considerations

Some of the older EVs might require a replacement battery, which can cost up to $15,000, but Mr Gaton said they were becoming increasingly affordable and effectively doubled the life of the car.

The batteries should also be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, which Mr Green said was typically six to 10 years.

“So if we get the car at three years or four years, everyone can be assured that what they’re getting is going to have a good effective life and they’re not going to have to spend money on the battery for some time,” he said.

Because EVs are naturally heavier than their ICEV counterparts, their tyres can tend to wear out faster, so it’s worth checking to see if there are any signs of uneven wear or thin tread depth.

A man looks at the camera while seated in his car.
Independent EV consultant Bryce Gaton says batteries are becoming more affordable and can double the life of a car. (ABC News: Tara Whitchurch)

Mr Gaton says there should be no durability concerns if the EV is looked after.

“Having driven EVs for some time, my car has done 60-odd thousand kilometres and it’s still on its original set of tyres,” he said.

How affordable are second-hand EVs?

While some of the first generation electric vehicles are available for $10,000, the majority of used EVs will set you back between $30,000 and $50,000.

Mr Green said they would become increasingly affordable as more options became available and supplies improved.

“Interestingly, electric vehicle pricing climbed higher than internal combustion during COVID. They peaked about 70 per cent higher than the prices pre-COVID, (but) prices have softened in recent times,” he said.

It’s not only second-hand EVs that are expected to become more affordable, with a number of manufacturers introducing new models in the $40,000-45,000 price range.

What about hybrids?

Hybrid cars, which use both electric and fuel to power their motor, have long been marketed as a cleaner form of internal combustion engine vehicle.

While they once dominated the EV market, they now account for only a fraction of new EV sales as fully battery electric vehicles (BEV) gain in popularity.

Hybrid cars don’t have the problem of ‘range anxiety’ – the fear of your vehicle running out of charge before reaching a charging station – and are likely to remain an attractive option for those looking at dipping their toes in the EV market.

The federal government has argued plug-in hybrid electric cars that can charge from a power point and fill up at a service station are an important part of the EV mix, particularly for Australians who live in regional areas.

If you’re on the hunt for a low-emissions vehicle, second-hand hybrids might seem like a cleaner option than a petrol or diesel car.

But there’s ongoing debate about their environmental credentials, and recent studies have suggested plug-in hybrids are much dirtier than previously thought.

Mr Hetherington, who lives in regional New South Wales, has no regrets about going fully electric.

“We pull up in the carport in the evening, takes about five seconds to plug it in,” he said.

“It’s full everyday, does about two hundred kilometres on a charge and never have to worry about going somewhere to fill up petrol, so it’s been really good.”

Does a bigger supply of EVs entice you to take the plunge? Or do you already have an EV? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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3 Comments

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  1. Think carefully about your rationale for buying a “new” car before committing. Compare across the spectrum on similar sized cars with similar kilometres and price.
    Unless you are living in Tasmania, an EV or hybrid is not a “zero” emissions vehicle as on most days, the electricity is still around 50% coal derived.
    In spite of the claims of zero servicing, that car has not been invented yet. All cars, regardless of the power train should have at least an annual inspection by someone who is familiar with the brand. There are lots of normally unseen parts of our vehicles that do wear out, or break and can sneak past our casual daily walk around.
    With all pure EVs there is the possibility of a degradation in battery health and there are no magic quick fixes.
    The cost of “emissions free” cheap driving may be more than anticipated and a similarly priced legacy petrol or diesel powered vehicle may be a better choice as more is often known about their weaknesses than the electric and hybrid vehicles.
    If your interest is an EV, take the offering for a drive and make sure that you pull into a charge station and find out the practicalities of the plug and play game.

  2. Living in a rural town, I decided on importing a plug-in hybrid. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, it was held up: in Japan, on the ocean and off Port Kembla (it was also ‘lost’ for a while amongst the 2,000 cars on the warf).
    The traction battery now has to be replaced*** because they must never be permitted to go completely flat; it NEEDED a trickle charge during transit.
    *** Used Prius ~$2 -3k – if I can find one.

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