Toronto Star - Considering a used electric vehicle? Here is what you need to know before you buy
Mark Toljagic - Toronto Star | June 18, 2022

With gasoline and diesel prices reaching for the stratosphere, motorists are reassessing their relationship with fossil fuels and giving electric vehicles a closer look.

But with few new electric vehicles on dealer lots due to supply-chain issues, more consumers might consider kicking the tires on used examples. Purchasing any second-hand car is fraught with trepidation, but gauging a used EV comes with a whole new vocabulary, along with questions and concerns.

So what does a potential buyer need to consider when it comes to EV technology, battery longevity and hidden drawbacks?

The number one question used EV shoppers ask has to do with the remaining life of the powertrain battery, since replacing it will cost $15,000 to $20,000 or more. Fortunately, EV battery warranties typically cover eight years of use or 160,000 kilometres and are transferable to the second owner. But there are limitations.

“Automakers’ new EV warranties on batteries allow 30 to 40 per cent degradation before approving a claim for replacement batteries,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association consumer group. “There are now extended warranties for EVs, but they exclude battery degradation, which is considered wear and tear.”

Studies show EV batteries actually degrade very slowly — even in the 2011 Nissan Leaf, one of the first EVs to sell in large numbers. According to a 2015 report by Warranty Direct, out of 35,000 Leafs sold in Europe, just three experienced a battery failure, compared to a failure rate 25 times higher for gasoline-powered cars.

Still, the prospect of spending $15,000 to replace the battery would give any car shopper heartburn, which is why Iny recommends a pre-purchase inspection before buying a used EV.

“Specialized shops can do a battery check using a scanner plugged into the OBD (on-board diagnostics port) or verified using the dash function. Leaf buyers can use the Leaf Spy app. Tesla has no OBD port — you will need a wireless connection,” Iny said. “The Hyundai and Kia battery health monitor is optimistic; it will show zero battery degradation after two or three years in service.”

As more EVs populate Canada’s streets, there are other battery options available for motorists on a budget.

“There are aftermarket solutions — essentially the cells from an old battery pack are tested individually and the dead ones replaced with other used ones. There are shops that can replace dead nickel metal hydride cells individually, but even a complete battery pack is reasonable, about $2,000,” Iny said. “That’s cheaper than a gas engine.”

Iny suggests consumers look beyond the issue of battery life, especially since most used EVs will “likely run a long time at 70 per cent of their original capacity, like an old cellphone.” A U.S. government lab concluded EV batteries could last eight to 12 years in extreme climates such as Canada’s before requiring replacement or renewal.

Surprisingly, Iny said that electric vehicles are not less troublesome than the best gasoline-powered models — despite the fact EVs have fewer moving parts and no complex systems such as pollution controls and 10-speed automatic transmissions.