I found a $2,100 EV. Here’s how you can, too.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Model 3 vehicles are seen for sale at a Tesla facility in Fremont, California, U.S., May 23, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

I purchased my last car, a used 2010 Honda Fit with 60,000 miles on it, for a few thousand dollars. After years of ferrying my family on California road trips, my purple workhorse, “Blackberry,” was still humming more than a decade after leaving the factory.

Does such a deal exist for the all-electric crowd?

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Until recently, a cheap electric car was a contradiction in terms. The average price of an EV in 2022 reached $66,000, about $18,000 more than a comparable gasoline vehicle. The cheapest ones couldn’t compete with budget gasoline cars. Used ones, if you could find them, sometimes sold for close to the original price.

But the gap is shrinking fast. In some cases, it no longer exists. New EVs are expected to reach price parity with gas cars around 2027. Used EVs, in some cases, are already there or sell for less thanks to generous government incentives, rising supply and fierce competition.

Automotive analysts say the market for buying a used EV has never been this good or this big: Used electric car sales hit a record of about 400,000 vehicles last year, double the volume in 2020, as prices sink to record lows.

And used EVs may be key to decarbonizing our roads. “For every new car, there are two used ones on the road,” says Liz Najman, a climate researcher at Recurrent, a start-up monitoring EV battery health. “To meet any climate targets, we need to have people comfortable driving in a used EV.”

So, is it now possible to get the equivalent of an electric Blackberry? Here’s how you can score a deal.

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For most Americans, two things will dictate whether they buy an EV or not: low prices and access to public charging, according to polling by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

On the first front, charging remains spotty. But it’s improving rapidly. Last quarter, more than 630 new fast chargers rolled out, a pace poised to pick up dramatically thanks to $5 billion in federal funds earmarked for a network of EV charger stations placed every 50 miles along interstate highways.

After soaring during the pandemic, EV prices finally began falling as more cars hit the used car market, says Ivan Drury, who analyzes the automotive market for Edmunds.

“It is the best time ever to buy a used EV,” says Drury. “In almost every and any aspect, it’s better today than it ever has been.”

Almost every model has seen price cuts after Tesla sparked a price war by aggressively slashing sticker prices to defend its shrinking market share, now down to 51 percent of the U.S. EV market.

In July 2022, the price of a used Tesla Model Y (2021 model year) was $71,000. Today, it’s $32,000, reports Edmunds. Most remarkably, a used Tesla Model 3 is now cheaper than the average used gasoline vehicle. The average Model 3 sold for about $25,000 in March, roughly 15 percent below the average for all used cars.

And that’s before government incentives. One of the best deals in the Inflation Reduction Act is reserved for used vehicles: an upfront discount worth 30 percent of the sale price up to $4,000 for eligible cars under $25,000 (subject to household income). States and utilities may sweeten the price even more. A guide to the credits is at recurrentauto.com.

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Early EV buyers mostly had to pick among “punishment cars,” the slow, uncomfortable and underpowered electric models available in the mid-2000s. Today, the situation is reversed. At least 54 all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are now available on the market, says Najman, and electric models are snatching up industry awards. Of the nine finalists for North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards this year, six were electric.

And chances are a used EV will be in better shape than the average used car since they’re often high quality, low mileage and well maintained, says Drury: “For the most part, you’re getting someone’s early-adopter vehicles.”

Rental companies such as Hertz are also offloading some of their EV fleet. While these may have seen heavier use over a few years, corporate service schedules mean they’re very well maintained. Drury advises checking for cosmetic damage, wear-and-tear and non-routine maintenance issues such as suspension.

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Battery life span

People assume a used EV battery is like the battery in their iPhone: It wears out and must be replaced. “They are totally different beasts,” says Najman “In the data we’re seeing, all batteries are holding up remarkably well.”

Because of sophisticated cooling hardware and management software, most batteries are expected to outlive their car. Recurrent studied the loss of lithium-ion battery capacity in 15,000 EVs going back as far as 2011. Degradation, they found, tends to follow an S-curve. A modern EV with a 250- or 300-mile range might lose roughly 20 to 40 miles of maximum range over the first 20,000 miles, and then level off to about 1 percent of the battery capacity annually. For a Tesla Model 3 with 341 miles of range, that translates to a maximum range of about 300 miles after a decade.

Manufacturers are now confident their batteries will go the distance. Nissan, which released its Leaf EV in 2010, says “almost all” of its original batteries are still powering its cars despite early recalls. And failure rates are dropping. About 1.5 percent of vehicles have had to replace batteries, outside of recalls, since 2011, reports Recurrent. That rate has fallen below 0.5 percent since model year 2016.

If you do have to replace the battery, you’re unlikely to pay the roughly $6,500 to $20,000 cost. Government-mandated warranty policies generally cover batteries when they fail or fall below 70 to 75 percent of original capacity, says Drury.

While conventional cars’ powertrain warranties tend to last about 5 years or 60,000 miles, all EV batteries enjoy a U.S.-mandated eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty. In California, protections extend to 10 years or 150,000 miles.

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If you’re thinking about buying a used EV, time is on your side.

“I generally advise people to wait,” says Sean Tucker of automotive market research company Kelley Blue Book. “Almost no one regrets not spending $30,000. Manufacturers are using economies of scale to bring cheaper models. The longer you wait, the cheaper they’ll get.”

While only tiny improvements can be squeezed out of the 137-year-old internal combustion engine, electric powertrain technology leaps forward each year with advances in batteries, manufacturing techniques, and software and sensor capabilities. For future EV buyers, this means lower costs, longer range and better performance. And these rapid advancements also contribute to EVs’ higher rate of depreciation.

So how cheap could EVs get? Take a look at what’s hitting the market. China’s BYD is transforming the global EV market with well-reviewed cars at rock-bottom prices. The $13,900 Dolphin and the Seagull for under $10,000 are now challenging gasoline vehicles at every price point.

For now, these cars are not sold in the United States due to high tariffs and political concerns about the threat they pose to Detroit automakers. But the new Chinese models are spurring a wave of price cuts around the world.

In the United States, sticker prices of two leading models have already hit record lows: The base model of the popular Chevrolet Bolt (259-mile range) sells for under $20,000 (after incentives), while the Nissan Leaf (149-mile range) sells for $29,000.

As for the electric Blackberry test, the used car market delivered.

For less than $10,000, I could pick between several electric Mercedes-Benz hatchbacks, Volkswagen e-Golfs or Fiats on used car sites. For under $3,000 I found a fleet of used Nissan Leafs with around 70-mile range to cruise around town. With an upfront used EV discount at registered dealerships, I could have driven home a $2,100 car.



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