Used electric vehicles on the market at this time are mostly going to be some kind of conversion. For example, there is currently only one new highway-capable electric car marketed in the USA: the Tesla Roadster. There have only been a few factory-produced EVs like the RAV4, Chevy S-10, Ford Ranger, Ford Think, and EV1. A lot of these were just factory conversions of existing rigs. All told there were probably 10,000 or so factory conversions and original EVs produced in the past 10 years. Notice that some of those were then recalled by the factory and dismantled or crushed.
That situation is changing pretty fast, but for the next few years, most used EVs are going to be cars or trucks that somebody or some company has converted from a gas-powered rig to electric.
One area where this is different is the NEV market. Neighborhood electric vehicles have been well-produced for the past ten years or so. If you look around at used EVs, you will probably find some GEM, ZAP, Miles, Zenn, and Flybo vehicles. These NEVs are limited to 35mph or so. The laws vary, but mostly NEVs cannot go on roads with a posted speed limit over 45mph; maybe 35mph in some places.
Again, this is changing as ZAP and Miles produce their highway-capable cars in the next year or so.
OK, so what to look for in a used EV? Start with the battery pack. The basic situation is that a 1,200 lb lead acid battery pack might hold the energy equivalent of from 1/2 to 1 (US) gallon of gasoline!
Most conversions these days are still using a lead-acid battery pack. These packs provide less energy density and fewer charge cycles than modern lithium ion battery packs and research is ongoing every day to improve those!
The lead-acid battery pack will sustain from about 300-1,000 or so charge cycles before starting to decline rapidly. This is often when people will sell their EV, since replacing batteries is usually in the range of a few thousand dollars or so. So, check the condition of the batteries.
Next is performance. It is highly recommended Arkansas that you decide exactly what you want an electric vehicle for before investing in one at this point. Most conversions have a range anywhere from about 20 to 60 miles or so tops. Top speed might run from 60-70 or so except for racing EVs, which can go quite fast.
Back in the day, one large complaint about EVs was their low speed. This was because of the lower voltage systems used. If you want to move with traffic, we recommend at least a 144-Volt system hooked to an 8- or 9-inch DC motor. AC is a whole other thing, but most conversions (with a few notable exceptions) are using DC anyway.
Regarding range: Check out where you need to go with the car. At this time, most EVs are restricted in their range due to energy storage limitations. If you need to drive 20 miles one way before turning around, make sure you have 40 miles of range at least. Then, since range is really variable with weather, hills and speed, check out how you will be driving that 20 miles.
Taking a look at the current offerings on the EV Tradin’ Post (our favorite Used EV site) we see cars ranging from $450 – $42,000! That’s quite a range. Most of these offerings have lead-acid battery packs. Some sellers state upfront that new batteries are needed, and even offer to do the work.
After surfing through the vehicles on there at this time, it looks like that there are a few around $10,000 that would be OK for regular transport. For example, a 1999 Solectria Force (a factory-converted Geo Metro) is offered for $9,500 plus $2k for a new pack. This car was designed for regular road use and would likely be satisfactory for regular, short commutes, assuming the car is otherwise in good shape!
A word on EV looks:
You have perhaps 3 classes of used EVs.
1. The slick and fine looking Porsche’s, Hondas and the like. These cars are usually expensive, and may offer the same or less range than other EVs.
2. The practical EV like the RAV4, or the Solectria Force. These rigs were designed to get the job done. Many homemade conversions fit into this class as well.
3. The dogs. For some reason, EVs have suffered over the years from design dregs. Why anybody would bother to mess with a Commuta Car or 1980s vintage Ford Escort is beyond us. But be advised that many used EVs fall into this class. Thank goodness the people at Tesla Motors recognized this and did something about it!
Finally a word about EV accessories. You need to keep in mind that one of the benefits of the internal combustion engine found in most vehicles is its abundance of auxiliary power and heat. The power for brakes and steering are often vacuum-powered for example. Heat is courtesy of waste engine heat.
Electric vehicles do not have a lot of extra power, and no waste heat. Your power brakes, steering, heater, lights, stereo, AC and other electrical gear needs to be powered off the same battery pack (usually) as the one that powers the rig.
Safety First: Make sure to check your used electric vehicle for electrically powered brakes at a minimum. Disc brakes are very hard to operate without power assist.
Then check the other things you want. It can make the difference between freezing and warm, stereo and silence, windshield wipers and…how would you do that anyway?
Thanks for checking out this article. If you are in the market for a used EV, remember the basics. It will save you a lot of hassle on down the road.