Updated: Sep 27, 2018
Interest in electric cars is now starting to really pick up, but the latest generation of ‘proper’ mass produced cars from big car makers have been around since the Nissan Leaf was first launched in 2011.That means there are now plenty of used models which can bring you electric motoring at a price which is surprisingly affordable.
When doing your sums it’s worth bearing in mind that an electric car will cost far less in fuel and maintenance than a petrol or diesel car. It’s likely to depreciate slower too. But buying one can be bewildering, even to someone who is an expert in cars. There are no head gaskets or exhausts to check and instead you’ll need to know about cables and battery leases.
We’ve picked the two best-selling and best value electric cars for a closer look at what you’ll need to be looking for.
The Zoe might play second fiddle to the Nissan Leaf in the sales charts, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good. It uses many of the same parts as the Clio and is around the same size, so will be perfect if you are looking to replace a supermini and go electric.
It’s pretty good to look at too, and many Zoe owners have chosen one over a Leaf purely because it doesn’t look as odd!
There are plenty of other reasons to pick a Zoe though – they’re safe, fun to drive and are proving reliable – but the main one is cost. When the Zoe was a few years old, there were some really incredible deals on new Zoes as Renault tried to encourage electric car usage. Buyers could have one for less than £200 a month on a PCP scheme with a reasonable deposit. They soon sold out, but those cars are now being returned to the dealers and are now on the used car forecourts.
This means there’s a good supply of second-hand versions out there, with prices starting below £5,000. Put that on finance with a £1,000 deposit and it will easily be less than £100 per month over four years.
With free road tax and the maintenance savings that could well work out cheaper than buying a £1,000 banger, taxing it and keeping it fuelled.
But there is a wrinkle in the Zoe’s cost-saving armour which you need to be very careful of, as not all sellers are up-front about it – the battery lease.
On all pre-2015 Zoes (and many after this date too) you never actually own the battery which powers the car. It is leased from Renault and you have to pay a monthly cost which varies from £59 upwards, depending on the mileage you cover. It was introduced in the early days of electric cars when there was concern about how long they would last, as leasing means the battery is always guaranteed and will be replaced if it fails or loses a lot of capacity.
However it does take up a chunk of monthly budget and can make the car difficult to sell on – many dealers don’t understand the system and won’t buy one as a result.
If you don’t fancy the idea of the lease, then look for a 2015 onwards car with an ‘i’ in the name, as you own the battery with these models. They cost £4,500 more when new, so expect them to be substantially more when used too.
There are a few other key points to check.
The 22kW battery fitted to most Zoes gives a range of between 60-90 miles depending on the weather. Using the heater can really eat up the power, so make sure it will still be capable of handling your commute.
Later cars had the option of a bigger 40kW battery and a fast charger to make topping up the batteries quicker. These are desirable but you will pay for them, so make sure it’s something you really need.
The final point to check is how far it is to your nearest Renault EV dealer. Not all of the company’s outlets have the equipment and training to service a Zoe, and the nearest could even be outside the car’s range!
With more than 20,000 Leafs on the road in the UK alone, the pioneering Nissan is by far the most successful pure electric car on our roads. That means there is plenty of choice and prices are reasonable – but as interest in electric cars grows they are shifting upwards.
It’s a proper family-sized car which is about the same size as a Golf or Focus, is easy and relaxing to drive and can cost buttons to run. They’ve proved to be reliable too, but there are points you need to check carefully before you pick up a Leaf.
The very earliest cars from 2011 are now available from £4,500 – and unlike the Zoe, that price includes the battery.
The first generation of Leafs was built in Japan and is easily identifiable by its light, beige-coloured interior. Externally they look identical to the later, British-built cars but there were some useful improvements to these cars (2013 on) which make them a better buy if you can afford it.
Firstly a change to the battery freed up more range and the heater was changed to make it more efficient. This means that you may get an extra 20-30 miles in the winter in a later car.
If range is an issue, look out for the 30kW battery models (2016 onwards) which can easily get 100-120 miles from a charge – these are pricier though.
The early Leafs were all one trim level, the British-built cars had three versions. Avoid the entry Visia if you can as it doesn’t have the useful satnav, app connections and rapid charger port (which allow you to top up to 80% at service stations and dealers).
A useful option on the later cars is the 7kW charger, which allows you to top up the batteries twice as fast at public chargers or at home. It doesn’t actually add anything to the value of a used car so is well worth seeking out. The easy way to check if a car has it is to look on the dashboard for the suggested charge times – a 7kW car will list two.
While checking the chargers, see what cables are supplied. Nissan kept changing what it supplied as standard, but every car should have the 7-pin lead included. The so-called ‘granny charger’ with a 3-pin plug is handy to have for emergencies and will cost at least £200 to replace second hand.
Nearly all Leafs were sold as ‘battery owned’ but some cars – called FLEX – had a battery lease deal like the Zoe. Nissan will allow you to buy out of the lease, but make sure you factor this into the purchase price.
The first thing to check on any Leaf is the condition of the battery. It’s a reliable pack, and taxi companies have seen more than 100,000 miles before they lose any real capacity. But it is still worth checking! Next to the range meter are a series of bars which indicate the state of charge. To the right of those are some blocks. There should be 12; any less indicates the battery has lost some of its capacity. A missing block should be a real haggling point!
A service on a Leaf at a Nissan dealer is pretty cheap compared to a conventional car – expect to pay between £100 and £180. Check your car has a Nissan history and look at the battery condition report to see if the owner has been following charging advice.
The last point to check is for the SD card in the navigation system. Many get lost at the dealer or even stolen. They are unique to the car though and can cost hundreds to get reprogrammed to the car. Don’t leave without one, or budget accordingly!