Best Used Electric Cars [Top Ranked Models]
Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate based in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. He is a content creator and marketing professional who contributes written and recorded pieces to a wide range of media outlets. His analysis has been featured in Find The Best Car Price, WWLP TV, and Torque News, among others. He has also had video content featured on Inside EVs. Birkett was an EV Guide for Plug in America events in Massachusetts (Drive Electric Cambridge and Drive Electric Lowell) and Ohio (Earth Day 2019 at Cleveland Zoo). He participates in quarterly advisory panel meetings for EVolve New York (a state-level charging initiative) and has contributed to focus groups for prominent U.S. charging networks.
Birkett is a father-of-two who loves nothing more than packing up the family and hitting the road in their latest electric car, which is currently a 2022 Hyundai IONIQ 5. With multiple Chevy Bolts in his past, as well as a Chevy Volt and Tesla Model 3 LR in the extended family, plus various EV rentals when he ventures back home to his native United Kingdom, Birkett has more than 100,000 all-electric miles under his belt and is always ready to try out a new electric vehicle.
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It’s vital to do your research and understand any limitations that come with the early range of used electric cars that are out there.
We recommend the following models as the best used electric cars that you can buy in 2021.
We’ll also add a couple of honorable mentions at the end of the article. These are used electric cars that provide a great deal of value but which might not be available in all markets due to limited production when they were released.
Check out our full list of the best EVs here >>
Table of Contents
Why You Should Get a Used Electric Vehicle
It’s a competitive used car market out there at the moment but rising gas prices and expanded charging infrastructure make used electric vehicles an intriguing proposition.
Used electric cars are a mixed bag in 2021. Due to the relatively early stage of the modern EV movement and the rapidly advancing technologies, used EV buyers will find everything from diminished range and old tech to premium brands and relatively new, low mileage models at bargain-basement prices.
Some early models may only be fit for local errands and short commutes, but others deliver the range and charging capability to take long trips as a primary vehicle.
In some cases, the question comes down to how you’ll use the vehicle and whether or not you’re willing to add the complexity of combustion to extend its range.
Best Used Electric Cars Comparison
|Model||Used Price Range||Range (miles)||Seats||Cargo Space (seats up/down)|
|Nissan Leaf (gen 1)|
|Chevy Volt PHEV|
|Chevy Bolt EV|
|Nissan Leaf (gen 2)|
|Tesla Model S|
1. Nissan Leaf (Gen. 1)
The first-generation Nissan Leaf comes with a bunch of caveats and disclaimers yet tops this list for one simple reason: it’s the most affordable and readily available used electric vehicle available today. With more than half a million Leafs sold since the model’s debut in 2010, the car comes with plenty of history and a nationwide sales record.
Now come the caveats…
As the first modern electric car made available by an established automaker, the Nissan Leaf had many kinks to work out over the years. Starting out with a 24kWh battery pack means that early models launched with around only 80 miles of range. Factor in the early battery technology, plus the lack of any thermal management system for that pack, and you have a recipe for battery degradation.
Unsurprisingly, range plummeted on those early versions to the extent that some used Nissan Leaf models might now have less than 40-50 miles of usable range. Nissan improved its battery packs over the years, eventually coming up with a 30kWh pack that delivered a respectable 100+ miles and held its capacity a lot better than those first models. Nonetheless, any degradation takes gen. 1 Leaf owners back into double digits and exposes the early limitations of used electric vehicles.
All of which is to say that the most affordable used electric car is a first-generation Nissan Leaf, but you’ll need to do extra research and/or have a very specific use case for the car (short commutes, local errands etc.) to make it work.
- The least expensive electric car money can buy.
- Chassis and cabin hold up well over time.
- Plentiful supply of used inventory in many locations.
- Battery degradation is a major concern on early models and not easily fixed.
- Limited range, even on packs that have not significantly degraded.
- CHAdeMO DC charging standard is phasing out in North America.
2. BMW i3
Along with the first-generation Nissan Leaf that props up the lower end of the used electric car market, the BMW i3 represents the old guard of first wave EVs from legacy automakers. As a ground-up EV, it marks BMW’s first true foray into all-electric and still turns heads (for better or for worse!).
With an eye-watering MSRP starting around $45,000 for a four-person compact car, the i3 is a niche electric vehicle as a new purchase. Considered as a used electric car, however, it’s a much more compelling proposition.
Used prices start around $15,000, which is right around where the second-generation Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt EV sit. What the i3 gives up in range and interior space to those competitors, it makes up for in terms of cabin comfort and sheer uniqueness. The former is to be expected of a manufacturer with BMW’s pedigree, but the latter delivers innovations like a carbon fiber chassis and a small gasoline range extender (REx) in some models. That makes for a lightweight, nimble electric vehicle, with the ability to conveniently “top up” the battery via gasoline, should the need arise.
All-electric range varies from around 80 miles on early model years to 150+ miles on more recent trims, plus the potential to push past 200 miles with the aforementioned REx variant. With 50kW CCS fast charging also equipped and a very pleasant cabin, the BMW i3 is a more capable road trip EV than it might seem at first, with a reasonably used electric car price tag given the badge on its hood.
- Unique looks with ground-up sustainable design.
- Premium interior at an affordable price.
- Usable range for longer trips if you find the right trim level.
- Compact car with storage limitations compared to others at this price point.
- Range is less competitive if you’re unwilling to burn gas.
- Discontinued model in the US, which could make it even more expensive to fix.
3. Chevy Volt (PHEV)
The Chevrolet Volt was GM’s first foray into the current wave of electric vehicles and is an underrated option for anyone wanting to test the waters of electric drivetrains. Equipped with both a plug socket to charge its battery pack, which offers a capacity of up to 18.4 kWh, and a gas tank of almost nine gallons, this is a hybrid that can offer the best of both worlds. Local driving in all-electric mode yields 40-50 miles of range, while the gas engine will kick in on long trips to extend your range to well over 300 miles and short refueling stops.
As a used vehicle consideration, it’s important to note that the Chevy Volt was discontinued by GM in 2019, as the automaker seeks to transition to all-electric models over the next decade. Nonetheless, the Volt remains a compelling option for anyone not quite ready to make the jump to full electric, yet wanting the quick pick up of a pure EV mode and the convenience of waking up to a full charge.
- Pure EV mode with a useable range for short commutes/daily driving.
- Gas engine backup for long journeys.
- Versatile trunk space thanks to large hatch.
- Hybrid drivetrain means additional maintenance compared to full electric vehicles.
- Limited passenger space with only four useable seats.
- Discontinued model, which could limit long-term support for parts.
4. Chevy Bolt EV
The Chevrolet Bolt EV marked GM’s all-electric follow-up to the hybrid Volt, offering a viable range for regional travel and all the benefits of a pure battery-electric drivetrain. With up to 259 miles of EPA range and DC fast charging available, the Bolt went head to head with Nissan’s Leaf at the affordable end of the EV market in 2017 and has sold steadily since then.
Unfortunately, a mid-cycle refresh of the model for 2022 - and the introduction of the slightly larger Bolt EUV - has been hindered by a full recall due to rare battery defects that have caused fires in a handful of Bolt EVs around the world.
Despite this setback and the significant inconvenience for Bolt drivers at the time of writing, the model stands to become a compelling used EV option by 2022, when the manufacturer’s remedy is in place. All model years will have the same pack capacity and come with a new battery warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first, making the Bolt like a new vehicle for buyers willing to give GM and its battery supplier, LG Energy, another chance.
- Best mix of usable range and affordability on the market.
- Practical compact hatchback well-suited to metro areas.
- Spacious interior for a vehicle in this category.
- Relatively dated fast charging at 50kW max.
- Basic interior with narrow seats that some critics dislike.
- Battery recall could hang over the model if replacement process drags on.
Note: with the ongoing recall, we put together this list of Bolt EV/EUV competitors for anyone looking at alternatives while the Bolt range is off the market.
5. Nissan Leaf (Gen. 2)
The second generation of Nissan Leaf is separated from the first in this list because Nissan made great strides to improve battery capacity and longevity over the model’s first five years. That clearly shows in used prices, where a gen. 1 model is available for four figures, while the second generation holds a more respectable starting point around $15,000.
Why? For starters, even the most basic option in the second wave of the Leaf line offers 40kWh of battery capacity. That’s a significant upgrade on the 30kWh and below found in the first generation, delivering a solid 150 miles of range. That makes it more comparable to the BMW i3 on this list than older compliance cars like the Chevy Spark EV or Fiat 500e, which like the gen. 1 Leaf make great city cars but struggle over longer distance drives.
The second generation also looks a lot better than Nissan’s first attempt at the Leaf, with a modern design closer to the automaker’s larger vehicles and slightly more upmarket interior. Lastly, if your budget is a bit larger you can search for a used Leaf Plus and a battery capacity of 62kWh. Good for 226 miles of EPA range, that’s enough to compete with the likes of the Chevy Bolt EV and Kia Niro EV, if you can find one. The Leaf Plus was only introduced in 2019 and was relatively expensive at the time, so used inventory isn’t as plentiful as the lower range Leaf trims.
- Significant upgrade on the first generation Leaf.
- Modern design and comfortable interior.
- Established dealer network with EV knowledge and charging.
- Range is still not as high as similar competitors.
- No thermal management of pack leaves battery vulnerable in hot climates.
- CHAdeMO DC charging standard is phasing out in North America.
6. Tesla Model S
Although it might seem odd that Tesla’s most expensive model comes in ahead of the company’s newer and far more affordable Model 3, used electric car prices don’t lie. With the 3 boasting new technology and in high demand, it is the older Model S that provides the least expensive way to get into a pre-owned Tesla. That still means shelling out at least $30,000, but for a car that originally stretched into six figures, that’s not a bad deal.
Naturally, this price point comes with some caveats. You’re not getting Tesla’s latest and greatest, for starters. Most of the inventory at this level is made up of 2013/14 models that deliver at most 250 miles of range, or possibly far less depending on how the car has been used in the intervening years. Supercharging and heat could both speed up battery degradation, so it’s important to verify how far the individual car can go rather than rely on original EPA ratings.
Similarly, the cabin interior and charging capabilities may also be lacking nowadays, especially compared to Tesla’s newest models. While a Model 3 or Y will top out at 250kW on Tesla’s newest Superchargers, an early Model S could be up to 5x slower.
Nonetheless, with modern Teslas commanding used prices close to their MSRP and deliveries of new vehicles often delayed, a gently-used Model S makes for the most compelling way to enter the Tesla ecosystem on a budget.
- Large, spacious vehicle with access to the best fast charging network in North America.
- Eye-catching design and forward-thinking technology, even on early models.
- The most affordable way to get into a Tesla without waiting or paying over the odds.
- The lowest prices are on high mileage models that may show signs of battery degradation.
- New EVs with greater range are now available at this price point.
- Technology fails to match modern Teslas on many levels.
7. Fiat 500e
The very definition of a compliance car for the United States, the Fiat 500e was only sold in California and Oregon. FCA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne went so far as telling people not to buy the model, so it’s hard for us to recommend it here almost a decade later!
Nonetheless, if you can locate one, the Fiat 500e provides a reasonable alternative for used electric car buyers considering a first gen. Nissan Leaf is in the $5-10k range. It delivers a similar range at 84 miles and offers a more compact package that pleases the eye more than Nissan’s buglike first effort. Few used electric vehicles more scream “city car” than the 500e, but it’s a fun option to consider if you can find one.
8. Chevy Spark EV
Ridiculously overpowered for a car of its size, the Spark EV delivers up to 400 lb-ft of torque to its front wheels. That’s enough to power it to 60mph in around 7 seconds and marked the most powerful EV on the market other than Tesla when it was released in 2014. Like the Fiat 500e, sales were limited and you won’t easily find a Spark EV in every part of the country.
The Spark EV also delivers a limited 82 miles of EPA range, though owners often see 100+ miles in city conditions. The addition of a CCS port also means that the car can take advantage of modern fast-charging stations, while the battery pack is actively heated and cooled to maintain longevity. As a fun compact car to buy on a budget, the Spark EV might be one of the best used electric cars to consider as a second vehicle. Again, that’s assuming you can find one!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are used EVs worth it?
It’s vital to do your research and understand any limitations that come with the early range of used electric cars that are out there. Due to the relatively early stage of the modern EV movement and the rapidly advancing technologies, used EV buyers will find everything from diminished range and old tech to premium brands and relatively new, low mileage models at bargain-basement prices.
What is the most available used EV?
The Nissan Leaf is the most affordable and readily available used electric vehicle available today. With more than half a million Leafs sold since the model’s debut in 2010, the car comes with plenty of history and a nationwide sales record.
What is the best used plug-in hybrid car?
The Volt remains a compelling option for anyone not quite ready to make the jump to full electric, yet wanting the quick pick up of a pure EV mode and the convenience of waking up to a full charge.
What happened to the Chevrolet Volt?
The Chevy Volt was discontinued by GM in 2019, as the automaker seeks to transition to all-electric models over the next decade.
What’s the difference between the Nissan Leaf Gen. 1 and Gen. 2?
The Gen. 2 Nissan Leaf has a larger 40kWh battery capacity (30kWh in Gen. 1). The Gen. 2 Leaf has a more modern design with a slightly more upmarket interior.