Currently reading: What is it like to live with an electric car?
Buying an EV on a budget? We took delivery of two to find out exactly what it's like

The introduction of electric cars has been quite the rollercoaster ride, hasn’t it? 

Government grants aimed at reducing the price gap between electric and internal-combustion cars came and went, while showroom prices have generally remained disappointingly high. And three years into my own EV ownership, I wanted to find a cheaper way to keep doing it.

Let me say up front that this article isn’t an evangelistic sales pitch. EVs aren’t for everybody. But for daily driving, they are for me. We (that’s me and Mrs C) bought our first two in early 2021.

I think they’re fun to drive, with their seemingly bottomless pits of torque and low centres of gravity, and I like never having to visit filling stations any more (and no longer being at the mercy of the government and oil companies).

So read on to learn how I made going electric and staying electric work on a modest budget.

How much did it cost to buy an electric car?

The government grant was still around in early 2021, and that, combined with the fact there were some good deals around, pretty much neutralised the ‘EV premium’ for me. The other deciding factor was that the affordable long-range EV had arrived in the shape of the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia e-Niro 64kWh.

So I swapped our petrol and diesel cars for an e-Niro 3 and a Renault Zoe ZE50 R135 GT-Line Rapid Charge. Although the Zoe was intended mainly for local use, I wanted the option of doing long north-south runs from home in both cars, emulating the outgoing ICE cars.

The battery cost is reckoned to be as much as 40% of the cost of an EV, so that would be my first mistake in this brave new world.

Naturally, the most creative man maths was ready for deployment, but the numbers actually stacked up reasonably well for once, and the cost of ownership played a big part.

In the case of the Kia, I’d be shedding the significant fuel, road tax and insurance costs of my existing diesel (a 2012 BMW X5 xDrive40d M Sport) in exchange for a car that would better 4mpkWh, with cheap home charging and no road tax.


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The Renault figures weren’t quite so impressive, because it was replacing a Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost petrol, but still made sense in the long term.

I used PCP with the £3000 grant for both cars. In the Renault’s case, that served as the deposit, but I added an extra hefty deposit on the Kia to bring the monthly payments down, and that was my second mistake.

My third mistake was assuming there would be some equity at the end of the PCP period for the next cycle, as I had experienced in the past.

Is there such a thing as a cheap electric car?

Yes, there are a few, and a popular choice with a huge following is the old-shape Nissan Leaf – the car that started it all back in 2012. The other potential replacement for the PCP-bought Zoe was a BMW i3, which although funkier-looking is a lot more money.

The Leaf may be a bit of an ugly duckling and its air-cooled 24kWh battery and modest range might rule out long trips, but it’s well built, roomy and perfect for the average commute and local runs.

It also has a battery state of health display consisting of 12 bars on the instrument display, which is a great help when you’re looking to buy used. There’s also an on-board diagnostics gadget that Leaf aficionados recommend called Leaf Spy, which gives detailed battery information via a smartphone app.

Find a Leaf with 12 bars and you know the battery capacity is more than 85% of what it was originally.

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After a fair bit of research, I decided the ideal spec was 12 bars, low miles (30,000-40,000), no indication of motorway thrashing, little or no rapid charging and as late a year as possible.

A larger (30kWh) battery became available later in 2015 but, on looking around, these cars were scarce and had fewer bars than the best 24kWh cars, possibly suggesting people bought them with an eye on longer distances, probably using rapid charging. 

This was only a theory, but I decided to stick to my guns on the range I needed and settled for the 24kWh car with the best possible battery condition.

Which one to buy?

There are three versions of the ZE0-generation Leaf, called Visia, Acenta and Tekna. 

Rationally, the best choice is the Acenta, because although it lacks creature comforts like a heated steering wheel and heated seats, it’s cheaper to buy and the tyres for its smaller wheels are less expensive.

The Tekna does have the heated things, which I wanted for Scottish winters, and although the larger alloys take more expensive tyres, they also look nicer.

I’ve had my fill of traipsing around the country looking at used cars (which these days can cost more than it saves), so I was grateful to spot a likely candidate at a local Nissan dealer. It was a fair bit more expensive than I had been looking for, at £7995, but was a 2015 Tekna with just under 30,000 miles on the clock, 12 bars of battery health and a 12-month dealer warranty.

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At 100% charge, the display showed a range of 85 miles. The usable capacity of the battery was 22kWh, so that looked about right, assuming energy consumption of a little under 4mpkWh.

It had probably been used mainly for city driving and had been serviced by the dealer for the preceding several years. The interior was immaculate, with no wear and tear, and I doubted it had ever seen a rapid charger.

The deal was done using a Home Energy Scotland interest-free loan for EVs. The Leaf’s reputation for longevity goes before it, and with free road tax (while it lasts), sub-2p-per-mile fuel costs (falling to zero in the spring and summer) and negligible maintenance, I reckon that, in this case, full ownership of a used EV was a risk worth taking.

So what of my second and third mistakes? The Kia dealer from which I bought the e-Niro encouraged me to make a smaller deposit, but I didn’t listen. The car still owes me all that deposit, so is there a fix? Maybe.

It’s a great car, so I will extend the PCP for another 12 months to get the best out of the low payments that my hefty deposit bought, then maybe buy it outright with three years’ warranty still to run.

By then, more affordable EVs might have materialised and there will be many more used EVs on the market, so who knows what the future will bring?

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Top tips for buying a used electric car

1. Buying battery capacity that you will never use is a waste of money.

2. Aim for the latest model year that your budget can stand, because age is a factor with battery health.

3. Ask to view the car 100% charged and check the range readout. Bear in mind that a slightly shorter range than expected could be due to the way it has been driven.

4. Ask questions and check the car’s history to try to get a sense of how it has been used.

5. If all you need is a local runabout and you can charge it at home, you can pick up an electric ‘banger’ for less than £3500.

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Bar room lawyer 28 January 2024

I replaced a Mazda 3 with a Mazda MX30, bought 18 months old for £17,500 before part exchange. 123 mile projected range includes motorway use & I use it almost entirely on local runs, 4,000 miles annually, indicates an average 148 mile range. I charge it at home (7kW charger) once every 10 days or so.

Takes a minute to plug in, leave overnight & it charges as programmed between 0.30am and 4.30am @ 7.5p/kWh. Takes another minute to unplug it. 

Average energy usage over 16 months I have owned it is 3.85 miles per kWh = 1.95p/mile cost.

Clean, efficient and very low cost to run.

Electrohead 28 January 2024

Top tips for buying a used electric car

Just buy a Tesla :-)

Boris9119 26 January 2024

Remember that mobile phone you had in 2005 and how crap it was compared to the first iphone that launched just 2yrs later in 2007? Well buying an EV today is a similar situation, whatever EV you buy today will be utterly obsolete as a competitive proposition in say 4yrs. That is in contrast with ICE vehicles which are in a mature phase, and consequently the EV's of today will suffer massive depreciation compared to ICE equivalents. Caveat emptor!