The Nissan Leaf you’ll someday trade in. Courtesy Nissan.
Al Castro's picture

Why it Still Makes Sense to Buy A Cheap Used Electric Car Like a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Bolt

ANALYSIS AND OPINION: This is an ongoing mini-series of reports themed “life after Leaf,” where I take a look at what happens when you turn in the keys of a firsthand used BEV like Nissan Leaf after a brand new lease or purchase, to wonder what happens to the car thereafter. There’s such a plentiful amount of them that many will not see a long life, but in this report we take a look at why it makes sense to still buy a cheap used all electric car.
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In my past few years of intensive research on electric and autonomous vehicles, one of the things I learned from the electric car industry 100 years ago, is that electric car drivers mostly leased their BEVs back then, as fewer were an actual purchase. This is in fact where the gasoline auto industry that drove the electric one out of business got their leasing business model from. No one wanted to take a risk with the batteries going defective even with a warranty.

Why Lease New v. New Purchase

This is one of the reasons why I’m still an advocate of new car leasing with BEVs as opposed to purchase. I also bring in my BMW experience of having an extended full coverage warranty and having something electrically wrong with the car, but the dealer not able to fully recognize the problem, thus initially unable or unwilling to somehow fix it. The service manager told me had I leased the car they simply would have swapped. Fortunately there was a positive outcome in my situation, but it easily could have been a bad one. This experience was with a gas car, I could only imagine what problems could lay of electrical nature with an electrical car. So I tell my readers please, do yourself a favor, lease a brand new BEV, don’t purchase if you can help it.

Another reason you want to go lease rather buy: as long as there are tax incentives on these vehicles, their resale values will always be worthless at trade-in, in fact forever for those cars, unless market conditions change, and you’ll never know until then. The incentives which got you to purchase will be factored in at resale or trade in. When you lease however, the incentive is used as a reduction of the monthly payment. If you are the kind of person that likes to trade in their cars every so many months or years, then you are going to go through a tremendous cyclical process of making up for the lost value of the previous car, every time you sign and drive with the new one. It’s a big money drain. This will change when we ever get to that point when these cars become much cheaper, where they’re heading toward presently, and we give up finally on the tax incentives.

Why Buy Older BEVs

To every rule there’s an exception, and again, that exception are Teslas, as a late model used one at a good deal is truly hard to find. For now. And here’s another exception: a really cheap relatively late model BEV that already has been on the road to prove itself and its reliability, and when offered at a really compelling, grand theft auto-like price. This makes contemplating electric car ownership truly hard to resist, especially when you consider you won’t be paying anything for gas, and hardly anything for electricity, especially when it’s coming out of your socket. This can seal the deal when doing a fuel cost comparison. The ranges on older BEVs may not be a selling point especially if you do long distance driving, but for a teenager, a young adult, a senior, or someone who just drives locally, a older BEV might be the right fit for the right kind of lifestyle with right kind of vehicle. If you mostly do local, this kind of vehicle is for you.

This situation is ideal if you are a high school or college student, the parent or grandparent, or aunt/uncle of a high school or college student, a young adult starting out on your own with a very tight budget, a senior who’s still self sufficient living on fixed income, or just unsure if an electric car is for you, to either use the car as a daily driver to get a feel, and/or then give it to a young adult child and witness what they go through to see if the BEV thing is for you. A BEV like a late model used Nissan Leaf or a late model or an older Chevy Bolt all electric is the perfect car for these kinds of circumstances. There’s also the safety aspects. I like to bring up the Colorado kids who survived that horrific multi roll-over pre-Christmas crash in a Model X and survived.

The Safety Factor

This is what also makes buying an older BEV more compelling than an older gas car purchase. Because these electric vehicles are presently cheaper than gas ones, some way cheaper, and this ensures your young adult son or daughter and their friends, will have a fighting chance in the ER God forbid they get into a crash, because for the same amount of money as a older gasoline car that has fewer safety features, there’s a greater chance that older BEV has the latest safety technology like:

  • Because the batteries have to be isolated whether they are in a tray or not, extra precautions are taken in the safety designs of electric cars.
  • A gas car is more likely to be vulnerable to a car fire than an electric car is.
  • A fuel tank is more dangerous than a battery pack will ever be. This is a fact.
  • Passive emergency braking that will avoid a crash to begin with.
  • For some models, valet mode, teenage insurance that ensures only you will be able to kill your teenaged son or daughter, and not the outrageous torque of an electric car!
  • For some models, teenager pre-crash assist when the car recognizes it ain’t gonna make it to sacrifice itself for your teenager, by quickly and simultaneously as if it were in a kamikaze dance to its death, by rolling up the windows and sunroof, uprighting all front passenger seats, shutting off the radio, tensioning the seatbelts, and getting your youngster’s car ready within milliseconds of a crash by deploying the airbags.
  • Subscribing to a roadside service for an older Bolt like GM’s Onstar would help young adults get help faster for things like a dead BEV battery, a tire only you and I know how to change, or for a serious crash. This as opposed to a cell phone they forget to recharge, let alone forgetting to plug in their BEV. Parents at any age never have it easy!
  • Front and side curtain airbags.
  • Antilock brakes and regenerative braking that makes the braking process easier and money saving.
  • A heavy battery tray that helps keep the car planted for better handling dynamics and inhibits roll-overs.
  • Stability control when the driver drives over his head.
  • Traction control for wet and freezing weather, or also when the youngster drives over his head.
  • For some models, all wheel drive.
  • Neon and LED exterior lighting that lasts longer, is more reliable, and more brighter to see the road at night better.
  • Speed control to reduce fatigue for night and long distance driving, and keep a youngster out of the hands of a trooper using a lidar or radar gun.
  • Shop around for insurance: underwriters are now willing to give discounts for electric vehicles now that they see the savings and advantages, and for these safety features.

Some of you have a concern as to whether a Tesla makes for a good vehicle for young adults. As I addressed this in the comments section to my Model X Colorado crash article on social media, if Bentley made a 16 cylinder car that was recognized as the fastest but the safest car in the world, and I had the money to buy one, my young son or daughter would be driving in one even as their first vehicle. I feel the same way about the present S Class sedan. There is no safer car in the world you’d want to have, that your son or daughter would have a fighting chance in the Emergency Room as you sit there, wondering if they’re going to make it, and after all the sh*t you’ve been through with them since they were born, that they made it thus far. I should know. I’ve literally seen older parents go through this for myself in the ER! This all said or written, I’d ensure the car was activated in valet mode at all times while my son or daughter were driving the car, especially for performance models. I might do it for myself as well, as I need to at times keep myself in check!

What Next?

Buying a used cheap full electric car almost guarantees that the next owner will have a good chance of not having any majors repairs beyond the tires, brakes, climate control, and suspension if these parts are checked carefully, and all that needs monitoring is the electrical system, particularly the battery for its charging cycle condition and present longevity. There are already experts out there who can help you with these issues when making BEV purchases, you just have to find them.

In my upcoming reports I’ll show you that there are already aftermarket startup businesses that already are anticipating the BEV market 10 years from now, when you’ll be able to keep your present Nissan Leaf for decades as opposed to years, to upgrade the battery to a new one, for fresh brand new car range, and eventually to a bigger after market battery for an even longer range, something never thought possible with the present Leaf or Bolt or even iPace. AND you’ll be able to do it for pennies on the dollar. All coming up in future reports.

You see, there is life after Leaf with that paltry range that Nissan gave you. Once you’re free of the warranty, the dynamic is about the soon coming endless resources of options and possibilities of what you can do to your paltry ranged BEV, to make it more customized to fit your particular needs, and save you the kind of money you deserve, whether you keep the same car for years, in soon enough time for decades, or whether you’re taking an older one off someone else’s hands. That’s “life after Leaf!” Stay tuned for more!

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Photos are from Nissan Media. Images are published here and all under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, and news reporting.

UPDATED NOTICE: I am so grateful that my publisher allows me the generous privilege within reason to express my opinions about matters related to the auto industry. I try to be judicious and respectful about the content. I ask you do the same in the comments section by refraining from inappropriate language and content. Please be nice, there’s no reason to get nasty, this is only about cars. The irony is if you came up on me on the street to recognize me I’d grab a beer with you and we’d talk about cars for me to thank you for being a reader! I may disagree but I truly do love you all, I’d take a bullet for many of you. And please keep in mind that the opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of Hareyan Publishing or its employees, including my staff colleagues.

Al Castro is a security expert and a retired LEO who is a staff and opinion piece writer on electric and autonomous vehicles for Torque News.

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Comments

A cheap used Bolt: I'd love to find one! I did however pay $15000 in March 2018 for my used 2014 electric BMW i3 with range extender. Considering its original sticker price was about $50000, I thought it was a fantastic deal.
Sean I’ll tell you, the problem with Bolt is unlike what it is with a Tesla: A used Tesla in decent shape is a hot commodity on the used car market that in the scheme of things they’re rare for now. With Bolt there’s so few of them ever made so far, you need to expand your search in different ways. Only about 20,000 +/- cars are made of those each year. I beg you to keep looking. An older Bolt is a great car like I wrote about in certain situations. Still consider it.
The Bolt has only been made for 2 years. So there are no "older" Bolts. The first year was the 2017 model, there are only 2017 or 2018 Bolts.
Good ideas Al. The Bolt is still too new and capable to have prices drop, but the lower range BEVs have really dropped off in price, and you make good points that these BEVs are virtually new cars being sold for the price of a high mileage gas beater. And being that they were $35K-$55K new cars a few years ago they include a great many modern safety features and amenities that you would not find on a comparably priced 10 year old gas economy car. So for a city car or student runabout, older BEVs can be a smart alternative.
Thanks. Dean I didnt write about it, but a plugin like Volt would also make an excellent vehicle under these circumstances as well, although battery life would become an issue. But with these new battery tray services, there’s now less to worry about with tiny batteries, especially when they get old more quickly.
Actually the battery life on my 3 Volts increased slightly over time. However I have seen degrading batteries with friend's Leafs, but they were air cooled. One nice part of PHEVs as used cars is that for many of them the gas engine was barely used, and mostly just for long trips. (I averaged 171MPG in one of my Volts) So 4 years driving in a PHEV is equivalent to the wear of just one year of a conventional gas engined car (for those of us who drove mostly in EV mode). And the regenerative braking meant that the brakes were nearly new too after thousands of miles driven.