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We’re Thinking of Buying a Used EV

It’s really interesting that in the last 10 years or so EVs have managed to become more and more mainstream, and yet, the infrastructure, the cars themselves, and the understanding of how electric cars will fit into our lives are still needing a ton of development.

The idea of owning an electric car is often heralded as an environmentally conscious choice, not something that you would do because the technology is advantageous in some way.

But the reality is that EVs are not hand over fist better for the environment during the first 5 years or so of an Electric vehicle’s life, and the technology while vastly superior in many ways still comes with its trade-offs.

This probably explains why so many people haven’t taken the leap just yet. So why are we considering buying one then?

About 2 weeks ago my partner and I decided to take a road trip from our home in Aurora, CO, to Chicago Illinois… using an electric vehicle.

The idea was that we wanted to get a firmer understanding of the technology and its inherent trade-offs. What better way to do this than with a road trip?

The main thing that we learned after taking the trip was that it was easy.

Was it quite as convenient as if we had driven a combustible engine vehicle? Surely not. But it wasn’t as far off as we thought it would be. And this was in the absolutely worst-case scenario for electric vehicle technology: long-distance driving.

Before getting into the details though, it has to be said that the car we rented for this test was the Tesla Model 3.

The reason this is important to state, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that the Model 3 is a car that, like all Tesla cars, has access to the Tesla Super Charger network, meaning that we rarely had to spend more than 15 – 20 minutes charging our car, and never had anxiety about not having fast-chargers available during our journey.

That makes a really big difference when you’re on a road trip.

Not having to stop and charge for 3 hours when you’re planning an 8-hour drive saves a lot of frustration in addition to time.

But as nice as the Tesla Model 3 was, and it was nice, we just can’t loop our heads around making a car purchase in that price range, no matter how much we would enjoy the car.

The Model 3 starts at around $32,000 for a used model, and while it may qualify for tax incentives still (albeit lower than new-EV tax incentives), we would still likely end up with a monthly payment of over $600 per month for the loan payment alone.

This doesn’t include insurance, maintenance, or charging, registration, parking, and other miscellaneous car-ownership costs. The true cost of ownership for this vehicle would be much higher.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not a big fan of padding your monthly expenses just to get from point A to B, especially when you already have a car that’s paid off and perfectly capable of doing just that.

So, the Tesla Model 3 is out of the equation for us, but we’re still interested in seeing what our options are.

And that’s when we came across the idea of buying an older, low-range EV such as a used Nissan Leaf, Chevy Spark, or Fiat 500e, all of which are affordable economy vehicles that would be horrible for road trips to Chicago, but would more than meet our daily driving needs given that we have a garage where we can recharge them regularly.

But here’s the thing, even when taking into account the massive savings that this kind of vehicle offers over a new long-range EV, we’re still not exactly well-off.

I’ve been a struggling freelancer for a couple of years now, and while I’m not exactly a failing freelancer, I still have a ways to go to get to an income level that would be able to support myself fully if I were still single and renting my housing.

My partner, while generally in a much better position than myself, has had his share of financial struggles as well. We’re not food insecure, and we’re not at risk of homelessness. The lights stay on, and the bills get paid. But we’re not really in the position to take on any more debt without risking some of those other things.

So even buying an old, low-range, cheap EV, we’d really need to make sure the numbers work for us.

Here’s what we’re thinking the breakdown will look like:

Line ItemNotesAmount
Used Electric VehicleOur (prudent) budget for buying an EV. -10,000.00
Used EV Tax Credit – Federal33% of vehicle price, up to $4,000.3,333.33
Current Vehicle Sale/Trade-InWe’re estimated to get between $3k and $3.5k for our current 2007 hybrid vehicle according to Kelly Blue Book.3,000.00
Utility Company Electric Vehicle Incentive RebateThis is not a given. We will have to apply. However, we’re hoping this will pan out. We’ve included a ranged total below in case it doesn’t.3,000.00
TaxesAs part of Colorado State electric vehicle incentives, no sales tax is charged on used EV purchases.0.00
Fees & RegistrationWe’re expecting our total registration cost to be at or below $500.-500
Total$500 – $3,500
As you can see, above, if we stay in the $10,000 range, even two broke blokes like us might be able to afford to switch to an EV at a modest price.

But we still have a lot of questions. Will an EV really work out for us? Will we miss the ability to drive longer ranges? Will we really save that much money in gas? Should we consider keeping our current Combustion Engine Vehicle?

Long-Range Journeys and Range Anxiety

The reality is that with our current car, we’re really not comfortable taking it for long distances anyway, given its age and mileage. If we’re going further than an hour’s drive somewhere we will typically rent a car for the journey, or just fly. Heck, we’ve even taken Amtrack just for the fun of it.

Fuel/Electricity Costs

We’re currently living in a home that has its very own garage, which gives us the ability to charge ourselves fully every night, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll save money on energy costs per se, right? Well, luckily for us, we’ll actually be able to charge on our neighbor’s dime since our garage is metered to the community HOA.

I would normally feel bad about doing such a thing if it weren’t for the fact that missing a single HOA payment about 18 months ago resulted in our HOA charging us $18,000 in late fees. No, I’m not kidding, and yes this really happened. They also tried to foreclose on our house and would’ve successfully done so if my partner hadn’t filed for bankruptcy.

I’m not a believer in simplistic morality, but HOA’s are truly evil, so we’ll gladly reduce our energy cost on their dime if we can get away with it.

By the way, if you’re not aware of how out of hand HOAs can get with this kind of stuff, I highly recommend checking out the Last Week Tonight episode covering them. The way they rack up fees and foreclose on people was very representative of the situation we were in.

Should We Keep Our Traditional Car?

This is something we’re considering doing, at least until we get the hang of having an EV and are able to verify that it is indeed working with us for our lifestyle. However, given that we use our CEV in the way I’m expecting we’d use our EV, I’m thinking it will likely be a non-issue.

Final Thoughts

Time will tell what we end up doing, I suppose. But we are test-driving a Fiat 500e tomorrow and I’m really excited to see it. The car is beautiful, honestly, and would save us some much-needed space in our garage. If it works out for us, I’ll be ecstatic and may even drive a bit more often than I currently do.

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I'm a writer, designer, audio producer and video editor all wrapped up into one.