The $25,000 Question: What’s The Best Used Budget EV?

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In a recent video, Out of Spec Reviews asked a $25,000 question: What’s the best used EV you can get for under 25 grand? Like all such questions, there’s a lot to think about. Everyone’s needs, tastes, and situation is different, and every used car is different (some are much better than others, even though they came out of the same factory).

With the new EV subsidies coming soon, used EVs that sell for under $25,000 will be eligible for $4,000 in rebates, which will make that category of used EVs a pretty hot market segment. So, it makes sense to start figuring out what the best models are, how to shop for them and not get hosed, and otherwise help readers and prospective buyers navigate this upcoming market segment.

After the embedded video, I’m going to give my take on this and invite readers to give me their thoughts.

What I Wouldn’t Recommend To Most Buyers

Right off the bat, there are some vehicles that we can rule out almost immediately for most buyers unless the car is going to be a second car that is only used for short range local driving (like the average American commute), and you have a place to charge the car up every single night.

This mostly applies to what we call “compliance cars.” These are cars with a range of under about 100 miles, and which usually lack DC fast charging. Not too many of these cars were made because manufacturers only built them to qualify for emissions credits or ZEV mandates. Even if you can live with and find such a car very useful, many of them are running out of warranty and you can’t get them repaired when the battery cells age out and fail, leading to a very big and heavy paperweight.

So, I don’t recommend those. They’re generally a bad gamble, and should only be considered if that’s all you can afford and you can afford to have it break on you and not get repaired. This rules out cars like the Ford Focus Electric, Chevy Spark EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, and to some extent the first generation Nissan LEAF for most people.

Next, let’s talk about the cheap used early Tesla Model S cars you can sometimes find in the $25,000 price range. These may seem like a great deal, but the earliest of these cars are out of battery warranty now. This means that as the cells age out and fail, you’ll be in for a very expensive fix. But, if you are able to keep some spare money around for a repair from Gruber Motors, these could be a good option.

Yes, Tesla will gladly replace a battery pack if you get cell failures in an out of warranty Model S. But, they’ll do that for $20,000 or more. For a $25,000 car, that makes almost zero sense unless you can get the car for dirt cheap. But, that doesn’t mean these cars are lost causes. Repair is possible for closer to $5,000. So, if you’ve got the means to come up with $5,000 to ship it to Phoenix and have them repair the car if it happens to you, a used Model S could be a good option. But, an older Model S is probably not a good candidate to be your only car that you can barely afford.

What Remains

This really only leaves a few cars left in the price range that I don’t give discouragement for above.

One car you may be surprised to hear me give as a viable sub-$25k option is the second generation Nissan LEAF. I wasn’t happy with mine, largely because it wasn’t the right car at all for my situation. When I bought it, I lived in Arizona. I kept it when I moved to New Mexico (near El Paso). Both of these places are in the desert and it gets hot in the desert. This makes the LEAF a bad option because the car lacks liquid cooling. This led to a lot more degradation that most owners have experienced, but it was still a lot less degraded than first-generation LEAFs.

For people who live in a cooler climate and who don’t need to use DC fast charging repeatedly on a road trip or for lots and lots of driving, a 40 kWh or 62 kWh LEAF gives plenty of range for most local and regional uses. It would make for a perfectly fine local commuter car with room for those unusual days and the ability to give it at least one rapid charge session for the most unusual driving days.

Another viable option would be two popular plugin hybrids. Both the early i3 REx cars and many Chevy Volts can be had for well under $25,000. These cars aren’t full EVs, but their battery range covers more than the average commute for most people. This means you’d only rarely use the range extender, and thus these cars would basically be an EV for most people. When I had a Volt, it once sat on empty for over three months because I just never needed to fuel it up. The battery covered my driving, but I could always fill it up and drive it across the country if I needed to.

Finally, there’s the used vehicle most people will recommend, and it’s pretty close to what I recently bought: the Chevy Bolt EV. These cars have great range, and they’ve all either got a new battery pack or will soon get one. Even before the fire recall, these cars saw very little degradation even after 200,000 miles of harsh driving and frequent DC fast charging. Why? Because GM has a fairly robust liquid coolant system that uses the air conditioning system to refrigerate the battery pack coolant. And now, even the oldest of Bolt EVs has a fresh battery pack with the clock started over on the 8-year warranty, so they’re really a steal.

The only downside to the Bolt EV and the Bolt EUVs that will qualify for these used tax credits is that they don’t rapid charge very fast. With a maximum charge rate of 55 kW (that they can consistently get over and over, unlike the LEAF), road trips are possible, but take longer than they would in a Tesla, VW ID.4, or other better EV. But, you won’t find those vehicles for under $25,000 any time soon.

Now, I know many readers will see things I missed here, and have some more ideas. So, I’m going to turn it over to you. Scroll down to the comments or reply on social media to tell me what you think I missed in my response to Out of Spec’s question. I’d really like to hear what our intelligent and cool readers (well, most of you) have to say on this.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1770 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba