Electric cars have evolved a lot in recent years. Less expensive new models are now available and once-expensive luxury models are becoming affordable as pre-owned cars.

On top of that, changes to EV tax credits have expanded the vehicles that are eligible for federal incentives. One of the more exciting things is that used EVs are now eligible for up to $4,000 in tax credits — likely as a point-of-sale rebate starting in 2024. (That means an immediate discount on the sale price!)

This is great news in terms of overall EV adoption, since most of the cars on the road in the US are used. New EVs are still also quite expensive compared to ICE vehicles, so incentivizing the purchase of used EVs opens the market to a new group of drivers. 

However, all things in life come with pros and cons, and the EV credits are no different. In order to qualify for the incentives, used EVs must be priced below $25K, which is a very restrictive price cap. Today only around 17% of Q3 sales fell below that threshold.

National used EV price trends

While we predict the market (and dealerships!) will respond to credits by pricing more used EVs under $25K, we’re going to dive into what life looks like with an inexpensive EV. Who can take advantage of owning a “cheap” electric car, and what do you need to be happy with one.

The first mass-market EV, the Nissan LEAF, was released in the US in 2011. We have a lot to say about this groundbreaking car, but the takeaway for us is that practically all used EVs are less than a decade old. That means they are all safe and modern, with many of the amenities you’d expect.

The only downside? Range. 

Early EVs were range limited when they were new, and the natural battery aging process further limits how far a full charge will get you. However, depending on your needs, a limited range may be fine. 

Inexpensive, Fully Electric Options

  • Early model Nissan LEAF (2011 to 2017) is under $15,000 with a range of 60 - 100 miles on full charge.
  • Fiat 500e (2014 - 2018) is under $20,000 with a range of 60 - 85 miles.
  • VW e-Golf (2015 or 2016) is around $20K with a range of 70-85 miles.
  • BMW i3 (2014 or 2015) is around $20,000 with a range of 65- 80 miles.
  • A 2017 Chevy Bolt is rare so definitely grab this if you see one under $20,000. Bolts generally have the cheapest cost per range mile, especially since they have all had their batteries replaced under the recall

Who will be happy with an affordable EV? 

Matching the person with the car is especially important when we're talking about limited range. Here are several tips.

1. Predictable Driving

Driving one of the above EVs means your range will be modest. However, if you have a steady, reliable commute, it is very do-able and will not seem like a compromise. For instance, if you live 10-20 miles from work or school, as many people do, you can be easily content with one of the EVs above. 

2. Home and/or Work Charging

Do you live in a place with easy home and work charging? If so, a limited range is very easy to handle. You can wake up to a fully charged car, and then plug in when you get to work or school. This is particularly useful for students or teachers, since schools often have ample charging stations. 

Alternatively, if you plan to run errands or commute in a town with ample public charging, a cheap EV may also work well. You can plug in and top off frequently, ensuring that you get the most of the range you do have. Should unexpected errands arise, you’re never far from a plug. Check out public charging options with an app like PlugShare. 

3. Willing to Trade Time for Money

This one is closely related to charging. With a limited range, you can expect to charge your car frequently. Luckily, if you’re able to do it at home or school, it should be relatively inexpensive to fill up. 

The other perk is that with a smaller, less expensive EV battery, fill up times are quicker than with new, large-capacity batteries. 

4. Goldilocks Weather

Since both temperature extremes reduce short term range, you’ll want to live somewhere that doesn’t see a lot of very hot highs or very low cold temperatures. Notably, cold weather will reduce range more dramatically than hot weather, especially in older EVs that may not have things like heat pumps or robust preconditioning aps. 

Other things to consider are your terrain and where you drive. Very hilly roads can impact expected range, as can highway driving. The ideal for an inexpensive EV is a fairly flat city or town. 

5. Do you have another option?

Many of the drivers who are happy with their cheap EVs have a gas car for whenever longer trips are needed. These drivers frequently use their short-range EVs for commutes or errands, and save their gas cars for road trips, weekend adventures, and mountain excursions. 

We have also heard from many drivers who took the money they save driving an inexpensive EV and use it for occasional car rentals. The fuel savings with an EV contribute to the rental budget, too.

Finally, we have been hearing more and more about people buying inexpensive, older EVs and saving up for a battery replacement

Replacement battery pack in a specialty shop

Since there are so few moving parts in an EV, there is limited mechanical wear, and with a new battery, an older car can be given a totally new lease on life. Specialty shops can help turn your $10K clunker into a new-ish $20K car. This option has been particularly popular with the long wait times for new EVs. However, if you want to go this route, we suggest finding a shop that can help you with the battery replacement first, determining the price and how long you may have to wait to find a battery upgrade. 

Who fits these profiles?

  • High school or college students who live in a home with charging and have charging at school
  • Someone who needs a weekly commuter car and has access to charging at work
  • Retiree who wants to run errands and have a low maintenance, safe ride

If you’re in the market for an inexpensive used EV, make sure to do your research. Use Recurrent Range Score to get the most information about a car before you buy, and make sure to get ongoing reports to keep an eye on your range.