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B.C. is about to be flooded with used EVs. Here’s what to know before you buy

Buying a used electric vehicle is a little different from buying an internal combustion engine car.
A $25,000 price point is more than the typical gas-powered used car people buy, but represents the "sweet spot" where buyerscan really justify going to an EV and saving fuel, said Rysam McIver, general manager at Westwood Honda in Port Moody. JASON PAYNE, PNG ***TC USE ONLY***

VANCOUVER — The supply-chain dam that held back new-car production during the pandemic seems to have burst — and the market is getting flooded with used cars, including sought-after electric vehicles.

Many of the more than 60 new EV models that manufacturers are releasing to meet government mandates, including B.C.’s Zero-Emission Vehicles Act, are becoming available within a couple of months. And all the signs are that existing EV owners are trading up.

The used market “is getting a little bit flooded right now,” said Sean Thompson, a mechanic and partner in Factor E Motors, a Vancouver repair shop specializing in Teslas. “The price in March — definitely you can start to see some down trend.”

Before jumping on the hundreds of used listings on popular platforms such as AutoTrader, seasoned EV owners and experts advise buyers to familiarize themselves with a research checklist specific to battery power when evaluating a purchase.

New EVs can run from $45,000 to more than $100,000, notwithstanding federal and provincial incentives and rebates that subsidize up to $9,000 of a purchase price. Used buyers can find deals in the range of $25,000 to $35,000.

That $25,000 price is more than the typical gas-powered used car people buy, but represents the “sweet spot” where they can really justify going to an EV and saving fuel, said Rysam McIver, general manager at Westwood Honda in Port Moody.

Decide what you need first

Before jumping at what seems like a good deal on price, used EV buyers should know what they need, said Bob Porter, president of the pro-EV Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. “Do you want to use it for driving just back and forth to work, or going to the mall?”

Some models, such as older Nissan Leaf options that have a range for shorter commutes, might not make sense if you need to regularly make a longer drive, such as Squamish to Vancouver, or any cross-country road trips better suited to newer models that have a range of more than 300 kilometres.

“And of course, what are you going to do about charging, that’s the other big issue,” Porter added. Home charging is the most convenient option, but buyers who can’t do it need to know about the nearby charging infrastructure.

Online and app-based lists, such as ChargeHub, PlugShare and EV Connect Canada are helpful to find charging stations that are convenient, but as Porter says, they are not advertised by a sign “you can see a mile away.”

Get a vehicle history report

Carfax is the most well-known name, but just the same as with gas-powered cars, it’s important to get that certainty about an EV’s origins, mileage history, and whether it’s been in an accident and what repairs have been done.

“[You] don’t want to find out the car came from Quebec and there’s no mileage report,” Porter said. “It’s one more little detail that gives people a little more confidence in what you’re buying.”

Check the battery’s health

Investigate more than just what percentage a battery can still charge to, according to Thompson, because batteries degrade slowly. Purchasers will want to check the internal integrity of battery packs after checking their range.

“We scan for [battery health] and pull data,” Thompson said. “Really, what we want to see as technicians is however many cells in a battery, we want to make sure that they’re balanced — no obvious faults.” He said this is something buyers will need a technician to examine during an inspection.

Warranties of at least eight years or 160,000 kilometres are fairly standard, but Thompson said buyers should check themselves during a test drive whether the battery will start to charge at a charging station. For the Chevrolet Bolt in particular, many models from 2017 to 2019, then 2020 to 2022 were subject to battery-swap recalls.

Check the EV computer

Thompson said the computer step is equally as important because on EVs — such as Teslas — they control almost everything the car does, unlike the modules in gas-powered autos.

“There is a shelf life to most computers,” Thompson added. “So you want to check the health and speed of that computer, just like you would if you’re buying a used laptop from somebody.”

That means making sure firmware and software are up to date and can be updated, Thompson said. A computer that hasn’t been updated for a while can be a red flag that an auto’s been tampered with.

Inspect physical components

A vehicle inspection can confirm the wear on an EV’s motor, drive train, tires and everything else that Thompson said might be more expensive to repair on an electric model.

“I would just recommend you make sure you get your suspension, brakes and all your traditional car [components] checked out to make sure there’s no fail points,” Thompson said.

How an EV has been used is more important than mileage on that front, Thompson said. EVs used for ride-hailing services, for instance, “get absolutely beaten up, and those are the ones you really want to avoid as a customer.”

Buyers should also check steering components on older vehicles, says veteran EV owner and Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association executive member Bruce Stout.

“People start cranking the steering wheel without moving,” Stout said. “After a while that causes wear on the steering gear. Those would be the main things I look for.”

Seek advice

Stout said existing EV owners can be an invaluable resource and touted VEVA meetings held every Tuesday and by Zoom on Saturday mornings. (There are EV groups in communities around the province. In Victoria, it’s the Victoria Electric Vehicle Association.)

“You’ll have a whole series of people that already drive electric vehicles who can tell you some of the pitfalls and some of the things to watch out for on a particular EV,” Stout said. “That’s really important because we don’t have anything to sell and we’ll give you advice for free.”