EVs are now well and truly in the public eye. They’re clean, green and everyone knows that they’re on the way. You see them on TV and you maybe even see them in the streets. Three years ago you’d not have even entertained the idea of changing your gas-guzzler for something running off electricity, but now you’re starting to see the light. It’s time to change your car and while you’ve decided that you really want to go for a plug in you can’t afford the crippling car payment on a fancy new Tesla or you can’t wait until 2011, when most of the new wave of evs hit the market. You want an EV right away and despite your will to get down and dirty with a home conversion you know in your heart of hearts that the most technical you’ve got in the past was filling up the windscreen washer fluid. You can’t afford to pay someone to convert for you but you’re willing to spend some time learning about what makes EVs tick. Could a used EV be an option for you? How do you know that that second-hand EV you’re looking at is going to keep working and running for years to come? Let’s look at some of the common issues with second-hand EVs to help you spot which EVs are a good second-hand buy.
Today I’m going to deal with factory built EVs and commercially converted EVs – or ones which were converted by a specific conversion company in large numbers. In future parts of this article we’ll look at the third type of second-hand EVs – ones which have been previously converted by a hobbyist in their own shop or garage, as well as things to look for while test-driving all three types of used EVs.
Second Hand Factory Built EVs.
There have been lots of factory build EVs over the past twenty years or so. It may not seem like it, but if you take into account all the smaller NEVs (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) and town-based low-speed EVs there’s been a whole heap of EVs to have come to the market. Some are no-longer made, whilst others have experienced a long, if somewhat slow, continued production. (The Mini El / City El from yesterday’s post is an example of this.) When buying a used EV which was factory built there’s some questions which you’ll want to ask the seller before paying up and driving off.
- Is the vehicle, or a variant of it, still in production?
When looking for a really easy-to maintain EV you may find that a vehicle which is still in production will have a much better support structure than a vehicle which cased production six years ago. It’s unlikely with small scale ‘cottage industry’ EVs that the design has changed much, giving you a much more likely chance of keeping it in original specification and condition.
- Is the vehicle still under any manufacturer’s warranty?
Like any vehicle, a second-hand EV under warranty is going to be a good buy. Find out though what exact terms there are – some companies, such as Goingreen in the UK, have specific waranties for the G-Wiz battery packs, which are distinct from the warranty covering all other parts and bodywork.
- Does the manufacturer still provide servicing for the vehicle?
Buying a car which is still supported by a service plan (or servicing agreement) will make your life much better. Even if the vehicle is no longer in production (The Citroen Berlingo and Toyota RAV4 EV are examples) some dealers may still provide limited, if approved service for your vehicle. Be careful though, some dealers won’t want to work on a car which is no-longer made even if they are ‘meant’ to under the terms of their franchise. Parts are likely to be sky-high too, and as these vehicles get older the number of trained technicians who really understand and know your second-hand EV may diminish. Ask local owners who they recommend in this case.
- Can you still get replacement parts?
Having a second-hand EV which is technically still serviceable by the local franchised dealer does not always mean that you can buy replacement parts for them. Very often you will be told that replacement parts to not exist (especially as far as batteries are concerned) or that your only options are expensive ‘reconditioned’ or secondhand parts. Presumably second-hand parts are not going to last that long too, so you have to ask if it’s worth it.
- How “user replaceable” are the parts?
EVs are astonishingly simple to run and maintain. Factory-built EVs are very often not, using proprietary battery systems, controllers and complete custom drive trains. Keeping an unsupported factory-built EV on the road can often be more difficult than keeping a converted EV on the road, especially if companies who supplied the original parts are still tied in with exclusivity contracts, such as SAFT, the manufacturers of the batteries in the Citroen PSA vehicles.
While a factory-built EV may seem like a good choice for a second-hand car, it’s important to check that you won’t end up with an unsupported EV which, if and when it breaks down, will require expensive customization or parts to keep it going.
Second Hand Commercially Converted EVs.
Like factory-built EVs, vehicles which originally started off life as gas guzzlers, but which were converted en-masse by a conversion company often share the benefits of a factory-built EV, with bespoke controller and battery options in a familiar body shell. Probably one of the better known examples of a converted EV would be the Solectria Force, but many other examples can be found world-wide. Often converted immediately after rolling off the production line, these vehicles are very well converted and are highly sought after. However, like their factory-built EV counterparts, it’s important to check to see what level of service and spare parts are available. Parts will generally be standardized across a particular model, making it more likely to get parts easily and cheaply, provided the conversion company didn’t use too many proprietary systems. As with factory built used EVs, you’re likely to find a guru somewhere on the Internet willing to help offer advice and contacts to help you keep your vehicle on the road IF you’re willing to do the work yourself.
With a commercially converted EV you’re also going to have to bear in mind the following things:
- What warranties are in place. Who provides the warranties?
A corporate converted EV may have a complicated warranty heritage. A good example of this is the Citroen C1s which are converted by the ECC into the ‘Ev’ie’. While the car still holds a Citroen warranty on all bodywork and mechanical systems such as brakes and steering, the C1 Ev’ie has a different warranty from ECC plc, offering support for all drivetrain, battery and conversion related equipment. For most situations of commercially converted EVs you will find that an extensive and thorough warranty agreement will exist, detailing who is responsible for providing warranty to the separate parts of the vehicle. Ask before buying, as you may find that while a car may have a very long warranty as a conventional gas-powered car it’s warranties may be different when it’s been converted. Steer clear of conversions which have been done without the original manufacturer’s blessing, unless the conversion company have taken steps to provide an equally extensive third-party warranty.
- Will I be able to go to a regular dealer for the ‘donor’ car and get service, or will they refuse due to the electric conversion?
If your commercially converted EV is based on a Ford car, for example, it’s going to be useful to know that you can go to a Ford car for service of the original car components, such as brakes etc. Have a word with your local dealer and check that they’re happy dealing with a modified car. Most dealerships won’t have a problem, but some may do. If doing your own work doesn’t sound like fun you’ll need to make sure that you have a garage lined up to help with servicing who won’t freak out when your new ‘old’ Ford escort doesn’t have the regular gasoline engine but a 120V battery pack and Warp motor instead…
- Does the conversion company still exist?
If the company who converted the EV are still in business it’s a good sign. If the vehicle has been in production for many years, or the company now convert a different model of car then it shows that their products are respected and worth owning. It’s also a great way of keeping your vehicle on the road as you’ll be able to have direct contact with the folks who either deisgned or converted it. If possible, contact them to ask about service agreements, spare parts and warranties direct.
- What parts were used? Can you still get replacements?
As with any conversion, check to see what parts were used and why. If the conversion company used an obscure or no-longer made controller, battery type or motor then you may be in trouble. Where ever possible, look for vehicles with discrete, replaceable, off-the-shelf parts, especially if the conversion company is no-longer around. This holds true for factory-built EVs. A fully integrated controller with built-in charger, AC compressor and french fry chopper may look great on paper, but if one of the multiple units goes wrong can you replace it individually or do you face a very expensive repair bill for a proprietary part that no-one knows how to fix?
Keep looking for part two: Buying Second Hand EVs – Whose (brain)child is this?