Buying Second Hand EVs (Part III) Used, or Abused?

It’s been a long time coming, but here’s the third part in the mini series on buying a used EV. In parts one and two we looked at the things you need to bear in mind when buying commercially converted or built EVs second hand and the things to look for when buying a DIY conversion EV second-hand. In this article, we’ll look at the things you should check out when buying ANY used EV.

Before you leave:

Much like buying an internal combustion engined car second hand, you’ll need to do some research before you go and view the vehicle. Check on line to make yourself as familiar with the make and model of the vehicle. If it’s a DIY conversion then check with the vendor in advance to see what equipment is used on the vehicle. It will help you to prepare – enabling you to make sure you’ve researched any questions you should ask when viewing the vehicle. As with any second-hand vehicle, make sure you ask around owner’s club forums and the EV community to see if anyone has experience in the vehicle you’re looking at. For example, as a former City El owner I’m quite a good person to talk to if you’re buying a City El. (In fact, I’d be delighted to help offer my two years of driving City El experiences as advice)  For most major EVs out there you’ll find gurus willing to help.  For more generic conversions you may find that local EV enthusiasts may be willing to come along for the ride and a free beer. For some reason, DIY EV enthusiasts (ie, the people who like to convert cars to electric) like nothing more than coming along to pore over someone else’s handiwork.  It’s all part of the fun of doing your own conversion.

You’ll also want to have thought about all the silly little questions you should ask the seller. Write them down and don’t be afraid to use the list when you look at the car. Questions about the car’s history and past usage are essential as with any car. You’ll also need to ask extra questions about how the batteries have been looked after. Has the car been used for long trips down to 80% DOD, or has the car been meticulously kept, only ever discharging to 50% DOD with an immaculate charging record to boot?A clean engine bay means the car has been looked after

Before you leave to view the vehicle make sure you take the following:

  • An old set of clothes – something you won’t mind getting messy when you crawl around on the ground looking at the vehicle!
  • A Voltmeter. A calibrated one is handy, but very few people have the privilege of owning one. If, like me, you don’t have a calibrated voltmeter then a voltmeter you trust is a must. Buying one on the way isn’t the way to do it as you won’t know for sure if it’s readings can be trusted.
  • A pair of stout gloves, or disposable examination gloves – these are useful to wear when inspecting the underneath of the car or any grubby bits. Since EVs have very few grubby bits you won’t have to wear these for long!
  • High Voltage Gloves – These aren’t essential, but if you can get hold of a pair, a set of lineman’s gloves are nice-to-have items when you’re looking at someone else’s DIY converted car. Don’t turn up wearing them though and you shouldn’t need to worry about them with commercially converted or built vehicles.
  • Your list of questions! (see above)


At First Sight.


Stand back from your potential purchase and give it a once-over. Your initial visual inspection will give you clues to what to expect in the test drive. Look inside and out first. If the car doesn’t pass muster at this stage you’ll save yourself a messy crawl on the ground.


  • From a distance.

Check the car out from a distance. Does it sit squarely on the road? Is the front higher than the back? With conversions it’s often a sign that the vehicle hasn’t been properly converted or that the battery pack is not evenly balanced. This can lead to fussy road manners and a poor ride quality. Alternatively it could show failing or weak suspension. Nearly every car-based EV conversion should have some form of strengthened spring work to take the extra weight of batteries.

Look for visible body work blemishes. A ratty, rusty looking exterior may tell you to walk away if it’s accompanied with a poorly kept interior and engine bay. A well converted DIY car should show the owner’s pride. A cleanly kept OEM EV shows that it’s well looked after. Be wary though of cars with that ‘just washed’ look. Wet bodywork can hide a multitude of sins.

Also keep your eyes open for any EVs with the ‘under a hedge’ look. These will often have moss or mould growing around the window sill and quite obviously, look as if they’ve just been rescued from someone’s front yard. If it looks like the EV hasn’t been driven recently then you’re probably right – it won’t have been. Like any car, one which has been sat for a while will no doubt have more problems post purchase than one which is regularly used. Brakes, transmissions, batteries and motors like to be used, not left standing.

  • Inside 

Check inside the car. The inside should be of a good state of repair. Obviously, as with exterior bodywork, allowances should be made according to the vehicle’s age. If the inside of the car is criss-crossed with strange gauges stuck to the dash with blu-tac or wires coming out of every orifice then you need to ask the owner what the purpose of each wire is.  Disorganized wiring tells a story of a disorganized build.

Any additional gauges and displays found due to a conversion (or ones which are  different in an OEM built EV to a petrol one) should be clearly labeled. The owner should be able to explain what they do. Pieces of paper stuck onto the dash operating as a speedometer for example, doesn’t show that much in the way of care to detail.

Any DIY converted EVs should have some form of circuit diagram with them. If the owner hasn’t got one then don’t feel afraid to ask for one to be made up. It may seem like overkill, but if you end up buying the car you’ll be grateful of a circuit diagram if you ever need to do any maintenance on the vehicle.

When you’re inside the car make sure you have a good sniff of the interior. I don’t mean sniffing seats here, but noting the aroma inside. A strong electrical smell is bad, as are any whiffs of burning rubber, strange gasses, or ‘rotten eggs’.

Also be very wary of cars which have batteries clearly visible inside the passenger compartment. Batteries should be securely fastened down outside of the passenger area. Batteries placed under the rear seat or in the luggage area are acceptable, provided they’re correctly secured and have a suitable cover on them.

I personally like an EV to look like a regular car inside. This means any additional wiring should be neatly ran, preferably under the carpet. Any additional gauges should be sensitively placed and the vehicle should look as close to ‘stock condition’ as possible. This is a very personal opinion though – if strange wires and dials don’t scare you in the cabin then carry on!

  • The ‘engine’ bay

Look under the bonnet (hood). Check to see how the car is wired. All wiring should be neat and tidy and be of good condition. A clean engine bay shows that the vehicle has been looked after. Look for evidence of burnt wiring (melted rubber on the cables) and look carefully at any battery terminals. They should be free from corrosion and will very often have a thin layer of petroleum jelly to protect them. Any connections between wires and components should be tight and clean.

Look at the batteries themselves. If lead acid, look for signs of gassing. White deposits around the battery tops is a telltale sign of overcharging. If possible, check electrolyte levels on any batteries and, using the voltmeter, check the voltage of each battery in turn.  Ideally, the batteries should be within 0.2 Volts of each other. Any large variance in voltage between batteries indicates an unbalanced pack – this can be caused by many things but often ends up in you having to fork out money for new batteries – a fact which can give you a discount on the asking price if you’re so inclinded. Wearing your lineman’s gloves check the entire pack voltage. Does the pack voltage match the sum of all of the batteries you’ve just checked? Any drop in voltage between the two indicates poor connections or high resistance in the cabling. Both of which loose energy and can, in extreme cases, melt wires and start fires.

Check the motor. If it’s a brushed motor, when were the brushes last replaced? Has it been serviced recently? Does it have appropriate cooling? While electric motors don’t need the same cooling as an internal combustion engine, larger EV motors will require either water, oil or air cooling when they are used in high power applications.

  • Underneath.

 Are things clean and free from rust? Check to make sure there’s no holes in strange places and that the car’s under body is both structurally and mechanically sound.  Inspect suspension components for play and signs of wear. Some budget EV conversions neglect to replace the stock suspension for uprated parts and as a consequence suspension can fail very quickly.

If the car has a body pan underneath which has been fitted to lower drag, make sure it fits properly and is not loose in any way.


Now you’ve checked out your car it’s time to do the driving. Part four will deal with the things you should bear in mind when test driving that used EV you want to buy.