If you are like me, you would consider buying an electric vehicle (EV), but the price of a new one is just not in the cards. You like the low cost of operation, but not the price of a new vehicle.
So we share the desire to save money and own an EV. So let me share how we purchased a 2014 Nissan Leaf S with 35K for $6750 in November 2017, a 2012 Chevrolet Volt Premium with 112K for $6,200 in March 2018, and then sold our last gas car in May 2018.
Why The Leaf?
Research, Research, Research. We did a lot of research. You can study on the web, or reach out to any EV club and begin discussing your thoughts and needs. EV club members can share their stories, and give you insight and questions to help determine which car is for you. I do not think a dealer is a good place to go for accurate information — yet.
We wanted an all electric commuter car with enough range to get us to and from work for the next 3-5 years. By then more cars and battery options will be available to get another car or extend this one. We wanted 35 miles a day. The Nissan Leaf fit the bill nicely. We learned the models prior to 2013 had battery issues in hot climates like Florida. The 2013 was the oldest car with a reasonable battery. The older the car, the lower the price — something we needed. We searched cars.com and craigslist daily to get a sense for the condition and pricing of our target cars until we settled in on a target of about 7K for a Leaf S with about 35-45K miles with 11 of 12 battery strength bars.
The Leaf did not get a battery heating/cooling system until 2018 (for a power price), but in Florida this causes battery degradation. It was not likely to lose 50% capacity over the 3-5 years we wanted the car. The 2013 has 83 miles on the full 12 bars of battery capacity, so even at one half we are still good. By then, technology and pricing should allow for other options to fix or get another car. This is a commuter car, so we would use our gas car if we wanted to go on a long trip. In October 2017, the 2013 used Leaf S provided the lowest priced used EV which became our target car.
How We Bought The Leaf
We search cars.com and craiglist to record and visit any potentially good cars. Owners of a private sale are good because you can get a feel for how they took care of the car and what maintenance was done. If you and the seller agree on a target price, run a carfax.com on the VIN# and/or take the care into a dealership for a complete checkup. You can agree in advance to lower the price of the car by the dollar amount of repairs needed. If you like the car after all this, buy it.
Private sales are fairly easy. Cash or cashiers checks work well for fast transactions. We did cash. Have them sign over the paper title and both of you fill out a bill of sale (Google it for your state). Call your insurance to get the car covered, then go to the Department Of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to do the tax, title, and registration. You can even do the entire transaction at the DMV to be sure it is all good before literally handing over the cash.
A dealer sale is even easier, but you will pay about $850 more in dealer fees (in Florida). We prefer the private sales, but the dealers are easier.
We were about to buy a 2013 Leaf from a dealer, when we saw a 2014 on craigslist with 35K for $7,500. We targeted 7K for the car, got the cash, and visited the owner to see the car. It was well cared for, but it was their last car and their family of 3 kids was moving out of the country in 2 weeks. He had an electronic title and it was the weekend. The electronic title requires both parties to go to the DMV to complete the transaction. We agreed on 7K, put money down on it, and wrote up an agreement to buy the car at a DMV a few days before they were to leave the US. The owner later discounted the car to $6,750 to pay for the rental car he did not have to rent. The DMV transaction was smooth and efficient. If you always treat the seller and the DMV with respect and understanding, you will get the best results. Be honest, share with the buyer your situation and needs. Listen and empathize with their situation and needs. Try to meet between both of your needs and theirs. Help each other to achieve both your goals.
Why The Volt?
About 4 months after buying the Leaf, we were completely hooked on driving electric. Owning a gas car seemed to be more and more silly over time. All the additional costs of maintaining a late model gas car compared to an EV was becoming very obvious. In fact, just to be absurd, try to sell a gas car to an EV owner. They would say, why would I buy something with so many moving parts that is so expensive to operate and maintain? Are you nuts?
In talking with members of our local EV club, it appeared that a first generation Chevy Volt was a good fit for our long distance needs. It drives like a pure EV for the first 35 to 40 miles (depending on how you drive), and then a gas generator kicks in for the next 350 miles (Range Extended EV). It has less moving parts than a gas car, but more than a pure EV (like our Leaf). The Volt will need oil changes and transmission fluid, but not as often when you run in pure EV mode as we do. At the time we looked, the only other option was the BMW I3, but it was still too expensive for us. We decided the Volt was our next car.
How We Bought The Volt
We began researching cars.com and craigslist for pricing and condition. We decided that a 2012 with just over 100K miles (warranty expires) would have the lowest price and still have quality. The Volt has examples of going over 400K miles on original brakes and no battery degradation (unlike the Leaf). If distance beyond the EV miles is an issue for you, consider the Volt over the pure EV Leaf. If distance is not an issue, the added maintenance of Volt (or similar range extended EV) may not be worth it. For us, the 2012 was the first year with one touch door unlock. Great for when your hands are full. We discovered that about 7K to 8K for a good car was possible, but in short supply. We wanted a 6K car, and that was difficult to impossible. It was clear we were going to be looking for a while.
We planned a trip for spring break that was over 800 miles and hoped to find a Volt before the trip. We settled on seeing a car in south Florida, and the night before that visit, I received an email responding to my craigslist (Wanted 2012 Volt) ad that I posted throughout the state. The young Navy man was about to be deployed for 6 months and wanted to sell the car before that. His target date and ours were the same. I called him, and the car was in better overall condition than the one in south Florida. I cancelled the south Florida visit and the dealership checkout.
The Navy man’s Volt was an immaculate 2012 Volt Premium with every amenity and 112K miles for 7,000. He knew my target was 6K and said we would likely be able to work something out. The test drive was excellent, and we negitated to $6,500 minus anything the vehicle checkup found. It turned out it needed about $300 of maintenance, so the price was agreed at $6,200.
He had a loan on the car with a bank, and as it turned out we both had deposit accounts with that bank, so we completed the transaction at the bank as follows. We filled out a bill of sale, I paid the bank officer the purchase price of the car. They paid off the loan and deposit the rest into his account. The bank gave me a letter showing I was the next owner of the car that I could used at the DMV to get a temp tag to drive it home. I called my insurance to get the car insured and get a proof of insurance for the DMV. The bank mailed the title to his wife (who could legally sign the title) and overnight it to us. Once it arrived, we went to the DMV to handle the taxes, title, and registration.
If you are looking to buy an EV (new or used), I recommend you find your local EV club and begin talking with them to help determine what car or cars are best for you. Many clubs let you join (often for free) even if you do not have an EV. This is a great way to immerse yourself in EVs without the pressure or inaccuracies often found at dealerships. At the end of the EV club meetings, almost every EV car may be in the parking lot. Sadly, as of the writing of this article, our local dealers have virtually no one who understands EVs.
We bought the Leaf as a commuter car, not a long distance car. We already had a second car that could be used for long trips. Since we do long distance trips 3 to 5 times a year, having a distance car was important. If you only go on one trip a year, consider renting a car just for that trip. We could not afford a newer EV with a 250 or 350 mile range. If you can, explore a long range EV. If you can’t afford a pure EV with the range you need, consider a range extended EV (like the Volt). Again, use your local EV club members to guide you, and use cars.com or craigslist to help you. They are not there to sell you anything, just share their experiences and let that inform you. Knowledge will help you.
- Research to find which car is best for you, then determine the year and features desired.
- Scan craigslist and cars.com daily.
- Contact the seller and ask questions (including the VIN)
- If reasonable, get the carfax using the VIN
- Do more research if carfax shows something.
- Get a KBB value for this car to bring to the seller
- Print your state’s bill-of-sale form to bring with you
- Bring cash (if reasonable and possible). They are more willing to negotiate when they see you have cash.
- Visit the car and seller
- Agree to a price to buy the car and the deductions if issue are found by the dealer
- Have it checked by a dealer
- Discuss the findings with the seller and agree to the deducted price.
- Fill out the bill of sale
- On paper title, have them sign over the title
- On electronic title, visit the DMV together to finish the sale.
- Get insurance before you drive it home or visit the DMV.