What to think about when buying a used electric car


Jonathan Porterfield and wife Ursula run the used electric car dealership EcoCars on Orkney. We spoke to Jonathan to find out what people need to know before putting their hands in their pockets.   


Hi Jonathan. We heard that you’ve converted half of Orkney to electric cars – so you must be quite an expert.

Ha – possibly not quite half, but we’re working on it! We moved to Orkney in 2013 and there were seven electric cars on the island. There are now around 650, and we definitely sold most of the used ones. 

What kind of things are on people’s minds when they’re looking at their first used electric car? 

I find people are generally thinking about money first, and the eco side of things second. So it usually starts with a budget – often around £10,000, which can get them, for example, a great 2015/16 Nissan LEAF.

As part of the costs, it’s important to look at the total cost of ownership. For example, there are lower servicing costs as electric cars don’t need servicing so frequently. They’re also less hard on the brakes, so they don’t need replacing as often, and there are fewer fluids and consumables to replace. Tyres, wiper blades, screen wash – that’s about it.  

Jonathan Poterfield

What do people worry about before they go electric?

People tend to have all the same concerns and questions – here are the ones I hear most commonly: 

What about the range? Everyone has range anxiety at first. The best thing is to try it out – so I let them test one out for the weekend and try living with it to see how they get on.  

How long does it take to fill? People are used to nipping to the petrol station and filling up in five minutes. But with an electric car, as long as you have a home charger, it takes about five seconds to plug in and it fills up while you sleep. If you don’t, it’s a good idea to slot filling up into your routine – while you’re shopping or exercising, for example. And most people won’t need to charge that frequently unless they’re doing a lot of mileage – probably only once a week or so.

What sort of electricity does it take? There’s only one kind – the normal electricity that your house runs on.

Can I put the heater and lights on, or will it drain the battery? Of course you can – the battery will be fine. 

Do I have to replace the battery every three years or so? Nope! Batteries these days are built to last. 

What are the benefits of used electric cars? They’re endless. Just some are:

  • It’s ridiculously cheap to fill up, especially if you can charge at home.
  • They’re fun to drive – it’s a much nicer driving experience.
  • You’re doing your bit for the environment.

When I sell someone a car, I meet them later and they grab me and say, “It’s brilliant!” I often find that once they get an electric car, many customers start wanting solar or a wind turbine, too, to help them cut costs. 

Are there any other things to think about?

It’s important to consider the way you’ll use the car – how many miles are you likely to drive on a daily basis? Bear in mind that there’s a difference between summer and winter range, and some cars handle that better than others. 

People are very keen on the Renault ZOE, but the early versions are a bit problematic with the onboard charge. Early Nissan LEAF batteries degrade faster but can still be good for a reasonable range. So it depends what you want it for. If you’re just doing five or ten miles a day, it would be fine.

Make sure the cables you need are there – a 3-pin cable and a Type 2. And, like any used car, you’ll want to run through the usual checks, like Hire Purchase Investigation and servicing history. If you’re buying a car privately, don’t meet them at a random car park – go to their home and make sure the V5 address matches. 

Lastly – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. 

Jonathan Porterfield has been a private car dealer for many years. He’s always been eco-conscious, and set up EcoCars in 2004, selling hybrids and LPG. In 2013, he moved to Orkney and together with wife Ursula, John now sells only used electric cars. He loves nothing more than helping more people make the switch to electric and experience the joy of driving electric cars for the first time.