Ask the seller to provide documentation for the EV you’re considering. The more information they have, and the more understandable it is, the better. Owner’s manuals, service manuals, receipts with part numbers, and wiring diagrams and notes will be useful if you need to do any repairs or maintenance on the vehicle. Wiring diagrams are particularly important if you ever need to troubleshoot or modify the vehicle. The less “mainstream”—and more customized—the vehicle, the more important the documentation is.
Batteries & Other Parts
Most used EVs are sold with dead or dying battery packs. If someone has been considering selling the car and moving on to something else (often another EV), the imminent need to spend $1,000 or so on new batteries, and do the heavy lifting, tends to tip the balance, and often motivates the sale.
Unfortunately, dying battery packs make it difficult to test-drive the vehicle, so you may have to take the seller’s word on the EV’s performance. Here’s where consulting an experienced EV user can pay off, since he or she can most likely tell you whether the claimed performance seems realistic.
Beyond batteries, realize that the longer the car has sat unused, the more likely that there will be some hidden issues. For example, rubber or hydraulic parts may have deteriorated. If the car has sat unused for more than a few months, proceed with extreme caution.
Besides inspecting the EV’s battery and electrical systems, don’t overlook the non-EV aspects of the vehicle. Is the body undamaged and rust free? Body damage can affect performance and indicate safety issues. Is the interior in reasonable shape? Convertible top in good condition? Fixing an EV’s aesthetic issues, such as paint and upholstery, can get costly in a hurry.
Like orphan EVs and components, there also are orphan car makes. Beware of obscure car models or brands that have no dealer presence in your area. It could be difficult and costly to find basic parts for these cars.
Take the car for a test drive. Listen for odd noises, which will be very apparent in a silent EV. How does the steering and braking feel? Is it sloppy, does the car pull to one side, or take too long to stop? Test acceleration and handling on curves and hills. Will it be able to perform at safe speeds for the type of driving you will do? Can you climb hills and merge as needed? Does it feel tippy or want to wallow in corners? Overall, are you comfortable with the vehicle’s performance?
Get a Pro’s Opinion
If the EV passes your initial inspection with flying colors, take the car to an auto repair shop and have the basic running gear (brakes, suspension, wheel bearings, etc.) checked out. If the car isn’t running, see if you can find a mobile mechanic who will inspect it on site. Getting a professional’s opinion is well worth the $100 (or less) you’ll pay for the inspection. If the owner has records or receipts for things like brakes and clutches, check these out too, noting how recently repairs and maintenance were done.