Should you buy a used electric car right now?

Where Can I Find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters (digits and capital letters) that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle. A VIN displays the car's unique features, specifications and manufacturer.

The VIN can be found in a couple of places including on the car's registration label (1), on the compliance plate in the engine bay (2) or on the passenger side windshield (3), or on one of the door posts (where the door latches when it is closed) (4). See the image below:

Look for the VIN in these other locations:

  • Insurance card/Insurance policy
  • Vehicle title and registration certificate


11 Jan 18

Australia has been slow to get on board with electric vehicles. However, they are becoming more popular according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and as the infrastructure to support them on Australia's roads also grows, these cars are fast becoming the way of the future.1

Purchasing used vehicles is always a great way to get yourself a great car at a lower cost. Let's take a look at the benefits of buying a used electric car, as well as some things to look out for. 

Why buy a used electric car?

There are several reasons you might wish to buy an electric car. In the past, the main benefit was seen to be environmental. However, there is debate over just how environmentally friendly electric vehicles really are.2 Electric cars can be more environmentally friendly than their petrol or diesel-fuelled counterparts, as they are less likely to produce less toxic greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the interior and bodywork of some vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, are partially constructed from recycled water bottles, plastic bags, old car parts and second hand home appliances.

However, if the electricity powering your vehicle is generated by an oil-fuelled power station, it may not be as good for the environment as you may think. There are also different types of electric vehicles that produce differing levels of emissions, so it's best to do some research before you buy on the basis of the vehicle being better for the environment. 

Buying a used electric car has environmental benefits but won't break the bank.Electric cars are great for the environment, and when you purchase a used electric car, you still get this benefit - without the hefty price tag.

One reason many people decide to buy an electric vehicle is they tend to operate on higher efficiency and have lower running and maintenance costs. The electricity to charge an electric car is approximately a third of the cost of buying petrol, Gumtree estimates.4 Stats from RACQ support this, showing that the fuel cost of a BMW i3 is approximately 3.3 cents per kilometre, far lower than non-electric vehicles such as the Honda Civic VTi or Toyota Corolla (at 8.15 and 7.77 cents per kilometre respectively).5

Electric vehicles operate on higher efficiency and have lower running and maintenance costs.

A distinct advantage of buying a used electric car is that you'll be avoiding the hefty price tag of buying one new. An Electric Vehicle Council and Climate Works Australia report found that sale price is one major barrier to purchase.6 A brand new Nissan Leaf costs around $38,000, compared to the average price of a new car in Australia, which is $28,000.7 However, a used Nissan Leaf is about the same as this average.8

So, if you'd like low ongoing costs and don't want to pay a fortune upfront, buying a used electric car could be a good option. 

What electric car models are available in Australia?

In 2016, there were 16 models available on the Australian market.9 There are several different kinds of electric car:

  • Hybrids (e.g. Honda Civic Hybrid): These cars use petrol as their primary external energy source and are supplemented with electric energy. 
  • Plug-in or extended range hybrids (e.g. Holden Volt): Plug-in hybrids plug in to the mains in order to charge the battery directly, while extended range hybrids use a petrol engine to charge the car's battery when it's running low. 
  • Battery powered vehicles (e.g. BMW i3): These cars are only powered by electricity.

What should you bear in mind when buying a used electric car in Australia?

While electric vehicles do have many benefits, there are some things to be aware of before you make the decision to buy.

Filling up a standard vehicle is easy when there are petrol stations in every town. With an electric car, you'll need to plan a lot more and ensure you know how far you can drive on a single charge. However, the number of charging stations and infrastructure is increasing, which is great news!10

Electric vehicle infrastructure in Australia is improving slowly but surely. The number of charging stations for electric vehicles around Australia is increasing.

The lack of government support and policies surrounding electric vehicles is also noticeable in Australia.11 However, many states have introduced discounts on registration and stamp duty for electric vehicles.12 Owners of electric vehicles can expect to see more incentives as time goes on.

One final thing to be aware of when purchasing a used electric car is that there could be hidden information the seller doesn't communicate. This is a risk with every used car. Getting a trusted local mechanic or motoring authority like the NRMA, RACV or RACQ to inspect the vehicle prior to buying will help minimise the risk of landing a lemon. But the best way to get peace of mind is to buy a car history report, which tells you a car's reported history to help you make a wise purchase.

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics. 9309.0 - Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, 31 Jan 2017. Accessed December 2017.

2 The Guardian. How green are electric cars? Accessed January 2018. 

3 Gumtree. Electric cars buying guide. Accessed December 2017.

4 Gumtree. 

5 RACQ. Private vehicle expenses 2017. Accessed December 2017.

Climate Works Australia / Electric Vehicles Council. The state of electric vehicles in Australia. Accessed December 2017, page 3.

7 The Sydney Morning Herald. Why electric cars have hit a dead end in Australia. Accessed December 2017.

8 Accessed December 2017. 

9 Climate Works Australia / Electric Vehicles Council, page 8.

10 Climate Works Australia / Electric Vehicles Council, page 9.

11 Climate Works Australia / Electric Vehicles Council, page 12.

12 Climate Works Australia / Electric Vehicles Council, page 12.

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