• 2015 Volkswagen E-Golf

Buyer’s Guide: Six Used Electric Cars for Less Than $15,000

An Alternative to New EVs

Electric cars have many advantages. They reduce the burning of fossil fuels, which lowers the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn helps to limit rising global temperatures. EVs are also smooth, quick and quiet, and require virtually no regular maintenance. Finally, electricity is much cheaper than gasoline.

2016 Nissan leaf
The Nissan Leaf has the longest track record for an affordable EV

However, there are three main issues that discourage buyers: range, charging and the sales price of new vehicles. You can address each of these. Range is only a problem if you are driving long distances frequently—and most people don’t—but it still can feel like a limitation. Charging is easy at home, if you have a garage, although the network of public charges is growing. Some people can charge at work, too. Both of these concerns continue to be challenges for some people. A non-plug-in hybrid car, such as a Toyota Prius, is a good alternative for those without access to a charging station, and many are available today.

However, if cost is the barrier to driving an EV, there’s an easy solution—get a used one! You’ll need to live with less range, as cars that can go 200 miles or more between charges have only been available for the last few years, but if you can live with around 84 to 125 miles, there are several options. I’ve listed six below, in my order of preference. I’ve tested them all, and they are worth owning, especially at $15,000 or less.

My Top 6 Used EV Choices

2015 Vollkswagen E-Golf
The E-Golf starts out with an advantage–it’s a Golf
  1. Volkswagen E-Golf – It’s a fine driving car, being a Golf. I’d recommend a 2017 model off lease, because it has a 124-mile range, which is significantly better than the 83 of the 2015 and 2016 models. The 2017 model price is likely to run over $15K, but prices will come down as more cars come off three-year leases.  Earlier models are available for as low as $12,000.
  2. Kia Soul EV – These cars are the best iteration of the box-on-wheels genre. Plenty of room, some quirky styling, and the range is 93 miles. The 2018 model went up to 111 miles, but pricing on that car would be closer to $20K. Older ones fit nicely under $15K.
  3. Nissan Leaf – The Leaf was the first mass market EV, and it’s odd looking, but does the job. Range has increased from the early models to 107 miles in the 2016 or 2017 version. The all-new 2018 model jumped to 150 miles, but pricing would push past $15K.
  4. Fiat 500e – The cute little Fiat is a bit smaller than the others here and its range of 84 miles is marginal. But a 2016 model could run under $10K – making it the deal of the bunch. And it’s a fun little runabout, as I learned from a three-month test in 2016.
  5. BMW i3 – It’s funny looking, but the i3 is a BMW, and the car drives very well, with plenty of room inside. However, being a bit premium, you’ll have to go back to a 2014 model to bring the price down to $15K. Service costs might be higher, too, but electric powertrains tend to be reliable with so many fewer parts to go bad.
  6. Mercedes-Benz B250e (Electric Drive) – For something a little special, this is a fun choice—if you can find one. The small hatch/wagon is based on the B-Class, a popular model in gasoline-powered form in Europe. It was never marketed in the U.S. until it arrived as an 87-mile-range EV. Like the BMW, a 2014 model would run $14-15K, or perhaps you could stretch for the 2016 at around $17,000.

That’s about it. There are a few EVs I’m not recommending, such as the Honda Fit EV, Ford Focus EV, and the odd little Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Those vehicles don’t measure up to the ones on this list.

2015 Kia Soul EV
A variety of choices, like this 2015 Soul EV, are now easier to own

It’s possible that a special end-of-the-year clearance lease deal on a new EV would drop your costs below $200 a month, and if so, that could be the way to go. Based on current trends, the next decade will bring price parity on electric and gas cars (EVs are already much cheaper to run). And almost every manufacturer will offer some tempting choices. Until then, a 3-to-5-year-old used EV is a great way to go, if you can live with the limitations.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Our First (& Second) Impressions of Used EV Options

Road Test: 2014 Volkswagen E-Golf

First Drive: 2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen E-Golf (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen E-Golf (John’s view)

Flash Drive: 2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

Road Test: 2016 Kia Soul EV

First Drive: 2015 Kia Soul EV

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Leaf (Michael’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Leaf (John’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Fiat 500e

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500e

Road Test: 2014 BMW i3

First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz B250e

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About Author:

Steve Schaefer has written a weekly automotive column for 26 years, testing more than 1,250 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve now has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Recently, Steve became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore, and is focused on moving to EVs and 100% renewable energy. Read his EV/hybrid blog at stevegoesgreen.com.

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