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An Electrifying Ride

An Electrifying Ride
A new way to gas up: charging the Nissan Leaf

Electric vehicles took another step toward the mainstream last year, when two automakers added these Earth-friendly rides to their certified pre-owned programs.

Last March, high-end EV maker Tesla Motors announced that it would start selling CPO Roadster sports cars through its website. In September, Japanese auto giant Nissan added its all-electric Leaf hatchback to its CPO lineup.

For drivers seeking to go green while saving some green, an electric CPO could be the way to go — early evidence suggests that EVs hold up well as used cars.

“All of the body and interior wear factors should be the same [as a gas-powered vehicle], but the simplicity of pure battery-electric EV powertrains translates to less opportunities for wear,” said Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor at Cars.com. “Because of their use of regenerative braking … there's less brake wear as well.”

A big question for many potential EV buyers is battery life, which becomes especially pertinent when you’re considering a used vehicle.

“The results have been encouraging in terms of outright failure, but many owners have experienced the predicted loss of battery capacity over time and miles,” Wiesenfelder said. “Battery manufacturers say lithium-ion packs can be expected to lose roughly 20% of their capacity by 100,000 miles. Nissan was the first to address this by offering to replace any under-warranty Leaf battery that drops below about 70%.”

As well as the existing eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on a new Leaf's battery pack, Nissan backs its CPO models with an additional seven-year/100,000-mile warranty on the EV system and powertrain. All CPO Leafs must have fewer than 60,000 miles and be less than five years from their original in-service date — the date on which the car was first sold.

Because they're range-limited, EVs aren’t likely to rack up as many miles as a conventional car, Wiesenfelder said. “Being two years into an eight-year warranty and knowing the Leaf can never be a road-trip car means owners have a good idea of what to expect and how long they can own it while the battery is still under warranty.”

In June 2013, Nissan announced an approximately $100-per-month battery replacement program for the Leaf; it's expected to begin soon.

Though more automakers will inevitably be adding electric vehicles to their CPO programs, consumers should take special care when comparing prices of used electric vehicles with those of equivalent new models. Federal and state tax credits, which can amount to more than $10,000, apply only to the purchase of a new EV.

“Shoppers will find that the [EV] resale price is, or should be, disproportionately lower than the original sticker price when compared against normal car depreciation,” Wiesenfelder warned. “So you need to know what they're truly worth.”

Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer