What checks do I need to do when I buy a 2nd hand EV?
Surprisingly, the pre-purchase checks needed for an EV (electric vehicle) are little different to those needed for a second-hand ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle. For a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) or HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) the checks are the same as for an ICE car, plus some additional EV ones.
Checks common to ICE and EV:
Basic checks of the body, suspension, steering, brakes, tyres, interior, air conditioning (including filters), drive train (constant velocity joints, free play etc) and 12V electrical systems are the same for both EVs and ICE vehicles. Radiators for the air conditioning and motor/controller cooling circuit still exist and need to be inspected as usual. (Note: there may be more than one radiator for the motor, controller and/or battery cooling).
Differences between ICE and Battery EV:
The biggest changes are in what you DON’T need to check. For a battery EV, these include the exhaust system, fuel system, gearbox, clutch (if a manual), oil levels, oil condition, air filter, spark plugs (if a petrol car), particulate filter (if diesel), etc.
Additional checks for a Battery EV:
The additional checks for a BEV are as follows:
- Remaining battery capacity;
- Operation of charging systems/s;
- Condition of charge socket/s;
- Portable EVSE existence, condition and operation;
- Operation in different driving modes.
How do I find a qualified mechanic to do these checks?
A wealth of knowledge has been built up over more than one hundred years of building (and breaking) ICE vehicles (internal combustion engines). Training and apprenticeship systems have evolved which pass-on vehicle repair and service knowledge to each new generation of vehicle mechanics, technicians and auto electricians.
Whilst EVs have been around since before the dawn of the ICE vehicle, far fewer people have worked on them in that time, which means EV specific knowledge has yet to seep into general circulation. It means finding a mechanic that is EV trained and experienced can be difficult. This is especially so in Australia where EVs still make up less than two percent of overall new car sales.
So who can check an EV?
Roughly two thirds of the components of a battery-operated EV (more if it is a PHEV or HEV) are common with their ICE predecessors, so all the normal checks still apply. These include the body, suspension, brakes, steering, interior and 12V electrical system – and, for HEVs and PHEVs – the ICE motor, fuel system and exhaust system. Any competent mechanic can do these checks.
However, it can be more difficult to find someone to check the third that makes up the ‘E’ of an EV – the electric drive train and battery. Currently, most EV mechanics and technicians are in-house staff trained by the manufacturer on their own vehicles. This means your first port of call for having an EV pre-purchase check done is through a member of the dealer network who sold that model car in the first instance.
Outside the dealer networks, some manufacturer-trained mechanics have moved on to set up an independent workshop. Unfortunately, EVs have not been around long enough for there to be a lot of these ‘escapees’. The ones that do exist are generally only found by word-of-mouth, web research, or by asking around the EV community through the various online EV model forums.
For the general non-dealer mechanic or auto electrician, there are some elective EV training units in automotive apprenticeship qualifications, with more to come. Some enterprising mechanical and auto electrical workshops have already had their apprentices do these units, and have also retrained their staff. Again, they can be hard to find and will likely require research and/or asking around to discover one in your local area.
Always ask a non-dealer EV mechanic whether all their staff are qualified mechanics, what EV training their EV experts have done, and how much experience they have had with the EV model you are asking them to inspect.
Another option is to employ a specialist vehicle inspection service. All the state Auto Associations (RACV, NRMA, RACT, RACQ, etc) offer this service, along with a number of private businesses.
Check what level of detail they will cover on the specific condition of the EV components of an EV. For instance, it is possible with On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) scanners, as well as a number of Apps, to download a fair amount of detail on the battery condition of many EV models. Make sure you specifically ask how much information about the battery condition will be in the report, plus how they gathered that data.
Also, it’s worth asking how much experience they have had in reporting on your prospective EV model purchase. After all, given the currently tiny size of the Australian EV market, your pre-purchase EV check may be their very first one for that model!
Dealers are very unlikely to do pre-purchase inspections of private, or ‘grey’, import EVs. Private imports are vehicles that were not sold new through the Australian dealer network, instead they were imported to Australia as second-hand vehicles. In the case of EVs, these most commonly come from Japan.
Dealers generally will not work on private imports because they may have options and systems not fitted to the models officially supplied for the Australian market. Dealer data and parts systems are geared to servicing and repairing Australian delivered cars only so it’s understandable why they don’t want the headache of having to work out what may, or may not, fit or apply to a private import.
The Good Car Co (https://www.goodcar.co/), which privately imports 2nd hand EVs, ensure that several local mechanics are trained up and available for work wherever a community bulk-buy scheme has been set up. They currently import Nissan Leaf models ZE0, AZE0 and ZE1 as well as the Nissan eNV200 van. It’s worth enquiring with them whether there is a local mechanic available for inspecting your prospective purchase.
How do I assess the quality of the electrical drive system?
There are new components that make up the electric drive system of a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), in place of the ICE motor and its associated fuel, exhaust, emissions control and cooling systems. These include the battery, electric motor, charger and charging socket/s, plus associated electronic controls.
Whilst in-depth knowledge of these systems is needed to diagnose and fault-find these systems, the average car buyer can, with a bit of background knowledge, make a reasonable assessment of their fitness.
To do a general assessment of an EV’s electrical system:
- Prior to inspection day:
- Ask the owner to charge the car to 100% before you arrive.
- Check where the nearest DC fast-charger. During your test drive you will need to visit this to test the DC charging system.
- Read-up on the specific drive mode and EV drive functions of your intended test drive.
- On arrival:
- Check the dash readout shows 100% charge. If the car shows less than 100%, plug it in and see if it will reach 100%.
- Ensure the air conditioning and heater are off and check the dash readout shows the estimated range.
- If the car shows a significantly lower range than what is specified by the manufacturer this may only be a sign that the car has recently been driven hard or used lots of heating or A/C. Alternatively, it may mean that the battery has reduced capacity.
- Test drive:
- Turn on the car and watch for any alarms or warnings.
- Set the car up for the highest possible regenerative braking level.
- Take the car for a minimum 30-minute drive, preferably at both suburban and highway speeds.
Ensure the estimated range falls roughly in line with the kilometres travelled, especially under higher speed conditions.
After driving for a while lift off the accelerator and ensure the regenerative braking is operating – the car should slow as if it is being mildly to moderately braked.
Different EVs implement regenerative braking in slightly different ways – it is best to test drive several examples of the same model to ensure you are comparing ‘apples with apples’. Some EVs do not regenerative brake if the battery is 100% charged.
- Switch between the different driving modes and ensure they operate as specified by the manufacturer.
- Towards the end of your test drive, pull into a DC fast-charger and have the owner take you through the process of DC charging. Allow the car to charge for 5 – 10 minutes to ensure the system is working and monitor the charge rate (shown in kW by the charger as well as on the dashboard charging display of most EVs).
If the EV is still above 80% charged when doing this test, charging will be slower than the manufacturer’s stated maximum DC charge rate for the vehicle. This is normal as DC charging rates significantly reduce after reaching 80% to protect the battery.
- On return:
- Check the AC and DC charging socket components:
- Ensure hinged covers all click into place and open/close smoothly.
- Ensure any rubber or plastic clip-on boots are present and undamaged.
- Visually ensure the charging socket electrical connections are clean and not scorched or rusty. (Under no circumstances poke any item into these sockets).
- Check the portable EVSE (charger) supplied with the car.
All EVs sold in Australia, except the Renault Zoe, come with a portable EVSE. (If you’re considering buying a Zoe, factor in buying a portable EVSE if the previous owner is not selling theirs with the car.)
- Visually check the portable EVSE for damage. This includes the leads and the plugs. Check the connection pins in the plugs as per item 4. Don’t plug in if it fails this step!
- Plug the EVSE into a power point. Does it light up?
- Plug the EVSE into the car. Does it start charging the car and its data display work?
- This FAQ addresses the basic checks needed to assess the condition of the electrical drive system in an EV. Don’t forget these are in addition to the usual safety and condition checks required for the brakes, tyres, suspension, steering, body and 12V systems (horn, lights etc) that EVs share with ICE vehicles.
- If you are in any doubt about a vehicle or its EV drive and charging systems, or your ability to check them, have the vehicle checked by a qualified specialist.
RUNNING AN EV
How do I charge an EV?
The good news is you can charge your EV from any power point. All EVs have a cable that allows slow charging (sometimes called trickle charging) from any standard power point. This is slow (2kW or 3kW) but very useful to top up during the day after an outing (it may only take a few hours after a 20-40km trip) or overnight (if staying at a friend’s or at a motel on a longer trip).
If you are on the road, the Plugshare app on your laptop or smartphone is really useful, offering advice on all available charging points throughout Australia, from simple power points made available by pubs and motels, to super-fast charging stations.
Fast charging stations (up to around 50kW) are becoming increasingly common as they are rolled out by state governments, motoring bodies such as the NRMA, and private network operators.
That means that most places in populated areas can be linked with fast-chargers, but many more are needed – more locations, and greater numbers of chargers at individual locations. Some fast-charging locations only have one charger.
There are a growing number of ultra-fast chargers (up to 350kW), but while these are very quick, the reality is that most existing cars do not have batteries that can charge at that rate. Future cars will.
There are also many AC charging stations (in between slow and fast) that have been installed by local councils and shopping centres. Often, you will need a special adaptor for these charging stations. Again, check Plugshare app.
Do I need a charger at home?
You don’t need one, but it may be a good idea to have one. Home charging is the most convenient way to charge an EV. After an outing you can simply plug it in and top it up from any power point, much like you might a smart phone. And if you have your own rooftop solar, it is cheap and emissions free!
Some EVs will come with a dedicated charging station that can be installed by an electrician. But all EVs come with a cable that can be plugged in to a home power point.
- High charging rates are generally not needed for overnight charging.
- Homes do not normally have three phase AC connected;
- Switchboard and/or electrical supply upgrades may be needed if your home is more than 20 years old.
For more information see How much will it cost to buy and install an EVSE (charger) for home use?
How much will it cost to buy and install an EVSE (charger) for home use?
Your choice of Mode 3, wall-mount EVSEs is quite large and the features they can offer is, to some degree, mind-boggling. At their most basic single phase, wall mounted EVSEs charging at up to 7-ish kW with a 5m lead start at around $900 for the unit.
Ones that can monitor your solar output and adjust your EV charging start at around $1350. An all-singing, all-dancing one that offers bluetooth connectivity and control, touchscreen, vehicle customisation and the like could set you back $2500 – $3000 or more.
If you are prepared to wait, in the medium term future (2 to 5 years at a very rubbery guess) a new crop of ‘smart’ EVSEs will be arriving that can run at flexible charging times and speeds depending on what the grid wants and how you set your preferences. Some of these will also include Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capacity. As for the cost of these – we will have to wait and see.
On top of the EVSE price you need to add the installation cost. For a simple install, this starts from about $700. Obviously, longer distances to the switchboard (and/or trickier access between the EVSE and switchboard) require more time and material to install so setting an upper end for installation costs is a bit tricky, but it’s unlikely to cost more than $1500 to $2000.
For more information see How much will it cost to install an EV charger at home?
Where can I find a public charging point?
The Plugshare app on your laptop or smartphone is the best place to locate a charging point. Most EVs will locate the nearest EV charging station on their navigation system. Motoring bodies also include a map of their public charging stations.
Why is it recommended to only charge the battery to 80%?
There are two reasons why is it recommended to only charge the battery to 80%.
The first is about battery chemistry. Battery manufacturers recommend an 80 per cent limit so the battery lasts longer, but you can still charge it to 100% if you need to for a long trip. (However, there are exceptions to the rule: the new Tesla Model 3 made in China with lithium ion phosphate batteries like to be charged to 100%).
The second reason is charging time. Most EVs will slow down the battery charging rate beyond 70% or 80%, which means you may be waiting a long time to top up to 100 per cent. Unless you really need to, it’s best to move along once the battery reaches 80 per cent, as it allows space for other EVs to be charged. (Some public EVs have a 30-minute maximum stay. Others charge by time to encourage people to move along).
What apps are available to help me run my car more efficiently and monitor the battery?
How do I conserve power when running short of battery?
The best options to conserve power are to switch off, or dial down the air-conditioning, and to drive more slowly, and not accelerate quickly. Most EVs will tell you how to get to a destination, with suggested speed limits, if it is looking tricky.
What happens to EV batteries over time? When does a battery need to be replaced?
EV batteries do degrade, but very slowly. Most have warranties for eight years, for instance, and a certain number of kilometres. A battery does not need to be replaced until it fails to function, or is no longer offering the range (distance travelled) that you require. You can upgrade batteries, and the existing ones can be re-purposed for stationary storage on the grid, for instance.
Can EV batteries be replaced?
Yes they can. It’s a relatively simple process, if you have the proper equipment. Most batteries have an eight-year warranty, but will last well beyond that, and as battery prices come down, the cost of replacement will also fall.
Where do I get my EV serviced? And how often?
Some models require a regular service as part of their warranty conditions, others do not. You need to watch for wear on tyres, windscreen wipers and fluids, but because the motors are electric, they have fewer moving parts than an internal combustion vehicle so the maintenance bill should be negligible.