2015 Nissan Leaf

Used electric cars, like the 2015 Nissan Leaf pictured, can be great as budget-minded second or third cars — provided you can find one for sale.

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Some of the best deals in used cars these days are full electric vehicles. Though with operating ranges at around 70 miles to 100 miles on a charge they’re not for everyone, pre-owned EVs make great second or third cars in a family’s fleet because of their sheer frugality, even at today’s affordable gas prices.

For starters, with the exception of the costly Tesla Model S sedan and Model X SUV, electric cars tend to be dirt-cheap in the resale market. Below-average resale values can be attributed to limited marketplace demand and the $7,500 federal tax credit (along with further financial incentives in a few states) that’s granted to new EV buyers.

We’ve seen two-year-old EVs listed for around $9,000 to $13,000 these days, and (given their range limitations) they tend to be driven fewer miles than the norm, which means they’ve typically endured less wear and tear.

Some used-vehicle shoppers might be concerned about having to replace an EV’s costly battery pack, but they’ll likely last well past the 100,000-mile mark with only minimal range degradation, and most automakers cover their EVs’ battery packs under warranty for at least eight years.

Best of all, electric cars remain cheaper to run than conventionally powered models. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s fueleconomy.gov website, driving a 2015 Nissan Leaf EV (rated at the electric equivalent of 114 mpg) instead of a conventionally powered Toyota Corolla (at 30 mpg) will save an owner a potential $750 in annual energy savings, which translates into an extra $3,750 pocketed over a five-year ownership period.

And that’s not counting an electric car’s inherently low maintenance costs. Because they utilize an electric motor and a simple single-speed transmission, EVs eschew over two-dozen mechanical components that would normally require regular service. Driving an electric car means being able to avoid oil changes, cooling system flushes, transmission servicing and replacing the air filter, spark plugs and drive belts. Regular service visits are typically limited to rotating the tires and checking brake pads and other components.

Still, the biggest limitation to owning an electric car is its range. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to take an EV that can run for an average 75-100 miles on a charge on a cross-country trek, but most used models can operate sufficiently to cover the average commute, which the U.S. Department of Transportation says is 15 miles each way.

Plus, they’re ideal for around-town use and for getting to and from a commuter rail station if you take the train into the city for work. And if you’re the parent of a teen driver, letting him or her take the EV means you can rest assured they wouldn’t be venturing very far from home.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to buying a used electric car, depending on where you live, can be a lack of supply. Having accounted for only a slim percentage of new-vehicle sales over the last few years, they’re as plentiful in the resale market as gas/electric hybrids or conventionally powered models.

And at that, only a handful of battery-powered models were sold in all 50 states when new; some new EVs are offered exclusively in California (and perhaps one or more other “green” states) to fulfill state regulations regarding zero-emissions vehicles. That’s why California boasts the most EVs in the nation, and by a wide margin.

Other areas in which EV penetration tends to be higher than the norm, and where they’ll be more plentiful on dealers’ lots, include Georgia, Washington, New York and Florida.

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