How to find a good EV or hybrid deal?
July 17, 2021 2:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to navigate the world of EVs and plug in hybrids. It's been hard to compare apples to apples. Attempts to find deals turn up false leads, but also, it seems like the dealer sites include high prices followed by $13k of discounts. And inventory seems maybe super low? What websites and approaches did you use to compare real prices? Where do you think the sweet spot of value is?

We're looking for a battery range of about 180+ miles or else a plug in hybrid, though if necessary, we might have to just get something like a regular (non plug in) Prius.

I sometimes see a price and think "oh that looks reasonable!" but it turns out not to exist, at least not in my area (northern CA). For example, there are great deals on sites like these:

When we try to follow up on those, even ones listed at nearby dealerships, the deals seem to not exist. E.g., I'd happily lease a Kona Electric for $221 or $250 / month as listed at that first link. But all the dealerships near me seem to each just have a single fully-loaded 2022 for which they want $480 / month or something.

On the purchase side, we are having similar problems. Also, many of the websites seem to just be lead generators for local dealerships -- they provide you with a list of deals that appear like they're supposed to be national, but to see your local price, you put in your name and a salesperson from your local area will call. And they call and say they have one car in stock.

I love the Buy A Car section of, or I thought I did, because they provide the info about what kind of charger and range the vehicle has, but most of the cars seem to be from Carvana, and it doesn't seem to link directly to that car's listing? Also, some recent used cars appear to be selling for more than a new car with the federal tax credit.

All in all, I'm having a lot of trouble sorting this all out. Are there blogs or websites that you found helpful?

What I'm really trying to figure out is, where is the sweet spot where you can get a good run of trouble-free, reliable car ownership and then resell the car for a decent price, so that your overall costs are not super high? I'd like to keep the price low, but if spending another $1k gets me into a significantly newer or lower mileage car, that might make sense.

Thanks for any advice.
posted by Spokane to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason a Tesla model 3 isn't suitable? For performance, range, and resale value nothing else is remotely close. It's annoying that here in nz they aren't currently well supported or available but realistically there is absolutely no point in buying something else if you're in the market for a new car. I'll just wait until they have more supply here for now.
posted by tillsbury at 3:05 AM on July 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

YMMV on this, but I had luck buying a 3 year old leaf for about $8k on Craigslist. Barely any miles.

Mine only got 80 miles of range, but that was enough for me as long as we had a second vehicle. And it was so fun to drive and be EV.
posted by bbqturtle at 5:20 AM on July 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Wait if at all possible. There's a severe shortage in new and used cars everywhere. Used car prices are up 30%+ in the last couple months. New cars, don't count on negotiating. Look at the market again in 6-12 months.

There are a limited number of hybrid models for each vehicle class, and even less electric models. Start a spreadsheet and start listing them all. If there are any features like iphone auto or android auto, or lane departure or something, figure out what model year those were introduced.

If you have to buy now, just browse the inventory that's available, you won't have many choices and they don't have to negotiate with you.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:24 AM on July 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

I recently bought a 2015 Prius on Carvana after a few months viewing listings for new and used hybrid vehicles at nearby dealerships (Brooklyn and Manhattan), Craigslist and on the Carvana site. Since I did not already have a car, my search area was limited because getting out to NJ or CT to look at their cars was pretty difficult. Not sure if that applies to your situation. I also needed a hybrid rather than a full EV or plug-in because I live in the city and do not have a garage. Cost and availability appeared less competitive for EVs and plug-ins in my area than for hybrids.

The 2015 Prius that I bought from Carvana has less than 100k miles. I found that comparable used hybrids available online and at nearby dealerships were selling within hours for similar prices and were sometimes inferior (e.g., mileage, interior/exterior wear and tear, trim) to the cars I was seeing on Carvana. Also, because I was carless at the time, Carvana's delivery and inspection process was a big help. I paid a premium for the used car but decided it was worth it to me. Having been locked down in Brooklyn since March 2020, I was beginning to feel like the guy from The Prisoner so that having the ability to get into my little car and drive outside the confines of NYC was worth the cost. The purchase, delivery and registration have been seamless so far (YMMV and I do not work for Carvana). Car was delivered to me at home about a month ago. Good luck!
posted by ponibrown at 6:07 AM on July 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Do you know anyone with an EV who might be looking to upgrade to a newer model with longer range? Selling their current car to you could save you both money. This bypasses the crowded market altogether.

I have some friends who did this recently, from the seller side. They had a Bolt with 6 months remaining on the lease, but decided to get a Tesla for various reasons, including a cross-country trip. The extra range was essential to them. They turned over the remainder of their lease to a friend, who will then have the option to buy the car at the end of the lease term.

Your range requirements are very modest, which puts you in a good position to pick something up from someone looking to upgrade. If you want to pursue this, I'd suggest putting the word out on all your social media and other channels that you want to get a used EV from someone looking to upgrade. See if you get any takers.

One other thought is looking out of state. The markets in Oregon and Nevada could be very different from CA.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I would wait! I have been on the same search for months and am finding the same results you are. Even some of the most reputable dealers around here are obscuring their prices, then when contacted are selling 10-20% over MSRP. Also it seems like their CRM systems just make this harder, since I get constant texts and e-mails asking "did we help you? we have so many cars in stock! BUT CALL US ON JULY 13TH AT 7AM WHEN WE GET 2 NEW RAV4 PRIMES IN OR THEY WILL SELL IN HOURS."

While some of the used prices I've seen on Carvana are a bit high, they don't seem wildly out of line for low mileage plug in hybrids and EVs. And, as pointed out above, a Tesla is still a good deal.

A friend just successfully leased a Kia Niro EV and was able to get whatever lease deal was available, so you might look into those.

I've also seen that some companies who make cars that would qualify *you* for the EV tax rebate are leasing the cars for a price as if the leasing company won't be getting the rebate themselves. In those cases it might be better to buy/finance the car.

BTW, I would strongly recommend watching some videos on YouTube about the cars you're interested in and the charging experience in the field, if charging on the go is something you'll be doing. The DC Fast Charging experience still seems finicky and lacking for non-Tesla EVs - network issues, 150KW stations charging at 40KW, poor charging profiles, etc.
posted by MonsieurBon at 7:07 AM on July 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

3 years ago, I was in the market for a 2-4 year old EV. There was an electric car owner Facebook group for my state that had the best deals/cars by far - the Tesla Model 3 had just started rolling out, so people were selling their older Nissan Leaf/Chevy Volts via the site before posting on Craigslist. Those people knew their stuff, loved electric cars, and were honest about battery state/usage because they were nerds figuring it all out together. I had a lot of questions about electrical garage stuff for charging, and they were great.

I was about ready to buy one that way, but I ended up getting one from the luxury used car dealership nearby. It was the cheapest car on their lot, and they had very little knowledge about electric cars at the time. You can get a phone app / dongle thing called Leaf Spy to check the real state of the car battery, but I didn’t bother because the CarFax and the dealer’s story lined up.

Reddit has car-specific subreddits (r/NissanLeaf is my go to when I need advice). I learned that I wanted a used model that had 12/12 bars of battery, didn’t have a quick-charge port, was 1 step up from the base model so I had a more efficient heater in winter, and wasn’t hauled to Minnesota from a hot state. My car is 7 years old now, but every time I drive it I feel like I am living in the future! If you can find one that meets your range requirements, they are so fun to drive. I’ve only paid for new windshield wipers and a new 12 volt car battery over the past 3 years.

Sorry I can’t speak to pandemic-era car buying!
posted by Maarika at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

The pandemic really screwed up the car market. People have more savings now so there are more buyers for both new and used cars, but there are component shortages limiting the supply of new cars. Because there are fewer new cars, more people who would be buying new cars in normal circumstances are looking at used cars as well. Because of all those factors the market for used cars is extremely tight, and that's not even considering the very small percentage of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or fully electric cars available in the best of times. Basically you're looking for a needle, there are fewer haystacks than usual, and there are more people picking them over.
posted by fedward at 9:59 AM on July 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

How desperately do you need a new car? This is a horrible time to buy, given the COVID shortages throughout the supply chain, and an uptick in demand from people who are looking to get “back to normal.” You’ll probably have much better luck in a year or two, if you can wait. (My FIL needed a new car quickly, and ended up buying a good-condition used conventional gas-powered hatchback because that was the best thing available, with plans to sell and upgrade to a hybrid once supply unclenches).
posted by Alterscape at 10:17 AM on July 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah, agree with others that if you can avoid buying right now, I would wait. Supply chain shortages (microprocessors/chips mostly) have screwed up the new-car market, and caused the prices of used cars to go up pretty significantly.

I bought a used Chevy Volt (which is a plug-in hybrid with about ~50 miles of electric-only range, followed by 250 or so miles of gasoline capacity) at the very beginning of the pandemic, and was recently offered more for it than I paid, even though the car now has 10k more miles on it. Truly crazy.

I would absolutely recommend the Volt, by the way, if it's available where you are. It's a great car and a great "starter" if you are just getting into electric vehicles. My driving patterns mean that it's functionally an electric car 90% of the time (commuting to/from work), but having the gas engine is nice for road trips and generally for preventing "range anxiety". It totally mystifies me that Chevy stopped producing them when they did—I think they overreached on electric-only vehicles vs. plug-in hybrids, and I'd imagine with the recent issues with Bolts catching on fire that they wish they hadn't discontinued it now. Oh, well.

Other models we looked at included the Nissan Leaf (all-electric, but the range is short compared to Teslas and probably other upcoming models, and apparently the batteries tend to wear out quickly compared to other brands—many of the used models we looked at had already started to lose battery capacity), and the Rav4 Prime Hybrid (plug-in hybrid version of the Rav4 compact SUV), but it's too new to find used and the new ones are on practically-infinite backorder (and you will pay full MSRP and possibly then some to order one).

But if you can wait, I think the prices on used cars will probably go down in the next 12-18 months as supply shortages get straightened out. Once they figure out why the Bolts keep catching on fire and fix the problem, there might even be a glut of them hitting the market as a result of manufacturer buybacks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:10 AM on July 17, 2021

I bought a 2021 Bolt a few months ago (and love it). The models that are problematic are from 2017 through 2019 and, at least when I was working with the dealership, Chevy dealers couldn’t sell them. The problem is linked to a specific battery manufacturer that they stopped using mid-2019, so I wouldn’t be afraid of the Bolt in general. I adore mine and just took my first ever long, overnight road trip—definitely requires a little different planning than in an ICE car, but so great to not produce any tailpipe emissions on a long drive.

I agree in general with waiting if you can, since the car market is so nutty now. If you can’t wait, the weird incentive game is based in large part on federal and state rebates for electric cars. Definitely do your research. Also, if you’re a Costco member, a few times in the past year there have been $3k discounts for the Bolt for Costco members, which is pretty cool.
posted by Sublimity at 1:21 PM on July 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’m in NorCal and just leased a Subaru by ordering it off the damn shipping vessel. I used Cartelligent which I found about here on Ask Mefi, they’re a concierge service and worth every penny IMO. The pricing was slightly over those complete bs lease prices you see on the manufacturer’s site but well within my expectations. I have no idea whether the hybrid or electric market is worse - it probably is but getting my hands on my Crosstrek reminded me of the great cabbage patch doll craze of my youth. If you don’t mind using a middle man - and in this market why the hell not - have to say that I really appreciated their expertise and help.

‘Course it’s still on the boat but I think that I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll be able to take delivery as promised and without having to step foot in a dealership.
posted by rdnnyc at 3:40 PM on July 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Try EV car forums, for example TMC has forums for members selling used EVs, Tesla and otherwise. This later board is a mix of ICE and EV but without trying hard, I see a Kia Soul EV and Rav 4 EV in the recent posts, both cars are located in California.
posted by jamaro at 6:54 PM on July 17, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks all. We kind of do need a car right away, but it doesn't need to be The Car, so this has strengthened our interest in finding something that'll get us through the coming year year a little better than our 22-year-old Subaru will but not holding out for the perfect thing. I appreciate the leads and advice.
posted by Spokane at 9:17 PM on July 18, 2021

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