The Used Market
Spending cash on a used car, owning it outright and not needing full coverage insurance is often a good idea. Yet green cars are so new to the market, not many used choices exist. In addition, the few used cars you find could be quite outdated because of how fast the segment is growing.
There are a few wise choices for you. Hybrids are the most numerous. You can find a great number of Toyota Priuses dating all the way back to 1997. As they age, the batteries lose efficiency. An old Prius doesn't get quite the mileage it did when it was new, but should still achieve at least 40 mpg. The battery warranties are fully transferable and last eight to ten years.
Beware the first generation sold until 2003. They are slower, have few features and could be due for a $3000 battery replacement. The best choice is a three to four year old well-equipped third generation Prius. They have all the modern touches, plenty of warranty and sell for as low as $12,000.
Plug-in hybrids are the newest green cars and you will find few used. High mileage 2012 Chevy Volts sell for around $15,000. Tests show that they are holding their range well and Volts with 100,000 still go 30 miles or more before burning gas.
You won't have many choices of used electrics either. If you like them small, you can buy a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV for about $11,000. One of the worst vehicles for holding its value is the 2011 Nissan Leaf. It sold for $35,000 when new. Now Leafs with 30,000 miles sell for $11,000.
What is bad for the seller could be good for the buyer. The price drop is based on consumer worry about the first model and battery problems a few Leafs had in Arizona. It turns out the batteries don't like prolonged high heat. Those exposed to desert conditions lost 30% of their range in the first year, prompting Nissan to modify the warranty. Now Leaf owners will get new or reconditioned batteries if their range ever falls below 70% of original.
You can get a steal on a used Leaf because of this. Just make sure it wasn't owned in a hot climate. Insist on a long test drive. Take it 25 miles down the highway and back. In an hour, you should know the true range. Is it worth the risk or should you lease a new one?