Four Used Plug-In Electric Cars To Avoid

Follow John

2012 Coda Sedan

2012 Coda Sedan

Enlarge Photo

There are lots of very good plug-in electric cars for sale now, and some of them are starting to show up on used-car lots.

We recently suggested some used hybrid-electric vehicles to avoid on the used-car lot--and now we turn to electric cars.

Here are four vehicles we suggest you think long and hard before buying, no matter how attractive their prices.

2012 Coda Sedan

This one may be easy to avoid, as reportedly Coda only sold 100 or so of its slab-sided battery-electric compact sedans.

The company's Sino-American stew started life as an adaptation of a Mitsubishi-derived Chinese-market Hafei Saibao, with lithium-ion cells from China assembled into a battery pack and inserted along with the traction motor into the rolling “glider” in a small California factory.

The car might have had a chance if it came to market in 2010 (the original plan) before the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt launched.

As it was, the Coda finally struggled onto the market about a year ago. And while it appeared to have a real-world range of close to 100 miles, it was so riddled with detail deficiencies that not only was it not ready for prime time, it was genuinely irritating to drive.

If you ever see one on a used-car lot, be aware that parts and service may be a challenge. Then consider a used Nissan Leaf instead.

Coda, meanwhile, has now retreated to selling stationary battery storage systems.

2012 Fisker Karma in Costco parking lot, Santa Monica, California [photo: Chris Williams]

2012 Fisker Karma in Costco parking lot, Santa Monica, California [photo: Chris Williams]

Enlarge Photo

2012 Fisker Karma

We have to admit, Fisker's only production car is one striking design. And many of the 2,000 or so Karma owners love their cars.

That said, the company is all but out of business, it hasn't built a car since last July, and its dealers are abandoning the brand--and their Fisker customers--in droves.

Meanwhile, prices for used Fiskers are falling dramatically, with asking prices of $50,000 for cars that sold new a year ago for $106,000 and more.

More than that, Fiskers suffered from numerous quality problems on launch that led to recalls, service bulletins, and updates.

The Karma is a two-and-a-half-ton car with the footprint of a BMW 7-Series, with so little interior room the EPA calls it a subcompact, and a jaw-droppingly tiny trunk.

It's also the least efficient plug-in electric passenger car sold on the U.S. market.

Supposedly some owners are looking into having their Karmas converted into VL Destinos, which means yanking out the range-extended electric powertrain and dropping in a V-8 Corvette engine.

Just this morning, it appears that VL Automotive may in fact bid for Fisker, or what's left of it.

That might ensure some ongoing parts and service availability. Perhaps.

Follow Us

Comments (35)
  1. My cars typically last for 15+ years. They are usually nasty looking with rust, dings, dents, chips, pealing paint, and fading. I bought my Think City because of the plastic body. I expect that in 15+ years it will still look as good as the day I got it. It is a practical car for todays world. No need to park at the very end of the mall parking lot to avoid door dings. The GM Saturn plastic body was also a great idea. Sad people did not appreciate the common sense behind color molded plastic body panels. It is like choosing aluminum siding for your house over the superior vinyl siding.

  2. The Saturn plastic body panels weren't color molded. It was paint. Special formulated paint that is flexible. IMHO, it was more like a plastic sheet covering the plastic than anything else.

    But it was cool. Great at preventing dent. However, it does chip easily. Anything sharp can and will scratch the surface...

  3. I do not believe Think is still in bankruptcy. What I do know is that Warranty support has been excellent for the few of us that have required it. They even replaced all the "water heaters" with superior ceramic air heaters under warranty. They also offered a firmware upgrade that increased performance by over 10%. Also for free. Had I not bought my Think City I would still be driving my ICE car waiting for someone else to offer a plastic bodies EV in my price range.

  4. I voted this Up, but it registered down by mistake. Good comment, Frank. Think has turned out to be a very good company to buy from.

  5. I disagree with your characterization of the Think in every way. I purchased mine new in Sept. 2011; didn't pay anywhere near "a price close to that of the larger, four-seat, five-door Nissan Leaf" (and also recieved a nice federal tax credit the following year). I drive it every day, used to commute 110 miles each day (charging while at work), and never has it been either unpleasant or felt unsafe on a highway. It looks as good as it did the day I took delivery (well, Ok, I could stand to vacuum it), and I've spent a total of $130 on maintenance in 20 months. Service has been fantastic - 2 calls to 24-hr roadside assistance + the factory-authorized repair center in Indianapolis. This is all better than any other car I've owned.

  6. I scratched my head over the word "crude" to describe the Think. I can only think of one amenity that I want that it doesn't have: cruise control. True, it doesn't have slick electronic displays that give a bunch of useless information like the LEAF or Tesla's Model S. But I consider that a virtue. I really don't like cars that try to be video games.

  7. Once 40K can get me a Karma, I'll be all in... Even when it's broken with batteries on fire and sitting on bricks, it will still be worth it :) I already have a used (by me) LEAF...

  8. I have owned my Karma since February 2012 and have loved the car. I rarely drive more than 40 miles per day so I am getting over 500 MPG. When I heard that the price had dropped to $50,000 I was going to buy another one as there is a company called Hybrid Solutions that will service the car (for a price). A search on the internet revealed that the asking price for one like mine was still near $70,000. I think that the $50,000 price was one sold at auction after being totaled by an insurance company after an accident (unable to repair due to parts not available).

  9. 500 mpg? Does this include the electricity you use separately? I find a tremendous amount of ignorance out there about the fuel use of EVs.

  10. No, it is NOT.

    It is more like "MPGbs" or "fake MPG" in this case.

  11. Isn't this the same number that some plug-in hybrids (Volt at least) report on their dash as MPG?

    Note that, to me, it makes sense. Saying that a PHV which travels 500 miles on 1 gallon of gas + lots of electricity, does 500 MPG, is factually accurate.
    Without context though, this can easily mislead about the actual overall energy consuption, and that's where using MPG alone becomes improper.

    US officials and the public really should stop using completely retarded units. Much more intelligent discussions (and decisions) would take place...

  12. Yeah, this is pretty bad. The Fisker is only rated at 54 mpge (the worst efficiency of any plugin). So it takes a lot of cheek to claim 500 MPGbs.

  13. I agree with Frank about the plastic body panels. Remember Think was once owned by Ford ,who put many Millions of Dollars developing this model before abandoning it. There were lease only Thinks in California in the early 2000's that were shipped back to Sweden,many are still on the road ten + years later. I look forward to many miles in my Think . As far as service,it has been outstanding with warranty issues resolved without problem. The car has all the modern power conveniences, and like Frank mentioned a new PTC heater that is more efficient than the old one.Just because Think only graced us with 500 or so cars here in the US and ,yes it was a bargain ,I don't think for a minute it was because it wasn't a good car to begin with.

  14. I have had my Karma since Feb. 2012 and have nearly 10,000 mile on it so far. I am averaging over 500 MPG as I rarely drive more that 40 miles per day. I love this car. When I heard that I could buy one for $50,000, I checked on the internet to buy another one. The best deal I could find for a Karma like mine was $69,900 used. I think that the one for $50,000 may have been a car that was totaled by an insurance company and sold at auction (cannot repair the car right now because parts are not available). If VL Automotive / Wanxiang buy the company, service will probably continue. If not, there is a company called Hybrid Solutions that will service the car for a price.

  15. The author shows a real vote of confidence for the Nissan LEAF as a used car. Hopefully its few battery problems in Arizona aren't the canary in the coal mine of issues to come with these vehicles.

    I might also add that any low volume conversion cars should be avoided as well.

  16. Isn't it about time John, Nikki, and that Chelsea lady stopped hating on Think. It was a good car and now it's time is over. I just turned 30K hassle free miles on my little Think buzz box. This article is similar to warning folks not to buy a brick analog cell phone in 2013. Everybody already knows. The general public will never know these early adopter cars existed.

  17. LOL, that is great. So basically, no one is likely to buy one anyway, so why bring it up.

    And yes "that Chelsea lady" aka Chelsea Sexton the star of who kill the electric car. We probably should buy any used EV1's either.

  18. There is no such thing as "used" EV1 since none of them was ever for sale. It was a "pilot" program by GM. It didn't even have a "Brand". It was called GM EV-1 and serviced out of Saturn dealers (which no longer exist).

  19. I'm fairly sure John was speaking sarcastically.

  20. Indeed.

  21. That's correct. Why dig up the old stuff and attack it? I don't understand why he goes negative on Think and the earlier EV manufacturers. These companies were making electric cars when big automakers weren't interested. There isn't a used EV market yet.

  22. People worrying about spare parts for the Fisker Karma: one of the rumours surrounding Fisker's spectacular demise is that it paid in advance for 15K units of many of the parts that went into it. With only ~2000 on the road finding replacements for these parts shouldn't be much of a problem for the next century or so. If the rumours are correct of course.

  23. I bought a Think last fall, and like it a lot. I find it powerful. There's a 19% grade hill near my house, and I accelerate while climbing. The range, battery size, and fuel economy is the same as a Nissan LEAF's.

    A Think is a foot and a half longer than a Smart car. I am continually surprised by how much stuff I can put into the cargo area, which specs at 28 cu. ft. compared with the Smart's 7 cu. ft.

    I agree about the list price, but the discounted price was a terrific bargain. The Think company is small and lacks other products to absorb the City's development and manufacturing costs. A Nissan LEAF is basically an electrified Versa, so there are a bunch of costs absorbed elsewhere.

    Bottom line: I think your conclusion is unfair.

  24. On those occasions where I take my Think on the highways, it's plenty fast. I have no trouble reaching and sustaining 70 miles an hour, which is about as fast as you'd want to go in ANY subcompact.

    When I was considering buying the car, I was firm on one point: That I had to like it as a car, regardless of how it was powered. It passed that test at the outset, and still does. It's simply wrong to call it "not particularly fast" or unpleasant to be in.

    The seats are comfortable, the steering is great, and because of the battery's location under the seats, the handling is just superb. I've owned a lot of cars, and would put the Think in the top five.

  25. "
    I agree about the list price, but the discounted price was a terrific bargain."
    And even buying mine from 'the factory' in Sept. 2011, I didn't pay anywhere CLOSE to list price. Who pays sticker for a car? ;) Not even a 'dumb girl'.

  26. "Did we mention that used Nissan Leaf?"

    hahah. NOT a bad advice. It is a decent used car. Few maintainence or quality issue. But you have to watch out for battery or range issue. If your roundtrip commute is less than 35 miles, then an Used Leaf is perfect for it. But if it is longer, then I would be worried to buy it as a reliable long term commuter. 72 miles x 0.7 = 50 miles range. with high speed and heat use, 50 x 0.7 = 35 miles in Used condition with high speed and heat usage in the winter.

    But that covers more than 50% of the daily commute for most people and if you can get one for less than $10k that is coming off a 3 yr lease, then it is a great deal.

  27. Another reason that an used EV is better than used ICE (beside the battery range issue) is that as car gets old, ICE will require more maintainence than EVs. When both are new, the difference in maintainence is fairly small. But once you pass the 70K miles range, ICE will require far more service than a typical EV (as long as you can handle the reduced EV range).

  28. Got my Think a year ago, has 9000 fun miles on it! The free software performance up grade allows me to run with the big dogs on the expressway but at a fraction of the cost that they have to pay. Had interior lights problem that was fixed by two mechanics that CAME TO MY HOME to work on it, under warranty.

    Oh last week my wife back into my Toyota, putting a big dent in the Toyota and not a scratch on the Think. No I don't want to sell my Think, thanks but no thanks, saving to much money!

  29. I have to say, I'm enjoying all the Love from the Th!nk owners. Well done guys.

  30. I have both a Think and a Leaf. The Think as a second EV was a reasonable choice as Think was moving them out at $15,500 after rebate. At the time the cheapest Leaf was about $28,000 after rebate. As the article notes base model Leafs are now cheaper - but good luck finding either used - we EV owners have the highest satisfaction ratings around. I too have found Thinks maintenance support despite its troubles to be superb. A fun to drive little car with a lot of cargo room for its size and it handles like it is on rails with its low center of gravity.

  31. This review of Think City is totally wrong! My husband and I have owned our for over a year. We bought it used on eBay and had it shipped to Henderson, NV. It has over 15,000 miles on it now and we absolutely LOVE it! The folks at Think came to us and did a heater replacement due to a recall. We also got a software update that governs the car at 75 mph. Since the upgrade, we have plenty of power and can easily do 70 on the freeways . . .even up hill! As far as the range. . . we get close to the 100 miles they advertise if we drive strictly surface streets. At all highway speeds, the range is around 70 miles. We installed a 240 Clipper Creek charger in the garage.(Itcomes with a Clipper Creek110)Just plug it in at night,it will be full by am

  32. what about the transit connect?

  33. John, my impression of the Think was that it did not give a tech-glamourous enough image and might truly be functionally limited, largely based on what I had read from professional car critics and tech experts. Based on owners who actually use the vehicle over a period of time, some with electric vehicles, like the Leaf to compare to, real world use seems a valid measure of the car that Nikki or other ev writers [in many other web sites than here] have not brought into the conversation.

    John, is it possible to interview Th!nk owners and find out where the difference is between professional understanding and practical use?

  34. Car reviewers go for the trendiest and the newest. With EVs, part of that is an emphasis on the flashy touch screens and other "eco" badges. Think has none of that. It's a basic econobox that happens to be quite functional, especially for its size, and a lot of fun to drive.

    I can understand that GCR would favor snazzier models, and it's hard to deny that Think's long-future is shaky at best. But the specific deficits mentioned in the review, well, they're just wrong. All you have to do is drive one for a while and you'd realize it.

    And when it comes to customer service, I find it remarkable that a bankrupt company would be far better than Tesla, which blames every problem on its customers. But the Model S is so ... cool! Until it breaks.

  35. This brings up an interesting question about the effect of the Federal and State rebates on used car prices. California and Colorado EV owners are eligible for up to 10,000 and 13,500$ in rebates. How will this effect depreciation? My daughter turn 16 in 18 months and I am thinking a used Volt or Leaf should be pretty cheap. Is it reasonable to expect that the cars will depreciate further from their post-rebate price?

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.