How to buy or lease an electric car: advice from owner who's done it four times

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Doug Kerr, daughter Andie Kerr, fiancee Barbara Gleason; Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Fiat 500e

Doug Kerr, daughter Andie Kerr, fiancee Barbara Gleason; Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Fiat 500e

Most shoppers seem to view visiting a franchised auto dealer to negotiate the purchase or lease of a new car with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

In fact, as electric-car driver Douglas Kerr notes, the process is often compared to having a cavity filled.

Kerr has now leased or bought four separate electric cars, and he has some advice on reducing the pain.

What follows are his words, lightly edited by Green Car Reports for clarity and style.

Sleazy Car Salesman

Sleazy Car Salesman

My first experience in buying a car was epic. It ended with the salesman rising up from his chair and pointing at me, saying I was (kitty) whipped by my wife, and that I was a son of a (gun) who didn’t know a (friggin’) deal when I (friggin’) saw it.

What followed was a continuing trail of expletives that would have made a sailor blanch.

The salesman was irate because—after 45 minutes of back and forth between him, my wife, and me and endless treks to his sales manager—I hadn't signed on the dotted line.

After a pause, I thanked him for his time, and said I would certainly get back to him if his deal was, in fact, the best available.

As I sat stunned at this tsunami of invectives, my wife was already out the door and headed for our old car. I, ever the pragmatic one, headed for the sales manager’s office.

I coolly explained what had occurred, and asked if the deal was still good if I could find no better. As it turned out, I did not find a better deal.

The salesman, however, not only failed to get a commission from us, he lost his job: The sales manager fired him.

As the years (and cars) went by, I've honed my methodology of car purchasing to a razors edge.

A Honda dealership in Erie, Penn.

A Honda dealership in Erie, Penn.

No longer did I visit the showroom floors at dealerships.

Instead, I would find the fleet-car manager (now known as the Internet Sales Manager) and haggle using the dealer's own invoice price and the “best” price from internet car buying services.

What had once been the sole province of Consumer Reports was now supplemented by TrueCar, Costco, Walmart, AAA, and a myriad of other services at my disposal.

Then electric cars showed up, and my carefully crafted buying tactics were upended.

Sample page for electric-car lease [provided by California lessee Doug Kerr]

Sample page for electric-car lease [provided by California lessee Doug Kerr]

When I decided to get my first electric car in 2014, there were very few practical choices: two, maybe three.  The prices were high, and the deals were few.

Leasing seemed to be a better alternative—but I had never leased a car. I was confused, uneducated, and devoid of any superior buying methodology.

What were “capitalized cost reduction,”  “residual value” and “acquisition fees?” Then there were considerations for mileage and "excessive wear," items I could control only to some extent.

Main lesson: Negotiating the purchase or lease of an electric car is different

Leasing a car rather than purchasing has several negatives. Mileage limitations are a major impediment for those who drive a lot. Concerns about excessive wear are valid.

I used to keep a car for 8 to 10 years; but you can’t do that with an electric-car lease—though not because EVs are inherently incapable of lasting 10 years.

Many electric-car batteries can be expected to last beyond 100,000 miles, and the maintenance on battery-electric vehicles is demonstrably lower than that of their gasoline counterparts.

But leasing is the better option because resale prices today are dismal, in part because battery technology improves every year.

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