In an effort to get and keep more used cars in its service area, a community utility provider in California's San Mateo County, between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, is offering its own incentive of $4,000 for qualifying buyers of used plug-in cars, the company announced at the "Future of Clean Transportation" event last week.

Like a few such programs around the country, it helps remedy an issue: Not everyone can afford a Tesla. Not everyone can even afford a new car.

That can make it difficult to spread clean transportation to lower-income populations. And while vehicles bought with new-car inventives eventually trickle down to households with lower budgets, used-car buyers aren't often eligible for any tax credits or rebates.

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The program is run as part of Peninsula Family Service's Drive Forward program, which helps low-income buyers afford cars with low interest loans. The program is open to individuals who either live or work in San Mateo County and earn less than $48,560 a year, or families of up to eight who make up to $169,520. 

It focuses on plug-in hybrids, rather than pure-electric vehicles, because many of those families can afford only one vehicle, which has to meet all their needs, including out-of-town trips, and because many of those buyers rent their homes and may not be able to move an EV charger with them if they have to relocate.

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Buyers who want a pure EV and are convinced it can meet their ongoing needs can choose one, however.

“Used plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can provide affordable and reliable transportation for all members of our community who need a car to access better jobs or opportunities,” said Jan Pepper, Peninsula Clean Energy CEO. “Electric cars deliver additional savings to drivers by reducing maintenance and fuel costs compared to a gas-powered car.”

The used car has to be bought from a licensed dealership, many of whom in the area have systems set up to work with Peninsula Family Services' low-interest loan program. The $4,000 incentive goes to the dealership as a down payment on the car. 

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The company is offering just 100 of the incentives, but says funding may be renewed beyond that.

Several utilities offer incentives for new EV or plug-in car purchases because it helps them sell more electricity, especially at off peak times when it doesn't cost them as much to provide it. On a state basis, one such example is Oregon's Charge Ahead program, which gives qualified low-income households a $2,500 cash rebate towards the purchase or lease of a new or used EV (but not a plug-in hybrid). The program also mirrors one in Ontario, Canada, which offers provincial residents a $1,099 (Canadian) incentive on used EV purchases.