Buying your first electric vehicle in Australia? Here’s what you should know

After a slow start, Australians are about to be spoilt for EV choice. We look at the lay of the land – on batteries, charging, price and the secondhand market


Sat 6 Jul 2024  in The Guardian

Whether it’s the space-age sound some models make when they accelerate, or the smug sense of freedom that comes when flying by a service station with $2 a litre petrol, electric vehicles (EVs) are fun to drive and cheaper than their hydrocarbon-locked counterparts.

With new government policies supporting the rollout of EVs, Australians are about to be spoiled for choice as the variety and volume of models are expected to grow.

Buying a new electric car can still be daunting for those who haven’t really kept up, so we put together a buying guide for those looking to make the switch.

EVX pole-mounted electric car charger in Sydney.

I’m buying my first EV. What should I be thinking about?

At the end of the day, you’re buying a car. Some of the lingo may change, and battery performance is measured in kilowatt hours, but you still need to ask yourself the same basic questions. The first step is to think about how you will actually be using the vehicle: do you live in the city or country? Do you live in a hilly neighbourhood? How many kids do you have? Will you use it mostly for going to work and picking up groceries? Or will you be regularly travelling long distances to visit friends and family on the weekends? Do you need towing capacity or a bike rack?

Asking these sorts of questions will tell you how many seats you will need, how much space you require and what kind of extras you are looking for. Crucially, they will also give you an indication for what kind of battery size you will need.

What do I need to know about batteries?

Over the years, there has been a bunch of hand-wringing over “range anxiety”. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the battery, the more kilowatt hours it will have, meaning the further it will go before it needs to be recharged. The flipside to this is “car bloat”: the larger a battery, the larger the car will need to be to house it and the heavier it will be, which will in turn require more energy to move it – and you’ll be paying more for the privilege. Playing to fear, uncertainty and doubt is a good way to sell people on spending more than they want to, so it’s important to ask yourself: do you really need 1,000km of range? How much range do you actually need? Blasting the air conditioner or carrying a load on the road will affect the performance of both petrol and electric vehicles, but how often are you actually doing this? One way to get across it is to keep a log of your trips, distance travelled and conditions across a week or a month to better target the kind of battery and vehicle that suits you.

What if I do want to go on longer-range trips?

That’s something to factor into your purchase decision but also is not impossible to do even with a smaller battery. Australia’s charging grid is still in the process of being built, but people have driven the distance between Melbourne and Brisbane in a couple of days. There are websites, such as, that map the location of every charging station on the planet, and though not totally seamless yet, some EVs have this information built into their navigation systems. It is possible to plan charging stops around breaks, which is a good idea if you’re driving long distances anyway. You can also charge at your accommodation, but be mindful of etiquette. Some hotels and Airbnbs now advertise charging capacity as an amenity, but some people aren’t there yet and may get cranky if they find their power bill has spiked.

Is there anything else I should know about charging?

Where once you may have thought about the type of petrol you bought, with an EV you need to think about plug type. This determines how fast your car can charge and what public charging stations it is allowed to use. Though there has been some progress toward opening up access and standardising different plug types and stations, it is good to be aware of what you will need in your area and whether you will need an adaptor. RACV has a handy short guide to the different plug types and JetCharge has a helpful tool to help you select the right cable.

Let’s talk price

Affordability is relative. Some carmakers, notably BYD, have been producing cheap EVs that now sell in Australia in the low $30,000s. Dr Jake Whitehead, chief scientist with the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia, says the average price for a new vehicle – EV or petrol – in Australia is around $50,000, which means that any EVs below that point are cheaper than your average new vehicle.

But even these prices can still be too high – which is why most Australians buy their cars on the secondhand market. The good news is that Australia’s secondhand EV market is starting to develop, with early adopters now selling their vehicles as they look to trade up and government fleet vehicles expected to go on sale over the next 12 to 18 months. Prices vary, but they are certainly cheaper than a new vehicle.

What do I need to know about buying a secondhand EV?

The main issue is battery life. Most EVs will give you a measure of their expected range on the dashboard. If that range seems unusually low, that is not necessarily a sign that the battery is in poor condition, it may just reflect that the previous owner tended to drive the car harder. Generally speaking, EV batteries are made to last the average 15-year lifespan of a vehicle – but even then these batteries are not entirely dead after this point. Unlike petrol cars, which can only be cannibalised for parts, this means there are still uses for secondhand EV batteries. As a result, the car will still be worth something at the end of its working life and it is anticipated this will seed an industry geared towards repurposing these devices for other uses. If you’re concerned, there are services available that will perform battery checks in the same way that technicians can perform safety inspections of vehicles.

Anything else I should be sure to ask about?

Servicing costs. When you buy an EV, you’re paying more upfront but you’re paying less on servicing costs over the lifetime of the vehicle. This generally makes them less expensive than petrol or diesel vehicles, but it is still a good idea to ask about the servicing costs so you know them upfront. Different carmakers offer different schemes. For some there are no costs but others have transparent pricing policies so you know exactly what those costs are and what that work will involve.

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