Opinion: EVs Are The Perfect First Car For A Teenager

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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The other day, I was driving by my neighborhood high school and was studying the cars in the parking lot. As a car nerd, I am always scanning roads, parking lots, and driveways for distinctive vehicles. While mindlessly gazing across the sea of students’ cars, I noticed something odd: Many of them were several-years-old EVs. I am talking 2012 Nissan LEAFs, Chevrolet Spark EVs, Fiat 500es, and one Honda Fit EV.

“Electric mobility is now second nature. They’ll know ‘I can’t drive like a bat out of hell. And I need to plan to recharge.'”

“Odd,” I thought. That’s because I typically only see grandmas driving early generation subcompact EVs like those. The image of these aging EVs sitting in the high school parking lot stuck in my brain. And it got me thinking. I realized that these parents were onto something by giving (I assume) their kids these electric vehicles. In fact, these aging EVs are the perfect teenager mobile. And it’s not necessarily for the reasons you might be imagining.

Is An EV A Good First Car For Teens

With the image of these dozen-or-so EVs still in my mind, I jumped on Kelley Blue Book when I got home to see just how inexpensive these seven-or-so-year-old pure-electric whips are going for. KBB values a 2012 LEAF in ‘very good’ condition from a private party for around $6,200. A ‘very good’ 2013 Fiat 500e can be had around $6,600. A 2014 Chevy Spark EV for $7,300 — again, in ‘very good’ shape. If you want to get real weird with it, you could track down a 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which can be bought for $5,300. Though, that one is a bit more golf-cart-y than you might want for your child.

You can slash a couple hundred to a couple thousand off the price of anyone of these cars, if you’re willing to take one that’s in just ‘good’ condition (more than nice enough for a first car, if you ask me).

Honda Fit EV. Could only be leased. | Photo: Honda

 

If you’re wondering about what 2014 Fit EV gos for, that’s an interesting one. Honda never sold the Fit EV; it only leased it to customers. Most had short two- to three-year leases. However, at the end of the lease, Honda was willing to extend those leases to customers, if they wanted. Few did, though. That’s why you see almost none on the roads. So, for this teen to have one, their parents would have had to have been the first lessee and then re-upped two to three times to get us to 2019.

If you’re happy with the small, 82-mile Fit EV, you got an incredible deal leasing one. For $199 a month, you got unlimited mileage; collision coverage (i.e. insurance); roadside assistance; scheduled maintenance; and scheduled navigation updates. It’s easy to see why someone would want to keep re-upping their Fit EV lease, especially if they have a soon-to-be teen driver.

The inexpensive nature of EVs doesn’t end with a killer Fit EV lease deal. As anyone who has ever owned an EV (or seen the “Who Killed The Electric Car?” movie) will know, EVs require far less maintenance and repair components. Tires will need to be swapped out every 60,000 miles or so. Really, other than tires, the friction brakes are the only wear-out component that needs replacing on an EV.

Thanks to regenerative braking, the friction brakes are used so infrequently, they virtually never wear out. That said, the friction brake system hydraulic fluid should be periodically changed, too. But that’s probably once every 70,000 miles or more. Really, we’re looking at an essentially maintenance-free first car.

How Much Range Do Used EVs Lose

These cars, unlike the contemporary Model S had pretty pathetic (by comparison) range ratings from the factory. The 2012 LEAF was rated at 81 miles. 2014 Fiat 500e had 84 miles on its window sticker. And the EPA estimated the i-MiEV could only do 62 miles per charge — even when brand new. So, even fresh from the showroom floor, drivers couldn’t go very far. Seven-or-so years later, the story isn’t much better.

There’s no real hard-and-fast rule for calculating battery degradation. It all depends on battery chemistry (that changed from year to year on some models), climate the cars have lived in (extreme heat and cold can ruin batteries), and how many miles the vehicle has traveled. Assume that perhaps anyone of these car have 50 to 75% (at best) of their original figures. And that’s when you drive really gingerly with a very light foot. Stomp on it, as a teen is want to do, and the range drops off precipitously.

You can really eke out a lot of range from an EV, if you drive it right, though. I say this with some authority, too. I actually hold the unofficial range record in a Spark EV at 139.7 miles. Though, that was when the car was brand new and driving at 24 miles per hour on a race track. The EPA estimate for that car was 84 miles of range. So, clearly, you can do far better. You just have to suffer a bit.

The EPA rated the Chevrolet Spark EV with a 82-mile range. Drive it gingery, and you could go a lot further than that. | Photo: Chevrolet

 

So, why is a limited-range vehicle ideal for a teen? Well, most parents don’t want their kids galavanting around the globe. The nature of this early generation of EVs will ensure they stick close to home. And, when they are home, they’ll need to be there for a while to recharge. Depending on whether you have a 120- or 240-volt charger at home, recharging any one of these EVs can take 8 to 24 hours.

Also, as I touched on earlier, they’re incentivized to drive at or below the speed limit. Hammering it will immediately shoot their range in the foot and thereby also their social lives.

It’s also worth mentioning that, at least in the case of the LEAF, it’s a pretty safe car. When it was new, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it a 5-star crash rating. The i-MiEV got a 4-star rating from NHTSA in 2012. The 500e and Spark EV, however, were not tested. No matter how they shake out in a collision, they’re a sight safer than, say, a Jeep Wrangler. That’s for sure.

Are EVs Actually Good For The Environment

The least tangible benefit of choosing an older EV for your teen’s first car is the most impactful — at least, in the long term.

If we get our young generation Z drivers accustom to the electric vehicle lifestyle, they won’t want to turn back to internal combustion (ICE) cars. Once you’re used to living with a vehicle with limited range (though, hopefully limited-range EVs are soon a thing of the past), it becomes normalized. You won’t struggle shifting from what amounts to an unlimited range ICE vehicle to an EV with a finite range, because you never made the shift. Electric mobility is now second nature. They’ll know “I can’t drive like a bat out of hell. And I need to plan to recharge.”

It’s this mindset that is most important, if we are going to shift to electrified transportation there by limiting the carbon emissions associated with transportation and curb climate change.

So, not only will you be saving money meanwhile keeping your kids safe and closer to home by getting them an EV, you’ll be setting an example that benefits the planet as well.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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