Back in 2017, we bought a Chevy Bolt EV. It’s been a great car, but for a few reasons, including the lack of close Zipcars in our neighborhood and the discontinuation of the car2go smart cars, I decided that having a second EV (especially a small one) would be good to have.
When we got the Bolt, one of the big considerations was range. There was really only one vehicle on the market then which had the range we’d wanted at a reasonable pricepoint.
For a second vehicle, there wouldn’t be a need for as much range, so for a sub-$10k used pricepoint, that came out as a choice between the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Spark, the Smart fortwo electric drive, and the Fiat 500e.
I’d originally thought that the Spark would be the vehicle I was going to buy, but when I finally test drove one, I wasn’t a fan of the fit and finish. While the Spark has DCFC, the on-board charger is only 3.3kW, which is the slowest among the choices.
From there, I turned to the Smart fortwo. Unfortunately, that vehicle takes a while to accelerate and it doesn’t comfortably handle on the highway. Having no back seats can be inconvenient at times. It’s better than the gas version, but not as good as the other choices.
I briefly considered the Leaf as well, but it’s a longer vehicle than the others, and because the battery is passively cooled (unlike the others), it tends to degrade faster.
That left the Fiat 500e. It was short enough to easily park, had a 6.6kW on-board charger, was pretty zippy, had decent fit and finish, and while there was no fast charging option, I’d rarely use it if it was available. After test driving one, I was sold.
The problem with that was that the only ones I could find in Seattle cost around $12k, while the ones a bit farther south in California listed on Autotrader were available for much less, as little as around $6.5k.
I found a San Francisco area dealership that a 2013 model that looked to have good battery life remaining. I negotiated over the price via text message down to $6.2k, then flew down to check it out. Thanks to a nice cache of frequent flyer miles, it didn’t cost me more than a few dollars out of pocket to head down there for the day.
At this point, we figured out whether or not it would be financed and got a purchase contract written up and signed. For the price of the car, I could buy it outright from savings.
With the car purchased, I needed to get the car home. This part is interesting because most folks would just drive the vehicle back, but that would be difficult given the range of this car. On top of that, California law says that if you drive the car off the lot, then you have to pay sales tax on it, which I’d prefer to avoid given that California sales tax is higher than that in Washington state.
I quickly learned that shipping a vehicle is something where there tend to be a lot of brokers involved, many of which are high-pressure (especially the ones in Florida, for some reason) and wanted a hefty mark-up for their services. I ultimately found someone through U-ship that was willing to transport it for around $600.
With that done, I got a bill of lading from the carrier to provide to the dealership and we settled on a date for the car to be picked up. The sales guy usually handles the delivery piece. About half a week from then, the car showed up in Seattle. There are some forms that the carrier should complete and that should theoretically be notarized, but this is difficult to do. I filled them out and had the driver sign the form when I got it to send back to the dealership.
At this point, I’d spent around $6800, had a car in Washington and a finance agreement, but no title or bill of sale. I dropped by a King County Vehicle and Vessel licensing office to get temporary plates. While I was waiting for the titling department at the dealership to apply for a Washington title or send me the documents I’d need (usually coordinated through the finance guy), the licensing office gave me a 90-day temporary plates.
About 45 days into this, I still didn’t have a title needed to properly register the car in Washington. I reached back out to the finance guy, and he said that he’d look into it. A week later, I got a package of documents that had the California title signed over to the dealership, and then signed over to me. With that in hand, I took it back over to the licensing office, and got an actual set of plates in exchange. The Washington title showed up in the mail a few weeks later, and everything was finally done.
All in all, I saved quite a bit of money from buying out of state, but it was a headache to do. I think that if I were to do it again, I’d probably make sure that I at least got a bill of sale from the seller to make temporary plates easier, and would preferably have the title in hand.