Buying an i3 for a high school car??

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New member
Jan 5, 2021
My 15 year old youngest daughter is currently doing drivers ed and will be of driving age in late fall. I'm thinking of getting her a used i3 for her around-town and high school commuting car. I'm also looking at the Nissan Leaf and have a pretty good idea of which years and models to avoid with the Leaf. But don't know anything about the i3. Some basic facts.

1. We are in the greater Portland metro so these are common cars and there are about 40 of them currently on Carfax in our area. The cool but not cold climate seems conducive to electric cars. I basically see Tesla everywhere and lots of Leafs too.

2. Her commute to HS will be about 5 miles each way. I would guess total daily running around to jobs, music lessons, friends, etc. will range between 10 and 40 miles per day. Almost all of it in the Vancouver and Camas WA area, across the bridge from Portland.

3. It will be parked outside our suburban home in the driveway beside the garage. My circuit box is on the other side of the garage wall so it would be a trivial exercise for me to drill a hole in the side of the garage wall to tap into a new 240 volt breaker and install a 240 volt charging station next to where the car will be parked. There is plenty of room in my breaker box to install a new 240 volt circuit.

4. My wife has a Highlander and I have a Prius so we have two other cars she can use for longer road trips and such. So I'm not particularly concerned about range. This will just be an around town HS kid's car, nothing more. I don't think I care about the range extender. I doubt the car will ever leave the Portland metro area.

Is there any sort of buyers guide to used I3s out there? Any models or years to especially seek or avoid? I'd prefer to stay under $15k and closer to $10k if possible.
First off, I am curious what appeal the i3 has for this situation over a LEAF? I'm pretty sure the LEAF would be cheaper to buy, have longer range, be cheaper to maintain and cheaper to insure than an i3. For a brand new driver, chances of scuffs and dings seem likely and the i3's carbon fiber body might be more resilient to those but also would be much more expensive to fix. Additionally, while I prefer RWD and the power boost the i3 has over the LEAF, I'm not sure it's best for a new driver. Losing regenerative braking on the rear wheels around a tight corner was pretty scary stuff the first few times it happened to me and I've been driving for a while before getting an i3.

Having said that, I like my i3 and if you are leaning that way here are my thoughts:

1) Yes, moderate climates are best. The LEAF particularly does not have active thermal management for the batteries so they can be permanently damaged in hotter climates. The i3 DOES have thermal management which is part of the AC system. It allows for keeping the battery cooler as long as the battery is in use. However, this also means AC failures can damage the battery. While rare, it could be extremely expensive and/or total the car.

2) In your price range of $10-15k you're likely looking at the smaller battery pack (60ah) fitted to 2014-2016 which had an EPA range of 81miles when new. You should be fine to assume a 40 mile "worst case scenario" on any i3 that has at least 70% of the battery's capacity left. I mention 70% because BMW warrants the capacity to be at least that level for 8 years. However, BMW is vague at best and evasive at worst about measuring capacity/ addressing this issue.

3) With the described usage, even charging at L1 (120v) seems plenty assuming you can charge the car overnight. If DC Fast charging is ever a thought, it may be worth noting the LEAF uses Chademo vs. the BMW's CCS connector which is now the prevailing standard in the US.

4) Unless you know you want it, do NOT get one with a range extender. They add all the complications and maintenance of a luxury automaker's ICE to an otherwise simple car and tend to cause more problems than they're worth for most people.

Summary - Conventional wisdom says to avoid the first model year of a car which would be 2014. After that, in the US 2017 is when the bigger battery pack (94ah) appeared, so you'll see a big jump in price starting there. I'd be surprised if you could get a 2017 for under $15k.

Other advice:
AVOID the 20" wheels. Get the 19" ones for a better ride and fewer flat tiers.
I like my i3 but I have a friend who likes his LEAF. In your situation I'd probably go for a LEAF. YMMV
Thanks. I haven't ruled out the leaf at all. It is probably the most economical choice. But also not as cool of a car for a teen. Although the re-designed 2018 models do look better than the older jelly-bean styled models.

The Leaf and i3 seem to be the only economical small short-range EVs on the used market these days. The Bolts seem to be much more expensive and more designed for range. So I've been thinking Leaf or i3. I've done more research on the Leaf but my kid likes the look of the i3 better so I'm giving it a look too.

Of course the other option would be to give the kid my 5-year old Prius and and buy a new Tesla Model 3 for myself :lol: But that would be a lot more money.

It seems like the EV market is all trending towards large expensive long-range models and bigger SUVs. There aren't really many small city-oriented EVs on the market other than the Leaf and i3 and now I see the i3 is also going to vanish.

Basically what I want for my kid is a small economical short-range city car like a Honda Fit or equivalent, but that is EV. Perhaps the Leaf is the closest thing to that. I don't see the point in paying double the price for a car that can go 300 miles on a charge when it is just going to be a local commuter car.
camasonian said:
Basically what I want for my kid is a small economical short-range city car like a Honda Fit or equivalent, but that is EV. Perhaps the Leaf is the closest thing to that. I don't see the point in paying double the price for a car that can go 300 miles on a charge when it is just going to be a local commuter car.
Maybe you could find a used Honda Fit EV, Fiat 500e, Chevrolet Spark EV, or Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Apparently, some of these were lease-only, and were sold only in a few states, so finding a used one might be difficult.

Our first EV was a 2012 i-MiEV. It is a very compact RWD EV with as much interior space as an i3 despite being about a foot shorter. Like the i3, it has a very short turning circle. Unlike the i3, it has normal rear doors. Its battery pack is forced air cooled which is inferior to liquid or refrigerant cooling, so it would be worth checking on the usable battery capacity. Its EPA rated range was only 62 miles when new. I was able to get 80 miles in suburban and urban driving without the A/C running. It doesn't have a heat pump like the i3, so its range would be reduced considerably in cold weather.
Seems perfectly suited to a high schooler to me. Super safe (including compared to the leaf), not stupidly fast, and the range needs are sufficient. And... not lame.

I would not buy a 2014 if you can help it. 2017 and later have significantly better battery pack longevity, so if they're in the price range, do that. Avoid the REx if you don't need it (sounds like you don't), as it's responsible for most of the i3's reliability issues. A 2017+ BEV is nearly Toyota levels of reliability.
This may be blasphemous, but how about a Volkswagen e-golf? Fun to drive, normal rear doors, and looks smashing in the pacific blue color. I really enjoyed the handling of the car as it was very similar to a VW ICE that I own. I personally test drove one and thought it was a great car, though was concerned with the limited battery for long distances.

I eventually purchased a 2017 i3 of which I drive on a 72 mile one way trip on the interstate occasionally. It is the Rex version, which I rarely use, though it’s there if needed. I get 132 miles on a charge, and appreciate the button that allows me to change from Comfort mode.

As much as I like the i3, I look forward to when VW offers the car size that I like that is electric. The ID 3 is not offered in my country, and sadly the state where I live charges a yearly $200 car registration fee to own an all electric car.

Be aware if you purchase a 2017 model that the 12 V battery may be coming due for replacement. YouTube has a couple of videos on how to replace. The BMW dealer quoted $350 or so to replace the battery and bless it. Perhaps someone else can add their experience. The tires have been no problem for me.
If I were in your shoes I’d avoid 2014-2016 BMW i3 as they are lacking on range, plastic motor mounts break (2014-2015) and exploding AC compressor. 2017 model is very capable, and they worked out most of the early production bugs. Plus their larger battery packs seem to hold up longer especially with more DC-fast charging.

Remember in the winter you’ll probably lose 30% of range due to temperature, even though we have mild winters here in PNW.

REx is a great backup plan, and really only needs a yearly oil change at $139 (dealer).
camasonian said:
Thanks. I haven't ruled out the leaf at all. It is probably the most economical choice. But also not as cool of a car for a teen.

That makes sense. Let's just say my parents were not concerned at all about whether the car I was driving in highschool was "cool" :lol:

I also do find it a bit funny that you asked for buying advice about the i3 and we all suggested other vehicles. :lol:

The truth is: you can't go VERY wrong with the i3 (at least no more than any other car) as long as you know what you're getting into. Yes, tires are skinny and wear fast. Yes, 2014-2016 models have a realistic range as low as 40 miles in some circumstances*. Yes, there were issues on the early ones for motor mounts and occasionally an AC compressor goes out and totals the car. And, as a 2014 owner I sometimes wish I had the bigger battery that comes in the 2017+ cars... BUT if your max drive in a day is going to be 40 miles I maintain that one of the best cars you could buy is the 2014-2016 i3.

And again, to hit your price point, I'd be suspicious of a 2017+ below $15k right now considering the way the used car market is.

*I drive my 2014 like a gas car: comfort mode, climate control on 99% of the time, with no mind for efficiency and see range between 40 and 70 miles on a battery that supposedly has 73% capacity left.
camasonian said:
I haven't ruled out the leaf at all. It is probably the most economical choice. But also not as cool of a car for a teen.

LOL. I would have loved my own car as a teenager, let alone an all electric Leaf. I've always been curious why some parents want to buy flashy cars for their kids.

Anyway, I vote Leaf. There is a lot to go wrong with an i3, especially being as it's made out of a carbon fiber composite. Relatively minor collisions can total the whole thing out.