A buyers guide before you buy a Tesla

Before you buy a Tesla of any description, we thought we'd cover a few basics on owning an EV and the way Tesla do things. The ownership experience of a Tesla is likely to be very different to what you are used to, something that you must understand before taking the plunge as failing to do so may result in either a euphoric experience or the biggest mistake you may ever make.

Many Tesla owners can be overly enthusiastic about the cars and often don't take the time to listen to genuine concerns and questions potential owners may have and simply assert that the cars can do it all. We know of many owner scenarios where the cars just won't work at the moment for them, but that's not to say it won't work for many people. Typical issues are high mileage in areas with low public charging infrastructure, no ability to charge at home, very high dependency situations, people whose plans may change at short notice etc. Some can get around these problems, but for the buyer it is important to recognise the potential. A secondary factor is cost, and while there are savings to be made in use, extensive public charging is not cheap and depreciation is very variable.

This web site tries to take an impartial and balanced view of the good and the bad and let the reader decide.

The summary of this page is that Tesla do things differently and it is important that potential buyers understand the limitations and do some research. We'd also be very wary of other owners who simply promote the cars without spending time to give a balanced perspective and to reflect on your situation and specific needs.

The cars themselves when working are generally regarded as great, but it's when you scratch the surface of the design detail, the claims and promises that are constantly delayed, the buggy software at times, and the company's ability to deal with customer issues, especially outside the norm, and how they are treating existing owners less than well at times, that means buyers should educate themselves before they buy.

Sales force and process

Before we get into the meat of this, it’s worth mentioning the Tesla sales process and sales force. Tesla are renowned for doing things differently and they claim they don't have a traditional sales staff. Even if you buy in store, you are effectively sat down at a web browser as if ordering on-line. This has some benefits (no pushy sales folk) but also a downside as their motivation and attention to detail is often a little vague, not helped by Tesla’s own ambiguity at times. Details of changes to the cars occur and the sales staff rarely seem to know before the public, or even what some of the changes mean. This can carry through once you have placed your order as delivery dates can move around and finance agreements and trade-in values seem inconsistently managed. There have also been reports of misleading statements over range and what you can reasonably expect to get from the cars, often through ignorance of the Tesla staff rather than anything else.

Tesla are also primarily a new car operation, and while they do have a limited number of used cars for sale, these are not generally available to see or drive before purchase. Buyers may get some pictures of the car, the cars have minimal preparation done to them and the time-scales from order to delivery can be several weeks.

We've a number of more detailed guides covering buying a new Tesla, and an associated guide on how to save money buying a Tesla. We also have two guides covering both buying a used Tesla and due to a number of changes Tesla are now doing to used/CPO cars, a guide to buying a used car from Tesla.

Depreciation

This is a very mixed topic and context is everything. Many owners who have had their cars a number of years experienced low depreciation although this has changed over the last few years. We provide a market history plot for each model and you can form your own opinion, and a glance at a MS P100D from 2016 or 2017 shows how steep the depreciation can be losing £70k over 4 years. We cover Tesla depreciation and look at the cost to change between models.

We are also seeing Tesla selling a lot of inventory stock, these range from delivery mile cars to ex-demonstrators, both sometimes with discounts. Tesla won't otherwise negotiate on price. People often benchmark depreciation of list price to future sales prices, buy Tesla is rare in that there are no discounts on new cars, the price they list the car for is the price you pay. Occasionally you may find a discounted car advertised but this is usually an ex demo car or an older model and te advertised price is still the price you pay.

Check out our Tesla inventory pages as we offer more search features than Tesla and combined both Tesla and 3rd party listings.
We provide comprehensive details for each car including an assessment of the market, the price history of that car and the depreciation curve for that model/year.

Driving

Owning a Tesla is a different experience. By far the most noticeable thing about the car is how the driving experience is different to cars you will have driven before. Some of the technology is similar to that of other cars, like doors unlocking automatically, but it's been taken to another level. You walk up, the door handles present themselves, on some cars the doors even open automatically for you, you get in, you put it in drive, you move away. No ignition, no "on" switch, no handbrake, no noise. And then the driving is just so smooth and responsive. Floor it, and the horizon approaches very quickly.

That said the cars are heavy and while quick off the mark they can suffer at higher speeds and around corners for an otherwise "fast" cars. The Model 3 is relatively nimble and the performance version is often compared to mid-size sports cars like the BMW M4, however we feel the MS and MX are now starting to feel dated and heavy and the Raven suspension update has only partly addressed this. In essence the bigger Tesla cars are great in a straight line but they cannot really be classed as drivers cars.

Quality of engineering

So it's perfect!? Well, not quite. There are issues to be aware of. The sat nav, while looking impressive, can be temperamental and misses some basic features such as waypoints and alternative route options. There is no option to switch to Waze or another 3rd part sat navs as apple carplay and android auto are not available. There is also the reliability of the technology. At times the screens can just crash or become sluggish and require a reboot, autopilot suffers from a variety of issues, some of which can be dangerous such as random braking and Tesla still claim its work in progress.

The interior is minimalist which some people love, but it is also relatively low on quality compared to premium cars of this price bracket like Audi, BMW and Porsche. One person's minimalist design is another person's lack of detail and no doubt any prospective buyer will have sat in the car to form their own opinion. For us its the smaller details, look at the design of rubber seals around the door and how stable they are, the sound when you close a door, design of the seats including lateral support.

There are also some misconceptions on how high technology the car is. There are many unique or advanced features in the design; Autopilot, the self-presenting doors, the drive-train, the availability and speed of superchargers but each of these things are being addressed by the competition. There are however some noticeable absences; there is no head up display, the adaptive headlights are a long way behind the best from BMW, Audi and Mercedes, there is no surround view when parking, the stereo while having built in Spotify does not sound fantastic compared to other high-end stereos. Autopilot is also struggling to deliver on its enhanced promises and full self-driving still seems a long way off despite Elon Musk announcing again that its not far away.

But let's put this into perspective, the reality is the car is very different to what you may be useful. While there are plenty of things to delight a new owner, there will be some basic features that will surprise the buyer with their absence. The questions buyers need to do is balance the positives against the negatives, but probably more importantly evaluate what those are and whether they matter to them. Tesla is not the best of the automotive world and then made better still.

Customer service

Tesla use an app to schedule service and while this can be convenient, the ability to talk to somebody in service is not something that is easy to do. Tesla also handle routine maintenance and warranty matters well when they are straight forward, however if your problem is not straight forward or there is a looming significant design defect issue, Tesla go into a denial mode. There have been issues with older cars regarding charging speed, battery capacity and large screen failures which Tesla are pushing back even though its patently these are design defects. Owners have resorted taking Tesla to court and Tesla have been known to not even turn up to defend the case. We feel forcing owners to go legal is at best a very poor organisational structure failing to respond better, and at worst a deliberate and cynical tactic to try and reduce warranty.

Tax and incentives

Most countries offer EV buyers some incentives. In the UK car drivers are now in a very favourable market for pure EC cars. The key points being:

UK VED is now also zero for all pure electric cars. The ULEV grant though has been removed for cars retailing at over £50 before options, so only the two entry level Model 3 cars quality.

But fuel costs are otherwise cheap, and 3-5p a mile fuel costs are easily achievable when charging at home. Its more expensive if you use a public charger that requires payment, although many still don't charge, especially destination chargers. Public charging can however work out as high as 25p a mile although the proportion of your driving at this rate if you can charge at home is likely to be small.

Tax incentives in other countries vary and change all the time, but with an increasing shift to environmentally friendly initiatives, most countries have benefits of one type or another although some countries are starting to reduce their subsidies. The US has cut back on some of the federal tax savings, Holland has also changed its benefits at the end of 2019. You should check the local situation at the time of purchase.

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