Buying a used Tesla

Updated 16-05-2020

Tesla have been selling cars for a number of years now and there is a steadily growing used car market. The earliest cars are now starting to fall outside warranty based on time and not just mileage in most countries, although the battery and drive train warranty is still covered until the cars are 8 years old, so most of them.

Buying used from Tesla is an option and they will reset the 4 year/50k mile warranty if the car is under 4 years and 50k miles, and above 50k miles the warranty is 2 years up to a maximum 100k miles. Tesla are not overly enthusiastic over selling used cars and do not have a typical used car or CPO operation. Their inventory counts are generally low and their part exchange prices are such that most sellers try and sell privately. Their used cars are therefore generally lease returns or cars that were covered by a buy back guarantee they used to offer.

Buying used from a non Tesla dealer requires you to do your home work as many dealers simply do not understand the cars and options. We've been tracking the used car market for a number of years and the adverts are often wrong. Common mistakes to look out for are: ludicrous mentioned on cars without it, the free supercharging status, whether stated options are actually on the car, confused and mismatched descriptions such as 21' wheels with 19' tyres and understanding the Tesla warranties. You also need to be careful about the quoted range of the cars, and the stated performance. We have seen 75D cars advertised with P100D performance statistics which is undoubtedly wrong. Inaccurate descriptions can occur with any used cars, but we find dealers are so unfamiliar with electric cars in general and Tesla as a brand that more mistakes are made, and as buyers are also often equally unfamiliar they are looking for the dealers to guide them which many dealers struggle to do. Its a lot easier to say yes to any question than say no and risk the loss of a sale.

You can find comprehensive car listings covering just about every country Tesla sell cars in to make your search easier, we even include more cars for sale at Tesla than Tesla advertise!

Buying a used Tesla from Tesla themselves, a dealer or privately.

Traditionally the best quality cars came from the manufacturers dealerships and 'CPO' or Certified Pre Owned cars. The manufacturer will have a minimum standard the car must meet including mechanical and cosmetic standards before selling the car, and the car would come with a good warranty. Tesla is no different with the exception that their cosmetic standards are fairly minimal and the inspection is now largely mechanical. We have created a guide to buying a used car from Tesla to cover the various considerations on a purchase from Tesla.

Buying from an independent dealer is a half way house, they should ensure the car is mechanically sound and they will typically address cosmetic issues to make the car as attractive as possible. They will also typically include a limited warranty, ofetn by law, and may offer to provide an extended warranty for a fee. The cars can generally be inspected before purchase (unlike Tesla who only offer photographs) and even driven. A potential risk is if the car was bought at auction from Tesla as Tesla may have removed options such as unlimited supercharging, premium connectivity and autopilot but these changes have not yet been reflected in the car. It can be very hard to tell, so any such promises made by the dealer that these are still in force should be in writing to protect the buyer.

The final option is to buy from a private seller. Where cars are under the original warranty this approach is relatively risk free aside from the exchange of money and other guidance on buying any car privately such as checking there is no finance on the car, whether it is accident damaged etc. You can usually also see the owners MyTesla account to check on supercharging status etc.

Resources to find more information about a specific car

We've created an easy way for you to find out what options a car has, so long as the seller has the log in details for the car/the car is linked to their Mytesla account. Ask the seller to go to Car information after getting the option code string from their MyTesla account and it will list all the options the car has.

You can also roughly find the date when the car was built by getting the last 6 digits of the vin and entering them into the Tesla factory gate date vin checker. This will return the dates for cars with a similar vin and when they left the factory.

And finally, using the year the car was built, you can see the what changes were made before and after a given year by checking our Tesla Model History guide. Any changes made in the year of a specific car need to be checked with the seller as changes have historically occurred at different times of the year and cars are not built in strict vin order. We would recommend that any feature that is important to your buying decision is confirmed with the seller.

Which model?

Tesla now 5 used models available to buy. We list each car and give you some basic details and how they've changed:

Model S

Ignoring the Roadster, the Model S is the first production Tesla to reach any production volumes. The car has gone through many updates, tweaks, enhancements and problems since its inception and a car you order today will be considerably different to the early cars. The design is similar, but items such as batteries, autopilot hardware, quality of trim, even tyre sizes have changed over time, and sometimes changed back. This guide is based on the versions since AP was introduced (the vast majority of cars made since 2014)

The exterior has undergone one major change when it was face lifted in late 2016. This is clearly recognisable from the front nose cone. While there were a few associated teaks at this time such as changes to the headlights and the option of a Hepa filter, the main change to the exterior is just the cosmetic appearance.

In 2019 there was a further update when the Raven models were launched. The most noticeable change is the air suspension which has improved the ride. These cars also left the factory with the ability to charge on CCS using an adapter (a country specific feature) although this can be retrofitted to all cars. In 2020 Tesla also made changes tot he electric motors although these are less obvious and the advantage is primarily the introduction of 1 foot driving and a slightly improved efficiency.

The other significant change over time is the roof. Early cars had a metal roof with the optin of a panaramic sunroof, this has changed to be a fixed glass roof.

The interior has also remained largely unchanged with the exception of the seats. There have been a number of seat iterations which were not linked to the exterior facelift. In 2015 the "next gen" seats were introduced around the time the dual motor cars were launched and these survived until very late 2016 and around the time of the 100 battery launch. These later seats have been tweaked but are essentially the same design and still in use.

The other interior changes are more minor such as the fitting of a central console (2016), the addition of rear USB ports and so on.

The technology changes are mentioned further on in this blog.

Model X

The car with the Falcon doors and the size of, well, the millennium falcon. It's the Tesla SUV and its huge. Built on pretty much the same platform as the Model S facelift it shares many of the same good and bad points.

The exterior hasn't changed since launch although there have been a constant stream of small incremental tweaks to the way things are connected, sensors. etc. These changes have improved the quality of the car and later cars are generally more solid and refined. Like the MS, the MX also have the Raven updates and motor changes in 2019 and 2020.

The interior offers a number of seating options to suit all tastes including a third row and combinations of individual seats and a bench. There are 5, 6 and 7 seat combinations. The rear (second row) bench also changed to become folding early on. It's worth checking what it can do on any particular car before buying and do not assume that all the seats can fold floor for a cavernous cargo bay. On 5 and 7 seat cars with 3 individual second row sears, while these are comfortable but do not fold. The 6 seat cars also have optional centre consoles on the earlier models.

Model 3

The car that is destined to change the world. Its certainly making a big impact and is not appearing as used cars in most countries.

Tesla have now introduced model years on the Model 3 such as the 2020 var which dropped hooks in the frunk and changes to the sound insulation/ They are however still making some running changes along the way to address issues found in use, such as the underfloor tray which when very wet could collapse. There have however been no significant changes to the model yet.

Model Y

The Model Y was introduced in 2020 and numbers are still relatively few but some will be appearing ont he used market in countries where they are sold. As the car is so new there is nothing to comment on regarding the model history.

While the Model Y superficially shares many characteristics with the Model 3, there have been a number of significant changes to the car design for build efficiency. These have generally been taken favourably by the industry. Some of the proposed changes to areas such as the wiring loom which had been tabled as being massively reduced with a revolutionary design simply haven't materialised.

Roadster

The car that started it all.

Production finished a long time ago and this could be destined for collectors status. There are plenty of Left hand drive cars around, but right hand cars are very rare and carry a premium.

The cars do have issues, the version 3 battery suffers from degradation issues and the PEM is an expensive item that fails, and parts can be on a long back order. We've heard of a bricked battery taking the best part of a year to replace. They also need modifications and adaptors to use on T2 and Chademo chargers. They're not for the feint hearted to buy and we suggest that anyone considering them either needs to have deep pockets or be technically very astute.

If you are considering buying an original roadster we suggest you do some serious research and talk to specialists before doing so as we have heard of a number of cars being off the road for significant periods of time (measured in years) waiting for replacement parts as they are simply not available.

Technology

We've drawn all the technology together into one section although its worth noting that the Roadster is fairly unique and so the following does not apply.

The fabled high tech is a mixture of actually quite traditional tech with some fantastic innovation. The navigation system is now a home brew system without many options for instance you can not set way points, with the route superimposed onto a google map.

DAB and Spotify are both relatively poorly implemented and often fail all together after software updates and require patch fixes.

Autopilot boils down to a number of choices and in each case the cars may have the supporting hardware but not necessarily have the software enabled.

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The hardware is either none existent, referred to as HW1 for AP1, HW2 for EAP and FSD, which has subsequently had 2 upgrades called HW2.5 with a few extra processes and redundancy and HW3 wich much greater processing power. We have produced a guide to the differences between the different technologies and hardware versions to help explain what each does and does not give.

Battery

There have been a number of batteries over the years on the MS, and to a lesser extent the MX. These include the 60, 70, 75, 85, 90 and 100, and indeed some batteries like the 60 have been in two different incarnations, the original pre face lift battery and then a later software locked 75 battery on the facelift. The naming convention generally reflects the kwh capacity of the battery although the 85 and 90 are especially poor with capacities being several kwh below the expectation. A modern 75 has almost the same capacity as an old 85, although it does charge slightly slower on a super charger.

It's worth mentioning the P car batteries. Before the dual motor cars, the P cars had an 85 battery and that came in P85 and P85+ trim. The P85D became the new performance car, and this was tweaked to become the P90D, both with Insane performance level. They then introduced a higher current fuse releasing more power from the battery, an option called Ludicrous. This was available as a retrofit to the P85D and on the P90D. It was also an option on P100D for a short while before becoming standard. It temporarily became an option again after the P100D name changed to Performance and the easiest way to tell if a car has it is to look for the underline on the model name.

Tesla have now made the battery situation quite concerning. There had been some discussion around the 90 battery back and some early degradation of range which quickly levelled off, and there were also stories of the maximum supercharging performance being reduced by about 10%. However this seemed a bit patchy and only the early 90 cars were affected. From Aug 2019 however Tesla have been reducing the range of the 85 battery packs, possibly all early battery packs to protect them from fire or premature failure. This has resulted in a loss of range of up to 15%. We suggest you check the range of any car before buying to ensure its fit for your purpose.

In 2019, a new issue appeared with the original 85 battery (and other batteries from that era) and as a result of a number of fires, Tesla have changed the battery monitoring system and it is now extra cautious on the max level of charge. This has resulted in some, but not all cars, having the maximum charge level reduced and thereby reducing the range. This can result in as high as 30% loss in range compared to new, each car being unique, and Tesla have neither been very public about whats happening or being sympathetic to warranty discussions. When buying an older car it is worth checking the miles range displayed and extrapolating to see how this compares to new and see if this meets your needs, remembering that Rated economy is very optimistic in Europe and a little optimistic in the USA (the rated miles are calculated using a different standard back when these cars were made). It is also worth checking the software version in the car (this is expressed as something like 2019.32.xxxx meaning 32 week of 2019. Make sure the software is reasonably up to date as a software update could reduce the range further.

Options

Options on a Tesla can be expensive. Everyone has a view on their “must haves” so I'll not try to convince you otherwise, but here are the good and bad about them.

Option List

What to look out for when buying

When buying check out the following things. Obviously if under Tesla warranty most things will be fixed and all you're really concerned about it the paperwork and accident damage:

Other considerations

Supercharging

All Teslas except a very small number of MS60s from 2014 had super charging enabled. This was unlimited for the life of the car until the end of March 2017 where it became limited to a set amount per year, after which you would pay. Owners from April 2017 could use a referral code to get unlimited charging for their own purposes although this is not transferable to the next owner and the limit will be applied. Many used car garages fail to recognise this or advertise accordingly.

Matters have changed again in July 2019 where cars which previously had supercharging for the life of the car ie pre March 2017 delivered, have had that supercharging benefit revoked if resold by Tesla, ie taken in as part exchange, or returned at the end of a finance agreement. You now need to check the car regardless as the car may have been sold by Tesla as a used car in the past and had this happen to it.

Vehicle recalls

Not buying a car because of a recall simply means you'd never buy that model of car, but you may want to check if there are outstanding recalls not performed so you can arrange to get these done. You can check a cars recall status using the Tesla recall vin search.

What would we buy used?

With the Model S, because the preface lift cars are starting to look a little old, and cars with EAP seem to command a premium in the hope that one day FSD will arrive (which we suspect will be some years away), we would head towards an early facelift car. They look like today's cars, at least on the exterior, they have unlimited super charging if bought privately, and still have some warranty left if below 50k miles. We would also look at early cars withe the FSD option as these cars should be upgraded as required to maintain the FSD capabilities. P100D cars with FSD now represent good value for money.

The Model X has less choice although we'd steer clear of all of them except the 100D which also means we'd avoid the early cars. The P100D is an option now the prices have come down although often have the 22 wheels which are prone to curbing. The 75 and 90 batteries are too small really for the MX in our opinion. We'd also suggest the 6 or 7 seat arrangement although if looking at 7 seat cars, decide whether you want the middle row as a folding bench or fixed captains chairs, the design changed on the early cars. You may also want to check for a tow hook which was optional on the early cars.

If you are looking at the model 3, we would be tempted with the SR+ or LR. The M3P is a significant premium over the other models and with the falling prices of used MS P100D which are available from Tesla with a fresh warranty for similar money, we would suggest these are the better buy than the M3P especially if space is a requirement.

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