Last updated 20-Nov-2021

Before you buy a Tesla - what you need to know

Before you buy a Tesla of any description, we thought it important to share 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 the experience being euphoric which some get, the biggest mistake you may ever make or as more typical, a lot of good things but some real surprises mixed in, the odd one being unwelcome.

Many Tesla owners can be overly enthusiastic about the cars and often don't take the time to listen to the genuine concerns and questions potential owners may have and simply assert that the cars can do it all. We know of 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 most people. The the typical issues are usually linked to unusual patterns of use or frequent travel to specific areas, usually remote, where charging options are limited. Some can get around these problems, but for the buyer it is important to recognise what limitations there are. A secondary factor is cost, and while there are savings, extensive public charging is not cheap and depreciation can be very variable. Finally, the competition is increasing and while some of the concerns are purely about EV ownership, some of the concerns are regarding Tesla.

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

The summary: Tesla do things differently to other car manufacturers and it is important that potential buyers understand the limitations and do some research. We'd also be a little wary of other owners who can be overly enthusiastic without spending time to give a balanced perspective and to reflect on your situation and specific needs.

The cars themselves are generally regarded as great, but are no longer the only option in the market. Tesla are also not without problems, the claims and promises that are often delayed, the software which can be buggy, the tecnology misses some basic capabilities and the company's ability to deal with customer issues especially if they are not straight forward is sometimes lacking. Against this are many plus points, the range is good, the supercharging network, the straightline performance, and some like the minimal interior.

Sales force and process

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 pretty much 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 can be 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 will 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 the key topics in more detail:

Tesla Worldwide Inventory Search

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 recently. Model 3 cars depreciated relatively slowly after first launch with depreciation only really starting to appear approx 18 months after they were launched in a particular country, offsetting this are price rises and certainly Model X owners are benefiting from this. The lack of availability of cars from all makes seems to be driving used prices higher at the moment. As a result owners will report low depreciation, but as we saw with the Model S depreciation does eventually occur.

To help understand depreciation in normal times we provide Tesla depreciation plots for most models in most countries. A glance at an MS P100D from 2016 or 2017 shows how steep the depreciation can be losing $/£70k over 4 years. Tesla list a lot of inventory stock and these range from delivery mile cars to ex-demonstrators, both sometimes with discounts. Tesla won't otherwise negotiate on price. Occasionally you may find a discounted car advertised but this is usually an ex demo car or an older model and the advertised price is still the price you pay. Tesla have now also introduced model year changes and the 2021 Model 3 had a number of significant updates which has resulted in 2020 spec cars being discounted to sell and has generally pushed down the value of used cars.

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

Driving a Tesla is a different experience to petrol but fairly typical of an electric vehicle. While other EV cars have similar traits, the performance of Teslas is still heart stopping and unique unless you look at the premium cars such as the Audi eTron GT and the BMW i4. Some of the technology is similar to that of other cars, like doors unlocking automatically, but in places 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, like most EVs, are relatively 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 although we find the driving accuracy and cornering not in the same class as a more dedicated performance model. The Model Y suspension is widely reported as being too firm and we feel the MS and MX, even in the 2021 model revision, are showing their age with some notable technology still missing such as surround view, head up displays and augmented satellite navigation.

Quality of engineering

So is it perfect!? 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 party sat navs as Apple Carplay and AndroidAuto are not available. Despite all the cameras, there is no 360 degree view when parking. 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. These things are relative and Tesla isn't bad, but as a simple example look at the rear opening mechanism on the Tesla Model 3 with old fashioned dampers, and on one side the rubber seal is cut away to make space for a wider damper for altomatic opening. For us it's these smaller details in the design, the sound when you close a door, the design of the seats including lateral support etc that can be offputting to some. If you're stepping up from a Ford to a Tesla then these things are noticed, if you are used to buying $50k-100k cars then you may be disappointed.

There are also some misconceptions on how high tech 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 slowly addressed by the competition. There are also 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. Autopilot is also a mixed experience in its performance, functionally it's being extended constantly but the reliability of the functions can be hit and miss, and we are still doubtful of its ability to achieve full, hands and mind off, self driving in the foreseeable future although the latest version of the software in the US is showing positive signs of progress.

But let's put this into perspective, the reality is the car is very different to what you may be used to. 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 even matter. A 300+ mile range only matter if you drive that far in a day. How much does waypoints matter if you rarely need to use satnav? Tesla is not the best of the automotive world, but its still probably one of the best of the EV world.

Customer service

Tesla use an mobile 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 can also 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, and its only after many owners have suffered do they change their position. 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, either a contribution to the purchase price, trax credits, use of high occupancy lanes, exempt from congestion charges, access to low polution zones, free parking etc. Check your country for the local benefits.

Fuel costs are cheap except when charging on some public chargers especially rapid chargers. Work on 1/4 of the kwh electricity cost per mile for the smaller more efficient cars and 1/3 for the bigger models. If you own a Model 3 and pay 12p per kwh, a mile costs roughly 12/4 or 3p per mile.

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