Before you buy a Tesla - what you need to know

Last updated 01-Mar-2023

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 or potentially a new car buying mistake. What's typical is owners find a mixture of good with some not so good 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 ask. They 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 the cars don't work for most people. The typical issues are usually linked to unusual patterns of use, frequent travel to areas with poor public charging infrastucture, or they are unable to charge at their home location. Some people 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.

We try to take an impartial and balanced view of the good and the bad, and let the reader make an informed choice.

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 both overly enthusiastic and overly negative views, and spend some time to get 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 on the market. Tesla are also not without problems, the claims and promises that are often delayed and the software which can be buggy. The technology is also a mixed blessing with some class leading features whilst siultaneously missing some basic capabilities which many people might take for granted. The company's ability to deal with customer issues, especially if they are not straight forward, can sometimes lacking.

Sales force and the buying 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 including no pushy sales folk, but also a downside as their motivation and attention to detail can be a little vague, not helped by corporate Tesla’s own ambiguity at times. Changes occur to the cars all the time, however the Tesla staff can sometimes know less about the detailsof these than the public forums. 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 depending on the workload delivering new cars.

We've a number of more detailed guides covering a range of specific topics depending on your interests:

Tesla Worldwide Inventory Search


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. New car price rises have often masked the depreciation and certainly Model X owners are benefiting from this. The lack of availability of cars has at times also led to used prices being higher than new at times.

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 prices are also very sensitive to mileage as our plots also reveal. 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.

Tesla market plots and depreciation

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 a Tesla is a different experience to petrol but fairly typical of all electric vehicles. Whilst other EV cars have similar traits, the performance of Teslas is class leading unless you compare the cars to high end makes such as the Audi eTron GT, the BMW i4 or the Porsche Taycan. 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" car. 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 Model S and Model X, 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. Many owners are surprised by the lask of these features, and others including no support for 2 mobile phones, the accuracy of reading and adjusting to speed limits, not having active matrix headlights, and variability in the performance of the automatice windscreen wipers.

Quality of engineering

So is it perfect? The sat nav, while looking impressive, can be temperamental and tells you the wrong exit to take at the next junction. There is no option to switch to Waze or another 3rd party sat navs as Apple Carplay and Android Auto 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 sometimes reviewed as relatively low quality compared to premium cars of this price bracket like Audi, BMW and Porsche. This is subjective and Tesla have improved things over the years, but if you're looking at used cars it is worth keeping in mind. These things are also 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 to support an automatic opener. The same goes for the seals around the door, where Tesla has a single seal where the compeition often have 2 which helps reduce noise intrusion into the cabin. 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 off putting to some. If you're stepping up from a Ford to a Tesla then these things may not be noticed, if you are used to buying $50k-100k cars then you may be disappointed.

Autopilot is an area of very mixed experiences. Some love the feature whereas others find it dangerous and will never engage it. The progress on the full self driving capabilities has also been much slower than hoped, and in regions like Europe, even if the software was capable, it is likely the local legislation would prpevent some of the features being enabled.

But let's put this into perspective. There are plenty of things to delight a new owner, however there will also be some basic features that will surprise the buyer with their absence. The questions buyers need to ask is whether the positives outway the negatives. A 300+ mile range only really matters if you drive that far in a day. Tesla is not the best car in the automotive world, but its still probably one of the best EVs in the world.

Customer service

Tesla use a 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.

Autopilot, EAP and FSD options

Tesla major on promoting self driving capabilites and constant promises of "coming soon". The price they charge for EAP and FSD over and above the price of the basic Autopilot found in all new cars and many used cars (we have a guide on how to check in our FAQ section) could also lead you to thinking that the technology is nearly ready.

It's important to distinguish between North America and it's FSD beta programme and the rest of the world. With the FSD beta programme there are some impressive examples of the car driving, although it is still always at Level 2, or "Driver assist". This is where the driver must always, and we stress the point, always, be paying attention and ready to take over when the car gets it wrong. Think of it as supervising a learner driver after a few lessons but not ready to take their test. They can generally cope with the simple stuff, and most of the time they can cope with junctions, but on most journeys, they will get something wrong and you, as the experienced driver, will need to step in. For some, that is actually more stressful than just driving yourself.

The rest of the world don't even have that, and the uplift in capabilities between basic Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot (or EAP) and Full Self Driving (or FSD) is somewhat limited, especially on new cars delivered today without parking sensors (USS). Capabilities such as summon and parking, both features of EAP are not enabled on cars without USS, which just leaves some small functional enhancements like making lane change easier when than when using just Autopilot. FSD basically adds nothing meaningful further, nor is it likely to for some time.

You may also find people who have purchased EAP or FSD say they find it great and use it all the time, when the reality is the functions they are using are available as part of the basic Autopilot feature set. The differences between AP, EAP and FSD is not how well the software performs a task, it's whether the task has been enabled in the car. Put another way, lane keep is the same no matter whether you have AP, EAP or FSD (with the exception of the FSD beta programme in the NA where city streets driving uses a different set of code), whereas the ability to request the car to change lane is a feature included in EAP and FSD.

The consequences of this is it is very hard to justify purchasing EAP or FSD outside of NA, and we question whether it is even worth the price there.

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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