Tesla Model 3 Buyers Guide

The Tesla Model 3 has been available since 2017 and there are now many more used cars available for purchase as well as changes to the new models, both in terms of specification and where in the world they are made. We run through the history, the options, whjat we think are the common issues and make some suggestions on what to buy.

Why the Model 3?

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You may already know the Model 3 is the car you want, and we have a guide to the Tesla model differences. It is worth reflecting briefly on the other choices for similar money especially if you're looking at new or nearly new Model 3 cars. One of the primary claims of the Model 3 over the Model S is the "newer technology". The Model S can be upgraded to the latest MCU and with Tesla autopilot hardware it has pretty much the same capabilities, however you'd be probably be looking at a used Model S Long Range for new Model 3 Performance money and the differences are quite notable in terms of size, space and comfort which will make the choice easy for many, we just suggest you don't dismiss the Model S purely on what is perceived as out of date technology. The other option in some countries is the Model Y. It's more practical, very similar technology but is just a little less rewarding to drive. There is so little between them its simply personal preference.

New or used?

The Model 3 is widely available as new, nearly new or used cars, and we've a guide to saving money buying a Tesla which covers the different choices in more detail. The key differences in summary however are:

History of changes

The Model 3 has not had an changes that you might call a face lift over and above model year updates. The most significant update would be the 2021 model year which made minor changes to the centre console and introduced the dark window trim and the introduction of the heat pump as the notable differences, together with the heated steering wheel a little later although not on all 2021 production has the wheel.

For a full list of the changes and in which year see our guide to Tesla model history and changes over time.

Battery size and range

At launch Tesla promised the $35k car which was the standard range, however few cars were delivered in this spec. In some countries compliance cars were made to meet regulatory targets and these are similar to standard range cars and are striped down and reduced feature cars. The Standard Range Plus, Medium range, long range and performance cars followed with a combination of rear wheel drive and all wheel drive specs. The Long Range and Performance models were full premium specification with rear heated seats and higher spec sound systems and the larger battery also means it can charge slightly faster. We generally advocate larger batteries, but for a entry level car especially if primarily a local run around car, the SR+ model is perfectly viable for most.

The Model 3 is one of the more efficient EVs you can buy, but that efficiency also means any changes in inefficiency can be magnified. The WLTP and EPA test results are also fairly limited in what they tell you as the weather, driving style and speed can all cause significant fluctuations in the available range. In cold weather energy is required to heat the cabin and the car efficiency is reduced as the battery warms up, the smaller the battery the larger the proportion of available energy goes to heating, as a result stop start journeys in winter are worse than a single continual drive, and we've a page dedicated to cold weather driving to provide tips on how to improve range. You are also unlikely to want to regularly start your journey with 100% (the MIC SR+ with the LFP battery being the exception) and plan to arrive at your destination with 0% left and therefore we feel the working range is approximately 80% of the theoretical range. Taking these factors into consideration, and adjusting for real world experiences, we have worked out the approximate summer range (temperatures above 15 deg C) and winter range (temperatures below 3 deg C but about -5 deg C) for the most common models to be:

Model
Summer
Summer 80%
Winter
Winter 80%
Standard Range+
230 miles
185 miles
180 miles
150 miles
Long Range
305 miles
245 miles
250 miles
200 miles
Performance (pre 2021)
280 miles
230 miles
235 miles
190 miles

Autopilot

All Model 3 cars come with Autopilot hardware so the only material choice is the software level installed. Autopilot is standard on most, we feel paying a little extra for Enhanced Autopilot or Full Self driving is worthwhile with Enhanced Autopilot as an after purchase option a sensible option if you can make use of the features. Our estimation is FSD adds about 5-7% to the value of a car, so if you are looking at a car with FSD and one without, expect to pay about $3k more. We don't feel the $10k/£8k asking price from Tesla is ever reflected in used car prices.

Options

The model 3 is fairly light on options besides colour and interior. There are however a few to look out for:

Option List

What features does the car have?

To find out what is activated in the car follow this guide on how to find out what hardware versions a Tesla has. Many dealers are now including the required pictures in their adverts and those that do, clearly understand the cars.

Where was it made, and does it matter?

The simplest way to tell where the car was made is to look at the VIN. Cars starting with LRW were made in China. Our VIN decoder provides additional information on the car.

Free Supercharging

No model 3 came with unlimited free supercharging for the life of the car. Tesla have however offered a year free supercharging to cars delivered at the end of 2020. It is not clear if this is transferable to new owners within the year, generally speaking since 2017 any free supercharging given to new car buyers has not been transferable..

Key issues

The model 3 was a new platform and Tesla seem to have learnt from a number of the previous issues, however they have also introduced some new ones. Most of the Model 3 issues are factory issues and not ones that develop over time so the owner or a good condition car is likely to run into fewer problems over time, however getting a car in good condition can be harder than it should be because of Tesla's stance.

General panel alignment

There are fairly significant and widespread alignment issues with the trunk, frunk, doors and even fixed panels which Tesla dismiss as within tolerance. Some owners have taken to adjusting panels themselves, especially frunk and trunk to get an even panel gap on each side as optically the car can look twisted. The rear passenger doors can also be slightly prominent compared to the front doors which makes them exposed to stone chips. You need to check along the length of any join as they may be accurate at one end and out at the other.

Paint

The paint is thin on the Model 3 in part because production has been constrained by the paint shop. The paint can also suffer from run marks and sanding marks and a number of car detailers refuse to touch Model 3 cars if following an inspection they are concerned. Some have reported that paint simply lifts off when using masking tape, trying to remove a paint protection film or even a slightly enthusiastic use of a jet wash.

The second problem with the paint is wear near the wheel arches. Tesla have started to supply some owners with mud flaps to try and cut down on this wear which is needed considering how much damage can occur with relatively few miles.

Tesla Model 3 Paint wear

Cracked glass

A number of Model 3s are experiencing the rear glass of the car cracking requiring replacement. There is typically no impact damage and the failure is thought to be a stress fracture from body flex in use.

Tesla typically deny the issue is the car is more than a few weeks old.

Missing bolts

This is one of the most serious concerns you could possibly have with a car. In the UK an owner found his steering wheel nut was missing and the steering wheel literally came away in their hand. Thankfully this was an exception. But rear seat belts not being bolted into place have also been discovered and undercover panels with missing attachments. We'd class this as a general rushed state of build and the problem can occur anywhere on the car. Tesla have built many Model 3 cars and few cars suffer from this problem, but it is still a concern when picking up a new car.

Under tray

The under tray was originally a material that once wet would disintegrate. When cars in wetter climates started having the problem Tesla tried to pass the problem back saying the drivers had driven through water. They now have an improved part they will fit upon failure but it is still unclear whether Tesla will always accept this is a warranty matter.

Rear bumper/fender in water

The under tray is not the only panel to suffer when driving in water. The rear bumper on a number of cars has come off the car while driving in water and Tesla are now starting to accept that this may be a design issue. Driving on wet roads is thought not to be a problem unlike the under tray, the problem seems to be when driving through deeper standing water. Unlike the under tray issue, it is not clear whether there is a fix for this problem, or whether the two are somehow related where a failing under tray allows water pressure to build up behind the bumper.

Leaks

The model 3 seems to suffer from leaks especially into the trunk. These usually relate to badly installed seals, a problem Tesla have also experienced with the Model X.

Water in lights.

Cars with LED lights tend to suffer in general with condensation forming within the light cluster and the lack of heat (due to not using incandescent lights) can mean this persists. A small amount is to be expected simply due to atmospheric conditions, but if the drain is blocked then water can build up eventually causing the unit to fail.

Heat pump

The model 3 was updated to include a heat pump originally seen on the Model Y from the 2021 model year. The Tesla design is quite elaborate using an octovalve system which has various routing options of fluids around the car to work in the most efficient mode. We're unconvinced on how beneficial the design really is in some circumstances as it takes heat from the battery which actually reduces the battery performance offsetting the benefits. But that aside, many cars are experiencing failures of the heat pump shortly after delivery. Whether this will remain a long term issue is yet to be determined but indications from cold weather climates is the current design struggles to cope, requires the car to be left for 5 mins while it resets or it just fails completely.

LFP Battery in Model 3 SR+

The LFP battery fitted to China built Standard Range+ cars performed very poorly on introduction. Over the air updates are said to improve this performance but we suggest checking any SR+ battery when purchasing used.

Warranty

Model 3 cars come with 2 manufacturer warranties. One covers the battery and motor for 8 years and 100k or 120k mile warranty depending on battery size, whichever comes sooner. This covers the owner against failure or battery degradation although Tesla have written into the warranty that that battery losses due to software changes are allowed.

The second warranty is the general car warranty for everything else. This lasts for 4 years or 50k miles, which comes sooner. Few Model 3s will be out of warranty except based on mileage.

What would we buy used?

We don't don't particularly have a favourite. The SR+ models tend be significantly cheaper and offer good entry level value, the Long Range offer a more comfortable ride than the Performance and have better range, but the performance cars are great fun. We'd question buying FSD for a SR+ car and would suggest a Long Range without FSD for the same money would be more sensible and hold its value better.

The 2021 cars also have a number of advantages over the earlier cars with items like the heat pump and heated steering wheel.

You can check the whole market and compare prices between models on our Inventory listings.

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