Last updated 10-Jan-2023
The Tesla Model 3 was launched in 2017 and over the following year or delvieries started in different countries. The model was Teslas first high volume model and there are now thousands of used examples on the market in many countries. There have however bee been many alterations to the model, both in terms of specification and where in the world they are made. We run through the history, the options, what we think are the common issues and make some suggestions on what to buy.
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.
The Model 3 is a medium sized sedan/saloon and as such has relatively few direct competitors in the EV space as other EV's at this price point tend to have a hatch back. If we use a slightly more liberal interpretation of the model type, the obvious contenders are the Ford Mach E and Polestar 2 and from 2022 cars such as the BMW i4 which combines the performance needed to match the Tesla, and with a step up in refinement and luxury. People are still often drawn to Tesla for the supercharging network although in Europe this is increasingly being made available to other makes of EV, and with the longer range these cars offer, public charging is often only needed when in a long trip.
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:
The Model 3 had a soft facelift in 2021 as mentioned above.
The most significant update would be the 2021 model year which made a number of fairly substantial technical changes plus the notable change to the car trim:
The changes did not all occur at the same time, 2021 model year cars delivered at the end of 2020 may not have all the changes listed. The Made in China LR models still seem to ship with the slightly smaller battery which are sold into right hand drive countries. For a full list of the changes and in which year see our guide to Tesla model 3 history and changes over time.
Further changes occured at the end of 2021 with more battery changes, changes to the MCU processor (introducing the Ryzen MCU), tweaks to the motors etc. These changes are more evolutionary in nature.
Alongside these changes, Tesla have also made changes to sensor suite, they removed the radar which is now largely irrelevant as the car software no longer uses it even if fitted, and in late 2022 remove the parking sensors. The lack of these parking sensiors (or USS as they are sometimes refered to) is probably the main reason why you may wish to avoid a new car and go for a 1 year old used car.
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.
The cars with the heat pumop fair better in the winter, and the LFP battery cars with their willingness to charge to 100% can use more of their quoted range in the the real world.
When buying new, the choices are now:
This is rear wheel drive only, has the smallest battery and some of the features are reduced such as the hifi and no heated steering wheel before 2021. It can also be bought with a tow bar. The battery in some regions changed to a different type which was happy to be charged to 100% on a regular basis and with the efficiency of a single motor design, the range with after the 2022 battery increase became close to the older Long Range cars.
This is probably the best value with more range, all wheel drive, heated steering wheel and top spec hifi and the option to buy the performance/acceleration boost which gives performance near to that of the Performance model, especially over 30mph. The wheels are also much more forgiving than the performance model if the roads in your area are not of great quality, and a smoother ride even if they are. It can also be bought with a tow bar.
This has a similar drive train to the Long Range, but slightly better motors and software unlocked for slightly better performance. The wheels and brakes are bigger, the suspension said to be slightly lower although some tests show little difference, and has a higher top speed. It also offers a track mode. It can not be equipped with a tow bar.
We feel the Long Range offers the best value for money on older cars, although if looking at new, the RWD models are a great lower cost entry point. The performance of the LR model can be improved for relatively little money becoming virtually on a par with the M3 Performance, it can also be specified with a tow bar, and has all the features on offer such as heated steering wheels. If looking at older cars we are put off slightly by the SR+ as the specification of the car is lower thant he Long Range, although if budgets are tight, then these are probably the best entry level choice to Tesla ownership, preferable to the early Model S cars which are older and increasingly out of warranty.
Tesla use 2 different conventions for naming batteries. In the car configuration which you can sometimes access through MyTesla and can see when looking at inventory cars they use a code such as BT37, whereas on formal import paperwork they use a code such as EC5D. Websites like TMC often discuss the batteries using the EC5D type codes but potential buyers then have difficulty matching that to inventory in their region as Tesla don't use these codes in their inventory listings. The table below helps match one to the other:
Standard Range+ (or just "Model 3" from late 2021)
Tesla make changes in several ways to the cars, not all of which are immediately obvious other than through the performance statistics. Tesla use a hidden model iteration code to denote the differences and this matches performance, both range, top speed and acceleration to the car, ignoring options such as performance bost and any other software unlocking that may take place.
We have listed the predominent years the cars were being sold. Occasionally Tesla have unsold models which they first register alongside newer models, we have ignored these when this is obvious. Some model codes may only be available in some parts of the world.
It is worth noting that Tesla list performance model specifications with 1 foot roll out. This reduces the time by approx 0.2s, so this should be added to the 0-60 times to get a comparable time to those of the other models.
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 is potentially worthwhile, whereas the Full Self driving option is rarely worth it, even in the US where the City Streets pilot is running. Those on the pilot still need to pay attention, lapses of concentration can result in strikes which can eventually lead to the feature being withdrawn, and the FSD pilot release is generally 2-3 versions behind the latest versions for all other features that get periodically added to and updated. Our estimation is FSD adds about 5-7% to the value of a car on resal, so if you are looking at a car with FSD and one without, expect to pay about $3k more. We don't feel the $15k/£9k asking price from Tesla is ever reflected in used car prices.
The model 3 is fairly light on options besides colour and interior. There are however a few to look out for:
The Long Range has almost always had a choice of wheel size, and more recently so has the SR+. Larger wheels tend to look better, but are more prone to accident damage and reduce range. The standard SR+ and LR wheels are often seen without the wheel covering which makes them look like significantly different but they are in fact the same wheel.
All but the Performance model can be specified with a tow bar/hook which are factory fit. The towing capacity is not that great but many find it a useful addition.
You may see Long Range cars advertised with an Acceleration boost. This is a software option and can be purchased for LR cars and would be activated by an over the air update.
Some early cars had this as standard but it can be purchased after sale and fitted by Tesla.
These are standard on the Long Range and Performance and were a software unlocked option on the Standard range models until recently when they became stndard.
Not so much am option but a change in the specification. If you're looking at used facelift cars, don't assume they all have the heated steering wheel, so chack any car you are thinking of buying if this option is important to you.
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.
The simplest way to tell where the car was made is to look at the VIN. Using the 11th digit of the VIN tells you the factory, F is Fremont, and C is China. Some use the first 3 letters of the VIN (5YJ and LRW respectively) but this rule does not apply to all Teslas. Our VIN decoder provides additional information on the car.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because of excessive stone chipping as mentioned earlier, Tesla introduced mud flaps which they free issues to many owners. These come in two sizes, however the larger size hit the ground under hard braking or uneven surfaces making a terrible noise and potentially weakening the mounting point with the car body. After market versions are said to be better, some people do not fit the larger of the two mud flaps, and some people cut them down to size.
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.
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.
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 were initially unconvinced on how beneficial the design was as it caused a number of issues, but the software now seems to be sorted and it does offer some meaningful cold weather improvements. That aside, early cars experienced failures of the heat pump shortly after delivery. This does not appear to be a long term issue but one to be aware of.
The LFP battery fitted to China built Standard Range+ cars performed very poorly on introduction. Over the air updates have addressed many of the issues and in the RWD form, the car is now a compelling alternative to the Long Range Model and in many regards a late RWD car with LFP battery is better equiped than an earlier Long Range Model.
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.
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 facelift cars starting in 2021 also have a number of advantages over the earlier cars with items like the heat pump and heated steering wheel.
If you're looking to buy new, we'd recommend the RWD model, if you're looking at a slightly older car then we'd probably look at the Long Range Model.
You can check the whole market and compare prices between models on our Inventory listings.
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