Why You Should Consider Buying A Used Tesla Model S
During first few months of 2022, gas prices have been on the rise. In Seattle, prices have reached $5 a gallon. Filling up a SUV or truck can cost upwards of $100, and at one or two fill ups a week, the monthly gas bill can be $400 to $1000. That’s a car payment on top of a car payment!
If you aren’t considering an electric car, you should. As an owner of a 2014 Tesla Model S, I present to you to why a used Model S is actually an excellent value. I believe, or rather, I know, that these cars have the lowest Total Cost of Ownership.
First let’s start with a brief history of the Model S.
The Model S is Tesla’s flag ship vehicle. Even for a 7 year old car, many friends and Lyft passengers have said that the Model S is noticeably more luxurious than the newer Model 3.
- Late 2012: Original RWD Model S Launch with 60kWh and 85 kWh models. Those who upgrade to the 85 kWh battery ($10K option) gets free unlimited supercharging ($2K option).
- Nov 2014: Introduction of AWD P85D with dual motors and “Insane” mode, Autopilot Hardware V1 (pretty much end of life now).
- 2015: Introduction of 70D and 90D variants.
- 2016: Model S gets a facelift, removing the black front grill, gets HEPA filter bioweapon defense mode. 100D variant introduced.
- Early 2017: Tesla ends Free Supercharging program
Here’s an example of what I would consider a good deal. Let me breakdown the thought process.
Price and Availability
Used Model Ss can be found in the $30K range, available immediately. By comparison, if you order a new Model 3 or Model Y, they start at $50K and have a 6–9 month waiting period.
Believe it or not, even with a new factory opening in Austin, Texas, the base Model Y is sold out for 2022 in North America. The only way to get one faster is to upgrade to Performance or Full Self Driving.
If you don’t care about autopilot and Full Self Driving (which is a $12,000 option), you can get a used Model S at almost half the price. A 2014 Model S might be Rear Wheel Drive with a 0–60 of 5s, and 250 miles of range. 2015 and newer will be all wheel drive, faster, and more range.
Personally we are ordering a new Y, but we aren’t ordering the $12K FSD. I don’t see us sending out our car to make money as a robotaxi. I rather save the money, or better yet, spend the $12K buying TSLA shares so I can make money as a shareholder when others send their cars out as robotaxis.
Electric cars age differently than gas cars. Electric motors have way fewer moving parts and last significantly longer. How old is the ceiling fan in your house? When was the last time anyone had to fix that motor?
Most gas cars, by the time they have 60K miles, have lost their pep. Some cars even require a new head gasket just to prevent oil leaks. There’s the expensive timing belt and water pump maintenance at 100K miles. On top of all this, there’s the regular 5000 mile oil change, plus brakes, transmission fluid, etc. etc. The average lifespan of a gas car is 8 years, 150K miles. With good maintenance, 200K miles.
Our model S is at 144,200 miles. Yearly maintenance is rotating tires every 6000 miles (which is free at Discount Tires), wipers, wiper fluid, air filter. That’s it. I do spend a lot of time washing the car, but that’s my choice.
The big maintenance item on our S was the battery and drive unit. In 2017, we got them replaced under warranty. We even got upgraded to a 90kWh battery! The car still getting about 270 miles on a full charge. Besides seasonal fluctuations, I haven’t seen a decrease in range, and I supercharge EVERYDAY. Some days multiple times.
Other lifetime maintenance items are 4 door handles, one 12V battery, and pair of headlight bulbs. These are all in the $200–$400 range, which is very reasonable for a luxury sedan.
After 144K miles, our Model S still drives like a new car, wickedly fast for a big 5 seater family sedan.
One German owner even drove his Model S for 900K miles!
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This is the best feature of used Model Ss. Did you know that all Model S and Xs before 2017 have free unlimited supercharging? We have driven our S from Seattle to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, and more, without paying a penny for fuel.
The free supercharging program was terminated in 2017, with a brief exception of Performance Model 3s. Supercharging fees vary by location, but is generally priced according to the local electricity rates. For example, in Washington state, it averages around $.27 per kW. So a fill up for a 270 mile range 85kWh Model S would be $22. Obviously, it’s cheaper to charge at home, which is $.10/kWh on average. That’s $8.50 per full charge.
AFAIK, Free Supercharging is transferrable between owners for 2016 or older Model Ss!
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If you live near a Supercharger, you can save a lot of money by having free Supercharging. The money saved versus gasoline could quite possibly pay for the car. I’m serious.
Older Teslas also have other features that are now paid items.
If you have a garage, Homelink allows you to program the car to your garage door. This used to be standard for all Tesla cars, but it is now an aftermarket option for the 3/Y for $375. Once the car is programmed with Homelink, it can use GPS positioning to automatically open or close the garage door. Is this necessary? No, but it’s a nice feature to have in the age of smart phones.
All Tesla cars used to have free unlimited Premium Internet Connectivity. It is now $9.99 a month or $99 annually. This is not a big deal, but I cannot imagine not having our Teslas connected to the internet, whether it is to stream video/music or get traffic aware driving directions.
There is a $7500 federal tax credit for Electric cars, but Tesla has exceeded the hard cap of 200K units years ago. At present, there is no federal tax credit for used electric cars. There were provisions in the Biden’s BBB plan, but the cap is vehicle value of $25K. It may be a while for BBB to pass and used Model Ss to dip below $25K.
However, there may be state level incentives. For example, in WA state, there’s a sales tax exemption for vehicles under $30K. Look here to find incentives in your state.
There are many rebates and tax incentives for purchasing and/or leasing electric vehicles for personal or business use…
If you aren’t turned off by buying a used electric car, older and high mileage Model Ss may offer excellent value in today’s market. Here are my tips.
Prefer private party to dealer
I’ve learned that there are advantages to buying used luxury products from private party, especially if it’s original owner.
Just think. The person selling their used Tesla Model S bought it new a few years ago for nearly $100K. This person probably has a nice house, so they are more likely to park indoors and keep up routine maintenance. They are also probably more, ahem, mature, so they drive more responsibly.
Some obsessive owners like me also spent thousands of dollars for paint protection film, ceramic coating, tinted windows, all weather floormats, dashcam, etc. You are basically getting those aftermarket upgrades for free.
Don’t just shop the car. Shop the seller. Has the owner cleaned the car? Can they answer the questions? Do they have service records? If the seller is legit, the car should be fine too.
Buying from a private party also allows you to utilize the gifting loophole and save money on state sales tax. No, you don’t have to be family for gifting.
Verify the battery range and free supercharging
Ask the seller if you can test drive it to the nearest supercharger, and charge it to 90%. As long as 90% range is greater than, say 225 miles, the battery is in good shape.
If not, you can check for free supercharging on the car’s charging screen.
Or on the owner’s mobile app. Click their avatar in the upper right corner, then select Account, Charging, History.
What to avoid
Do not, I repeat, do not buy a Model S 60. The minimum I would go for is a 70D. Preferably, get an 85, 90, or 100. You want the car with the longest range possible, at least 220 miles at 90%. You will appreciate this when you go on road trips.
I would also steer clear of 2012 or early 2013 cars, unless you want a collectible Signature version. Those vehicles have the oldest batteries which may limit supercharging rates to 90kW (even if you are at a newer 250kW super charger), and may lack features such as foldable mirrors.
Unless you totally love the looks, stick with 19" wheels rather than 21". There are way more tire choices for 19", which will reduce the TOC. 21" tires are staggered and hence more expensive to buy and maintain. They are also low profile, which makes it possible to damage your rims when you hit a pothole. Get 19" tires and save yourself a bunch of headaches in the future.
Check for the Infotainment Upgrade
2015 and older Model S have an infotainment computer that is now a few generations old. Back in those days, 3G was the acceptable speed for mobile devices.
Now in 2022, the original infotainment center feels like a really old iPad, and AT&T has literally discontinued their 3G service.
Double check to see if the owner has done the $1500 Infotainment upgrade to the faster Intel Atom Processor and 4G radio. You can verify under this under Additional Info, or just check if the car’s entertainment app includes Netflix and YouTube. If not, I would recommend doing the upgrade. It’s a huge improvement in the day to day experience.
There you have it. I think these older Model Ss present excellent value as an alternative to buying a brand new Tesla. Starting in the $30K range, these older cars generally have problems sorted out under warranty, offer free unlimited supercharging, premium connectivity, etc. etc. While it may not have the tech for Full Self Driving, these cars are still a lot of fun if you like to drive the car yourself.
So, what will it be? A new electric car? A used electric car? Or another gas car? Choose wisely…