Buying a Tesla Model 3: 17 Things I Wish I Knew


Buying a Tesla Model 3: 17 Things I Wish I Knew

It’s been over two years since Tesla first began production of the Tesla Model 3 in July of 2017, and in that time, there have been several issues presented with the car and subsequently corrected. Now, a few years down the road, the once difficult-to-acquire and expensive Tesla Model 3 has crept closer to becoming a car for the everyman. 

So what do you need to know in order to successfully buy a Tesla Model 3? There are many factors that go into buying a Tesla Model 3 that complicate the process, such as known production defects, delivery issues, purchase limitations, and hidden costs. 

Buying a Tesla can be a complex process, but if you’re well-informed ahead of time, it doesn’t have to be. Read on to learn the seventeen things I wish I’d known before buying a Tesla Model 3. 
Tesla Models Often Feature Quality Glitches in the First Year

Like Tesla’s previous models, the Tesla Model 3 dealt with some serious quality control issues in production for the first twelve months it was shipped out that lead to many units being refused at delivery due to various hardware defects such as the following:

  • Paint defects
  • Trim defects
  • Uneven panel gaps
  • Scratches and dents

On top of these problems, the new Tesla Model 3s also had some software issues such as the display screen freezing up, acting up without driver input, or both. 

Luckily a few years down the road, many of these hardware and software problems have been ironed out in post-production, but depending on the Tesla Model 3 you purchase, you may still run into some minor cosmetic or software faults that need to be addressed. 

The Tesla Model 3 having quality control problems in its first twelve months is nothing new when it comes to the Tesla brand. The Tesla Model S reported similar problems, as did the showy Tesla Model X with its cool (if defective) falcon wing doors. 

You Have to Pay Extra for Delivery and Any Color Other Than Black

The prices for the Tesla on their website for the Tesla Model 3 might seem fairly low compared to what you might have heard, but don’t let the prices presented fool you. They’re actually the product of some pretty creative marketing. 

As shown in the New York Times, the base price for a Tesla Model 3 is listed as $28,950, but this is including a $3750 tax credit and the money you would supposedly save in gas by buying one. 

It also isn’t widely advertised, but the base model color for a Tesla Model 3 is black, and for any other color (there are only four others), you’re going to pay an additional thousand dollars on top of the base price. This price is also the price for a “standard” Tesla Model 3, which is both impossible to purchase online and is missing many of the software amenities that people automatically associate with Tesla.  

Tesla Model 3s Feature a Variety of Options—and They’ll Cost You

The base Tesla Model 3 is lacking several features of the “premium” model that make it a significant downgrade for a basic model. Here are some of the major differences between a basic Tesla Model 3 and the premium upgraded version of the vehicle:

  • Basic Tesla Model 3s have a limited charge system for long distance travel in comparison to the premium Tesla Model 3. The car’s battery is limited not by the battery itself, but by the software used to bottleneck its usage and force the consumer into purchasing an upgraded version. 
  • Premium Tesla models feature advanced autopilot model (which is effectively full autopilot on the vehicle) while the basic Tesla Model 3s do not. 
  • Premium Tesla models feature advanced air filtration systems that are designated as a “Bioweapon Defense Mode” that are not present on the basic model. 
  • Premium Tesla models have options for upgraded heating and air, as well as upgraded interior and exterior lighting. 

Each of these cool features pushes the base price of the Tesla Model 3 up until you started with a car that was listed at less than $30,000 and end up with one that is priced out at over $70,000 when all is said and done. Regardless of the Tesla Model 3 being marketed as a mainstream electric vehicle, it doesn’t quite have the price tag to match just yet. 

Tesla Model 3s Only Come in Five Colors

As of 2020, the Tesla Model 3 only comes in five colors, with basic black being its stock color and all other colors requiring an additional thousand-dollar payment. This represents an even smaller range of color choices than previously offered, as black metallic and silver metallic, have been removed from production for the sake of practicality, according to Elon Musk

On top of that, because Teslas are such a specialty vehicle still, there are only twenty-five repair centers that are certified to work on them, so if you were planning on paying for a custom color, you’re out of luck. If you get your Tesla painted at an off-brand collision or automotive paint center, you’re certain to void your warranty for the car. 

The color choices remaining are Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat, and Red Multi-Coat. Both the lighter versions of black and silver were discontinued not just because it reduced complication during production, but also because there are other shades of black and silver still available in the Tesla’s line-up.  

While this might seem like a very limited number of color options, these options are bound to expand as the Tesla Model 3 line becomes more refined in the future. 

You Can’t Order a Basic Tesla Model 3 on the Internet

It might seem counter-intuitive for such a high-tech company to have any kind of restrictions for online ordering, but the standard Tesla Model 3 is not available via online purchase through Tesla’s website, unlike its other models. For those who want to order a basic version of the Tesla Model 3, your only available options are to either go to a Tesla dealership or order the vehicle over the phone. 

In fact, the base Tesla Model 3 is reportedly difficult to find even in person at dealerships in many cases, with the upgraded, more expensive model readily available and the basic model much harder to pin down. It’s still hard to get a Tesla; as of late 2018, some people who were on the 2016 waiting list for a vehicle yet to receive their unit

This doesn’t seem to be by accident; by all accounts, it seems that Tesla is attempting to phase out its basic model in order to profit on (and field) its more advanced models in order to refine its advanced autopilot’s artificial intelligence network. 

It is likely that this is due to the amount of money Tesla lost while trying to solve myriad production and delivery logistics troubles Tesla dealt with in the distribution of all three of its Tesla models, which Elon Musk himself dubbed “production hell” that had the notorious billionaire practically tearing his hair out with frustration.   

Buying a Tesla Model 3 Can Still Earn You a Tax Credit, But Not for Long

Purchasing a Tesla Model 3 in 2019 could net you a federal tax credit of $3,750, in the form of an electric vehicle tax credit. This tax credit was put into place by the Obama administration as a way for the federal government to incentivize the purchase and use of environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil-fuel based vehicle systems. 

This tax credit was initially $7,500 when Tesla vehicles first rolled out, but since the company passed its 200,000 unit mark in 2019, this tax credit was reduced to $3,750. In response, Tesla dropped the price of its vehicles by two thousand dollars to compensate for this reduced tax credit. 

Now, for the 2020 tax season, the tax credit is still sitting at $1,875 during the EV tax credit “phase out” period, but even this tax credit will be ending after March 2020. So if you want to still get a tax credit on a Tesla, you’ll have to purchase one pretty quick to take advantage of it. 

For the most part, if you were looking for a sizable tax credit on your electric vehicle purchase, if you’re getting your electric vehicle through Tesla, that ship has largely sailed.  

The Standard Tesla Model 3 is “Software-Limited” Compared to Its Premium Model

As mentioned in the earlier section, the “software-limited” basic version of the Tesla Model 3 doesn’t really contain the kind of software that consumers have come to associate with Tesla. When most people think of Tesla, they naturally think of Tesla’s advanced autopilot features, which allow the car to essentially drive itself.

But if you’re going after the basic version of the Tesla Model 3 instead of the premium (much more expensive) upgraded version, you’re not going to have access to advanced autopilot features. In fact, the Tesla Model 3 is the only Tesla vehicle that doesn’t feature autopilot across all model iterations. 

For those who want autopilot added to their standard Tesla Model 3, they’ll have to pay an extra three grand to have the software added to their vehicle. 

Standard Tesla Model 3s also feature a less robust GPS and navigation system than their more advanced Premium grade siblings. So that means if you want the best software that Tesla has to offer, you’re going to have to be willing to have it added as an upgrade option, rather than included as part of the vehicle’s standard package. 

You Can Test Drive a Tesla for a Week Before Finalizing Your Purchase

One major advantage of purchasing a Tesla through a Tesla dealership is that you have the option to test drive a Tesla for up to a week prior to deciding whether or not to finalize a purchase on one or not. This should theoretically give anyone a chance to thoroughly drive the car and decide if they’re comfortable driving it before committing to the purchase. 

Rather than a “drive before you buy” test drive, Tesla’s test drive operates more like a liberal return policy with a seven-day grace period. You do have to pay for the Tesla in order to test drive it, but if at any point during the seven days after purchase, you end up with buyer’s remorse, you can return the Tesla for a full refund.

However, there is a caveat to this testing system. Should a Tesla owner return a Tesla after delivery, they will be barred from ordering another Tesla of the same make and model for twelve months, and can only order a more expensive model after that, according to Business Insider.

Test Driving a Tesla Model 3 Will Cost You 

While you can test drive a Tesla Model 3, there are actually several charges associated with being able to test drive one of Tesla’s vehicles. Here are some of the associated fees you can expect to pay if you decide to test drive one: 

  • Destination fee: $1,200 
  • Non-refundable deposit: $2,500
  • License plates: Varies by state
  • State sales tax: Varies by state
  • Insurance for test drive period: Varies by state

No matter which way you cut it, if you order a Tesla Model 3 to test drive, you can expect to be paying several thousand dollars you’re not getting back should you choose to return the vehicle after you’ve finished test driving it. 

Regardless of whether you keep it or not, you’ll be paying a non-refundable deposit as well as a fee to have the car both delivered to the dealership and returned if you don’t end up taking it. 

This means that once you pull the trigger on ordering a Tesla Model 3, you’re going to be locked into the decision to a degree, for better or worse. Even if you don’t end up buying the car, you’re going to be out some money in the bargain. 

If You Order a Tesla Model 3, You Might Be Waiting Awhile

Even though Tesla Model 3s have been out for production since 2017, there are still some pretty serious production and delivery issues going on with the Tesla Model 3. In the first half of 2019, many owners who were told they would be getting their Teslas within a matter of weeks were put on an indefinite wait list. Initially, drivers were told that they would be getting their cars in a matter of 2-4 weeks, but only a few weeks later, this estimated delivery was raised to 6-8 weeks. 

Now, in the early part of 2020, some Tesla Model 3 owners still haven’t received their vehicles, with reports of the earliest 2020 deliveries being pushed back into February and March. 

That being said, Tesla has been steadily increasing its delivery quantities as time goes on, and thanks largely to the success of the Tesla Model 3, reportedly sold and delivered more Teslas in 2019 than in the previous two years combined

Tesla Model 3 Owners Are Reporting Several Hardware and Software Faults

Tesla Model 3 has sold well since its inception in 2017, especially in 2019. But that doesn’t mean that its unveiling has been a perfect run. Here are some of the hardware and software faults that are being consistently reported in the Tesla Model 3s:

  • A blurry backup camera
  • Rust on new models
  • Defective touchscreen
  • Malfunctioning GPS
  • No heads-up display (HUD) cruise controls
  • Paint blemishes around the hood emblem or trunk overhang
  • Issues with trunk closing properly
  • Buckled window pillars
  • Total touchscreen failure (this fault effectively “bricks” the vehicle and renders it undrivable)
  • Electronic lockouts
  • Total power failure while driving

Luckily Tesla has been responding to these faults actively as they are brought up by consumers, and many software and hardware faults have since been corrected in post-production repairs. Still, the fact that these expensive vehicles are having to go to repair so soon after coming off the factory floor is concerning to many buyers. 

Tesla Model 3 No Longer Has a Consumer Report Recommendation Due to Reliability Issues

Because the Tesla Model 3 has suffered several serious reliability issues with regards to its computer control module and other software-related issues, the Tesla Model 3 lost its Consumer Report recommendation status in late 2019. 

Tesla has responded to this judgment by stating that many of the defects complained about in the earliest iterations of its Tesla Model 3 have already been corrected by engineering, so these faults should not be present in new Tesla Model 3 vehicles moving forward. 

This is good to hear for anyone who hasn’t managed to purchase their Tesla Model 3 yet since any new models coming out are unlikely to have these early production glitches. 

However, this also means that anyone who purchases a used Tesla Model 3 may think they’re getting a good deal, but in actuality, they may be inheriting someone else’s hardware and software problems. So it’s important to conduct a thorough inspection of any Tesla Model 3 purchased used or anywhere by a certified Tesla dealership. 

Despite Production Defects, Tesla Model 3 Drivers Report a High Satisfaction Level

Despite the Tesla Model 3 losing Consumer Report’s recommendation, they still acknowledge that the majority of Tesla owners report a very high level of satisfaction with their vehicles, more so than the customers of any other automotive brand. 

There are understandably some hiccups for both Tesla technicians and owners to iron out over the next few years as electric cars become more and more common on the road. 

But despite that, the exemplary customer service experience offered by Tesla as well as the advanced features present in Tesla vehicles that can’t be found in any other model means that despite some hassle during purchase, most people who bite the bullet and purchase a Tesla Model 3 end up being really happy about it. 

Not only are Tesla owners more satisfied with the Tesla brand than any other automotive brand, Tesla has been the leading automotive brand in consumer satisfaction for the past three years running. So whatever it is Elon Musk is doing over there (shooting Tesla cars into space?), he must be doing something right. 

For a Tesla Model 3 Home Charging Station, You’ll Have to Pay Extra

If you don’t own a Tesla, you might think that the basic accessories for the vehicle, such as a home charging station, might be included in its hefty price tag. You’d be mistaken, however. In order to charge your Tesla Model 3 at home, you’ll have to spend an extra $500 to purchase a home charging station and cable. 

Furthermore, if you want the car to be able to charge on public supercharging stations, you’ll have to pay even more for the privilege to do that. While the Tesla Model X and the Tesla Model S both have unlimited supercharging access, this amenity does not extend to the more basic Tesla Model 3. 

There Are Only 104 Delivery Centers for Tesla Across the United States

Unlike other models of cars, which feature at least one or two dealerships in even moderate-sized cities, Tesla dealerships and delivery centers are much less common. In fact, there are only 104 Tesla delivery centers across the United States (currently).

This means that even if you purchase a Tesla Model 3 over the phone, you might be going on a road trip of several hours to get a chance to pick up the vehicle, depending on where you live. You can find a full list of Tesla’s delivery centers along with their contact information and addresses here

Luckily, if you live more than a hundred and sixty miles from your nearest Tesla dealership, you can arrange to have your new Tesla Model 3 delivered to your home or office instead of the delivery center. This can save you a long trip if you don’t happen to live near a Tesla showroom. 

In order to receive a delivered Tesla, the new owner of the vehicle must provide the documentation outlined here.

Tesla Only Has Service Centers in 25 American States

If you think that Tesla doesn’t have enough delivery centers across the United States, you’ll be even more dismayed at its lack of repair centers should somebody rear-end your shiny new Tesla in traffic. Tesla repair centers are few and far between, with repair centers certified for Tesla repair only located in 25 states across the U.S. 

The restriction in repair shops that can repair Teslas without voiding their warranties through the corporation is unfortunately necessary. Because Teslas are so technologically advanced, it is very easy for them to be damaged by conventional automotive repair tools. As a result, these vehicles need very delicate handling during collision or software repairs.

Because there are not many service centers available, this can mean long waiting times for both collision repair and any intensive repairs on software for a Tesla. One of the major negative factors impacting service at the few service centers available through Tesla are long wait times for parts. 

While wait times for parts can already be long for certain automotive models, these waits are compounded in Tesla vehicles due to a lack of warehoused spare parts and no available aftermarket options. What’s more, service manuals for Tesla cars are available only in Massachusetts, and nowhere else. This makes it nearly impossible to get a Tesla repaired anywhere but a Tesla-certified shop.   

Tesla Offers Mobile Repair Services in Some Areas

Thankfully, for software-related issues, Tesla has a robust online and phone-based troubleshooting service that can reboot your vehicle and repair many minor software faults remotely through your phone’s Tesla app. 

This is a post-purchase level of service that has never really been seen before in conventional vehicles through other manufacturers. Due to the high-tech nature of Tesla vehicles, however, software support is almost a requirement in order to keep the vehicle operating properly with a system that is constantly online.  

For more intensive software repairs that are deemed too difficult to resolve over the phone, Tesla also offers mobile repair services in some areas. Through this service, a Mobile Service Support Technician will make an appointment to actually meet you at your home and repair your vehicle on-site if possible, or diagnose it with a problem that must be repaired at a tech center if necessary.  

While there are still some issues for Tesla owners when trying to repair their vehicles due to the lack of available service centers, it’s obvious from these various attempts by Tesla to expedite repairs for its customers that it is trying to keep up with repair demands as best it can with increased production demands placed on it in 2019 and 2020. 

There Are Lots of Advantages to Tesla Model 3s, But Drawbacks Too

Tesla is the leading brand name in alternative energy vehicles, and for good reason—no other company has created the kinds of sweeping revolutionary design changes and customer service interfaces that Tesla has over the past three years that the Tesla Model 3 has been in production as the world’s first “affordable” electric car. 

But that doesn’t mean that Tesla’s rise to stardom hasn’t been with its trials and tribulations. With every advance the company makes, it has to resolve a new set of problems, many of which have had a negative impact on both production quality and delivery goals. 

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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