Should I Buy a Used Tesla? – Smart choice!


When considering buying any used car, a lot of research is needed. This is even more important when buying an Electric Vehicle. Let’s check out what to look for.

Tesla car owners are fanatical about the brand, as such used Tesla models tend to be very well cared for, often with very low mileage. A used Tesla makes a great used car, but do check battery life before buying.

Buying a car is a big decision. If you are buying a used car the most important thing is not to rush your purchase. Gather as much information as you can and be as knowledgeable, and if not more than the seller. Let’s see what you need to know to be the most prepared.

Tesla on car lot

Where to Look for a Used Tesla

This may seem like an obvious decision but actually, it’s a little more complicated than you think. You’re considering buying a used Tesla, the best place to buy one is from Tesla, right? Well, maybe not! For a couple of reasons.

1 Poor part exchange prices – Tesla will take a trade-in of SUVs, trucks, cars (not motorcycles) for a new or used Tesla. They will also obviously part exchange a Tesla. However, Tesla’s ethos is for Electric Vehicles and so don’t necessarily give the best market value on part exchange for your gas-powered car.

This is even more evident if you are trading in a Tesla (strangely), with add on’s. Tesla doesn’t offer any value to third-party accessories or genuine Tesla accessories on a trade-in. They all are removed and your trade price will be without them.

So as a seller you won’t get the added value but also as a buyer all used Tesla’s at a Tesla dealership won’t have anything extra that wasn’t on the car as new.

2 Car Shortage – New Tesla’s are like gold dust at the moment (Aug21) due to semiconductor chip shortage, worldwide because of Covid. Tesla hasn’t been overly affected by this because they build most of their components themselves. However, they are a much smaller car company and cannot keep up with the demand.

At the end of Q2/21, they had sold out all their stock. Used Tesla’s are a scarce commodity also. A lack of new cars means used cars aren’t on the lot. In reality, Tesla wants you to buy a new car and don’t see anything wrong with having you wait.

What About Car Dealerships?

Car dealer

So if Tesla doesn’t offer what your car is actually worth on part exchange, where else can we look for a used Tesla? Other dealerships do have Tesla’s for sale and in the current market, dealerships are probably a better place to be either a seller of your car or a buyer of theirs.

Let me explain. Your car, be it gas or a Tesla is going to fetch more in a car dealership. As a buyer, you also might do very well, because many dealerships don’t know the true value of a used Tesla with lots of the add-on’s toys. They just look at the individual Model and treat them as all the same.

But if you do some research on what they have in stock you will be able to recognize the cars that have added value but no added price. This leads to my next topic.

What to Look For When Buying a Used Tesla

The most important thing when buying a used Tesla – get a screenshot of the Info Screen. These screens are connected directly to Tesla and cannot be altered in any way. The screen will tell you a lot of what you need to know before making your purchase decision.

You can check all the basic stuff – Model, Year, Mileage but you can also check what toys it has and critical stuff like battery life, kind of useful info.

Tesla Info center

So what else is on this Info Screen?

It tells you whether the car has Auto Pilot, Enhanced Autopilot, or Full Self Driving. What’s the difference, I hear you ask? Autopilot is standard on all Tesla’s post-2014. It doesn’t drive itself and buyers need to be aware of this. AutoPilot matches the car’s speed to everyone else around it and allows for autosteer, meaning it won’t drift out of its designated lane.

Full Self Driving is not exactly what it says, it will do lots of extras:

  • Park our car
  • Summon your car
  • Change lanes safely
  • Stop at Stop Signs

But it is not a fully automated driving car. You can update from AutoPilot to Full Self Driving but it costs an additional $200 per month.

If you buy your used Tesla from Tesla, full self-driving will not be available, even if the previous owner had paid for it. If you buy from a dealership, they likely won’t realize the extra value and so may not have factored it in the price.

This goes for other accessories, Tesla will remove all nonstandard accessories from their used cars but dealerships won’t. Such as anti-stone chip film wrap (Paint Protection Film). This costs upwards of $2k. A white interior, or a black exterior, is an extra $1000 from the factory, and a dealership may not realize or factor in the sticker price. The same goes for any trim changes or spoilers added to the vehicle.

The only item that is not transferable is Premium Connectivity. This is an owner contract. But to reset it on your used Tesla is only $9.99 per month, so not going to break the bank.

What Model is Best?

Tesla model S

When considering a used Tesla, the question is which model to choose. Tesla has 4 models available. The S, the 3, the X, and the Y. (Do you see what Elon did there!). New they cost from $40k – $130k.

If you’re basing your choice on premium then the best Model to choose is an S. Although a luxury car, they have been around the longest, a good 10 years and there’s good availability and many on offer have added extras. 

However, the Model 3 is the used Tesla everyone wants, particularly the RWD, Long Range version. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many available and a used one is actually cost comparable with a new one. I can’t think of too many cars that hold their valve like that. And if the trend continues, (tight supply & huge demand) a used Tesla represents a pretty smart buy.

But as we discussed earlier, new cars are scarce on the ground at the moment. My best advice is to check what’s available locally, in dealerships. Definitely check what the battery life is and the full charge range.

ModelS3XY
Range From New405 Miles353 Miles326 Miles360 Miles

Comparing the new range to the used range you should be able to see if the battery life is ok. Each Tesla is covered by an eight-year battery warranty, however, there is a mileage limit. S and X are eight years or 130,000 miles. The Model 3 is eight years and 100,000 miles or 120,000 miles for the long-range.

This is average enough miles, as most people drive 1000 miles per month, and those that drive Electric Vehicles generally drive less than that. But when buying a used vehicle you don’t know how the previous owner has treated the car. It’s good to do a quick mileage calculation vs the year of the car to see do they tally, and check the current battery range.

Like any car, high mileage is never good. Tesla covers the battery life for 8 years or 100,000 miles (depending on the model, some are more). The battery is ultimately the life of the car, and so high mileage means high usage, which means the car battery could be nearing the end of life. A replacement battery can be upwards of $12k. A Tesla battery is expected to last 150,000 but some have been known to last 250,000+. This is all dependent on how the car has been cared for over its life.

Tesla vs Other Electric Vehicles

The last thing we’ll quickly look at is how a used Tesla compares to other Electric Vehicles. Tesla has been in the Electric Vehicle race for a long time. Their battery performance is the best available and their range wins over other EVs’s hands down.

Elon Musk is constantly trying to improve the Electric Vehicle and offer it to the masses. Unlike other Electric Vehicle manufacturers, he doesn’t offer ICE cars. Most manufacturers have introduced a Hybrid or Electric Vehicle to satisfy the consumer market but their Gas or indeed their Diesel models are still their priority.

Yes, Tesla is expensive, but so too are most EV’s, and Tesla has the lowest depreciation of all of them. A three-year-old Model 3 is about $1000 cheaper than a new one.

Tesla Model 3Porsche TaycanNissan LeafAudi e-tronPolestar 2
Range353201150218233
Cost New$46,990$103,800$30,000$65,000$61,000
3 Year Old Value$44,999n/a$20,000$59,000n/a

In conclusion, I would buy a used Tesla, I’d consider the battery life, the Model, and the added extras that are available. A used 2-3-year-old Tesla is as good as a new Tesla. And if the current trend of demand outstripping supply continues, a new tesla represents a very smart purchase. Can’t get your hands on one? A used Tesla is still a pretty smart move.

Before buying any vehicle, it’s always worth investing a few dollars to check the VIN number against a database. An audit with a company like VinAudit (links to VinAudit) will guard against Mileage fraud, Salvage rebuilds, Title washing, and Vin cloning.

You may find the following post helpful also:

Will a Tesla save me money?

Is a Tesla a good first car?

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of classic car ownership, from tires to roof aerials and everything in between.

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