Tesla built its business by going direct to its customers. The company avoided intermediaries, like dealership partners, by prioritizing online sales and opening Tesla-owned showrooms. That was quite a departure from the way that most people think about the car buying experience.
While Tesla’s success is not limited to its distribution model, it also does not appear to be limited by it. Tesla remains the most popular electric car company in the world and, as of 2020, was second to only Toyota in terms of carmaker market capitalization. And which other automotive CEOs do you remember hosting SNL?
In addition to new car sales, used Teslas have been flying off used car lots in 2021. Our research shows that 2013 to 2015 Model S inventory has dropped 30% while prices increased an average of $2,000 and 2019 Models 3s are around $3,000 more today than they were in March 2021. But does the direct-to-consumer sales model hold for pre-owned Teslas?
We found that only 7% of today’s used Tesla listings are on tesla.com.
The chart demonstrates several other very interesting findings.
- 5 national online retailers (Carvana, Vroom, Tred and Shift), along with Tesla direct, collectively represent 37% of the used Tesla inventory.
- 32 large regional dealerships represent 24% of the current used Tesla inventory.
- Nearly 530 smaller dealerships across the country represent the remaining 39% of used Tesla inventory.
Buying a Used Tesla from Tesla.com
Tesla no longer offers certified pre-owned vehicles on their site, although their used vehicles have undergone an 145-point inspection. After the basic 4-year, 50,000 mile warranty expires, used Teslas are covered by a 1-year, 10,000 mile used vehicle limited warranty, but the specifics may vary based on where you purchase.
However, if you’re purchasing a newer used Tesla, you may wind up with a hefty warranty remaining once the additional used vehicle warranty is added on. Drivers who bought their used Teslas direct also reported better accuracy in trim and model options such as self-driving and battery capacity than at non-Tesla specific dealers.
Tesla, like other online retailers, will deliver a used vehicle purchased from its site with a delivery fee between $500-2,500 but you likely won’t be able to test drive or even see pictures of the exact vehicle you’d be purchasing. Unlike other dealers, the price on tesla.com is non-negotiable. Privately sold vehicles with original purchase date prior to January 9, 2020 also come with lifetime premium connectivity for free.
Buying a Used Tesla from Other Dealers
If 7% of used Tesla cars for sale are on Tesla.com, that means that 93% are not! You should consider all of the options.
Digital-first national and large regional dealers account for about half of the available used Teslas as of May 2021. Inventory is added and sold quickly so do not expect vehicles to gather dust on their virtual lots. But keep in mind where the car spent most of its life and the potential effects of temperature on EV battery health.
Local dealerships sell a lot of Teslas, too, and give shoppers a chance to try before they buy. We have also been seeing greater ranges of EV prices between states and regions, meaning that you might be able to find a better deal in your state.
We recommend comparing price trends at national dealers and local dealers to uncover any potential advantages of shopping local.
General Tips for Used Tesla Shoppers
Mechanic Rich Benoit explains in a helpful Youtube video what to look for when buying a used Tesla:
- Check for cracks or misalignments in the roof
- Check that sunroof can open
- Look under car for damage to the battery (including scratches and missing pieces)
- Check for rust and corrosion on brake pads - have someone move from park to shift while you look at brake pads
- Look at water or fog in the lights, and make sure headlight LEDs are good
- Examine screen for bubbles or missing LEDs
- Confirm the badge on the outside of the car matches the trim on the info cluster
- If you can, supercharge to full to see what the full charge battery looks like.
Meanwhile, Ben Sullins gives you this advice in their video:
- Tesla updates aren’t necessarily yearly so don’t get hung up on the year as much as the trim
- Battery warranties are 8 years
- Expect to replace tires twice as fast
- Look for free, unlimited supercharging and premium connectivity on select older models