Full self-drive is one of the most hyped Tesla roll-outs - whether or not you personally buy into that hype is outside the scope of this article. 

The long term promise is that one day, full self-drive (FSD) will be a fully autonomous driving tool for Teslas. As of today, though, it is a suite of tools that make up an “advanced driver assistance system that assists your car with steering, accelerating and braking for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane. It assists with the most burdensome parts of driving and work alongside features like emergency braking, collision warning and blind-spot monitoring.” 

Auto lane change example from tesla.com
from Tesla.com

Since its PR introduction in 2013, FSD has been a future dream. Nonetheless, Tesla started charging for the upgrade from autopilot to full self-drive as early as 2016, when it was a $3,000 software add-on to the optional, $5,000 autopilot system. Over the years, the price has risen, adoption has decreased, and customer complaints have cropped up. 

The first complaint is that, for those Tesla drivers who want a new model, FSD can’t be transferred, but rather must be repurchased at the current price (which is now $15,000).

Note: as of July 19, 2023, for the first time ever, Tesla is allowing transfer of FSD to a new model, so long as it’s purchased in Q3.

The second complaint is that, despite promises that FSD would not only hold its value, but appreciate over the lifetime of the car, no one who is buying a used Tesla will pony up close to the purchase price. Insurance estimates on totaled Teslas seem to put its value between $1200 and $2000, and Tesla itself only seems willing to add the same when it repurchases a car with FSD. Finally, there are grumbles that so-called full self-driving still fails to be “self-driving,” but very few people who buy the software don’t understand that pre-purchase.

Feature set for Tesla cars
from Wikipedia.com

But, there are still those people who love the software and are eager to get their hands on a Tesla with FSD. What are the cheaper options?

If you’re leasing, get the subscription

Tesla started to offer a FSD subscription in mid-2021, opening up the possibility that people could test out or trial the software. This is also a great option for anyone leasing a Tesla, or planning to keep the car for under 6.25 years. Why 6.25 years? The subscription price is $199 a month, and it takes at least 75 months of ownership to make the outright purchase price of $15,000 worth it. Since many tech-heads don’t plan to keep any car that long, leasing will save them money. 

If you want to buy, look for a used Tesla in a private sale

Here’s the thing - someone selling their Tesla is not going to make back the full purchase price of full self-drive software. Even if they sell back to Tesla. And, many third-party dealerships are wary of buying software that Tesla has been known to disconnect if the car comes in for warranty work or servicing. This means that sellers who have FSD are looking to recoup some of the original cost, and might let the car go with only a slight markup for the purchased software. 

Software screen from a tesla with FSD

Look for a used Tesla on sale from a non-Tesla dealer

This one can be a little tricky, since as mentioned above, a lot of third party dealers are reluctant to sell a car with FSD. Why so? Well, Tesla had a few highly publicized cases where they removed FSD software from a car that had already been sold as having it. In all these cases, the car had passed through Tesla’s hands at some point - either as a lease return or during warrantied servicing. Once Tesla has possession of one of their cars, they will remove FSD. In the few cases they forget to…it will catch up with you.

But, there are cases when an individual sells their Tesla, with FSD, to a third-party dealer without it ever passing back to Tesla. In these cases, it is possible for a second buyer to retain the FSD purchase on the car. If you go this route, make sure that the dealer has a track record of selling Teslas with and without FSD, and get the purchase in writing. That way, if there are any over-the-air shenanigans, you have a purchase order showing what you paid for. 

Shop used cars on Tesla.com

It used to be that nearly all of the used Model 3s that Tesla sells directly come bundled with discounted full self-drive. Now, you can find options across all models that come with and without the feature. And sometimes, you can find two to compare. 

For instance, in the picture below, there are two different 2020 Model Y Long Range AWD, with nearly identical configurations. Except the one on the right is $6K more, because it includes FSD. 

Two 2020 Model Ys with similar configurations

If you’re flexible about what you want, you might be able to find FSD at even less of a markup. These two 2018 Model 3s, both Long Range AWD, but different colors and have different wheel sizes, are merely $100 apart in price.

Two 2018 Model 3s for sale

If you can live with a white car and 19 inch wheels, you’ve just gotten yourself a real bargain for the highest buzzed software of the decade.