The Tesla Model 3 is currently one of the most desirable electric cars on the market. Sleek and full of awesome tech, a brand-new one comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
So if you want to get one, buying second-hand is an excellent option — but is it worth it?
Find out in this article, plus everything you need to look for when buying a used Tesla Model 3.
Is Buying a Used Tesla Model 3 Actually Worth It?
Buying a used Model 3 can be a good option for some people. Here are five reasons why:
1. No Waiting
- Buying used means skipping the long waiting list for a new Tesla Model 3. As of this writing, new customers have to wait for one year to get their EVs.
2. Lower Prices
- If you’re buying a pre-owned Tesla with less than 6,000 km on the clock, it’s likely to cost you the same or possibly more than the list price. However, if you’re looking at a car over a year old, you will find lower prices and better value for your money.
3. Better Specifications
- You might have the budget for an entry-level Tesla, but buying used may get you a better range or performance for the same money.
4. Residual Values
- Because of its huge popularity, the Tesla Model 3 holds its money extremely well, meaning you may lose less money over the lifetime of your ownership.
5. Easy Financing:
- If you’re looking to finance your car, it can be easier on a used vehicle, especially if you’re working with an independent dealer as they can access different lenders to give you the best deal.
Depending on the state you live in, buying a used Tesla Model 3 can also save you on dealer fees, sales taxes, and registration fees.
Used Tesla Model 3 Buyers’ Guide: Everything You Need to Check
As Tesla is still a relatively new manufacturer and the technology behind the car is also modern, it’s vital that you do your own research and know what to look for when buying a used Model 3.
We’ll discuss 18 important points in detail below, starting with the basics.
1. Vehicle Year & Trim
Over the years, there has been a variety of Model 3 trims:
- 2017: Long Range RWD
- 2018: Mid Range RWD / Long Range RWD / Long Range AWD / Performance
- 2019: Standard Range RWD / Standard Range Plus RWD / Mid Range RWD / Long Range RWD / Long Range AWD / Performance
- 2020–2021: Standard Range Plus RWD / Long Range AWD / Performance
As you can see, some trims are no longer available in the current lineup.
Not only do earlier trims have a few gremlins that were fixed in the current lineup, but also they have slightly slower 0-60 and are less efficient.
Tesla released around 25 changes on the 2021 Model 3, including chrome delete, a new center console design, a wireless charger, and a better range.
You’ll see people talking about refreshed and pre-refresh versions. This is what they’re referring to.
Ultimately, it’s important to think about your needs when choosing the trim.
Long Range AWD gives you better efficiency and the longest range at ~340–360 miles. If you do a lot of long road trips, this is the trim for you.
If you prefer speed, then the Performance trim is well worth considering. However, you’ll take a range hit to ~315 miles. It’s also likely to cost a few thousand dollars more — even used.
If you are looking for the most cost-effective option (and range isn’t a big concern), then the Standard Range RWD gives you the best bang for your buck.
2. Specs / VIN
The VIN (vehicle identification number) can give you all the information you need to know about the Model 3 you are looking at.
This VIN can be found on the car’s touch screen by touching Controls > Software.
It can also be physically found in the following three locations, according to Tesla’s manual:
- “Stamped on a plate located at the top of the dashboard. Can be seen by looking through the windshield.
- Printed on the statutory plate, located on the door pillar. Can be seen when the front door is open.
- Cars manufactured in the United States: The VIN is stamped into the right-side upper door pillar and can be seen when the interior trim is removed.”
Tesla has a VIN decoder on their website that you can use to identify all the specs of the vehicle.
3. Battery Pack, Range, and Degradation
Battery condition is a big concern for any electric vehicle. So be prepared to ask the right questions when purchasing a used Tesla Model 3.
As the technology is still very new, it’s hard to pinpoint exact figures when it comes to battery degradation.
On a Model S and X, owners are claiming to see a 5% degradation every 80,000 km. Model 3 owners, on the other hand, indicate that they get 2%–3% degradation up to 7%–10% over the same distance. This is quite a difference.
Ask the owner about how they charge their car. If they let the battery run low regularly, this could have caused increased degradation.
Also, ask the owner for proof of the current range. You can head to a Supercharger and wait with the owner for it to charge or you can ask them to send you a photo after a charge.
Tesla does offer a warranty for Model 3’s battery:
- Standard or Standard Plus – 8 years or 160,000 km (whichever comes first), with a minimum 70% retention of battery capacity over the warranty period
- Long Range or Performance – 8 years or 193,000 km (whichever comes first), with a minimum 70% retention of battery capacity over the warranty period.
It’s also important to check the condition of the battery casing. Using your phone or a mirror, you can look at the underside of the car. If you find lots of dents or damage to the battery casing, this could indicate the previous owner wasn’t as careful with the battery.
Pay close attention to the mounting too and check if there are any missing bolts or damage. This will tell you if the battery has been removed in the past, which would need an explanation from the owner.
Lastly, check the charger point status. Look for any signs of wear and tear and make sure the charge port is opening and closing without issue.
4. 12V Battery Status
Teslas come with a traditional 12V battery that powers some electronics and is vital for safety. In an accident, the computer system completely shuts down your main battery to prevent a fire. The 12V battery is the one that deploys the airbags and ensures your hazard lights stay on.
Tesla has had some issues with how long its 12V battery lasts, and this is something you should check if you can.
Ask the owner when was the last time he changed his 12V battery — and consider taking a voltage reading if you have your own digital battery analyzer or multimeter.
It’s possible to change the Model 3 12V battery yourself, but Tesla could do this for you. They’ve been upgrading their cars to lithium-ion 12V batteries that should outlast the car.
Some forum threads suggest this upgrade may cost as little as $165.
5. Suspension and Steering
Tesla has had issues with suspension and steering.
Some owners have raised concerns about noise on the suspension, so when you are looking at a used Tesla, it’s important to inspect this. Although Tesla offers a good warranty, parts and repairs can be expensive.
Check for any noise when you are driving, especially when doing parking maneuvers such as a three-point turn. Uneven tire wear (which is an issue on Model 3s) can be an indicator of suspension issues.
Check for vibration in the steering wheel when you are driving and for any juddering when the car is on full lock.
You can do a simple check by pushing the front of the car. This should take quite a bit of force on your part. If you find the suspension gives quite easily or the car bounces excessively, then there could be a problem with the suspension.
6. Wheel Alignment
Wheel alignment can be another reason for premature tire wear. This is somewhat common, so take your time to inspect this.
Use a mirror to look at the inside of the tire or use your mobile phone camera to take images and compare them to the outer side of the tire.
You can also check for wheel alignment issues by driving on a flat road and allowing the steering wheel to correct itself. If you find the car is pulling left or right, then you have an alignment issue, and this should be checked by a professional.
7. Wheels and Tires
Wheels and tires can tell you a lot about a used car.
The condition of the alloys can give a clue as to how carefully the owner has driven.
Check the tire tread depth and the wear. It will help if you steer the car full lock left and then full lock right. That way, you can see both sides of the tires clearly.
The tread condition can give you clues on other issues. If there is wear on the edges, then it’s likely the car has been driven with low air pressure. Center wear would suggest high air pressure.
Uneven wear may be an issue for you, but the cause behind it isn’t sinister. If you see one-side wear, then it’s likely the wheel alignment hasn’t been adjusted properly. Not a threatening issue, but it’s worth having it checked out.
Checking the sidewall is also important, and if you see any damage, inspect the wheel itself. A damaged sidewall could be a sign of a buckled rim.
Tire condition is vital as it can affect performance, grip, drive quality, and safety.
When driving, pay attention to any shakiness or vibration in the steering wheel. A bent or damaged wheel won’t make proper contact with the road, and this causes movement up through the steering column.
Unlike in a standard car, the Model 3’s brakes don’t get used often due to regenerative braking. This might sound like an added bonus, but it can cause other issues.
It’s important to check a used Model 3 for corrosion on the discs and delamination on the pads.
There are inspections you can do while the car is parked; however, this may require some expert knowledge. A good way to check the integrity of the brakes is to do a driving assessment.
You should test the brakes under light and hard conditions, which includes doing a manual emergency stop. If the brakes don’t feel sharp or there is any brake fade or sponginess, then this will need further investigation.
A grinding noise is most likely to be caused by corrosion. You can check this by braking for long periods of time and by stopping sharply. If, after a few stops, the noise seems to have faded, then it’s most likely corrosion.
You will also need to check the regenerative braking system. It has two settings: standard and low. Most drivers prefer to use the standard mode. Try both settings to ensure they work correctly.
9. Coolant Leaks
In earlier Model 3s, coolant leaks were quite common. While frustrating, these were relatively easy to fix, and it seems that later-generation Model 3s don’t have this issue.
If you are buying a pre-owned Model 3, then it is likely that the former owner has already dealt with this problem, so make sure to ask if they had any coolant issues and if they subsequently changed valves or had any other work done.
You can do some checks underneath the vehicle and look for any signs of lubricant or leakage.
10. Bodywork and Exterior
All used cars will have a reasonable level of wear and tear. It’s common for cars to have stone chips or small dents on the paintwork.
Bodywork can tell you a lot about a car, though, and how it has been treated. The problem is that Tesla tends to roll off the factory floor with less-than-perfect bodywork. This makes it harder to check for crash damage or respray.
Instead, move your focus onto things like fog lights as these can often get condensation inside them and are prone to water penetration. Check the taillights too. Water damage could cause a failure in the lighting system, which could be costly in the future.
You also need to check that all LED lights are working in the headlamps as these can be overlooked and are expensive to replace.
11. Interior Status
Pay attention to the condition of the interior. Check the seats, the door panels, and the dashboard for any obvious damage.
A common issue on the Tesla Model 3 are leaks from fault seals, so remove the floor mats and have a really good feel for dampness in both footwells. Even if they’re dry, it’s important to flip over the mats to see if there are any signs of water damage.
It’s also really important to fire up the entertainment system and the computer system to check if they’re working correctly. Take your time to run through everything, including connecting your phone to the vehicle.
12. Glass Roof Status & Cracks
Often overlooked, the glass roof on a Tesla Model 3 is very expensive to replace, so make sure to check if it’s scratched or damaged in any way.
Ask the owner if they ever used roof racks — and consider asking the owner to wash the car before your inspection as dirt can cover small cracks.
13. Doors, Windows, & Hatch
Open and close all doors, windows, and the hatch. Doors should open and close effortlessly. Pay attention to the door handles and ensure all their mechanics are working correctly.
Put the windows up and down on each side of the car. They should sound smooth and slide up and down effortlessly. If you hear rubbing or scratching noises, it could be a regulator issue and will need proper investigation. There might be some sand or grit stuck in the molding, so check this too.
The Model 3 should sound relatively quiet when you close the hatch. If it sounds like it’s grinding or struggling, then you may have a failing system, which is a costly repair.
14. Main Infotainment Screen
The main touch screen is a crucial part of your Model 3, and if damaged, it’ll not only be disappointing and frustrating but also costly.
There are three main inspections points that can give you clues about the touchscreen’ condition:
- Put the screen in self-cleaning mode to see any pixel issues.
- Go into the sketch pad, which is a white blank page, to check for any yellowing.
- Shut the car down to check the screen for bubbles.
A top tip is to go into the screen and check About Your Tesla. This will show you exactly what your car is. This will ensure you aren’t being sold a Standard Model 3 as a Performance trim.
One final check is to make sure the car is running the most up-to-date software version.
15. Autopilot Hardware & Full Self-Drive (FSD)
Thanks to a software update in 2020, Tesla allows you to know the exact autopilot hardware a Model 3 has by tapping on Controls > Software > Additional Vehicle Information.
If you’re interested in buying FSD or getting a subscription, avoid Teslas with Hardware 2.5 or older. These aren’t compatible with FSD.
Instead, you should see “Full Self-Driving Computer” next to the “Autopilot computer” line, which, as of this writing, refers to Hardware 3.0.
16. Warranty & Car History
Get the VIN of the car and ask the owner or dealer about its maintenance history.
Tesla should be able to give you all the information you need to ensure the car you are looking at has been maintained correctly and hasn’t had any major issues — although their service centers won’t always be available on demand.
Find out how much warranty the car has left and if there are any outstanding recalls on the car. Tesla comes with a comprehensive warranty, and it’s also possible to extend this warranty at an extra cost.
17. Free Unlimited Supercharging
At certain points in time, Tesla has offered free unlimited supercharging for Model 3 owners. However, even if the car has this feature, it’s most likely not transferable, so this is only worth checking in if you’re considering a used Model S or Model X.
18. Free Premium Connectivity
All new Teslas ordered before June 30, 2018, have lifetime Premium Connectivity. Even used Teslas purchased from Tesla directly on or before January 8, 2020, come with this as a bonus feature.
You can check this by contacting your local dealership. It doesn’t matter if the car exchanges hands — it is free for life with that specific car.
But if your car doesn’t have lifetime Premium Connectivity, Tesla offers a 30-day free trial, and then you can decide to buy it for $9.99 per month.
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Where to Buy a Used Tesla Model 3
In general, you have four options to give that Tesla you want a new home:
Directly from Tesla
Buying directly from Tesla means the car has passed an over 70-point check, and you’ll benefit from the manufacturer’s experience and knowledge.
Tesla offers a really good extended warranty if you buy from them, which can give you peace of mind. But expect to pay a much higher price when buying from them.
You’ll also find that the used car listings offer very little in terms of imagery and detail, and you’ll be limited to what that dealership has at the time.
Direct from a seller often gives you the best pricing as you cut out the middleman or any brokerage fees. It’s also nice to meet the last owner of the car yourself as this can give you some idea as to how the car has been treated.
However, when buying directly from a seller, there isn’t as much protection compared with buying through a dealership. So it’s important to get someone to help you with all the checks on the car. You may even feel the need to pay someone to come and inspect the car for you.
You won’t have simple finance solutions when buying directly from a seller either.
Third-Party Dealers or Websites
Third-party dealers and websites such as Carvana, CarMax, and Vroom act as a good middle ground, giving you a competitive price, finance options, and extended warranties. You can also see the car before purchasing, which you can’t do with Tesla.
Dealers can be tricky to deal with though, so you should still do your own checks to ensure you are being given the full picture of what you are being sold.
Buying from an auction site such as the IAA or Bring A Trailer can be a really cost-effective way of buying a Model 3. Most of these cars will have history. It could be light damage, or they could have been seized for non-finance payment.
You need to register on the site, and once you do, you can see all available cars. Most sites hold lots of information and will share VINs with you ahead of purchase, so you can do your own checks. This way of buying does require a confident purchaser and a good level of knowledge.
Consider that your Tesla may have been involved in an incident that could void its warranty, prevent you from Supercharging, or lead to costly repairs.
Final Thoughts: What to Look for When Buying a Used Tesla Model 3
Buying a used Tesla Model 3 is a great idea if you want to own a luxury car and reduce your carbon footprint. It opens up premium electric vehicle ownership to people who don’t have the budget to own a brand-new car. It also helps those with the budget to skip long wait times.
When buying used, you must know what trim, year model, and specification you want to buy. Make sure that you know all the potential issues that can arise in a Tesla Model 3 and understand how these cars roll out of the factory.
There are multiple purchasing options available depending on your budget, preference, and needs. So work out the most important factors for you and then choose the route you want to take.
Be patient. You may not find the right used car for you straight away, but if you keep searching, a good option might come up. Don’t rush into the first car you see. The Tesla Model 3 is a really fun, premium vehicle and will offer you years of enjoyable driving!
Zac LudicrousMechanical engineer by profession. TSLA shareholder before the hype. EV enthusiast all day long. Zac enjoys learning about the future of battery technology, autonomy, and EVs. He considers Tesla Model 3 the most important vehicle of the 21st century -- and is in a quest to improve the ownership experience of every Model 3 owner he possibly can.
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