My First Year With A Tesla Model 3
I bought a Tesla Model 3 on July 19, 2018, and I love this car. Elon Musk said on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in September 2018, “I think a Tesla is the most fun thing you could possibly ever buy”, and he is 100% correct. I use this saying over and over when people ask me how I like this car. I have had some ups-and-downs, and I do have some concerns, but the overall experience has been outstanding. I look forward to driving it every day and cannot imagine ever driving anything other than an electric vehicle.
I had never owned an electric car before. In fact, until the day of delivery I had never even driven one. Historically, due to my commute most electric cars would not be a good fit as the miles I needed for my daily round trip commute, which was averaging 140 miles a day, were just not possible (or at least very difficult). There was no way I could afford a Tesla Model S or X, but always desired one. Even when Tesla announced the Model 3 at a starting price of $35,000 I really was not paying that much attention as even at that time, it seemed a bit higher than I would be willing to pay to drive a car 30,000+ miles a year in a major metropolitan area (Atlanta).
That was until I started doing the math in the Spring of 2018. As a “Super Commuter”, my costs are high for daily transportation. I was spending, on average, $350 a month on gas, and another $250 a month on tolls. The car I was driving was a 2011 Kia Optima SX. It was paid off in 2017 but had over 160,000 miles. It was still in good operating order, but it was only a matter of time before that could change with the pounding it was taking daily due to the distances being traveled. We also had a child that was going to be turning 16 in 2019 and needed a car. So, I was starting to look at my options to replace it at some point in the next year. If I were to buy a new car for around $35,000, the likely monthly car payment would have been in the $500 ballpark. So, the total monthly cost to operate a new car was looking to be about $1,100 a month. That SHOCKED me. And I haven’t even thought about regular maintenance for oil changes, tire rotations, new tires, etc.
I then started thinking about how to lower that monthly expense, yet still, have something I really like since I spend so much time in it. A friend of mine had recently bought a Model S and was talking about how inexpensive it was to operate. Yes, the initial cost of the car was high, but with little to no maintenance and no more trips to a gas station, he was overwhelmingly positive at the experience. They were taking road trips, going long distances regularly, using Supercharging along the way and not feeling restricted by being in an electric car. It started to get me thinking about how this could perhaps benefit me and my daily requirements. So, I started to do some research on electric cars in general, and it quickly turned to Tesla exclusively.
Being someone that had never spent more than $38,000 (2009 Pontiac G8 GXP) on a vehicle, a Tesla involved a good bit of sticker shock as it related to the Model 3. The $35,000 version was still a fable at this time, and the only version being manufactured was a Long Range, Rear Wheel Drive, with Premium Interior which was $49,000. Any other options, such as premium paint, premium wheels, enhanced autopilot, or dual motor added onto that cost. At this point, in the Spring of 2018, Tesla was still primarily taking reservations and the estimated timeline for delivery was 9-12 months. Thinking about the situation of needing a car within the next year, the timeline was going to work to my advantage. But, could I afford to drive a Tesla even a year from now? It was time to dig in and do some additional research and figure out if this was even possible. Initially, I started reading up on Tesla and joined several online forums. The enthusiasm by current owners and those in line with a reservation for a Model 3 was contagious. I was feeling the excitement and enjoying the firsthand accounts of people’s experiences and my interest in a Tesla Model 3 only continued to grow.
But, the concern on affordability continued. So, it was time to do the math on buying a Model 3. My main source of info was the costs that Tesla had on their website to help develop a spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets) to start my justification. I “configured” a Model 3 ($35,000), Long Range ($9,000), Rear Wheel Drive, Metallic Silver ($1,000) with Premium Interior ($5,000) and Enhanced Auto Pilot (EAP – $5,000). The total estimated cost before taxes ($3,850) or destination/documentation fee ($1,000) was $55,000. With an estimated total delivery cost of $59,850. Again, I was SHOCKED and figured there is no way I can afford a $60k car. I figured out an estimated loan cost with a down payment that would get the car payment over 6 years to $750 a month. I also researched electricity costs for my area and discovered that my power company has a special rate plan for EV owners that worked out to $0.0458828 per kilowatt after all the fees and taxes. I also discovered that the toll lanes I use every day are FREE to EV owners if you have the special EV tag (and pay the yearly $220 fee). Based on these numbers, I calculated that my average monthly cost based on my miles would be about $800.
So, when comparing the monthly expenses, it would cost me $1,100 to buy a $35,000 gas car vs. $800 for a Tesla Model 3, I was sold. How can I not do this and save $300 a month? So, on May 20, 2018, I placed my reservation and $1,000 for a Tesla Model 3, knowing that was fully refundable. Now, how do I tell my wife I want to buy a $60,000 car?
For about a week I firmed up my spreadsheet cost justification and all the while started talking to her more about Tesla. She thought they were cool and seemed fun from her time in our friends Model S, but like me, at first, assumed they were more than we’d be able to afford. Finally, I felt good with my numbers and it was time to make my case. We talked about the technology, the benefits of EAP to help lower my stress levels of the 2.5-3 hours a day in the car, and then the numbers and cost savings. Ultimately, she said, “if that will make you happy, then do it. It seems like we’ll save money and you’ll be in a better mood when you get home.” SOLD. We had a plan for a new car in 2019. I was so excited and couldn’t wait, this was going to be a long 9-12 months.
About a month later, on the evening of June 27, 2018, I was on business travel in San Diego, CA when I started seeing on the various Tesla forums that lots of people were getting their invites to configure and order their Model 3. There were still many early reservation holders that had not been able to place their orders and I was excited for them. They had waited since March/April 2016. Since the rollout seemed so large, I decided to log in to the Tesla website and see what my timeline said now for delivery, and I couldn’t believe my eyes that I had a CONFIGURE/ORDER button available and a timeline for delivery of 2-3 months. I immediately called my wife and told her the news. She was like, “What? I thought you said you’d not see it until next Summer. I guess we are doing this early “. So, with her on the phone, while sitting in my hotel room across the country we configured our car. I tried to talk her into the Dual Motor option, but she said we’re spending enough, and I concurred, not going to push it. Excitedly, I configured the car as originally planned out, reviewed the configuration about 8 times to ensure it was 100% correct, and paid the additional $2,500. My excitement level increased in anticipation that I may have a Tesla by my birthday in September.
The next evening, June 28, 2018, I was on the phone with my wife and discussing the day and my excitement over our future car. She is not a car person, so her excitement was more about being excited for me, not for the car. As we were speaking another call buzzed in that said “Las Vegas, NV” for its caller ID location. I don’t know anyone in Las Vegas, so I let it go to voicemail. Jokingly, I told my wife I “don’t know who that is, but it said Las Vegas, so it’s probably Elon telling me my car is ready.” After a while longer and wrapping up with her, I saw that I did have a voicemail. I listened to it and to my SHOCK (yeah, again) it was a Tesla Inside Sales Advisor (ISA) saying they have matched me with a car, they have a VIN (439xx) and want to set up a scheduled delivery at my local delivery service center in about 3 weeks. My mind started swirling. How can this be, I only placed my order 24 hours before. I immediately called my wife back and she had a similar reaction. I called back the ISA and went over everything and they set the delivery date for July 18, 2018. Now the pressure was one to get all the financing set up and here I was on the other side of the country for another week. Thankfully, as we all know, the Internet is a godsend to being able to do business anywhere at any time. Within 24 hours I had everything figured out, set up and all I had to do was to go to the lending institution to get my check when I returned home.
Since I was thinking I would not be getting the Model 3 until sometime in 2019, I had done ZERO planning on how I would charge the vehicle at home. Now that I knew the car was coming in 3 weeks, I had to scramble. I contacted 3 reputable companies to come to provide an electrical quote to run a NEMA 14-50 outlet from my panel in the room behind my garage, to the middle of the wall inside the garage. The run was about 30’ or so, and all the estimates were in the ballpark of each other, about $1,000. The selected company did the install in a few hours, 1 day AFTER I took delivery of the car. That was close. Charging on a standard house outlet was NOT going to work with the number of miles I drove every day. I charge primarily at home, or for free at the hotel behind my office. In this first year of ownership, I only used a SuperCharger 3 times.
For the next 3 weeks, all went smoothly, good communication from Tesla and all was on track from what I could tell. As we got within 3 days of the scheduled delivery window, I still had not received my final paperwork from Tesla validating the final costs. I reached out to my ISA and left a voice mail but didn’t hear back. 2 days out I reach out again and didn’t hear back. 1 day out I was now getting concerned, but late in the afternoon they send me an email with the info needed to be signed and I returned it within minutes as it matched what I was expecting so I thought I was good to go. Then later that evening, on July 17, 2018, they said the car was not at the delivery service center yet and they would have to delay the delivery by 1 day. That call felt as if someone told my 5-year-old self that Christmas was moving to the 26th of December. The next day, I reached out directly to the delivery service center to confirm the car was there, they said they would have to check and call me back as 2 trucks had just pulled in with cars and they haven’t checked them in yet. Several hours later, they called me back and said yes, it was there, and we were a go for tomorrow, July 19, 2018.
On delivery day, my ride who was available the day before was not today, so I had to take a Uber. My stepson went with me as I think he was as excited about getting the car as I was. We arrived and the car was inside the delivery service center showroom along with 3 other cars awaiting delivery. I inspected the car and overall it was in really good shape. The firmware version at delivery was 2018.26.1. However, I did note 3 minor issues:
- There were 2 areas that the paint was not quite right, they noted those to be resolved.
- The passenger side front door was slightly out of alignment, also noted.
- The trunk garnish was still in plastic and placed in the trunk. They said I could wait a few hours, and someone could put it on, I declined.
Overall, these were very minor issues that could easily be fixed with a visit to the service center. So, I was happy to sign the final papers and take possession of the car. I did not need much of the overview that the delivery advisor was going over as I had been obsessively reading about the car and how it works, I was ready to get in and drive. After about 10 minutes of overview and setting up my phone as a key, they pulled the car outside, handed me the key card, and off we went.
The smile on our faces must have been priceless. I was so happy that the first drive was everything I was hoping it would be plus more. We put about 200 miles on it day 1. My wife, who as I have said is not a car person, was amazed at how it felt and drove. She too was soon wearing the “Tesla Grin” without even knowing it.
I waited a few weeks before making an appointment with the Service Center to address the issues noted at delivery, but on August 20, 2018, I went in and they fixed all 3 in about 60 minutes. Great service, very friendly and everything looked great.
Damage and Tesla Body Shop
On September 20, 2018, while driving home from work on the interstate, a vehicle about 3 car lengths ahead in the lane to my right hit a large tire tread sitting in the roadway and kicked it up into the air. We were traveling about 70-75 MPH and I saw it headed right for me. To my immediate left and right were other cars, so the best I could do was “lean” toward the left lane as much as possible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid it completely, and it clipped the lower right front valance of the bumper and put a 3” gash in it. It also knocked the fog light back into the bodywork and left black marks across the right front of the car. I was heartbroken. I only had the car for 2 months, and it was damaged, already. I called my insurance company and they gave me the option to use one of their authorized repair center locations or I could go get an estimate from them and they would pay me to use whoever I wish. Before making my decision, I remembered that I had recently been hearing about Tesla starting their own Repair Body Shops in selected major city markets, and Atlanta happened to be one of those. So, I reached out to them, and they asked for pictures and a description of what I was seeing. Within a few hours, I had a quote back to replace the entire nose of the car, the total cost estimate was $912. On September 24, 2018, I went to get the cost estimate from the insurance company authorized shop and they estimated the damage at $1,200. I have a deductible of $250, so the payout was going to cover the costs.
While getting the estimate from the authorized body shop, who was also a Tesla authorized body shop, they said this fix could take a while, as part deliveries from Tesla are unpredictable. He said it could be “several weeks, maybe even 2-3 months.” Luckily, the damage did not prevent me from using the car at all. So other than having to look at it, the wait was not a big deal. But it was discouraging to think if something serious were to happen that I could be without the car for a very long time.
On September 25, 2018, I called the Tesla Body Shop and gave them the go-ahead to order the parts and do the work. They said they would order parts immediately and let me know when they would be in. I also asked them how long they think it would be and said he was not sure as it all depends on what they have in stock at the distribution center. But, did say once they get it in, they can fix it the same day, I can even wait for it.
Thankfully, my wait for the parts did not take as long as I had feared. On Friday, October 5, 2018, I got a call from the Tesla Body Shop saying the parts were delivered and they could do the work on Monday. Unfortunately, I was out of town on a long weekend in Florida through Monday, so we rescheduled it for Tuesday, October 9, 2018.
When I arrived at the Tesla Body Shop at 10 am and they took the car back immediately and said they’d have her done shortly. I didn’t ask what that timeline really meant, so I settled in expecting this to be several hours. As they progressed through the process, they started to send me text messages with pictures telling me “The repairs are going well”, and “We are moving your Model 3 to detail now, repairs are complete.” All of this was within less than an hour of arriving. By a little after 11:30 am I was done and driving home. It was an amazing experience. The repairs look PERFECT. You will never know the nose was replaced with a new one. All paint matched exactly and lined up to the rest of the body panels as they should. I was thoroughly impressed.
It took a total of 19 days from the date of the incident to repair. Thankfully, since that time I have had no other incidents.
Unlike most of my past cars (except for a Corvette I had in the early 2000s), I really wanted to make a few minor modifications and personalization on the Model 3. Even before I bought the car, I had bought a few items that were more for functional sake the looks. The main purchase I had to have for day 1 was the Model 3 Aero Wheel Cap Kit ($50) so I could remove those Aero wheel covers. I was NOT a fan of them, and the minimal range increase was not worth it in my opinion. I pulled those caps off immediately and hung them on the wall. They are still there today.
I also purchased the Tesla Model 3 Glass Roof Sunshade ($75) and 2 other plug adapter types ($35/each) for the mobile charger. I have yet to use ANY of them. I bought the Sunshade thinking the hot Georgia sun would be unbearable with the glass roof, but I was completely wrong on this. The UV protection of the Model 3 roof is outstanding. If anything, the heat from the side/rear windows was the issue. To me, this was a waste of $75. To this day, it still has never been opened and remains in the trunk. The plug adapters likely will come in handy eventually when I travel to places that need them.
After living with the car for a few weeks, I struggled on where to put my sunglasses. The armrest storage was not easy to get in/out of while driving, and the obvious place of the front center storage compartment was just a huge hole with a fancy cover over it. But I had found a post on the Tesla forums that a guy and his kids were 3D printing trays ($25) to fit in that front storage compartment. It looked exactly like what I wanted, and I signed up. Since they are a small non-profit outfit, it took some time, but the idea of how he was teaching kids about business and the fact that their proceeds went to charity was extremely heartwarming. You can check them out for yourself at https://www.mymod3.com/
Another area that I thought needed some attention had to do with lighting. The trunk area lighting was very weak and provided no useful light at all. It was very hard to see anything at night. Luckily, many vendors have options to replace the lights in the trunk which make a huge difference. And for about $26 I replaced both lights to really brighten things up. I also thought the puddle lights for the doors were kind of useless, they really didn’t put out much light at all either and were boring. So yet again, the various vendors have options with various Tesla symbols and monikers. They look much cooler when you open the door. Ultimately, this turned into more of a vanity upgrade than a functional one, but I like it. We went with the “3” symbol for the front doors and the “T” symbol for the back doors, the total price was about $90.
An issue that was driving me crazy was how no one knew how to properly get out of the Model 3 by pushing the button. The button was not obvious with only a tiny thin line that also slightly lit up at night. Often people would instead naturally go for the manual release at the front of the armrest to open the door. The issue with that is it can damage the chrome trim of the window frame since that opening method does not quickly/slightly lower the window. To help resolve that I purchased stickers ($10) that made the buttons more obvious for opening the door. This seems to have worked well, although I still find myself telling new people in the car to ensure they put the button where the picture of the car with the open door is.
For Christmas 2018, I had on my Amazon wishlist a set of Non-Slip Performance Foot Pedal Covers ($30). These really make the driver-side footwell look nice. They were easy to put on and look amazing. Later, I also ended up getting an add-on Dead Pedal cover ($20) that matches them. Love this look much better than the stock boring black rubber things.
Although I had not really had any issues, I figured I should get a screen protector so as not to damage the screen accidentally. I was also finding the fingerprints and some glare was a bit much, so I bought a Matte Tempered Glass Screen Protector ($34). It came with everything to clean up the actual screen to ensure no dust was left on it before applying. One of the cleaning tools was basically a sticky/tape pad, and much to my surprise when I used that to get off some stubborn lint, I discovery the factory plastic cover was still attached. I laughed out loud that I had no idea that was still on as it had not moved or had any overlaps outside the screen itself. I pulled that sucker off and the actual screen was super clean. Putting the new (or actual) screen protector on was easy and works great to fix both of my problem areas.
An area where I thought Tesla should have done something as stock was the rear door area that needed a kick plate to protect the paint/finish of the car. I could see that area getting really scuffed up by kids and such. One of the Tesla YouTubers had posted a video about these custom kick plates available on Amazon ($25) that looked great, were well made with quality materials and were super simple to install. They really finish off that area nicely too.
The final modification before we went through the Summer of 2019, I figured it was time to tint the windows. I went with the legal maximum for my state of 32%, using ceramic film from Suntek. They did all 4 door windows and a single piece for the full-back window, all the way to the crossbar ($550). This has made a HUGE difference in the temps of the car, especially while driving. I no longer have that heat sensation from the sun on my neck each afternoon driving home from work. Plus, it looks really cool.
As I said in the TLDR section at the top, this is the most fun thing I have ever bought. I enjoy driving it every day. I want to drive it every day. The impact it has had on my life is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Before this car, when I would get home from work, I would be mentally and physically exhausted from dealing with 90-120 minutes of stop-and-go traffic. Enhanced AutoPilot has changed my life. The performance of the car through the instant torque of acceleration is amazing and has yet to get old. I look forward to being the first one at the line for stoplights. I love not having to go to a gas station ever again. Before this car, I was having to stop every other day to fill up. Now, I just ensure it’s plugged in before I go to bed, and I have another 80-90% (depending on the time of year and temperatures) of battery miles to use again.
I can honestly say, I cannot see myself buying another non-EV again. And, it will be very hard for me to not want to buy only Tesla. It is clear to me that other companies want to bring cars to market that will meet or beat Tesla, but from what I am seeing they are at least 5 years behind, maybe even 10. Other EVs will come, but will they have the ability to truly compete with Tesla and their charging infrastructure, their continual advancement in battery technology to push the range of their cars further and further and match the fun factor. I just don’t see it happening any time soon.
Tesla has changed the landscape of the automotive world. Most non-Tesla enthusiasts just have not realized it yet. The ability for Tesla to continue to enhance and advance cars already delivered via a software update is revolutionary. Others will do this, and soon. But, again, they are already way behind.
Just since I bought this vehicle 1 year ago, the number of FREE feature enhancements is amazing, sometimes quirky and sometimes not used (some highlights):
- Dash Cam (love it)
- Navigate on Autopilot (NOA)
- I wrote about my experience here: https://www.electricsolarforum.com/blog/2019/05/11/teslas-navigate-on-autopilot-on-busy-city-highways/)
- Sentry mode (use it, love it, with a wireless thumb drive)
- Arcade Games (how cool is this, a rolling gaming console)
- Dog Mode (not letting a dog in the car)
- Climate protection (need it in the south)
- PIN to drive (great security – don’t use it)
- Blindspot detection (strange to look to the middle of the car but it works well)
- Energy charts (I love data)
- Web browser to Chromium (now it works)
- 325 total miles (don’t have it, not sure why)
- 10% more power (can’t really notice it)
- Supercharging V3 (not available yet near me)
- Increase V2 charging (haven’t used it yet)
- Auto Folding Mirrors based on location (don’t use it)
- Enhanced Summons (early release only, don’t have it)
And I am sure there is more I am missing. The fact that they can push software out to improve the car, fix issues and generally make it even more fun is just game-changing.
Overall, my concerns are long term focused. Tesla is still a company struggling to find its way financially. Wall Street has been less than kind to them, and the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) factor runs high with the amount of misinformation and bad press that is generated by those short-sellers that profit if Tesla loses. Having been an owner now for a year, it is clear they have a high-quality product. Everyone that has been in my car starts to think about getting one too. But, until Tesla can consistently be profitable, there will be concerns about their ability to be a sustainable company for decades to come. I for one believe that is a non-issue ultimately.
How long will the battery really last in a Model 3? Elon has said the current life span is between 300,000 and 500,000 miles. I sure hope so. If my Super Commuting continues throughout the life of this car, I will definitely be in that range. I would love to see it, while still maintain a large percentage of that charge (75%?) by 500,000 miles. That may be a stretch, but hopefully, by the time those number of miles come, the cost of replacing the battery packs will be reduced substantially. I am encouraged about future battery technology, where Tesla has said the next generation is being designed for a 1,000,000 life. Amazing.
What will I do when my warranty runs out for roadside assistance? The Model 3 has no spare tire and that is my biggest concern. Will I have to get a tire to carry around? Will I just have to rely on being towed via flatbed to the tire repair shop? The decision to be made, and soon as 50,000 miles is not a lot, and I will pass that sometime in less than 2 years from delivery.
One thing I was not aware of when I bought the car was the punishment that EVs have on tire wear. I have been reading varying accounts of how many miles people are getting out of the factory set of tires. Some have seen as low as 15,000 miles while most seemed to be replacing them between 30,000-40,000 miles. I will be looking at going with a different tire when the time comes, as I am hoping to be able to get closer to 50,000 miles out of tires so that it is not a new annual cost I hadn’t been planning on.
Will Full Self Driving (FSD) ever happen? As we have been hearing, FSD will be “feature complete” this calendar year. That does not mean regulators will allow it to be used as such. In my personal experience with EAP/NOA, the car still struggles with basic situations. But we also know that a new computer is now being manufactured and put into all new Model 3s as of April 2019 and the software code for FSD is also not necessarily what we are using now with AP/EAP/NOA. I think we will see this work well in the near future, but I think it will take several years for most states to allow it. Some will, but full acceptance across the country is not likely any time soon. Perhaps other countries will be more progressive and will help accelerate the approvals in the United States.
Tesla has said that if you have purchased FSD, which I did when offered in March 2019 for a very low price, you will get the upgraded computer installed by the end of 2019. This is another big cost, that we paid for, but they have historically had ramp-up issues with manufacturing processes. Now that they are taking on the computer in-house as compared to mostly outsourcing it, I am not so sure we will see it in 2019. In my opinion, until Tesla’s can take full advantage of the new code, it makes no sense for them to invest in the swap out. Do I want it, yes. Do I think I will have it before mid-2020, no. I hope I am wrong here. Recently, Elon responded on Twitter to a question about when HW2 to HW3/FSD upgrades would occur and said, “End of Q4, most likely.” I think my mid-2020 is still a good target based on “Elon Time”.
Final Stats After 1 Year of Ownership
Current firmware: 2019.20.4.4
Total Efficiency: 248 Wh/mi
Total Charging Cost: ~$400
Battery Degradation (100% charge miles): 304 miles or ~2% degradation
Tire Tread Wear: Even wear across all tires, averaging about 4/32″, maybe a smidge under. New tires are in my future in the next >5,000 miles for sure. The wear bars are not yet being touched, but getting close. I have been rotating every ~7,000 miles.
I think the future of cars is here today with Tesla. All other carmakers are playing catch up and have a long way to go. Over the year, Tesla has introduced the Model Y, which my wife is very interested in. We have not placed an order for one but will wait until it becomes available. Our household will be an all EV family in the future, I do not believe we will ever buy another gas power vehicle in our lifetimes. Elon Musk is a world change visionary who has transformed one of the largest economic sectors in the world. And if the established auto manufacturers don’t adjust, they will find themselves behind and looking up at Tesla wondering what could have been. We are witnesses to tomorrow, today.
Come discuss this topic at https://www.electricsolarforum.com/index.php?threads/blog-my-first-year-with-a-tesla-model-3.163/post-168
Disclosure: I do not own any Tesla stock or have any financial interest in the company. The opinions, information, and pictures in this article are my own.
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