promises may not match reality

3 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Tesla


March 10, 2020 Cars By
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Tesla disrupted the automotive industry like no other carmaker during the 2010s. We use that Silicon Valley-beloved verb intentionally; Tesla, after all, often behaves more like a tech firm than a traditional automotive company. This behavior pays dividends for investors  — at times, Tesla’s market value has been higher than Ford, FCA, and GM combined — but the company’s unorthodox operations can create confusion for customers.

So, with that in mind, we decided to try and help clear up some common misunderstandings. Here are three things you should know before buying a Tesla.

Tesla’s cars cannot drive themselves.


Tesla uses terms like “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability” to describe its cars’ active safety and semi-autonomous driving features. The former comes standard; the latter is a $7,000 add-on when you order your new Tesla (or you can buy it as an over-the-air upgrade afterward). Both terms imply something akin to Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy, in which a car operates itself without driver input.

That’s not what Tesla is offering. Tesla’s current autonomous driving features — which, admittedly, are among the best available — are Level 2 features, which require constant driver attention and hands on the wheel. (Not doing so can be perilous.)

The $7,000 Full Self-Driving Capability option’s biggest draw is that it’ll provide access to true Level 4 autonomy…whenever that’s ready. It may be more prudent to wait, unless you’re flush with cash; Tesla has been promising such technology is right around the corner since 2016. Last year, Elon Musk asserted Tesla would have a fleet of robotaxis by 2020.

Most industry experts aren’t nearly believe autonomous technology in personal vehicles may be years, if not decades away. That technology still needs to be regulated, too.) The waiting period for full self-driving may be longer than you plan to own your new Tesla.

Software upgrades may not be as permanent as hardware ones


Car buying relies on a simple presumption: the car is a tangible asset one can transfer to another party. When you trick out your $60,000 dream Wrangler, the accessories stay with the vehicle and become part of its resale value. Simple and obvious, right?

Tesla’s over-the-air upgrades using software can work differently. A Jalopnik report noted instances of Tesla auditing and remotely deactivating features on Tesla vehicles after they were sold to third parties, because the new owner had not paid Tesla for them. That view — if proven legally valid — would make car upgrades more like buying a book for your Kindle. You would be purchasing the non-transferable right to access the upgrade, rather than the upgrade itself.

Such a contention could dramatically alter calculations for both new and used Tesla buyers. Do you pay for an upgrade if it doesn’t enhance the value of your car?

That said, if Elon Musk is correct, no one will be selling their Teslas before long. The CEO alleges his company’s cars will eventually become appreciating assets worth $100K-200K each, thanks to their full self-driving technology, as people will be able to rent them out as Uber-style taxis.

Teslas can’t accelerate ludicrously all of the time.


Tesla sells a Performance trim of the Model S, which can accelerate to 60 mph in a silly 2.4 seconds thanks to a feature called Ludicrous Mode. But jumping from naught to 60 so quickly isn’t something the Model S can do all the time. Getting into Ludicrous Plus mode requires certain preconditions, such as a fully-charged battery and 45 minutes of driving to preheat said battery just to make that one ludicrous acceleration run.

It also can’t repeat that stunt too often. During instrumented testing of the fastest Model S and the top-tier Porsche Taycan Turbo S, Car and Driver noted that Model S performance decreased dramatically after its first Ludicrous run. By the end, the Model S had slowed so much that writers were jotting down notes while waiting for it to finish its quarter-mile runs. The Porsche, meanwhile, cracked off consistent runs with the same precision and dependability as its gas-powered cars.  (The carmaker takes pride in that consistency; that’s the reason Porsche’s first Taycan teaser video had the car doing runs over and over again.)

Most Tesla buyers won’t be pushing those limits during everyday ownership. But it’s worth noting that a Model S will not dust Lamborghini Aventadors over and over again.

And a bonus piece of advice:

Don’t throw giant ball bearings at the side windows of your Tesla.

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Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.

Tyler Duffy

Tyler Duffy is Gear Patrol's Motoring Staff Writer. He used to write about sports for The Big Lead and The Athletic. He has a black belt in toddler wrangling. He's based outside Detroit.

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