Less Maintenance, More Money? - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Less Maintenance, More Money?

April 10, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

Part of the appeal of driving an electric vehicle is that you never have to worry about oil changes, smog checks and spark plugs. "With just one moving piece in the motor, compared to hundreds in a gas engine, there are fewer things that can go wrong," says the Tesla site. "That translates to less maintenance and service over time."

Nissan also uses this as a selling point in this Leaf commercial called the "New Maintenance."

But a closer look at Tesla's service pricing shows that less maintenance doesn't necessarily equal less cost.

When you purchase a Model S, you are given the chance to "save up to $1,000," by purchasing a pre-paid service plan. Tesla recommends an annual service once a year or 12,500 miles, whichever comes first. That will normally set you back $600. Add an additional $100 if you want a "Tesla Ranger," to perform the maintenance at your home or job.

The savings are realized when you pre-purchase the "4-Year Plan" for $1,900. It is good for four years or 50,000 miles. This saves you $500 and makes each service $475. The $1,000 savings are only realized when you purchase the "4-Year Plan +4-Year Extension" for $3,800, though each service visit still costs $475. Tesla owners have 30 days from when they take delivery to pre-purchase the service plans. We're going to pass on this, since we only keep our cars for one year.

But even $475 seems pricey since you're not likely to need much in your first service. The Model S annual maintenance includes tire rotation, software update, topping off the washer fluid and replacement of any worn items (brake pads, wipers) except tires.

Brake pads on EVs tend to wear slower, since regen braking takes much of the pressure off the pads. They aren't a yearly item you would replace. My colleague, Phil Reed, who has leased a Leaf for almost two years now, is still on his original brake pads.

Contrast the Tesla prices to a quote on the Nissan Web Site where a Leaf owner is bragging about a recent trip to the service department. "Got the 15k mile checkup on my Nissan Leaf -- it was just $20 for tire rotation, car wash, battery testing," says Katie M. Were her brake pads and wipers included? Probably not, but she likely didn't need them.

For reference to another high cost repair, we paid $668 for the 20K service on our long-term Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.

The Tesla Model S is a high-end car. I get that. But as an EV, it doesn't need to have high end car maintenance costs. Low maintenance should be a huge selling point with an EV, but in the Model S, I'd say it is a strike against it.

Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 2,176 miles


  • mfennell mfennell Posts:

    The Tesla page is confusing. George Blankenship posted that a PLAN is not required but paying Tesla for annual inspection IS required to maintain your warranty. Honestly, I'm not sure how that will stand up to fed scrutiny, but that's what they say. It's not clear what a basic annual inspection costs. It IS clear they want you to give them $600 for an annual inspection PLUS replacing wear items, roadside assistance, software updates, etc.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    So $600 for a tire rotation and washer fluid fillup. I was wondering how Tesla dealers are going to stay in business, but I'm starting to see the light. The service pitch is that $600 a year is right in the ballpark with other $100,000 cars ( even though with those cars, there is some actual work being performed). But really, I suppose they know their market...people who are prepared to spend this kind of money on a car that can't really be considered a daily driver and will almost never be an only car are not going to kick about getting their $600 worth.

  • zhangrenhou zhangrenhou Posts:

    mfennell makes a good point. Most other cars, you can do the service work yourself without affecting the warranty, right? What does the law say about forcing people to purchase service from the manufacturer's service center?

  • throwback throwback Posts:

    It costs a lot of money to put rockets in to space. Seriously though, what exactly is included in that $600 yearly maintanence fee? Also, what's the point of bragging about low service needs if you are going to charge the same as a gas powered car?

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    Software updates should be free under warranty. I just rotated the tires on my Leaf myself, and have yet to take it in for its 6-month checkup. I'm certainly not interested in paying much for it.

  • philip17 philip17 Posts:

    I own a Leaf and found out that, under the warranty, you have to take it to the dealership once a year for a battery inspection. While I was there, they washed it and rotated the tires. The service adviser didn't know what to do with me, or how to upsell any extra service.

  • mayhemm mayhemm Posts:

    This is one area where Tesla can stand to improve. Originally, the annual service was REQUIRED to maintain warranty. They have since removed this requirement (likely as result of public outcry). $600 still seems like a lot, though, when you consider most of the items on the checklist are visual inspection items. Especially considering Tesla claims their goal is to "not make a profit with service" in contrast to auto dealers which make a majority of their profit from service.

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