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

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