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I Rented a 2013 Tesla Model S — and It Broke

During a recent trip to Southern California, I decided to finally try out a Tesla — but I had to stick to my usual script. I found the cheapest Model S rental available in the area: a brown 2013 model with the 85 kilowatt battery and 65,000 miles on the odometer. I was curious how an older Tesla like this was holding up, and it performed flawlessly for the entire weekend — until the last few hours. See the 2013 Tesla Model S models for sale near you

Life has never been easy for Tesla. When their first Roadster launched in 2008, it was eviscerated by the old Top Gear trio, who claimed the car overheated, the brakes failed and the battery ran out before they could finish their review. Tesla disputed those claims enough to file a lawsuit, stating the mishaps were scripted and their data logs showed the battery never ran out — but the case was eventually thrown out. In more recent years, Consumer Reports magazine has been especially critical of the Model S and Model X, even putting the brand on their “do not buy” list. Despite these reports, consumer satisfaction remains very high.

I had never been behind the wheel of a Tesla before this trip, and the owner left the car at an airport valet. I was handed the keys without any tutorial — and after driving to my first destination, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the Tesla. It took way too long for me to realize the car turns itself off, and it locks on its own as you walk away. Who needs buttons? After getting a clumsy grasp on the numerous technological wonders, I found myself really enjoying the Tesla. Unfortunately, this older model didn’t have the famous autopilot, but I never wanted to give up control anyway. The tight steering and instant torque was very entertaining, as was navigating throughout Los Angeles using the giant 17-inch infotainment screen.

As for how the car is holding up, I had few complaints. The battery held its charge just fine — and initially, I couldn’t find anything wrong with all the gadetry; the infotainment system complied quickly to every command. I did notice a little creak in the front suspension over harsh bumps, and the interior did seem to be more worn than average — but overall, I was very impressed with my Tesla rental. I even liked it enough to recommend in my video that buyers should seek a used Model S rather than wait for a new Model 3, as used examples of the early Model S are starting to dip below $40,000. Then the door handle tried to eat my hand …

One of the Model S’s many cool tricks involves the door handles, which retract into the body when the car is locked or when the vehicle is in motion. After finishing my video, the driver’s door handle started thumping like it was jammed — and it was slightly pulsing. Amused by this hiccup, I turned on my camera and reached for the handle. It did open the door normally, but it was also retracting at the same time. I was still gripping the handle — and initially, it felt like the Tesla was trying to intimately hold my hand. Then it seemed to get angry. After I pulled my hand away, the door handle starting pulsing faster, almost frantically. It took few ‘Hail Marys’ before the handle finally retracted into the door — and refused to work ever again.

For the rest of the trip, I was forced to climb through the passenger door of the car. When I returned the vehicle and alerted the owner of the issue; he didn’t seem too concerned, since the car had an extended warranty. A quick Google search shows door handle issues seem to be common, and there’s a rebuilding service that charges $200 for the repair.

So an out-of-warranty door handle failure wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it was enough to contradict everything I said in my video — and with my flight a few hours away, there was no time to re-shoot. So I was left with a very conflicting (albeit amusing) report of the Model S — but I still really enjoyed the car. Given its behavior, it would fit in with my current fleet perfectly. Find a 2013 Tesla Model S for sale

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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  1. I appreciate that you called out the idiocy that is government intervention in the auto industry.  Cash for Clunkers was horrific!

  2. For once Jaguar actually has a method that seems superior and more reliable (door handles). Instead of electronically retracting, the handle requires you to push on one corner to pop out the opposite corner and then it operates like a normal handle. 

  3. If you buy a used Tesla on Autotrader how do you go about getting a charger built-in at your house?  Can any electrician do this type of an install?  Does Tesla sell used Tesla’s?  If you live in an apartment how would you charge a Tesla?

    • You don’t really need to get a charger built in if you’re ok with the slow inefficient charging of the 120V wall outlet. I live in a rented townhouse so I charge my Ford Fusion Energi from the wall – doubt my landlord would be amused if I installed a 240V charger.

      However, if you wish to install a 240V charger, you will need to buy one (e.g. from Chargepoint) and get an electrician to set it up – just call the electrician’s company to see if they are capable of doing this, and they should advertise that capability on their website anyway.
      If you live in an apartment and can’t get a charging station installed and can’t reach a wall outlet from your parking spot, then move to another apartment that actually offers charging stations, or just don’t buy a Tesla. Alternatively if you live in a city with many easily accessible charging stations, you can just charge outside before coming home. My friend actually charges his Tesla in the Bay Area this way – he often camps at the public library or a shopping mall and then drives back to his apartment when the car is charged.

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