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Six Months With the Cheapest Tesla Model S in the US: Should I Keep It?

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author photo by Tyler Hoover November 2018

When I bought the cheapest Tesla Model S six months ago, a 2012 S85 with a whopping 106,000 miles for only $33,500, I assumed it was going to be a problem child. I was looking forward to covering every hiccup, and the nightmare of repairing this advanced electric car, but shockingly, it's been nearly flawless. This Tesla is the first car I've ever owned that has cost me almost nothing to own -- and because I'm a moron, I'm thinking about selling it.

I credit the previous owner for the impressive performance of my 2012 Model S over the past six months and 6,000 miles, mostly because he experienced all of the common Model S issues already. With three out of four of the funky retractable door handles replaced under his ownership, along with a new touch screen and drive motor unit, the biggest issues with these early examples have already been taken care of.

The car hasn't been entirely drama free, though, but that's mostly been due to pilot error. My Model S became my fiancee's commuter when she took a new job farther away from home, and she's forgotten to plug the car in a few times, which creates a fire drill the next morning when there's not enough range for the round trip. During the summer, the car also uses energy when parked, just to keep the more fragile electronics cool -- and when we forgot to plug the car in before a week-long vacation, the battery almost completely drained itself. Since "bricking" a Tesla requires a tow to the nearest dealer facility (200 miles away in my case), this is a much bigger problem than simply running out of gas.

I did have the battery fail -- in the key remote. But my Tesla warned me for a few weeks that this $2 battery was on the way out, and it never left me stranded. Despite its dazzling technology, the car itself is actually very simple, with a small fraction of moving parts compared to a normal gasoline burning car. So it's no surprise that my car has been painfully reliable.

In the short time I've owned the car, I've seen no diminished performance from the battery outside of normal seasonal changes, but according to Tesla's data on battery performance over high mileage, it's typical for these cars. I've noticed this is the case with the Toyota Prius, as well, which has a completely different battery setup, but high mileage seems to have zero negative effect on their hybrid batteries. It's usually age that does them in -- and in my experience of perusing the wholesale dealer auctions for many years, the hybrid batteries start dropping like flies around the 10-year mark. With the Tesla's more advanced lithium-ion battery pack, I would expect it to last quite a bit longer, but time will tell.

So other than higher than average insurance premiums, a few dollars added to the electric bill each month and key fob batteries, this old Model S has cost me nothing to own. It also seems to be holding its value pretty well, as there are only a handful of the larger 85 kilowatt-hour battery cars (like mine) available for under $35,000. So out of my entire fleet of misfit cars, this Tesla is by far the best investment of the bunch, but I'm not sure I'm going to keep it much longer. Why? Because I'm bored ...

I've never been able to bond with my Model S like I have with countless others, and it all comes down to its lack of soul. I've managed to find this intangible "it" factor in mundane cars before, like the Toyota Prius, but something about this car doesn't ignite my passions. Its impressive performance, technology and quality is great, but I keep thinking about how $30,000 could buy me a really nice Mercedes-Benz S-Class again. There are countless other, more efficient options nowadays that offer more style and substance as well, but I'm saying this as a hopelessly obsessed car enthusiast who enjoys wasting his money on German mis-engineering.

For the average, non-deranged person, especially if they live on the West Coast where supercharger stations are everywhere, a used Tesla Model S is an incredible value, and one of the smartest purchases you can make. It's too bad I'm not very smart.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Six Months With the Cheapest Tesla Model S in the US: Should I Keep It? - Autotrader