Search Cars for Sale

Video | I Bought the Cheapest Tesla Model S in the USA

In the past, all of my cheap, sight-unseen, cross-country purchases arrived with serious issues — or worse. Even though I lost over $15,000 buying a basket-case Bentley this way and ended so disgusted with a Chrysler Lebaron that I eventually buried it, I clearly haven’t learned my lesson yet. Fortunately, my latest Tesla Model S purchase seems to be the exception.

I had zero intention of buying a Tesla (or anything for that matter) when this car popped up for sale on Autotrader a few weeks ago. I can’t remember why I was searching for Teslas, other than it’s my nightly bedtime ritual to search cars for sales online for an hour or two — but when I saw this one was priced at only $32,500 — and when I saw that it had the larger, 85-kilowatt battery — I couldn’t help myself. I called the seller the next morning — and since I’m such a great negotiator, I managed to secure the Tesla for only $33,500 — yes, $1,000 over the asking price.

The seller, and original owner, initially didn’t want to deal with some idiot buying the car cross-country, and was getting inundated with calls from local Southern Californians. He owns a Model 3 as well, and was taking delivery of a new Tesla in a few weeks — so he was looking for a quick, easy sale. Given the level of interest, he was going to raise his price — and since I was offering $1,000 over, he decided to sell his Tesla to a crazy guy from Kansas. He also Googled me and realized I was actually crazy enough to buy something sight unseen from across the country — so a deal was struck.

This 2012 Model S is a very early model, and one of the first few thousand ever delivered to the public. The prior owner may have had a little pull at Tesla to get one of the first ones, since his son is the vice president of engineering at Tesla. Typical of a proud dad, he is a huge advocate for the Tesla brand, and he gained some notoriety after taking his Tesla on a 4,500 mile road trip in 15 days — a feat that was pretty challenging in the early days of electric car ownership. Without the vast supercharger network, he recharged by stopping at RV parks, with their higher voltage outlets for a quicker recharge, and he also used an adapter to charge the battery using a clothes dryer outlet. This creativity was necessary, since, with a normal house plug, a Tesla charges at only four miles per hour.

The car served as his daily driver throughout its life, and he sold it to me with just shy of 107,000 miles. Originally, the car would have been sold with a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty — but the previous owner opted for extended coverage to double that number. Since the Tesla I rented last year tried to eat my hand with its retractable door handle and eventually broke, forcing me to climb through the passenger side for the remainder of the trip, I was worried about the expensive handles. Apparently, it’s a common problem with early Teslas — and this Tesla has had three out of four handles already replaced with the improved design, leaving one $1,000 door handle left to fail.

Another common issue is the $4,000 touchscreen failing — but, thankfully, this item was replaced recently as well. The giant 17-inch screen is still operating on the aging 3G network, but it works fine. I can surf the internet, access endless streaming audio and navigate with a screen the size of an old road atlas. It also has easter eggs installed, like an MS paint style doodle pad, a setting that changes the navigation map to the surface of Mars, and a command to change the Tesla avatar in the instrument cluster into Santa’s sleigh. Amazingly, all of the other electronics throughout the car work exactly like they should.

Of course, the major worry about buying an old electric car is battery degradation — but it doesn’t seem to be a major issue with Tesla. Even with 107,000 miles, my battery still produces over 90 percent of its original capacity — and based on this graph created by Tesla enthusiasts sharing their battery capacity data and mileage, it seems to be the norm with these cars. Unfortunately, the drive motors that put this power to ground have proven to be less than sturdy — especially with these early cars — and my Tesla was no exception. The original drive unit failed at only 35,000 miles, and even that replacement eventually started to make weird noises, prompting another motor replacement at 98,000 miles.

Apparently, the latest drive units from Tesla are much more reliable, so I should have the latest version — and it’s not even a year old. Also, the battery and drivetrain are still covered under the original 8-year, unlimited mileage warranty — so really, this purchase is making me look pretty smart, for once. Still, nobody knows what it’s like to own an aging, high mileage Tesla out of warranty — so I guess I’m trailblazing into this new world of electric hooptie ownership. I plan on driving this thing as much as I can, and even plan on testing its range with a 400-mile roadtrip this weekend — so stay tuned … Find a Tesla Model S for sale

The Early Chrysler LX Cars Aren’t Aging Well
Video | Here’s Why the BMW i3 Isn’t Worth $50,000
Here Are the Cheapest Electric Cars For Sale on Autotrader


Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

By subscribing, you agree to our privacy policy

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...


  1. Your video was like a teenage girl gushing over Justin Beiber.   You got a 100k mile car going on its third engine and a new instrument panel not to mention door handles.  The guys son is VP for Tesla…how do you know they didn’t slough in a new battery when they saw you as some easy advertising.  It looks like a brand new car maybe even was repainted…I think you are being used as an unsuspecting con artist by Tesla.  The batteries last about 3-5 years some false advertising on battery longevity would be useful.  PS I loved your video on the Phantom.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Truck Deals: August 2022

These are the best deals on trucks for the month of August 2022.

Mazda Goes Off-Road With New CX-50 SUV

Mazda takes a new road with its new CX-50 -- an unpaved one, at that.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This