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How to buy a Tesla in 4 steps
A step-by-step guide to buying and financing.
Teslas are exciting cars and some of the highest-performing electric vehicles to ever hit the roads. The biggest advantage is that you don’t need gas and can wake up to a fully charged tank every day. But they can be several times more expensive than other vehicles, which can limit your financing options.
Step 1: Choose your Tesla model
When you buy a new Tesla you can customize it to near-perfection with extras. Every model comes with the Tesla Autopilot system that can steer within a lane, change lanes automatically with just a tap of the turn signal, self-manage speed with adaptive cruise control, scan for free spots and parallel park on demand. Meanwhile, front and side collision avoidance systems and digital control of the brakes, motor and steering help keep you safe and prevent the car from wandering across lanes.
Model S Sedan
First introduced in 2012, the sedan offers many of Tesla’s innovative features without compromising speed. Automatic features of the Model S Sedan include auto steering, lane changing and auto park. Sleek design coupled with safety makes for an impressive vehicle.
Model X SUV
The Tesla Model X is one of the safest, fastest and capable SUVs ever made. It’s able to seat up to seven people with enough room left over for gear, all while delivering an uncompromising blend of safety, utility and performance. With the addition of Tesla’s cutting-edge autopilot features and the benefits of driving a powerful electric vehicle, it leaves other SUV drivers envious.
The Tesla Model 3 is a premium sedan for real world driving, blending performance, safety and spaciousness with affordability. In fact, it’s the most affordable Tesla ever made, with a rough starting price of $49,000.
The Tesla Model Y is a crossover utility vehicle that was unveiled in March 2019. It’s not available yet but you can order it to be shipped out in late 2020.
It’s able to fully drive itself, even on city streets and highways — and can even find you a parking spot — pending approval by regulators.
The Tesla Roadster is one of the fastest cars in the world. It can jump from zero to 60 in as little as 1.9 seconds with a top speed of over 250 miles per hour.
Elon Musk unveiled it in 2017, though it’s still not available at Tesla stores or galleries. The Roadster can cost between $50,000 and $250,000 to reserve and between $200,000 and $250,000 to buy.
The Cybertruck may be available for preorder, but it won’t be hitting the roads until 2021. The triple-motor truck, which won’t be produced until 2022, has a towing capacity of up to 14,000 pounds and a 0 to 60 time of just 2.9 seconds.
However, the design is gaudy at best and reminiscent of Blade Runner’s dystopia at worst. And as Tech Crunch pointed out, its huge size and missing features — no windshield wipers or side mirrors were attached to the truck at its reveal — make it an impractical choice for almost every driver, despite its appealingly low starting price.
Step 2: Customize your new Tesla
You can tailor everything about your Tesla from its battery to additional features — just be aware that the more you change, the more you pay.
|Battery type||Model S||Model X|
|60 kWh||Model S 60 engine, up to 253 miles range||60D engine, up to 208 miles range|
|75 kWh||Model S 75 engine, up to 304 miles range||75D engine, up to 259 miles range|
|90 kWh||90D engine, up to 346 miles range||90D engine, up to 303 miles range|
|100 kWh||P100D engine, up to 380 miles range||P100D engine, up to 336 miles range|
|Feature||What does it do?||Available with Model S?||Available with Model X?||Recommended?|
|Autopilot Convenience Features||Enables advanced autopilot features like adaptive cruise control, on-demand parking and steering around curves||Yes||Yes||Highly recommended. These unique features are not only very useful, but are some of the things that make Tesla unique|
|Smart Air Suspension||Adjustable suspension for better handling, efficiency and comfort. Raise or lower the car as needed||Yes||Yes||Recommended if you often drive on snow, rough terrain or steep inclines|
|Subzero weather package||Cold weather system with heated seats and steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters||Yes||Yes||Recommended for subzero weather|
|Premium upgrades||Options for HEPA air filtration system, ventilated seats, LED fog lights and turning lights, leather finishes, accents, interior lighting and a quick-connection phone dock||Yes, but available options vary||Yes, but available options vary||Less essential, more luxury upgrades.|
Recommend to choose only the select features that you want
|Ultra-High Fidelity Sound||More speakers, larger amplifier and subwoofer, specialized sound system.||As a 12-speaker system||As a 17-speaker system||Recommended if you want a uniquely high-quality audio experience while driving, or spend a lot of time on the road listening to music|
|Charger upgrades||Improves your vehicle’s charging speed and driving range per time spent charging||High-power charger upgrade. Improves range from 33mph of charge to 50mph of charge||High-amperage charger upgrade. Improves range from 29mph of charge to 44mph of charge||Recommended for driving longer distances, or if standard charge speeds are not enough for your needs|
|Towing package||Steel tow bar, removable hitch and software monitoring of trailer sway, with 13-pin trailer electronics harness||No||Yes||Recommended if frequently using a trailer with your Model X|
Step 3: Find financing
Tesla offers its own in-house loan and lease programs. Loan terms last five to six years, and you don’t have to apply right away. Instead, Tesla allows you to complete an application within one month of your delivery date. And its lease program is standard: The contract lasts three years, and you can pick between a 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000 annual mileage limit.
Lenders also recognize the swiftly growing popularity of these unique vehicles and may be more likely to approve Tesla loans than less-practical but similarly priced cars. Some lenders like Alliant Credit Union offer financing specifically for Teslas. You may also want to consider luxury car loans, which are designed for expensive cars that other lenders might not be willing to finance.
What credit score do I need to finance a Tesla?
It depends on your lender, though you might have more luck if your credit score is above 670 — what most consider to be good credit. That’s partly because Teslas are so expensive, requiring large loans that might not be available to fair or bad-credit borrowers.
If you have a lower credit score, you might have better luck qualifying by making a down payment of at least 20%.
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How much do the Model S, Model X and Model 3 cost?
The cost of a Tesla depends largely on the engine power and the extra features you choose. Prices do not include taxes, vehicle registration costs or any other fees. And while the monthly insurance rate will vary depending on your driving history and your area, you’ll pay a little over $200 per month to insure your Tesla.
Here’s about how much you should expect to pay for the Model S and Model X without extra features:
How much will it cost to fuel a Tesla?
Assuming an average price of $0.12 per kilowatt hour (kWh), it will cost around $4 to charge a Tesla S. If you drive around 15,000 miles per year, that amounts to around $600 in fuel costs. A Model X is slightly more expensive, coming in at about $4.55 per 100 miles and $690 per year.
You can use Tesla’s charging costs calculator to see how much it might cost you in your area and how much you might save over gas. You can also compare Tesla against other luxury brands using fueleconomy.gov’s calculator to see how much you might save per mile, week, month, year or decade.
- To help offset charging costs, Tesla offers 400 free kilowatt hours — about 1,000 miles — at its Supercharger stations every year.
Step 4: Order your Tesla
Tesla doesn’t work with dealerships. Instead, you have to visit a showroom or customize your order with Tesla’s Design Studio. Here’s how to order online:
- Go to the Tesla website and click Order Now.
- Select your vehicle and whether you want to pay with a loan lease or cash, then hit Next. Select Loan if you want to use Tesla’s financing or Cash if you want to use another lender or pay in cash.
- Fill out the required fields with your personal information and select your delivery preference.
- Select the method you’d like to use to cover the $2,500 order payment and enter your payment information. Then hit Place Order.
If you want to get a good feel for how your ideal Tesla handles, you can also visit a store or gallery. There are nearly 100 spread across the US, giving you plenty of places to try out a Tesla before committing.
Take advantage of federal and state tax credits
The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $7,500 when you purchase an electric car. While this won’t reduce the purchase price of your Tesla, it can help set back the cost when tax season comes around. In addition, there are some states that offer additional tax credits and rebates that can further reduce the amount you have to pay out of pocket.
How to buy a used Tesla
Used Teslas must pass a 70-point inspection and have either the standard Tesla warranty — 4 years or 50,000 miles — or an extended 2-year/100,000-mile warranty.
To get started buying a used Tesla, follow these steps:
- View Tesla’s current and upcoming used car inventory on its website.
- Complete a contact form and wait to be contacted by a Tesla employee.
- Place an order on a car ready for pickup or reserve a car that isn’t available yet.
- Pick up your Tesla or have it shipped — for an additional $2,000 fee.
Tesla used car prices aren’t negotiable, and it doesn’t allow you to test drive the specific used car you’re interested in purchasing. You can pay for your used Tesla with Tesla Financing or through a private lender.
8 tips from Tesla owners
Teslas are different. A lot of drivers report that it takes a bit of time to adapt to the features, but once you do it’s easy and intuitive, and it’s hard to go back.
Here’s what Tesla drivers say they wish they knew before buying:
- Wall outlets might not be sufficient. Have a qualified electrician install upgraded power points in your garage before you get the car. Typical wall outlets can charge the car, but may be frustratingly slow.
- The computer might not always be accurate. Once you get a good sense of the car’s actual battery life you can rely less on the computer and more on your own intuition.
- Trust the charge indicator. The charge indicator on a Tesla is considerably more accurate than a fuel gauge.
- You might need adjustments. If you’re a big or tall person, have a bad back or aren’t sure you’re able to keep squeezing into a low car, it may be worth getting the Smart Air Suspension system on the Model S.
- Use your smartphone. It’s worth getting used to using your smartphone to control car features from a distance, like precooling or heating.
- Powerful cars have higher premiums. Selecting the most powerful pushes your vehicle a lot closer to high-powered car, driving up insurance premiums.
- Charge it at night. That way you can wake up every morning with a fully-charged tank.
- Tesla tires wear out fast. Expect to spend more on tires than with other cars. The rapid acceleration found in the Model S and Model X wear down tires quickly, especially if you choose the larger 21″ option.
How to charge a Tesla
Tesla cars use an onboard charger to convert alternating current from wall outlets into direct current in the car battery. The emptier the battery, the faster it charges. When it gets close to being full, the car computer will taper off the current to gradually top it up without overflowing.
You can charge your car from wall outlets, as well as from Tesla supercharger stations located around the country. These are special banks of multiple chargers working in parallel to rapidly recharge your vehicle. Simply pull up, plug in and charge it up.
- Half an hour of charge from a standard outlet will get you about 10 miles. Charge overnight to fill up your car at home.
- Half an hour of charging at a Tesla supercharger station will get you about 167 miles. This is generally more than enough to get you to the next supercharger or your destination.
Supercharger information is also linked to your car’s computer and you can easily find your nearest supercharger with your car’s inbuilt touch screen display.
Teslas aren’t cheap, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an equivalent. If it’s worth the investment to you, be sure to look into all of your Tesla financing options before signing the paperwork. You can learn more about how car loans work with our guide to auto financing.
Frequently asked questions
Image source: Shutterstock
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