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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 can say goodbye to fossil fuels and can wake up to a fully charged car every day. But they can be several times more expensive than other vehicles, which can limit your financing options.

buying a tesla car

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.

Autopilot updates are being made constantly and are progressively enabled with software updates sent directly to your car. Although all Tesla vehicles have the autopilot hardware, it may have different functions and features depending on your model.

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.

Performance

The Model S has a low center of gravity to improve performance, while its dual motor system is a step up from conventional all-wheel drive. Independent front and rear motors individually control torque to front and rear wheels for peerless traction in all conditions.

  • Zero to 60 in as little as 2.5 seconds
  • Dual motor system that marries high performance with high efficiency
Safety

The electric battery is positioned in its own underfloor subframe, reducing the center of gravity and improving handling. The engine block replaces boron steel rails to absorb impacts and protect occupants. In the event of an accident the high-voltage power source is automatically disconnected and passengers in both the front and rear are protected by six airbags.

Other safety features include:

  • Daytime running lights.
  • Electronic stability and traction control.
  • Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic parking brake.
  • Blind spot and lane departure warning systems.
  • Digital speed limit display.
  • Three ISOFIX child seat attachments.
  • High definition reverse camera.
Utility

Tesla offers a range of features that make driving its vehicles easier and convenient. The Model S 17-inch touchscreen control panel allows you to open the roof, adjust climate control, check the map, change the radio station, make hands-free phone calls and personalize your driving experience, all seamlessly integrated alongside essential vehicle data and control systems.

Other features include:

  • On-demand Internet radio, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
  • Real-time traffic information through Google Maps.
  • Smart navigation and routing which adjusts to traffic conditions.
  • Retracting interior door handles.
  • Voice-activated controls.
  • Electrochromatic mirrors.
  • Power-adjustable driver’s seat and mirrors with memory.
  • Front trunk, rear trunk and 60/40 folding rear seats for 30 cubic feet of storage.

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.

Performance

A lightweight SUV, the Tesla Model X weighs only a fraction more than the Model S sedan. The Model X also had low center of gravity with a floor-mounted battery and enjoys a rollover risk of about half of other vehicles in its class. It’s also the most aerodynamic SUV in production, with a drag coefficient 20% lower than the number two and an active spoiler which deploys from the gear liftgate for optimum stability and efficiency at high speeds.

  • Zero to 60 in as little as 2.9 seconds
  • Drag coefficient of 0.25
  • Electric all-wheel drive for maximum efficiency and traction
  • 7.3 inch clearance (5.4 to 8.3 inches with optional air suspension)
  • 5,000 pound towing capacity
Safety

SUVs have typically had issues with safety, but Teslas aren’t typical cars. The Model X is on track to be the first SUV to ever achieve the highest safety rating in every category, largely thanks to its ingenious construction which takes full advantage of the space freed up by the electric motor.

The entire front trunk in the Model X is turned into an impact-absorbing crumple zone for a new level of protection in head-on collisions. The autopilot features and other onboard safety systems mean the Model X is simply safer than other cars.

  • Active side collision avoidance systems and automatic emergency braking, even at highway speeds
  • Parking sensors and blind-spot warnings
  • Full LED headlights
  • Four LATCH child seat attachments
  • Medical-grade HEPA-filtered cabin air system
  • Extreme side impact protection with the battery support structure
Utility

The Model X is a fun car, featuring the largest all-glass panoramic windscreen in production with optimized solar tinting and visibility-focused design principles, so drivers and passengers can enjoy a view of the road, surroundings and the sky above.

  • Seating for up to seven people
  • Independently reclining mid-row seats and flat folding third row seats that let you optimize the car for comfort and space
  • Automatic keyless entry
  • Largest interior storage capacity of its class: 88 cubic feet with a six-seat configuration
  • Falcon-wing doors that open upwards with only a foot of clearance
  • Front trunk for extra storage space

Model 3

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.

  • 220 to 310 miles per charge
  • Zero to 60 in under six seconds
  • Seats five
  • Comes with Tesla autopilot hardware
  • Designed to achieve the same five-star safety standards as other Tesla vehicles

Model Y

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.

  • Low center of gravity and large crumple zones are designed to keep you safe
  • Versatile storage space allows you to seat up to seven or carry more
  • Go from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds
  • 66 cubic feet of storage space
  • Recharges 168 miles in 15 minutes at over 13,000 supercharge locations across the country
  • Drive 300 miles without having to recharge
  • 160 meter range for Forward-facing radar
  • 12 ultra-sonic sensors to help sense cars, prevent crashes and help you park
  • 360 degree cameras mean no blind spots
  • All-glass sun roof with UV protection

Roadster

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.

  • Accelerates from zero to 100 miles in 4.2 seconds
  • 620 mile range without charging
  • all-wheel drive
  • Seats four
  • Light-weigh removable glass roof you can store in the trunk

Cybertruck

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.

  • Up to 500 mile range on one charge
  • Single, dual and triple motor trims available
  • Triple motor can tow up to 14,000 pounds
  • Relatively low starting price
  • Seats up to six people

Test drive a car near you

Want to test drive a Tesla? Get connected with dealerships in your area that offer upfront pricing.

Step 2: Customize your new Tesla

Tailor everything about your Tesla from its battery to additional features — just be aware that the more you change, the more you pay.

Engine power:
Battery typeModel SModel X
60 kWhModel S 60 engine, up to 253 miles range60D engine, up to 208 miles range
75 kWhModel S 75 engine, up to 304 miles range75D engine, up to 259 miles range
90 kWh90D engine, up to 346 miles range90D engine, up to 303 miles range
100 kWhP100D engine, up to 380 miles rangeP100D engine, up to 336 miles range
Advanced features:
FeatureWhat does it do?Available with Model S?Available with Model X?Recommended?
Autopilot Convenience FeaturesEnables advanced autopilot features like adaptive cruise control, on-demand parking and steering around curvesYesYesHighly recommended. These unique features are not only very useful, but are some of the things that make Tesla unique
Smart Air SuspensionAdjustable suspension for better handling, efficiency and comfort. Raise or lower the car as neededYesYesRecommended if you often drive on snow, rough terrain or steep inclines
Subzero weather packageCold weather system with heated seats and steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heatersYesYesRecommended for subzero weather
Premium upgradesOptions for HEPA air filtration system, ventilated seats, LED fog lights and turning lights, leather finishes, accents, interior lighting and a quick-connection phone dockYes, but available options varyYes, but available options varyLess essential, more luxury upgrades.
Recommend to choose only the select features that you want
Ultra-High Fidelity SoundMore speakers, larger amplifier and subwoofer, specialized sound system.As a 12-speaker systemAs a 17-speaker systemRecommended if you want a uniquely high-quality audio experience while driving, or spend a lot of time on the road listening to music
Charger upgradesImproves your vehicle’s charging speed and driving range per time spent chargingHigh-power charger upgrade. Improves range from 33mph of charge to 50mph of chargeHigh-amperage charger upgrade. Improves range from 29mph of charge to 44mph of chargeRecommended for driving longer distances, or if standard charge speeds are not enough for your needs
Towing packageSteel tow bar, removable hitch and software monitoring of trailer sway, with 13-pin trailer electronics harnessNoYesRecommended 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.

Read our review of Tesla Financing

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%.

Compare car loans

Explore your options by minimum credit score, APR, loan term and requirements. Select the Go to site button for more information about a particular lender.

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Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score APR Loan term Requirements
Carvana
No minimum credit score
3.9% to 27.9%
1 to 6 years
18+ years old, annual income of $4,000+, no active bankruptcies
Get pre-qualified for used car financing and receive competitive, personalized rates.
Monevo Auto Loans
500
3.99% to 35.99%
3 months to 12 years
Credit score of 500+, legal US resident and ages 18+.
Quickly compare multiple online lenders with competitive rates depending on your credit.
myAutoloan.com Car Loans
550
Starting at 2.15%
550+ credit score, no open bankruptcies, $24,000+ annual income, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Get up to four offers in minutes through one simple application. Multiple financing types available including new cars, used cars and refinancing.
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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:

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S 60$68,000
Tesla Model S 75$69,500
Tesla Model S 90D$87,500
Tesla Model S P100D$135,000

*Prices for the 60 and 75 are for rear-wheel-drive only, while 90D and P100D are for all-wheel dual motor drive.

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X 75D$79,500
Tesla Model X 90D$93,500
Tesla Model X 100D$96,000
Tesla Model X P100D$140,000

Tesla Model 3

Long range rear-wheel drive$49,000
Long range dual motor all-wheel drive$54,000
Performance dual motor all-wheel drive$64,000

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.

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. 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:

  1. Go to the Tesla website and choose Order Now.
  2. 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.
  3. Fill out the required fields with your personal information and select your delivery preference.
  4. Select the method you’d like to use to cover the $2,500 order fee 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 — four years or 50,000 miles — or an extended two-year/100,000-mile warranty.

To get started buying a used Tesla, follow these steps:

  1. View Tesla’s current and upcoming used car inventory on its website.
  2. Complete a contact form and wait to be contacted by a Tesla employee.
  3. Place an order on a car ready for pickup or reserve a car that isn’t available yet.
  4. 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. 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:

  1. 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 might be frustratingly slow.
  2. 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.
  3. Trust the charge indicator. The charge indicator on a Tesla is considerably more accurate than a fuel gauge.
  4. 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.
  5. Use your smartphone. It’s worth getting used to using your smartphone to control car features from a distance, like precooling or heating.
  6. Powerful cars have higher premiums. Selecting the most powerful pushes your vehicle a lot closer to high-powered car, driving up insurance premiums.
  7. Charge it at night. That way you wake up every morning with a fully charged tank.
  8. 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 charging stationTesla cars use an onboard charger to convert alternating current from wall outlets into direct current in the car battery. The lower 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.

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.

Why can’t I buy a Tesla in my state?

Some states have dealer franchise laws — which mean that cars can only be purchased through an independent dealership. Because Tesla sells its cars directly to the buyer, it’s banned from operating in these X states:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Other states limit the number of stores Tesla can open. In this case, it’s best to browse the Tesla website to see where your closest store is located.

Bottom line

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

How do I buy a Tesla with my credit card?

You can only use a credit card for the initial deposit on a Tesla.

How long is the basic vehicle warranty on a Tesla?

The basic vehicle warranty lasts 50,000 miles or four years — whichever comes first.

What’s the average car insurance cost for a Tesla?

Ranging across all Tesla models, the average cost is about $2,724 a year or $227 a month.

Are there more affordable alternatives to buying a Tesla?

Yes, if Tesla’s high prices have you second-guessing buying an electric vehicle, there are other options out there. Check out our roundup of Tesla alternatives to explore other EVs that clock in under $45,000.

Image source: Shutterstock

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