Documenting 15 Years With The Tesla Model 3
What's it like owning a Tesla Model 3? Furthermore, we all know what's great about a Model 3, but what should a new owner watch out for or be aware of? It depends on who you ask — different owners have different experiences. Some experiences are more common than others, though, and some are more notable. Over on CleanTechnica, eight of our writers have a Tesla Model 3 (myself included). Five of us have written up 3-year reviews of our cars. I'm using all of those experiences here (as well as some other review articles from those writers) for a summary of the highs and lows of Tesla Model 3 ownership. Hence the "15 years" in the title.
Above: A Tesla Model 3 (Image: Casey Murphy / EVANNEX).
Before getting into these things to look out for, though, I'll provide a little more info on the diversity of our cars in terms of trim level and geographic location. Three of us have a Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+). We live in Florida, Hawaii, and Australia. (So, no cold climates for those of us who didn't feel a need for longer range.) One of us has a Model 3 Long Range AWD. He lives in Utah in the winter and Wisconsin in the summer, and he goes between those homes with his Model 3 and two e-bikes on the back. The last one of us has a Model 3 Long Range RWD — if you recall, this was an option for a short period of time four years ago. He lives in Denmark. (We actually have another writer who has this Long Range RWD option as well, but he hasn't written a 3-year review of it. He did just recently get into a bad accident with it — someone ran a red light and then into the side of his car with him, his wife, and his kids in it — and after much deliberation, they decided to buy another Model 3.)
7 Things To Watch Out For (Or At Least Be Aware Of)
1. Your tires will get eaten up.
I think the biggest surprise for many Model 3 owners is how quickly tires need replaced, especially the first set of tires. After just two years and about 17,000 miles, I had to have my tires replaced, and that was within the norm according to Tesla Service. (It was much sooner than I expected.) My daughters' tennis coach, who got a Model 3 a couple of years after me, just had to have his tires replaced at about 18,000 miles and he was shocked and upset about it. In short, it's part of the ownership experience, but it's at least good to know about it ahead of time. (Note that we've had some readers who own Teslas who say their tires lasted much longer. I don't know how that's the case, but there may be factors such as climate, road quality, or driving behavior at play.) One thing I've done since replacing that initial set of tires is leave red lights at a more "normal" pace (not like the Road Runner). However, I'm now approaching 36,000 miles and I'm afraid this second set of tires may need replaced soon.
2. The two aero shields under your car are not super tough.
Another thing that surprised that tennis coach I just mentioned also surprised our Utah writer ... a couple of times. The aero shield on the bottom of the car tore off. There are actually two aero shields down there underneath the battery — a front aero shield and a back aero shield — and our Utah writer had them both tear off. Unfortunately, they are not the most durable pieces of the car.
Our Utah writer, a retired NASA employee who had a hand in the famous Blue Marble pictures of the Earth that we're all familiar with, had one tear off from a steep driveway. This is seemingly what happened with the tennis coach's aero shield as well — but he didn't realize it was missing until they had his car in service to replace the tires, so he's not entirely clear when or where it happened. In the case of the Utah writer, they replaced the rear aero shield in 2021 with a new, better version that is supposed to be more durable. However, he recently drove through some rather high snow and lost the other aero shield. It was again replaced with the new, better version. Only one of the aero shields came off of the tennis coach's car, but the Tesla Service technicians said they needed to replace both. Perhaps they have discovered it's just better to do them both while doing one, or perhaps there was more damage there that warranted it.
3. Replace the cabin air filter!
As many Tesla Model 3 owners will tell you, after a while, the air in your car will begin to stink. In particular in my case and the case of another one of our writers who lives in Southwest Florida, Florida's infamous swampland humidity tends to lead to the buildup of mildew in the air filter. After my wife complained about the smell in our car for a bit, I learned about the problem and Tesla Service replaced our air filter. I swore they told me at that time to do that once a year, but when we had them replace it last time, 5 months ago, the service employee indicated it was quite filthy (the dirtiest he had seen in a while) and he told me it should be replaced every 6 months. Unfortunately, most Tesla owners have no idea about this, as there's no reminder (beyond bad smelling air) and Tesla doesn't seem to tell people about this when they pick up a new car. So, hat tip: be proactive about it and get your air filter changed every 6 months, especially if you live in a humid climate.
4. Full sunshields highly advised in hot climates.
Speaking of hot and humid places, the glass roof, as beautiful as it is, lets in a lot of heat. Up to about 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), it's not a big deal. However, when you start climbing above that, it's letting in a lot of heat. Around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), the glass itself is scorching hot from the inside (do not touch it) and you can feel the heat wafting in if you put your hand near the glass. A tip I learned from a cleantech scientist in Cocoa Beach, Florida — Danny Parker — is to put sunshields under the glass roof in the hotter months of the year. Luckily, I got a full set of these from EVANNEX and they work wonders. Half of the year, we have them suction-cupped under the glass and the comfort level is immeasurably better. They make a world of difference! (Actually, I'm writing this inside my car right now, the temperature has climbed to 33 degrees Celsius, and it is clearly time to deploy the sunshields again. It has just started rising above 30 degrees midday here, and the difference in comfort is dramatic compared to a week or two ago — not in a good way.)
Naturally, you can also try tinting the glass roof more than it is tinted from the factory. I know that can help, but I'm not sure it's as good of a solution as the sunshields. I've been told it's helpful but not entirely effective in very hot climates like Southwest Florida.
5. Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD) is, well, a wildcard.
I was lucky enough to get FSD at the "low cost" of $6,000. Nowadays, it costs $15,000. Unfortunately, by now, based on what Elon Musk was saying at the time I bought my car, my Tesla Model 3 was supposed to be robotaxi-capable ... and it's not. I certainly enjoyed some of the progress the tech was making for a couple of years, doing things like Smart Summon races to enjoy and test out new capabilities. However, like many, I've been quite disappointed with FSD (Beta) and its progress (or lack thereof) in the past year and a half. I used to be extremely bullish on Tesla FSD, but I've shifted to more bearish than bullish. There are many like me, while there are still many who are very bullish on Tesla's approach. Whether you are bearish or bullish at this point, though, it is a clear fact that the capabilities are years behind what Elon Musk was predicting in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and even 2020. The bottom line is: FSD is a wildcard. Whether you're inspired to get it or not, just don't expect too much from it. Expectations are the root of most of our unhappiness! At the moment, a handful of our Model 3 owners have FSD (Beta) but seldom or almost never use it. One of our team members uses it a lot and is very excited about it, but even he has cut back his usage of it compared to last year. We'll see if things change much for our team with Version 11, and we'll be sure to honestly document things!
6. If your camera feed and trunk popper get glitchy...
...you may be eligible for a legit recall. Tesla has had numerous "recalls" in the past few years, but there was only one actual physical recall for Model 3 owners that I remember. The wiring harness inside the trunk was not built to last and needed replaced. Interestingly, symptoms of this problem popped up for me several months before the recall was issued. When I searched for other people having problems I was having, I found no results. My issues included the backup camera feed not showing on my touchscreen and the trunk not opening — not from the app, the touchscreen, the outside handle, or anything other than the manual safety latch inside the trunk. These features and others are linked to wires that extend into the trunk of the car. Although they fixed my car months before the recall, the issue was apparently new enough back then that they hadn't yet worked out a better system, so I had to have the wiring harness replaced a second time once the recall was issued. If you have a Tesla that faces such problems, perhaps the recall service was never performed on your car or perhaps your vehicle was not in the recall window but needs the fix anyway. Also, frankly, we don't know for sure if the improved wiring harness won't run into problems of its own over time and lead to such features failing. We'll see what happens as our Tesla Model 3s become 4, 5, 6, and 7+ years old, and we'll be sure to still be reviewing some of these cars to let you know. Stay tuned!
7. Battery range will drop, and then hold.
This is something I almost overlooked, and it's again something that I think is not well understood by most Tesla buyers these days. Most of the talk regarding electric vehicle driving range concerns the estimated range ratings of new cars. As everyone knows, though, batteries degrade over time — which means that driving range on a full charge drops. Luckily, the masses are at least aware of this basic concept because of having smartphones, laptops, etc. However, some of the important details of how batteries degrade are seldom explained and not that widely understood, especially with regards to how this affects an EV over time. How it works is a battery tends to lose a chunk of its capacity quite quickly, but then tends to be stable for several years (potentially more than a decade with Tesla's batteries). In my case, my Model 3 SR+ started with around 240 miles of range and then dropped to about 200 miles of range within a year. Since then, though, for the past 3 years or so, it seems to have held steady. Other Tesla owners who read CleanTechnica have reported similar experiences. The point with this one is: if you notice your relatively young Tesla has lost a chunk of range, don't worry, it's not a linear degradation pattern and after an initial hit to range, your battery is likely to hold steady for many years thereafter. For 15 years? Well, we'll see — check back with us in 11 years!
Overall, though, I think most Tesla owners learn that home charging and/or workplace charging is so easy, we drive so little on a daily basis (relative to how far our cars can drive), and Supercharging is so convenient that there's not much to think or worry about with regards to the battery and range. Range is a concern for many people before buying an EV, and then it fades for most of us as we get used to EV ownership. Several years ago, we had a guest writer on CleanTechnica who wrote an article about "range anxiety anxiety." His point was that there's not that much actual range anxiety among owners, but that non-owners can have a lot of anxiety about getting range anxiety if they ever get an electric car. Don't worry, be happy, and drive electric.