The Beginner’s Guide to Owning Your First Tesla
So... you've decided to take the plunge and get yourself a new Tesla. Congratulations! Whether this is your first electric vehicle or not, hopefully this guide will help you as you embark on this new, exciting endeavor. To that end, here are some things that you should consider before pressing that 'Place Order' button on Tesla's website.
Above: Tesla's Model 3 (Photo: Casey Murphy, EVANNEX)
Which Tesla to go for
Tesla currently offers three different models that you can order and (typically) receive quite promptly. Unfortunately, the fourth model, the forthcoming Model Y CUV, is slated for its first deliveries starting sometime in 2020. Tesla's mysterious Cybertruck remains shrouded in mystery until the reveal later this week.
For now, deciding between the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 is going to be entirely dependent on your particular driving needs. If you have a large family (and the means), then the Model X will probably be your vehicle of choice. Need the most range possible? Check out the Long Range Model S with an industry-leading range of 370 miles. Want a smaller sedan that'll give you the most bang for your buck? Then, Tesla's Model 3 is your ideal pick.
Keep in mind: if you plan on supercharging a lot, Tesla is offering free unlimited Supercharging with every new Model S and Model X. However, Tesla has been known to end incentives like this, so double-check if this incentive is still active before you place your order.
Calculating Costs and Incentives
While every one of Tesla's offerings is currently priced higher than the $37,185 average price of a new car in the United States, one has to take into account fuel savings and possible federal and state incentives allotted to electric cars.
Right off the bat, if you purchase a Tesla before December 31, 2019, you will be eligible for a $1,875 EV tax credit from the US federal government. This, however, goes away in 2020, so act quick. The federal government is not the only option for EV incentives. Your state government may also have some — these can range from additional tax credits all the way to allowing you access to HOV lanes.
You can check with both Tesla's page and the Department of Energy's page to see a collection of state incentives. There are even incentives available in some states for installing an EV charger.
Above: Charging a Model S (Image: Tesla)
Once you've identified available incentives, you can start calculating the cost of fuel savings you'll have over the life of the car. Tesla estimates the savings to be $4,300 - $5,500 over six years, depending on which vehicle make you choose. Understandably, this number will be different for everyone dependent on the number of miles you drive and fluctuating local gasoline prices.
The Department of Energy does have a page that updates regularly to provide you with the equivalent 'eGallon' costs. At the time of this writing, a gallon of gas costs over twice as much as an eGallon. To figure out your average yearly costs, you can simply halve them to get a quick back-of-the-napkin estimate for how much you'll be saving. If you'd like to get more granular, there are other tools to help you understand specific cost savings.
One other bonus to consider: if you make frequent road trips and get a Model S or X, your Supercharging sessions will be free of charge.
Installing a Home Charger
For maximum convenience, you should consider installing a charger in your home. This will enable you to start every day with a "full tank", something that you can't do with a gasoline car unless you physically lived at a gas station.
While you could plug your Tesla into a standard outlet, you would only get about 2-4 miles of range per hour — meaning that it would take more than a day to fully charge your car from empty. This is why most recommend the installation of a home charger which can provide up to 44 miles of range per hour of charging.
While Tesla does sell its own high power wall connector, you're not limited to a charger from Tesla. As long as you have the appropriate adaptor, you can buy a charger from other companies as well.
You could install it all yourself, but unless you're an electrician, it's probably best to go with one of Tesla's recommended electricians.
If you live in an apartment that does not have any EV chargers installed on-site, there are other effective approaches to consider when it comes to owning an electric car in an apartment.
Planning Your Road Trips
The biggest worry most people face when transitioning to electric cars will be the fear of depleting your battery with nowhere to charge. While this fear is being alleviated as more chargers start popping up all over, you might be surprised to see how far you can go already.
If you're charging overnight you can juice up to a 100% charge (although it's not encouraged). This means that the worst-case scenario — if you buy a Model 3 Standard Range with Tesla's current lowest mileage offering — you'd still have 250 miles of range, far more than what the average person would typically drive in a single day.
Above: Model X at a Tesla Supercharger (Image: InsideEVs)
Tesla has a page where you can plan out trips and it will map you through Superchargers to see how feasible the trip is — you'll find that most places within the US and (most of) Canada are already accessible.
For more road trip planning resources, you can visit websites (and apps) like Plugshare or OpenChargeMap to get an idea of what kind of chargers are in your local area.
Keeping Up to Date With Maintenance
While you are off the hook for oil changes (hey, another place you saved money), that doesn't preclude you from doing other basic maintenance on your car. Tesla still recommends that you do the following regular maintenance items: Cabin Air Filter (every 2 years); High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter (every 3 years for Model S and X); Tire Rotation, Balance and Wheel Alignment (every 10,000-12,000 miles); Brake Fluid Test (every 2 Years); and Air Conditioning Service (every 2 years for Model S, 4 years for Model X, 6 years for Model 3).
You'll notice that brake pads are not listed — this is due to regenerative braking which takes a lot of stress off the brakes, allowing them to last much longer. Of course, you should still keep an eye on them, but they won't be replaced nearly as often as a traditional gas-powered car.
Take Temperature into Consideration
While cold weather also impacts the efficiency of gasoline-powered cars, it also has an effect on electric cars. EV batteries have to be within their optimum operating temperature of about 70 degrees to function. This means that when winter weather strikes, the car has to use energy just to warm itself up, otherwise the efficiency degrades drastically.
One easy way to counteract this issue is to precondition that car while it plugged in. Tesla has a precondition option within the app and recommend that you precondition the car before driving. This will bring the battery up to its optimum temperature and avoid too much range loss from happening. If your daily driving is minimal, you could probably forgo this step. It might be worthwhile to drive your car for the first few days of winter to see how much the range has changed.
Tesla, once again, has a page detailing some tips for owners during the winter months.
Familiarize Yourself with the Tesla App
The Tesla app will be one of your most useful tools during your ownership. The app will give you some helpful/relevant information right at your fingertips. Some features the app provides: charge status/current range; keyless entry and driving; climate control (including the aforementioned preconditioning); GPS location of your car; and the ability to "remote control" your driverless car by using Smart Summon.
Above: Tesla's app (Image: Tesla)
You can even schedule maintenance through the app. The thought of your phone essentially being your car key may be alien, but you'll get accustomed to it quickly. As Tesla continues to update the software of their cars, the app will also receive new features as well.
The Next Step
Once you have locked in your final decision, head on over to another article walking you through the steps of buying a Tesla as it remains (refreshingly) different from the typical dealership experience.
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.