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I bought a used Tesla Model 3 for $26,000. Despite its high mileage, I'm happy with my car.

Andrew Lambrecht   

I bought a used Tesla Model 3 for $26,000. Despite its high mileage, I'm happy with my car.
  • Andrew Lambrecht bought a used Tesla Model 3 for $26,000 plus state taxes in 2023.
  • Despite high mileage, his car has been mostly worry-free, cheap to operate, and enjoyable to drive.

Last spring, I found a used 2019 Tesla Model 3 listed for sale just a few miles from where I live. It was a great deal and even featured the Full-Self Driving upgrade, an option that costs $15,000 on new models.

There was one downside: The car had an odometer reading of 87,300 miles. That many miles on a high-tech electric car would be a massive red flag for many buyers, but I had recently sold my electric Mini Cooper and needed something else, so I checked it out.

Once I saw it, I decided it was worth buying and paid just under $26,000 for the car, plus $1,000 in state taxes.

I've put around 6,700 miles on it in the past year, and my ownership experience has been mostly worry-free. It's an enjoyable car to drive with plenty of performance, and it's been very cheap to operate, but it's far from perfect.

How many miles?

The car was in pretty good shape when I bought it, but since it had two previous owners, I couldn't confirm the reliability with the initial owner. The second owner only put 2,650 miles on it before deciding he needed more space with the larger Model Y, but he said he had no issues with it.

To confirm the vehicle's condition, I reached out to a contact I had at Tesla, who looked up its VIN. He said it looked good, albeit a battery overheating issue that was fixed early on and wasn't cause for concern.

After putting a few thousand miles on it, I noticed a slight creaking noise when turning the steering wheel. It didn't affect drivability, but it was a little annoying.

I scheduled a repair through Tesla and received a $400 quote for new control arms — a suspension component that occasionally fails on Model 3s and Ys. After I brought it in for servicing, I received a notification on my app that Tesla repaired it as a courtesy. Since my car was out of its basic warranty, I was glad that Tesla acknowledged it was a known issue and repaired it regardless.

How's the battery?

Every electric car for sale in the US has at least an eight-year or 100,000-mile battery warranty. Tesla goes above and beyond, offering an eight-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which covers the drive unit and the battery.

Like smartphone batteries, an EV's battery capacity will degrade over time. However, the degradation is constrained. Most EVs offer robust liquid-cooling systems, which keep the batteries at a comfortable temperature for optimal performance.

Lithium-ion batteries are under the least strain at around 50%, so keeping the pack within 20 to 80% power in regular driving is ideal. Specifically in Teslas and certain other EVs, drivers can set a maximum charge limit of around 80%. For road trips, it's okay to charge at higher percentages, but if you're leaving your car sitting for days on end, it's best to keep it as close to 50% as possible.

According to EV technology firm Recurrent, my Model 3's battery is in "excellent" shape, attaining about 92% range compared to an average Standard Range Plus when it was new. Most Teslas don't achieve their EPA-rated range in real-world conditions.

When new, my car had a 240-mile EPA range rating. Today, my car shows 210 miles on a full charge. In everyday driving, 160 miles is more realistic, accounting for climate control usage and highway driving at faster speeds. 160 miles is plenty for me, but seeing a 33% drop in my car's real-world range is not ideal.

Where do I charge it?

I live in an apartment, so I can't charge at home, but my university offers charging for the cost of a $26 yearlong permit. It's absolutely worth it, as most of my charging is done on campus. Whether I'm going to the gym or studying, I just plug in and come back to an 80% charged car, which can take up to three hours.

I've also driven my car on several road trips up to 160 miles away using Supercharging stops. Superchargers are convenient, inexpensive, and easier to use than gas pumps. Within a 10-minute charge, you can secure around 100 miles of range.

Does it get updated?

Like iPhones, Teslas receive regular software updates that gradually add features and improve functionality. Since 2019, my car has received improved acceleration, a full UI overhaul, and FSD Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control, a feature that lets the car read and react to traffic lights and stop signs.

No matter how many updates it receives, it's still a car with a lot of miles. When I bought it, my dad and I sanded down the wheels to repair some curbing, and I had to shell out $800 for a new set of tires.

In terms of driving, the car is still plenty quick and nimble around corners, though there are some rattles and interior noises. The build quality isn't as good as a new Tesla, but it's not a dealbreaker.

Would I buy another used Tesla?

Despite getting a good deal at the time, the car is now worth somewhere around $20,000.

If you're looking for one now, the revised EV tax credit will help with affordability. If the Model 3 is at least two years old, under $25,000, and hasn't been sold as used by a dealership after August 2022, buyers can get $4,000 off the purchase price (as long as their incomes fall into the limits), which is quite the deal.

Prices for other used EVs are coming down, too. The Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4 are two other neat electric cars now within the $25,000 range used. They offer a much less robust charging experience but are both crossovers with great styling and practicality.

For most, the software-centered Model 3 is a winner. It's fast, fun, and chock full of tech features.

I'm happy with my car, though I will be moving across the country for the summer, so it might make sense to sell it and buy something else. I would consider another Model 3, especially with the tax credit.

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