When Tesla unveiled the Model 3 in 2016 it instantly became one of the most desirable cars on the market and by the time production began in July 2017, the new mainstream Tesla had racked up over 400,000 pre-orders.
Today the Model 3 is the best-selling electric car in many markets, and it is still being produced in large quantities. While the Model 3 is still a relatively new car, we thought we would create a complete guide to purchasing a second-hand one. These cars hold their value fairly well, but if you are looking to get a bit of a discount on one of these excellent cars, buying used is a great option.
Using This Tesla Model 3 Buyers Guide
We will be covering a lot of information in this guide from common problems with the Model 3 to its history and more general car purchasing advice. We recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or simply read it all).
History of the Tesla Model 3
As far back as the mid-2000s, Tesla and Elon Musk made it known that they wanted to introduce a mainstream model into the company’s line-up. Musk envisioned a future where the “Model 2” (later renamed to the Model S) would compete in the higher-end market and the “Model 3” would be focused on the mainstream market.
The Model 3 was given the internal codename “BlueStar” in the original business plan in 2007. Tesla originally wanted to call the car the “Model E”, however, Ford trademarked the name so the Model 3 badge was retained for the final production car.
In 2008 Elon Musk reaffirmed the company’s plan to introduce a low-cost electric car. He wanted the price to be in the range of US$20,000 to $30,000 and was even open to the possibility of partnering with other automakers to bring the car to life.
JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer at the time, said “With Bluestar, we’re looking at cost and lowering the overall expense to the user. If it’s not cost-competitive (with internal combustion cars), you are going to have a hard time scaling to a high level.”
While work on the Model 3 would continue in the background, the first fully in-house developed Tesla would enter production in 2012 in the form of the Model S, with the Model X SUV following in 2015.
Unfortunately for more mainstream buyers, these cars were aimed squarely at the higher-end segment of the market. It was easier for Tesla to focus on lower production, higher margin vehicles rather than high volume models, so the Model S and X made the most business sense.
With these two high-end cars in production, Tesla turned their attention to the Model 3. In September 2015 they announced that the car would be unveiled in production form in March of the next year.
The Model 3 Launches
When the Model 3 launched on 31 March 2016 it was still not unveiled in final production form. Despite this, tens of thousands of people lined up to place a refundable deposit to reserve the Model 3 for a 2017 delivery.
Potential buyers were so keen for the new car that within 24 hours over 115,000 people had made reservations, and one week later the figure was over 325,000, more than triple the number of Model S sedans sold by the end of 2015.
With massive interest in the Model 3, Musk and Tesla wanted to get the final design finished as soon as possible. They intended for the final design to be released on the 30 June 2016, however, delays would set them back just under a month.
Additionally, the massive number of pre-orders made them double their production targets for 2017 to 100,000 units and for 2018 to 400,000 units, figures that many experts and analysists viewed as unattainable.
The Model 3 Design
When the full production Model 3 launched it was instantly recognisable as an electric car. Unlike the pre-2016 Model S and many other electric cars at the time, the Model 3 was not given a fake intake grille that was normally implemented to make a car look more like a standard combustion engined vehicle.
Compared to the Model S, the Model 3’s overall size is about 20% smaller. However, despite this reduced size the car still boasts more cargo capacity than any gasoline car of the same external dimensions.
Tesla retained the smooth flowing futuristic lines of their previous two models and the company even gave the car a special continuous glass roof that runs from the windshield all the way to the trunk
Battery options at launch included a 50-kWh pack with a range of around 350 km (220 miles) and a 75-kWh pack with a range of 500 km (310 miles). Power from the battery packs is sent through permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motors and a 1-speed transmission with a 9:1 ratio.
At the front, the Model 3 features independent double wishbone suspension with coil springs, while at the rear the car has independent multi-link suspension with coil springs.
On the inside, the Model 3 was given many of the features and the somewhat clean and clinical design style from the two more expensive models. A large touch screen in the centre of the dashboard was once again used and Autopilot was made available.
Production of the first proper near production prototypes didn’t start until February 2017. This prototype stage was not only intended to test the vehicle’s design & capabilities, but also Tesla’s new manufacturing capabilities and processes.
By Q3 2017 Tesla was ready to roll out real production models, however, it quickly became apparent that the company’s facilities simply weren’t up to speed with the numbers required. Musk forecast at least six months of serious production problems, a major disappointment for many of those who reserved the exciting new Model 3.
In total, only 260 Model 3s were produced in Q3 of 2017 with 222 being delivered. Things didn’t get much better the next quarter with only 2,425 cars being produced and 1,542 delivered. It wasn’t until Q2 2018 that production numbers really ramped up and by Q3 of the same year Tesla was churned out over 50,000 units.
Updates & More Models
One year after the Model 3’s production launch in 2017, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would be launching a dual-motor all-wheel drive version of the car with a 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time of 4.5 seconds, a top speed of 225 km/h (140 mph), and a range of roughly 500 km (310 miles).
For those who wanted even more oomph from there Model 3, Musk also announced that they would be giving the car their “Performance” treatment. The Performance Model 3 also received the dual-motor, all-wheel drive power train but the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time was reduced to roughly 3.5 seconds and the top speed was increased to around 250 km/h (155 mph).
Rather than giving the all-wheel drive models the same front and rear motor, Tesla fitted an AC induction motor at the front and a switched reluctance, partial permanent magnet motor at the rear.
Standard Range Goes on Sale Briefly
While the Model 3 was meant to be an affordable family electric car, the only versions available were actually quite expensive and were nowhere near the target price of US$30,000 that Musk had envisioned when the car was first announced.
Tesla announced a low-cost Standard Range model when the Model 3 was first unveiled in 2016, however, the $35,000 car would not become available until 28 February 2019. Unfortunately for those looking to get on the Tesla train with this low-cost model, the company would halt online sales of the Standard Range car a mere month and a half later. Still, some lucky buyers could purchase the cheaper model through dealers, but this was only possible if they had inventory of the car.
Around the same time, Tesla also announced that Autopilot would be standard across the Model 3 range, except for the unavailable Standard Range model. All the other versions of the Model 3 increased in price by $2,000 due to the inclusion of Autopilot, but this seemed like a good deal when it was normally a $3,000 upgrade.
The Model 3 Becomes the Best-Selling Electric Car
In February 2019, the Model 3 passed the Chevrolet Volt to become the all-time best-selling plug-in electric car in the United States. Following this, the Model 3 would pass the Nissan Leaf in early 2020 to become the world’s all-time top selling plug-in electric car.
2021 Model Battery Capacity Increase
A refreshed version of the Model 3 was announced at the end of 2020. The updates included a range of improvements with the biggest one being battery capacity increase from 79 kWh to 82 kWh, slightly increasing range and performance.
Tesla Model 3 Specifications
Below you can find the specifications of the different versions of the Model 3. Note: the battery capacity is based on the maximum capacity not the usable capacity which is slightly lower (eg. 75 kWh max is advertised as 75 kWh).
|Model||Long Range RWD|
|Battery capacity (Max)||79.5 kWh|
|Power||258 hp (192 kW)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.4 seconds|
|Top speed||225 km/H (140 mph)|
|Range (EPA)||499 km (310 miles)|
|Curb weight||1,753 kg (3,865 lb)|
|Model||Mid Range RWD||Long Range RWD||Long Range AWD||Performance|
|Battery capacity (Max)||65 kWh||79.5 kWh||79.5 kWh||79.5 kWh|
|Power||271 hp (202 kW)||258 hp (192 kW)||449 hp (335 kW) combined||468 hp (349 kW) combined|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.9 seconds||5.4 seconds||4.8 seconds||3.5 seconds|
|Top speed||201 km/H (125 mph)||225 km/H (140 mph)||233 km/H (145 mph)||249 km/H (155 mph)|
|Range (EPA)||435 km (270 miles)||499 km (310 miles)||499 km (310 miles)||499 km (310 miles)|
|Drivetrain||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||All-wheel drive, dual motor||All-wheel drive, dual motor|
|Curb weight||1,672 kg (3,686 lb)||1,753 kg (3,865 lb)||1,847 kg (4,072 lb)||1,860 kg (4,101 lb)|
|Model||Standard Range RWD||Standard Range Plus RWD||Mid Range RWD||Long Range RWD||Long Range AWD||Performance|
|Battery capacity (Max)||54 kWh||54 kWh||65 kWh||79.5 kWh||79.5 kWh||79.5 kWh|
|Power||283 hp (211 kW)||283 hp (211 kW)||283 hp (211 kW)||283 hp (211 kW)||449 hp (335 kW) combined||480 hp (358 kW) combined|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.9 seconds||5.6 seconds||5.5 seconds||5.3 seconds||4.6 seconds||3.4 seconds|
|Top speed||209 km/H (130 mph)||225 km/H (140 mph)||225 km/H (140 mph)||225 km/H (140 mph)||233 km/H (145 mph)||261 km/H (162 mph)|
|Range (EPA)||354 km (220 miles)||402 km (250 miles)||425 km (264 miles)||523 km (325 miles)||518 km (322 miles)||499 km (310 miles)|
|Drivetrain||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||All-wheel drive, dual motor||All-wheel drive, dual motor|
|Curb weight||1,611 kg (3,552 lb)||1,611 kg (3,552 lb)||1,672 kg (3,686 lb)||1,725 kg (3,805 lb)||1,847 kg (4,072 lb)||1,860 kg (4,101 lb)|
|Model||Standard Range Plus RWD||Long Range AWD||Performance|
|Battery capacity (Max)||54 kWh||79.5 kWh||79.5 kWh|
|Power||283 hp (211 kW)||449 hp (335 kW) combined||480 hp (358 kW) combined|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.6 seconds||4.6 seconds||3.4 seconds|
|Top speed||225 km/H (140 mph)||233 km/H (145 mph)||261 km/H (162 mph)|
|Range (EPA)||402 km (250 miles)||518 km (322 miles)||499 km (310 miles)|
|Drivetrain||Rear-wheel drive||All-wheel drive, dual motor||All-wheel drive, dual motor|
|Curb weight||1,611 kg (3,552 lb)||1,847 kg (4,072 lb)||1,860 kg (4,101 lb)|
|Model||Standard Range Plus RWD||Long Range AWD||Performance|
|Battery capacity (Max)||54 kWh||82 kWh||82 kWh|
|Power||283 hp (211 kW)||449 hp (335 kW) combined||480 hp (358 kW) combined|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.6 seconds||4.4 seconds||3.3 seconds|
|Top speed||225 km/H (140 mph)||233 km/H (145 mph)||261 km/H (162 mph)|
|Range (EPA)||402 km (250 miles)||568 km (353 miles)||507 km (315 miles)|
|Drivetrain||Rear-wheel drive||All-wheel drive, dual motor||All-wheel drive, dual motor|
|Curb weight||1,611 kg (3,552 lb)||1,847 kg (4,072 lb)||1,860 kg (4,101 lb)|
Used Tesla Model 3 Buyers Guide
With the history and specifications of the Model 3 out of the way, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying one of these fantastic electric cars. While the overall mechanicals of the Model 3 are fairly reliable, Tesla’s somewhat subpar QA (quality assurance) can lead to a few problems down the line.
Additionally, if something does go wrong and Tesla won’t cover it, you could be up for some serious expense. This is only compounded by the fact that there is a lack of approved Tesla service centres in many parts of the world, so we would check how many are in your area. Luckily Tesla has a pretty good warranty, so most problems should be covered (we will talk about the warranty situation later).
With expensive repairs and more than a few QA problems, it is incredibly important that you thoroughly inspect any Model 3 prior to purchase.
Setting Up an Inspection of a Model 3
It is always a good idea to try and arrange an inspection at the seller’s house, place of business or wherever they store the car on a regular basis. The main reason we recommend that you do this is so that you can get an idea of where and how the car has been stored.
Another thing you should keep in mind is the weather. If it is raining and there is water on the vehicle you may want to rearrange for a drier day or go back for a second viewing. Water can cover up several bodywork/paint issues resprays to factory paint issues and more. These problems may be expensive to put right, so be extra cautious if there is water on the car.
The above also applies to vehicles that have just been washed. If the seller/owner washes the Model 3 just before you arrive and it has not dried, be wary of any bodywork issues that may be lurking underneath the layer of water. Sometimes, a seller may even wash a vehicle to hide issues with the bodywork or other parts of the car, so keep that in mind when you are inspecting a Model 3.
One last tip is to bring a friend or helper with you. They may be able to spot something you missed during the inspection and they can also give an opinion on what they think of the Model 3 you are interested in.
Purchasing a Model 3 Without Physically Inspecting It
If possible, we always recommend that you try to physically inspect any used car prior to purchase or get a reliable third party to do so for you. Buying a Model 3 based on the seller/owner’s photos and descriptions opens you up to massive risk and the possibility of some nasty surprises.
The only real exception to this rule is if you are buying the used Model 3 from a trusted Tesla dealer who has given the car a high rating.
Used Model 3 Prices
This is a very difficult question to answer as the price of a Model 3 will depend on a number of factors from its model year, to its specifications, condition and more. For example, a low mileage 2019 Performance Model 3 with command a much higher price than an early production car from 2017.
Another thing to keep in mind is that used Model 3s seem to hold their value pretty well at the moment, so don’t expect massive savings over a new car.
To work out how much you will need to pay to nab yourself a used Model 3 we recommend that you check out local Tesla or third party dealers and auction/classified websites in your area. You can then use the prices from these dealers and websites to work out how much you should spend on a Model 3.
Which Tesla Model 3 Should You Buy?
This really comes down to your budget and what you can afford. As with buying any used car, we always recommend that you keep a little bit of your budget back as there are often unforeseen expenses that come with buying a used vehicle.
When it comes to which Model 3 you should buy, go for the latest possible model with the highest specs and biggest capacity battery. While there are still a few QA problems with Tesla’s latest Model 3s, early ones had far bigger problems. Additionally, a later model with better specs will be worth more in the future when it comes time to sell it.
What is the Warranty Situation (November 2020)
Tesla’s warranty protects for up 4 years or 80,000 km (50,000 miles), whichever comes first. If the Model 3 you are looking at is past these limits then it will not be covered by Tesla’s warranty unless it has been extended (more on that in a bit). The Battery and Drive Unit in a Model 3 is covered for an extended period/distance, which you can read about below:
Model 3 Standard Range/Standard Range Plus – 8 years or 160,000 km (100,000 miles) with a minimum retention of battery capacity of 70% over the course of the warranty period.
Model 3 Long Range or Performance – 8 years or 193,000 km (120,000 miles) with a minimum retention of battery capacity of 70% over the course of the warranty period.
These warranties cover the repair or replacement necessary to correct defects in the materials or workmanship of any parts manufactured or supplied by Tesla, which occur under normal use.
Extended Warranty on Used Cars
Used Tesla cars are covered by the remainder of 4 years or 80,000 km (50,000 miles) left on the Basic Vehicle Limited Warranty. This means that the warranty sticks with the car and not the owner, so if you purchase a Model 3 that is under 4 years old or has travelled less than 80,000 km it should still be covered.
If this warranty has expired, Tesla offers an extended Used Vehicle Limited Warranty on used cars that are purchased directly from Tesla. This extended warranty provides additional coverage of 1 year or 16,000 km (10,000 miles) from the date of delivery.
Buying a Used Model 3 from Tesla vs a Third Party
Getting a used Model 3 from Tesla is almost certainly going to give you better protection than if you get one from a third-party dealer or seller. As we wrote above, Tesla offers an extended warranty on used car purchases which is a major benefit when buying a used Model 3.
While independent dealers will often include or offer a warranty with a purchase of a vehicle, they can be extremely limited. If an independent dealer offers a warranty with the sale of one of their cars, we suggest that the go through it thoroughly to see what it covers.
One benefit of going through an independent seller, is that you will probably get a better deal (especially private) and there will be a much greater selection of cars on offer. This is because part exchange prices at Tesla dealers are fairly poor (they are still pretty bad at normal dealers, but not as bad). Private sellers will generally offer the cheapest price and are best for those on a strict budget, while buying from Tesla will give you the best after sales protection.
If you are looking at purchasing directly from Tesla, another thing to keep in mind is that many of their used cars are ex-lease. The good thing about this is that they will have been serviced well, however, ex-lease cars may have had a harder life and have more wear to show for it.
Another thing to watch out for when purchasing a Model 3 from a third-party dealer or private seller is that they may advertise the car wrong. While the Model 3’s different options and versions aren’t as confusing as something like the Model S, you may get somebody who tries to claim that the car they are selling has a larger capacity battery and more range than it actually does (trying to sell a 50 kWh model as 75 kWh for example).
If the seller tries to claim the Model 3 you are looking at has “Ludicrous” mode they are lying as models produced up to now don’t have the feature (However, 100 kWh Model 3 may come with the feature in the future).
Requirements for Tesla Used Cars
Tesla will only sell a used car if it meets the following requirements:
- Vehicle has travelled under 160,000 km (100,000 miles)
- Has no open mandatory recalls
- Has no evidence of structural repairs
- Air bag light is not illuminated
Tesla also carries out around a 70-point inspection before
Tesla Model 3 Inspection Guide
In the following section we will be covering all the things you need to watch out for during an inspection of a Tesla Model 3.
Checking the VIN on a Model 3
The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a series of numbers and characters that car manufacturers like Tesla assign to an individual vehicle. The VIN can tell you quite a lot of information about a Model 3 from its specs to its service history and more.
Tesla has a handy VIN decoder on their website, which we recommend you use. Below you can see what the different VIN digits mean:
- Characters 1-3 – The World Manufacturer Identifier, which is essentially who made the car (5YJ for United States, LRW for China).
- Digit 4– Model (3 = Model 3).
- Digit 5– Body type (E = 4 door sedan).
- Digit 6 – Restraint system (1).
- Digit 7– Battery type, but not usually battery size (E = Lithium-Ion Battery).
- Digit 8 – Motor/Drive unit (A = single motor standard, B = dual motor standard, 4 = dual motor performance, etc.).
- Digit 9 – This is a check sum digit that will vary depending on the other digits in the VIN.
- Digit 10 – Is a year digit. This has previously been the year of manufacturer but Tesla now. seem to use this as a model year digit (H = 2017 for example).
- Digit 11 –Place of manufacture (Should be F for Fremont California, L for China).
- Digits 12 to 17 – Unique serial number.
Descriptions of the VIN can change year-on-year, so while you should find that the above is pretty accurate, you may find some discrepancies with the Model 3 you are inspecting. You can also enter the VIN on a “check-up” website such as vindecoderz.com to see what comes up.
Where Can I Find the Vin on a Model 3?
As you can see from the image above, the VIN can be found on the driver’s side windshield, the RH C pillar and the driver’s side lower B pillar when the door is open. You can also find the VIN for a specific Model 3 in the following locations.
- On the Tesla website when you sign in (the VIN should appear to the left of your Model 3 image)
- At the bottom of the Tesla phone app where the software version appears (Scroll to the bottom)
- Touch the Tesla “T” at the top centre of the touchscreen. The popup window will display the car’s VIN.
It is always a good idea to make sure that these VIN numbers match as if they don’t it may indicate that the Model 3 you are looking at has been in an accident or had some other sort of issue. For the first two bullet points you will have to get the owner/seller to show you the VIN.
Incorrect VIN from Factory
Some new Model 3 buyers reported that the cars they received had incorrect or mismatched VINs. In some cases, the wrong VIN has been linked to the wrong account or the VIN indicates that the Model 3 is one colour when it is meant to be another. An incorrect or mismatched VIN can lead to problems with insurance, so it should be sorted as soon as possible.
Luckily, for used car buyers, you really shouldn’t have to worry about this issue as most new Model 3 buyers will have noticed that there was a problem with their car and got it fixed as soon as possible. Still, this is why we recommend that you decode the VIN so you can check that it matches the specifications/model of the car that is being sold.
Luckily, the Model 3 came after Tesla sorted out much of the issues that plagued early Model S cars. The Model 3 was a completely new platform and Tesla learnt a lot from these issues, so there really isn’t too much to worry about when it comes to the drivetrain on these cars. However, things can go wrong and when they do it can be catastrophic (see what happened to Michael Simari from Car and Driver here).
If something does go wrong with the drivetrain in a Model 3 it can be extremely expensive to fix. This is important to keep in mind if you are purchasing one of these cars out of warranty (most are still in warranty, but over the coming years they will start to expire).
When you go for a test drive make sure that there are no strange noises such as really loud whirring or ominous grinding sounds during acceleration and/or braking. If there is you should move onto another Model 3 unless it is still in warranty, you can get it for a great price and Tesla confirms the problem can be fixed under warranty at no cost to you. However, we would still personally only purchase a Model 3 that is producing no strange noises and has a drivetrain in good condition.
While you are checking for any strange noises make sure you turn off any music and the climate control system and open the windows to make it easier to listen for any problems. A bit of a whirring sound during acceleration and deceleration is perfectly normal, but as we wrote above abnormally loud whirring, whining or grinding sounds are a sign of serious trouble.
Battery condition and degradation will be one of your primary areas of concern when purchasing a used Tesla Model 3. There are no firm numbers when it comes to what to expect from battery degradation on a Model 3, but it seems that around 5% every 80,000 km (50,000 miles) is fairly standard (this is also similar to what the Model S and X experience). Some owners seem to get around only 2 to 3% of degradation, while others experience as high as 7 to 10%.
Battery degradation can be slowed by making sure that you do not charge to 100% every time and do not let the battery level get to really low percentages. Ask the owner about their charging habits and see if they follow this advice, as it shows they probably care quite a bit about their vehicle.
If the Model 3 you are looking at is not at 100%, ask the owner for proof of the current range. Either go to a supercharging station with them and wait for the battery to get to 100% or get them to send you a photo of the range after a full charge to 100%. Its easy for the person selling the Model 3 to just claim that the range is more than it actually is, so don’t be caught out by this.
You can also compare the range of the Model 3 you are looking at to the estimated ranges in the specifications section of this article. However, remember that Tesla has released a few updates to increase the range of the Model 3 over the course of its life, so some slight differences are to be expected.
Below we have listed Tesla’s battery guarantee for the Model 3. Try to purchase a car as far under these limits as possible.
- Model 3 Standard or Standard Range Plus – 8 years or 160,000 km (100,000 miles), whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of Battery capacity over the warranty period.
- Model 3 Long Range or Performance – 8 years or 193,000 km (120,000 miles), whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of Battery capacity over the warranty period.
Battery Casing Condition
Get a mirror and check the underside of the car. If you see scratches and dents on the battery casing it may need to be replaced. Additionally, check the battery mounting hardware to see it is all there. If any hardware is missing (bolts, etc) or there are scratches around the mounting hardware it may suggest that the battery has been removed at some point.
Suspension & Steering
Tesla’s Model S and X lineups have suffered from more than a few suspension issues such as failing fore links, but luckily the Model 3’s suspension system seems fairly robust. Despite this, a few owners have reported clunking, creaking or popping suspension on their Model 3s.
As this is the case, it is important to make sure all of the suspension and steering components on a Model 3 are in good condition and function as intended. Replacing or repairing suspension components on a Model 3 can be expensive, so take your time here. Below we have listed some things to keep an eye out for during an inspection and test drive of a Model 3:
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear (Can be quite a big issue on Model 3s – use a mirror to check the inside edge of the tyre)
- Excessive tyre bounce after hitting a bump
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension (make sure the car is level on all four corners)
- Knocking, creaking or clunking noises (don’t forget to drive in a tight figure 8)
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during turns
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
- Juddering on full lock
Remember to push the front of the car down to see how the suspension bounces. When you push you should have to use quite a bit of force. If the suspension goes down easily or it bounces excessively on return, then there may be a problem.
Checking that the Wheel Alignment Is Good
It is important to make sure that the wheel alignment is nice and straight on these cars as it is a big issue on them. Find yourself a flat, straight section of road and check that the Model 3 you are test driving drives straight with minimal wheel corrections. If it does not it is a sign that the wheel alignment is out or the vehicle may have some other sort of suspension/steering issue. Back this up by checking the wear on the tyres. Uneven wear indicates wheel alignment issues.
As the Model 3 relies heavily on its regenerative braking system to slow down, the actual brakes get fairly minimal use. However, this creates its own problem as the brakes can often corrode and the pads can delaminate. When inspecting the brakes, check for the following:
- Condition of the pads– delamination is quite a common issue and pad life is short if the car is driven hard or tracked regularly
- Pitted, scored, warped or grooved discs – shouldn’t be a major issue but can occur so watch out.
- Corrosion – this is a fairly common issue, especially if regen braking is used heavily.
- Modifications or changes
- Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines) – this may not be possible as the brake lines are pretty hidden.
- Check the fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir if possible – to get to this open the frunk/front trunk and take off the grilled panel close to the windshield. On the left you should find the brake fluid reservoir.
- Brake fluid tests/changes every 24 months or 40,000 km (25,000 miles), whichever comes first
- Any brake warning lights
Regenerative braking in cold weather is severely limited, so if you live in a cold country expect to find more pad/disc wear.
Performance models get Brembo brakes on all four corners whereas non-performance Model 3s get Brembo calipers at the front and Mando calipers at the rear. The front discs on Performance models are also larger and all discs are lighter when compared to the ones on non-performance cars.
If you are looking at a Model 3 with performance brakes, check the grey coating on the discs as it will peel off if you get brake cleaner on it.
During a Test Drive
If you hear a very loud noise when the car starts, it may be a sign that the brake booster pump on the Model 3 you are inspecting is failing. While this is not a majorly expensive part to replace, labour can be costly depending on who you go to.
Despite being quite a heavy vehicle, the brakes on a Model 3 should be more than adequate for road use. If the brakes feel weak or spongy then there is an issue that needs to be investigated.
When it comes to track or really heavy use, some owners and users have complained of brake fade and/or a lack of performance. Additionally, brake pads will wear frighteningly quickly under hard use.
Remember to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions to make sure they work as intended. If possible, and it is safe to do so, try to do an ‘emergency stop’ to really test that the braking system. The Tesla Model 3 has an emergency feature where if you press and hold the “P” button it will initiate an emergency stop. This should only be used if the brake pedal stops functioning for whatever reason.
If you hear a squeaking or rattling noise at low speed it may be the steel springs that help hold the brake pads in place. These brake regularly, but it is not a major issue to replace them.
Grinding or squealing noises are usually caused by corrosion on the discs/rotors. Try the following to see if the rust comes off and/or the noises stop:
- Set the regenerative braking mode to ‘Low’
- Perform long and gradual stops by applying brake pressure until the vehicle is at a complete stop
- Perform a few firm stops
If the noise persists it may be a bigger issue that needs to be sorted by a reputable technician or Tesla service centre. Alternatively, if you notice a squealing sound all the time when you are driving and not just when you are braking it may be caused by a small rock that has got stuck behind the Model 3’s brake shield. The rock will rub against the disc causing a squealing sound.
A clicking noise or light clunk when first accelerating or changing from decelerating to acceleration (and vice versa) may be an issue with the axle. Alternately, these sort of sounds can be a sign of more serious issues such as a problem with the drive unit.
If you notice that the Model 3 you are test driving brakes erratically or pulls to one side, it may have a sticking/seized caliper. This usually occurs if the car has been left unused for a long period of time, however, in some cases it can even happen overnight. Another sign of this problem is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.
Watch our for any juddering or shaking through the steering wheel or pedals when the brakes are applied as it may indicate that the discs are worn/warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking conditions.
Alternatively, if the discs/rotors aren’t worn or warped it may simply be that there are pad deposits or dirt/grease on them.
The Model 3 has two settings for the regenerative braking system, “Standard” and “Low”. Standard recharges the battery more efficiently and promptly slows you down, but not excessively so. The braking in this setting should feel smooth and natural with no stickiness.
The “Low” option switches the braking to a more conventional feel, so you will need to use the brake pedal more when driving. Most Tesla owners seem to prefer the “Standard” option. Make sure that both settings work as intended.
If the battery pack is too cold to receive high amounts of recharge energy, the Model 3 you are test driving will alert you that regen braking is limited. This is obviously more of a problem in cold climates and manual braking will be required until the battery pack warms up.
Checking that the Parking Brake Works
Another thing to do is to check that the parking works as intended. Get somebody in the car to switch from “park” to “drive” continuously and make sure the parking brake motors work correctly and don’t make any strange grinding noises.
The parking brake in the Model 3 uses an electronically controlled actuator which allows the car’s software to control when the parking brake is applied and released. A Model 3 will apply the parking brake automatically if the charge cable is connected or if any 2 of the following are met and the car is travelling less than approximately 2.4 km/h (1.5 mph)
- The driver’s seat belt is unbuckled.
- The occupancy sensor in the driver’s seat does not detect an occupant.
- The driver’s door is opened.
Pushing the “P” icon will engage the parking brake manually and needs to be done to prevent the car from rolling. Find an incline and make sure the parking brake holds the car.
Aftermarket Brake Options
There are quite a few different aftermarket brake options available for a Model 3. We are not going to go into all the details, but we will list a few common ones below:
- AP Racing Big Brake Kit
- Brembo Big Brake Kit (front)
- Mountain Pass Performance Model 3 brakes
- RB Brakes Camaro/CTS-V Performance Caliper Kit
Wheels & Tyres
Tesla fitted/fits the Model 3 with a range of different wheel options. Some owners have changed the original rims for aftermarket ones, but the majority of cars you come across will have factory ones. If the Model 3 you are looking at has aftermarket wheels fitted, ask the owner if they have the originals. Having the original wheels will only add value to the Model 3 if you decide to sell it in the future. If they do not have the original wheels, try to use this as a bargaining point.
While you are inspecting the rims make sure you have a good look at the tyres and check for the following:
- Amount of tread
- Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
- Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
- Same tyre in terms of tyre make, type, size and tread patter on each axle (preferably on all four wheels)
Large rims will be more prone to damage/cracking, so if you live in an area with poor quality roads you may be better of with smaller rims such as 18-inch ones. Additionally, check the rims for scuffs/curbing as it is a sign of a careless owner and can be expensive to repair depending on the rim.
Bodywork/Exterior of a Tesla Model 3
Bodywork issues are a common occurrence on Model 3s, so take your time going over the exterior of any car you are interested in. Getting bodywork issues fixed can also be very expensive, so make sure you are happy with the condition of the exterior of the Model 3 you wish to purchase.
Part of the reason why Model 3s are quite expensive to repair is the lack of certified repairers. While some are honest with the prices they charge, some repairers can charge ridiculous sums for the smallest of bodywork issues.
Unfortunately, rust is appearing to be a bit of an issue on these cars, so it is important to thoroughly inspect any Model 3 you are interested in purchasing for the problem. The problem is bad enough that in 2019 Tesla updated the Model 3’s digital manual with a warning to rinse away road salt from the underside, wheel wells and brakes to prevent corrosion.
The issue with Tesla’s recommendations is that as soon as you go back on the road the salt will come back and you will have to repeat the process. If the Model 3 you are looking at has any major rust issues walk away. With that in mind, here are some things that can make corrosion worse.
- If the car has spent time in countries or areas that salt their roads
- If the car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- If the car has lived by the sea for significant periods of time
- If the car has always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage – watch out for stone chip areas and other places where the Model 3 may have had a ding
Where Does Rust Usually Occur on a Model 3
The main areas to watch out for rust are as follows:
- Underside of the vehicle
- Wheel wells and arches
- Anywhere that damage has occurred (stone chips, etc.)
Looking for Rust Repairs
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair. Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Accident Damage on a Tesla Model 3
Accident damage is often a very serious issue and many owners will lie about the severity of the damage/incident or flat out claim the car was never in a crash. When it comes to accident damage you should assume the worst and hope for the best.
Below we have listed some signs that the Tesla Model 3 you are inspecting may have been in an accident:
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension and steering components for damage.
- Corrosion – Could be a sign that the Model 3 you are looking at has been in an crash or has some other sort of issue.
- Paint runs or overspray – Sometimes a factory issue (very common on Model 3s) but may also be a sign of a respray due to crash damage.
- Missing badges or trim – Can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the front trunk/frunk lines up correctly and fits as it should, along with the other body panels as well. Additionally, check the catches/hinges as if they look new the Model S has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors, boot/tailgate and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven or misaligned it could indicate that an accident has occurred. Alternatively, uneven panels may simply be a factory issue (extremely common on the Model 3).
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Touareg you are inspecting may have been in a crash.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust. Once again, paint issues from the factory are a common issue on these cars, so it may not necessarily mean that the vehicle has been in an accident.
- If the front trunk/frunk looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the Model 3 you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
Accident damage isn’t always an instant dismissal, especially if it has been repaired well and major structural damage did not occur. However, if the repair work is not up to standard or the accident caused major structural damage we would walk away. There are plenty of Model 3s out there and there is not point in purchasing one with a history of major accident issues.
Most repair jobs are carried out by certified-repairers or body shops, but you can’t always guarantee that they have done a good job. If you are interested in a Model 3 with slight bodywork issues make sure you get a quote on how much it will cost to repair before purchase.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Factory Panel Gaps & Paint Issues
As we mentioned earlier, misaligned panels are often a sign of accident damage. However, many Model 3s came from the factory with misaligned panels and trim pieces. This isn’t a major issue in terms of how the car functions but if you like to have your car looking perfect it may annoy you. We would personally choose a Model 3 with slight panel alignment issues from factory over a car with drivetrain issues for example.
Paint runs, over sprays, fading and flaking are all common factory issues. Tesla may fix this under warranty or they may not. Additionally, paint issues can also lead to rust in some severe cases. Problems with the paint may require a respray so keep this in mind. Use any problems as a way to get a discount on the vehicle.
Condensation in the Lights
Early model 3 foglights can be prone to fogging and water penetration/condensation. Condensation can also occur in all of the other lights as well, so make sure you check for this. If the issue becomes serious enough the affected light/lights will have to be replaced.
Cracks or Scratches in the Glass Roof
Take a good look at the glass roof as if it is scratched or cracked it will need to be replaced at some point (extremely expensive). Hopefully the owner has washed the roof well as dirt and grim can cover up any issues here.
Scratches on the Outside of the Windows
Check the door windows for any scratches as dirt and sand can make its way into the mechanism and cause damage.
Tesla originally made the under tray out of a material that would disintegrate when it became wet. Naturally, this became a bit of a problem and Tesla even tried to pass the issue back onto customers by saying that they had driven though water. A new and improved under tray is now used, but it is unclear whether Tesla will fix the problem under warranty.
Make sure the door handles work as intended (both inside and outside) as this is a common failure point. The door handles should glide but the mechanism can often fail. Alternatively, the door handles may fail to open the door when pulled. Either way an annoying issue that is surprisingly expensive to fix if you get it done by Tesla or a repair shop.
Like the exterior, the interior can also suffer from quality control issues (especially early models). Our main advice here is to just check that you are happy with the overall condition of the interior and there are no serious issues (missing or broken trim pieces, missing bolts, etc.).
Wear on the seats is always an issue on any car, so make sure the ones in the Model 3 you are inspecting are in satisfactory condition. The seats will also sag with age, which is something you will probably just have to live with. If the seats and other interior trim pieces are in really bad condition it will be expensive to replace/repair them.
If the steering wheel, seats, carpets, and pedals show excessive amounts of wear for the mileage it suggests that the Model S you are inspecting has had a hard life.
Check for any dampness or water on the inside, especially around the carpets. Additionally, lift up the floor maps and check the underside for any water residue as this is a sign that water has made its way into the cabin. The rear trunk is a common area for leaks, so don’t forget to check here.
Make sure the hatch/trunk functions correctly and there are no groaning/grinding noises (indicates that the actuators need replacing).
Electronics, Lights & Software
Check that there are no burnt out LED’s in taillights and head lights/daytime running lights (look out for a dark spot). This problem requires the entire headlight/taillight to be replaced. Another issue with the headlights is that they can often become stuck in the on/off position.
Go to screen cleaning mode on the MCU (Media Control Unit) and check for any dead pixels. Then go onto the sketchpad/drawing mode to make the screen all white and check for any yellowing or strange tinting. You should also shut the car down and check for any bubbles in the screen as these can’t be repaired, which means that the screen will need to be replaced.
A couple other things to do is to check the software version to make sure it is on the most recent version and make sure that the badge/sales description matches what is recorded in the MCU.
Apart from the above just check that all of the switches, settings and modes work as intended. Electrical problems can be a nightmare to fix, so take your time.
Not all Model 3s will have Autopilot. Tesla only included the “driverless” feature with Model 3s as standard from early 2019 (Standard Range is the only one that doesn’t have the feature as standard, but this model was only available for about a month).
Autopilot can be engaged by pressing down on the right stalk twice. When the system engages you should hear a chime, and the lanes on the driving graphic will turn blue. Indicating that the car will stay in that lane. Once Autopilot is engaged the car should slow down and accelerate based on the set cruise control speed. It will also take gradual turns.
Full Self Driving equipped Model 3s can change lanes automatically as well, along with carry out some other self-driving actions. Not all Tesla Model 3s have full self-driving, so check to see what the car you are looking at has.
A Word on Supercharging
Don’t let the seller try to fool you into believing the Model 3 you are looking at has free super charging. While Tesla has offered free supercharging with the purchase of a Model 3, it is not transferable to a new owner (unlike in some cases with the Model S/X).
General Car Buying Advice for the Tesla Model 3
How to Get the Best Deal on a Model 3
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research, research, research – Prior to starting your search for a Tesla Model 3, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of Model 3s out there, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Test drive multiple Model 3s – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Tesla Model 3.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a Model 3 for sale and only go for promising looking cars.
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner/seller – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Model 3s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. While electric cars are slightly different in that their batteries degrade overtime with more mileage, we still recommend that you go for a good condition model.
Tesla doesn’t include a service history/book with their cars, so you are going to have to rely on any receipts the owner has to make any important work/maintenance has been carried out. A really good owner may even create their own service history, which is something we recommend that you do as it will only add value to your car when you come to sell it in the future.
If the owner/seller can’t produce any receipts or documents relating to work done on the car we would be cautious, but Tesla does handle things differently. Additionally, while Tesla does keep a record of all service information you may have trouble getting the information from them.
For vehicles that have been in an accident you should be able to find information/receipts relating to any work done. It is important to check these receipts (if the owner has them) as you will be able to get a rough idea how bad the damage was.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and what was done?
- What is the battery condition like?
- What parts have been replaced?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners (if any) and how they treated the vehicle?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
- Have the recalls been actioned upon?
- What factory issues are there?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Tesla Model 3
Here are some things that would make as walk away from a Model 3. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Significant Crash Damage
- Battery in poor condition
- Drive unit problems
- Money owing on the car
- Bad resprays
- Significant bodywork issues (crash damage, etc.)
- Significant rust (even minor can be an issue)
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Tesla Model 3 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the Tesla Model 3 and the version they are selling?
- What can they tell you about previous owners (if it had a previous owner)?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they respond when you ask them about battery condition (can they back it up)?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Tesla Model 3.
Tesla Model 3 Buying Guide Summary
At the end of the day you will need to accept some risk when buying a used Tesla Model 3 (as with any car really). Factory issues are quite common, so you will just have to find a Model 3 that meets your standards. If you do have to get anything fixed or replaced it can be quite expensive, so watch out.
Additionally, be cautious of owners or sellers who falsely advertise their car as something it is not (a Standard Range plus advertised as a Performance model for example).