Nick, our Tesla, just back from being serviced

Our Tesla Model S Ownership Experience

I think it’s time for another update on what it has been like to own our Tesla Model S. We bought ours in 2014. And I’ve written periodic updates.

Nick, our Tesla Model S, just back from being serviced
Nick, our Tesla, just back from being serviced

Driving Experience

I must say that driving the Tesla is still a thrilling experience. The car handles flawlessly. We just have the regular Model S, without the insane button, without 4 wheel drive, and without any doubt it remains the most responsive car I’ve ever driven. I simply can not overstate how much I love driving this car.

But all is not peace, love, and happiness with our Tesla.

The Model S is, by far and away, the most expensive car we have ever owned. Buying it was a huge splurge: huge! Our previously most expensive car purchase was about half the cost of the Tesla. I’m not whining about the cost of the car.


I am vigorously complaining about my disappointment with the product’s reliability. Vigorously. In fact, I would say I am profoundly disgusted with it!

If you total up all of the problems with all of the new cars we have ever owned, literally all of them combined, they would be fewer than the problems we have had with the Tesla, which still only has about 5,000 miles on it! There is absolutely no excuse for a car costing $110,000 and having about 5,000 miles on it to strand you by refusing to start—no excuse ever, for any reason! But that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night.

When Steve tried to start the car in the freezing cold, an error message appeared in the dashboard stating there was a problem with the 12 volt battery. The message then said the car might quit unexpectedly. Then the message said it would not start at all. What???! [Insert string of very bad expletives here!]

The 12 volt battery has already been replaced on this car because it had a problem about a year or so ago! And now it’s having another issue? No way in hell! You can not begin to imagine how angry we are.

For this price, you expect complete reliability for years, for thousands upon thousands of miles! You expect a hassle-free ownership experience. A car not starting in the freezing night (Literally. I think the temperature was in the 20’s.) is one hell of a hassle!

Tesla could tell remotely, when we called them, that the 12 volt battery system had a problem and that the car would not start. They sent a tow truck to pick  up the car and take it to the service center.

We have had other issues with the car as well. But none of those problems compare with the $110,000 car with about 5,000 miles on it not working at all. Those problems were just nuisances with which we had to deal. Some of them remain unfixed. For example: I’ve never owned a new car with a hood that didn’t align properly from day one. I’ve never owned a new car with a reverse light that fills with condensation from day one. I could go on…

Tesla claimed they would have a supercharger installed in Birmingham by the end of 2015. Steve actually needs to drive the car to Birmingham on a regular basis and needs that supercharger to make that trip possible without going way out of the way for the trip. Of course, the supercharger is not built but is still supposedly slated to be built—if one can still believe the Tesla website.

Now I don’t trust the car. I worry it might strand me someplace at the worst possible moment. Would I feel confident in Steve driving the car to Birmingham if they even had the supercharger? Well, now? Not really! He could get stranded over 2 hours from home. At half the cost and even less, I’ve never had a new car just not work. Ever!

I’ve read that the Tesla Model S has actually been downgraded by Consumer Reports precisely because of these types of issues.

You know, we very much want Tesla to be a raging success story. We want the Tesla Model S to be selling wildly and for them to make money hand over fist because they make one of the very best cars one can buy. But right now, I personally don’t think they do. All of our Lexus and Accuras were flawless (perfectly aligned seems, for example) and trouble-free for a fraction of the cost.

Service Experience

You know, early on I complained about the service experience with Tesla. They were sloppy and clumsy for a high end car company. Lexus and Accura were vastly better to their customers. This mattered because we seemed to have to have the car serviced with more regularity than we cared. I was so aggravated at the time, I actually complained to Tesla.

I must report that they listened. The service experience has drastically improved. They have repaired the car at the house. They have picked up the car. They have delivered the car several times. And they have delivered it detailed inside and out on more than one occasion. They have taken me home or rented a car for me on several occasions.

Kudos to Tesla for creating a much better car service experience. This corporate expense, however, wouldn’t be necessary if they created a more reliable car.

What about You?

Should you buy a Tesla Model S or not?

Well, you’re going to have to weigh the awesome driving experience with the potential for some pretty significant reliability issues. And then factor in the cost of the car at the same time.

Knowing what I know right now, I must report that I personally can not justify the purchase. For us a car is really about safety, comfort, function and reliability. Unparalleled driving experience is certainly nice but not essential. We also care greatly about the environment and minimizing our dependance on oil, both domestic and foreign. We don’t give a hoot about having a car as a status symbol.

All of that said: We certainly would not have purchased this car knowing the ownership experience would turn out like this. We have seriously thought about getting rid of it.

I just hope that Tesla has improved the engineering and robotics for building this amazing electric car since we bought ours. Please, Tesla, get it right. We are rooting for you even in our current dissatisfaction.

4 thoughts on “Our Tesla Model S Ownership Experience”

  1. That is not encouraging to hear. I was looking to purchase the less expensive model next year when available. I will keep an eye on the reviews. Thanks Tim

    1. Hi, Sharon,

      Also nice to hear from you! I wouldn’t totally discount getting the new Model X when it comes out. We have been thinking about replacing our Leaf, which we have totally loved, with that car until all of this. I personally will give Tesla some time to work out production issues with the new model before considering it. Driving electric still beats driving a gasoline powered vehicle as far as responsiveness goes––by a long way!

  2. Tim, thank you for writing about your Tesla experience. I’m sorry that experience has been so frustrating, but you have forewarned those of us who were considering buying a Tesla. I agree with you; for that much money I would expect sheer perfection.

    1. Hi Tim,

      Nice to hear from you! Again, their production line may have significantly improved. I hope it has. We were among the early adopters, and may have been in that “getting the kinks worked out” phase. Hope all is well in one of our favorite cities!

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