Tesla Model 3 - One Year Review
By Matt Clipper
September 20, 2019
As of this writing, I have now owned my Tesla Model 3 for exactly one year, and it is, without a doubt, the best car that I have ever owned. Is it really that great? Well, let’s put it this way. You know how a lot of times you wait a long time in anticipation to get something, and then once you do, it fails to live up to you expectations? Well, I waited over 2 years (903 days to be exact) from the time I put down my initial reservation deposit until I took delivery of my Tesla Model 3, and a year into owning it, the Tesla Model 3 continues to exceed my expectations, and it even gets better with age (more on that later). To put it another way, in one year I have put over 18,000 miles on my Model 3; far more than I’ve had on any other car one year into ownership, as I drive it every chance I can get.
Before moving on, if you find this review helpful, and you’re considering buying a Tesla vehicle, please feel free to use my referral link below. By using my referral link, you will get some sort of freebie when you buy a Tesla. (As of this writing, the referral program is offering 2,000 miles of free Supercharging, but incentives change from time-to-time.)
Why I Chose to Buy an Electric Vehicle
People choose to buy electric vehicles for many reasons. For some, they feel a need to reduce carbon emissions and save the environment. For others, they like the economical advantage of using electricity versus buying gasoline. These were all factors that I took into consideration, but what pushed me over the edge was the ability to gain unrestricted access to carpool (HOV) lanes on Arizona freeways. Some states offer tax incentives for purchasing an electric vehicle, but Arizona provides the perk of HOV access. I live in Phoenix, which recently surpassed Philadelphia as the 5th largest city in the United States, and traffic during the morning and evening commutes can be a nightmare. Sure, sometimes I feel a bit guilty flying past cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but having access to the free-flowing HOV lanes here in Phoenix saves me about 20 - 40 minutes per day in my commute to and from work. This will add up to some significant time savings over the course of my ownership; not to mention far less stressful commutes.
I actually began looking at electric vehicles when I bought my Ford Fusion back in 2013. However, at that time, the most range offered in an affordable electric vehicle was about 80 miles. My round-trip commute to work is about 55 miles, so theoretically, an 80-mile range would have been sufficient, but it would have left very little buffer for taking my kids to sports / after-school events, going shopping, or basically driving anywhere else in my daily commute in addition to work and home.
Around that time, I started researching and becoming familiar with Tesla vehicles, but the Model S and X were way out of my price range. When Tesla announced on March 31, 2016 that the Model 3 would have up to 310 miles of range and start at $35k, I immediately put down a $1,000 reservation deposit that same day.
Details About My Tesla Model 3
There are several variations of the Tesla Model 3 to choose from, and Tesla tends to tweak its line-up over the course of time. As of September 2019, Tesla’s Model 3 line-up includes the following configurations:
If you were to order a Model 3 and take delivery by the end of 2019, you could receive a federal tax credit of $1,875, and some states have additional incentives for electric vehicles.
The exact configuration of my Model 3 is as follows:
In case you were not already aware, Tesla vehicles are 100% electric. They are not hybrids, and they take no gas whatsoever. Instead of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), their power comes from highly efficient electric motors. Instead of filling up a tank with gas, you charge the car with electricity, like you would your phone. (More on charging later.)
Other Cars I’ve Owned
Just as a point of reference, I want to briefly mention the other cars that I’ve owned to provide a basis for some of my comparisons. The cars that I have owned since getting my driver’s license at the age of 16 include the following:
In addition to the cars that I’ve owned, I’ve also driven just about every car that Avis has available to rent. When I bought my Ford Fusion back in 2013, I was traveling every other week for work, and I made it a point to rent a different type of vehicle each time to find out what worked best for me before settling on the Ford Fusion.
There’s a reason that many states still don’t allow Tesla to sell directly to consumers. Auto dealers (which aren’t owned by the auto makers) are lobbying hard to keep themselves relevant, but sadly, their business model is outdated and probably doomed. With Tesla, they sell direct to the consumer, and there are no dealerships.
When you buy a Tesla, you actually do it all online (even at a Tesla showroom). You can even do it from your smartphone (as I did). It’s a really simple process. You just go to their website, choose your model, configure your options, put down a deposit, and then pick it up soon after. You can even use ApplePay on an iPhone to make your deposit.
Shortly before your Tesla is ready for pickup, a Tesla rep will reach out to you via email or phone to schedule your pickup appointment. If you’re financing or leasing, you can apply and get everything arranged online before your pickup. When you pick up the car, it’s a simple process that takes less than 30 minutes to sign your paperwork, check out your car, and get on your way. There’s no up-selling, no haggling, and no “let me check with my manager” BS, like at a typical car dealership.
The only snag that I experienced was that Tesla miscalculated my sales tax at first, but they quickly corrected it when I pointed out the error. So be sure to check your paperwork thoroughly. (Also, they apparently parked my trade-in car in a no-parking zone after they took possession of it, and I received a parking ticket in the mail, but I was able to quickly get it dismissed.) Keep in mind that these were minor inconveniences, and this occurred in Tesla’s first quarter in which they reported a profit. At this time, they were delivering tons of cars while having difficulty scaling up, so I would have to believe that the delivery process is even more stream-lined now.
Tesla has received a lot of negative press about its initial quality, such as panel gaps, paint issues, missing / loose parts, etc. I experienced none of those with my Tesla. My car’s VIN (serial number) is in the 66,000’s, which means it wasn’t one of the first builds, but it was also made well before Tesla worked out some of their highly publicized production kinks. In addition, my car was made during the first builds of the dual-motor variation.
With all of that said, there was only one issue with my car that I discovered after delivery that required service. Apparently, the dust shield around the front driver-side brake rotor was too close to the rotor, such that whenever I made a hard left turn I would sometimes hear a slight metal-on-metal grinding sound. I was able to quickly get an appointment at a Tesla Service Center, and they fixed the issue within a day and gave me a free loaner vehicle while my car was in service. The Tesla Service Center completely resolved the issue, and I haven’t had any other warranty issues since.
Through the first year of owning my Model 3, I can report that it’s holding up very well. There are no squeaks or rattles. All of the materials still look brand new. Nothing has broken. Mechanically speaking, all is perfect, as well. I have absolutely no complaints in terms of quality, which is quite remarkable, given the growing pains Tesla was going through to ramp up production rates when my car was built.
First Differences You’ll Notice Compared to a Gasoline-Powered Vehicle
If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend that you go test drive a Tesla vehicle. Once you drive one, you’ll be sold. That said, there are a few things that may seem strange or quirky the first time you drive a Tesla, such as…
There’s no key (and with the Model 3, there’s not even a key fob). To unlock and get into a Tesla, you just need to have your smartphone within Bluetooth range of your car. (For security sake, this only works once you’ve installed the Tesla app on your smartphone and logged into your Tesla account on the app.) As a backup (in case your phone dies), Tesla also provides two RFID keycards to gain access to the car, which work just like the new keycards used in hotels (the kind you tap to the door lock; not the kind you swipe / insert).
You don’t need to “start” the car to go. It powers on automatically when you open the door. Also, it will turn itself off and lock the doors after you’ve exited the vehicle and get out of Bluetooth range with your smartphone.
You don’t really need to use the brakes much. Electric cars utilize “regenerative braking”, which means when you let off the accelerator pedal, the electric motor on the car turns into an electric generator, and it effectively slows down the car (as if you were braking) while putting energy back into the batteries at the same time. It takes some time to get used to this, but once you do, you’ll find that you really only need to use the brake pedal to slow the car from 5 mph to a complete stop. For virtually all other speeds, you can just modulate the accelerator pedal.
Electric cars, especially Teslas, accelerate very quickly, and the acceleration is soooo smooth. Teslas have a single gear ratio between the motors and the drive shafts, which means there’s no transmission that shifts gears. Also, electric motors instantly have 100% of their torque available, as opposed to gas-powered vehicles where torque builds up as the engine speed increases. This results in acceleration very much like that of one of those new roller coasters that uses Linear Induction Motors to shoot you forward, such as the Incredicoaster (California Screamin') at Disneyland.
The Tesla Model 3 has no gauges and (almost) a complete lack of buttons. The speedometer, car information, navigation system, and all controls are done via an iPad-like 15-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard. It may seem strange at first not to have physical buttons, but so did the iPhone when it was released back in 2007. Now, hardly anyone uses a phone with a physical keypad on it. Within a day or so of driving, the lack of traditional gauges and buttons becomes a non-issue.
Tesla vehicles also have what’s known as a “frunk” (front trunk) in place of where a typical internal combustion engine would go. The Model 3’s frunk is large enough to fit a standard carry-on suitcase. Behind plastic covering of the frunk is where all of the usual vehicle accessories are located, such as the HVAC system and the front motor (in dual-motor cars only). The Model 3 also has a very spacious trunk in the rear, along with deep-well area where you might expect a spare tire to go. Unfortunately, the Model 3 does not come with a spare tire in order to save weight and cost. However, Tesla does offer free roadside assistance within the warranty period. I had to use the roadside service once to replace a flat tire. It works fine as long as you're near an area with a Tesla Service Center. However, I could see this being a problem if you get a flat tire in a rural area. For that, I would recommend keeping a 12-volt air compressor, tire slime / fix-a-flat, and a tire plug repair kit in your trunk at all times.
Charging and Electricity Cost
Among the questions I get most frequently, are: How do you charge your car? Doesn’t it take a long time? Isn’t it hard to find charging stations? Charging the Tesla Model 3 is actually a very simple and straightforward process, but if differs considerably based on two situations -- everyday driving (within battery range of your home) and road trips.
For everyday driving, I simply plug my car into the charger in my garage each night. On average, I drive about 50 - 75 miles per day. For daily use, I charge my car to 90% of its battery capacity each night, and charging my car typically takes about 1.5 - 2 hours each night to bring it back up to 90%.
In my garage, I use the Tesla Wall Connector charger, which cost me $500, plus another $431 to have an electrician install the charger and run a new 240V/60A circuit to it. (Installation costs will vary.) There are other home charging options available (such as the Mobile Power Connector that comes with the car), but the Tesla Wall Connector charger is the fastest method of charging at home. The Tesla Wall Connector on a 240V/60A circuit charges the car at an effective rate of about 48 miles worth of range per hour of charging.
In terms of cost, charging my car at home has only increased my electric bill by about $11 per month, and over 99% of my charging is done at home. In comparison, I was spending over $200 a month to put gas in my Ford Fusion. One of the nice things about Tesla vehicles, is that you can set what time you want the charging to occur, so you can take advantage of off-peak electric billing. With this, I can plug in my car as soon as I get home from work, and it won’t actually start charging until after off-peak hours kick in at 8:00pm. My electric company (APS) here in Phoenix charges $0.0523 per kWh during off-peak hours, which is very economical. Another benefit to charging at home is that I always have a full charge each morning, and unlike a conventional car, I never have to stop at a gas station when I'm low on gas and running late for work or an appointment. In fact, the only time I ever stop at a gas station now is to grab a snack / drink or to use the restroom.
For road trips, I use the Tesla Superchargers to charge. Unlike other electric car manufacturers, Tesla has done an outstanding job of building out a network of Supercharges across the entire United States, as well as Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. As of this writing, there are over 14,000 Superchargers throughout the world, and Tesla is constantly adding more. And the best thing is, the in-car navigation system (which uses Google Maps) will automatically show you where the Superchargers are and when you need to stop along a trip.
Charging a Tesla vehicle at a Supercharger is much quicker than it is at home. In fact, Tesla’s Generation 3 Superchargers can charge at an effective rate of up to 1,000 miles worth of range per hour. Even at older Superchargers, you can typically charge a nearly empty battery up to 80% in about 30 - 45 minutes. Plus, Superchargers are always located in convenient locations where you can use the restroom, grab a bite to eat, or do some shopping while your car is charging.
The cost of Supercharging varies by location, but it’s typically much cheaper than an equivalent tank of gas. I’ve only taken my car on 3 road trips in which I needed to use Superchargers: Phoenix to Disneyland (744 miles round trip, about $50 - $60), Phoenix to Sedona (212 miles round trip, $5.46), and Phoenix to the middle of the desert (226 miles round trip, $7.70). On the latter two trips, I probably could have skipped charging since my car gets over 300 miles of range on a full charge, but I chose to “top-off” just in case.
Maintenance / Repair Costs
Because Tesla vehicles use electric motors and not internal combustion engines, the cost to maintain them is actually very low. There are no spark plugs, engine air filters, engine coolant, belts, transmission fluid, or even oil to change. In fact, the only items you should expect to replace are tires, cabin air filters, and washer fluid. You really shouldn’t even need to change brake pads, since regenerative braking greatly reduces the amount of wear on brakes.
The Tesla Model 3 comes with a 4-year / 50,000 mile new vehicle warranty, as well as an 8-year / 120,000 mile warranty on the battery and drive unit (which includes the electric motors). Tesla recommends the following service intervals for the Model 3:
In my first year of ownership with the Tesla Model 3, I have refilled the washer fluid reservoir 3 times (at $2.99 a pop), and I unfortunately had to replace a tire due to a large puncture from road debris. Total cost to replace one 18-inch tire at the Tesla Service Center was $366.76 (about $325 for the tire and the rest for labor). So, without the cost to replace the punctured tire, my first year of maintenance would have cost a grand total of less than ten bucks with sales tax. I haven’t even performed a tire rotation because, according to a thread depth gauge, my tires are wearing very evenly.
Recently, Loup Ventures published a study in which they compared the 5-year cost of ownership of a Tesla Model 3 (Standard Range Plus) with that of the Toyota Camry LE and the Audi A5. Their conclusion was that the Tesla Model 3 had the lowest 5-year cost of ownership of the three vehicles, and based on my experience, I believe it. Even though my Model 3 cost significantly more than my previous Ford Fusion, it actually costs me about the same per month to operate when I consider all cost factors (car payment, insurance, maintenance costs, and fuel savings). The fact that it’s a blast to drive is just the icing on the cake.
The Tesla driving experience is truly like no other. You really need to take one for a test drive if you haven’t already. As mentioned previously, the acceleration is amazing. My Dual Motor Model 3 does 0 - 60mph in 4.4s. This is quicker than a Mustang GT, Camaro SS, and even a Lamborghini Diablo. Even the “slowest” Standard Range Plus Model 3 does 0 - 60mph in 5.3s, which is quicker than the BMW 330i, Volkswagen GTI, and Maserati Ghibli.
In addition to the quick acceleration, the Model 3 corners like it’s on rails. This is due to the battery, which is the heaviest component in the car, being located under the floorboard, which puts the center-of-gravity very low compared to most production cars. That, combined with Tesla’s electronic stability / traction control and a near 50/50 weight distribution, makes the Model 3 almost impossible to break traction or skid out. In fact, the only way to really do this is to opt for the Model 3 Performance package and put the car into “track mode”.
The suspension can seem stiff to some that may be more used to a typical luxury sedan, but I think the Model 3 feels comparable to other sports sedans. However, the seats, which are made from “vegan” leather (a high quality polyurethane), are very comfortable and have 12-way powered adjustment with lumbar support and heating.
Without an engine and exhaust system, the car is very quiet. The only thing you really hear is the sound from the tires on the road and a bit of wind noise, which may be more noticeable than a typical car since those sounds aren’t being drowned out by an engine and exhaust. However, that is a non-issue once I crank up the 15-speaker sound system (part of the Premium Interior package), which was designed by former engineers from Bang & Olufsen and reportedly sounds better than the $12,000 B&O audio option in the Audi A8.
Autopilot / Full Self Driving
If you’ve heard anything at all about Tesla in the news, you’ve probably heard about Tesla vehicles being involved in accidents while on Autopilot. Yes, it’s true, there are some accidents that have occurred with Tesla vehicles while they’ve been on Autopilot, but the probability of occurrence is less than half that in a vehicle without Autopilot, and Tesla continues to improve the system as they collect more real-world data.
So what is Autopilot? It’s basically Tesla’s proprietary technology that includes adaptive cruise control and automatic steering (within a lane) by using a suite of 8 cameras, radar sensors, and proximity sensors. Autopilot also includes standard safety features, such as Automatic Emergency Braking, Front Collision Warning, Side Collision Warning, and Auto High Beams. If you add Tesla’s “Full Self Driving” option, you also get “Navigate on Autopilot”, which will completely drive the car on a freeway from the on-ramp, through interchanges, automatic lane changes, and finally to the off-ramp. Is it truly “self driving”? Not quite, but it’s getting close, and Tesla keeps updating the system to incrementally get it closer and closer to being what most would consider “self driving”.
As of this writing, the Autopilot and Full Self Driving features are designed to only be used on divided highways without cross-traffic or stop lights. Eventually, the system will be able to handle those situations.
I have the basic Autopilot system, which now comes standard with all new Tesla vehicles. It’s really a great system that helps to reduce mental and physical fatigue while driving on long road trips. It also works great in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway, and it really makes bumper-to-bumper traffic less stressful. However, the one scenario that I’ve found it to not work well is when I’m driving much faster in the carpool lane next to a lane of cars that are going much slower than me. In this scenario, the Autopilot system can misidentify a car in the next lane as a threat, and it will slam on the brakes, which could cause a vehicle behind me to rear-end my car. For this reason, I never use Autopilot when I’m in the carpool lane.
I chose not to buy the “Full Self Driving” (FSD) upgrade; however, it would be a simple online purchase and over-the-air upgrade should I want to purchase it in the future. Right now, “Full Self Driving” is a $6,000 upgrade, which, in my opinion, is overpriced given its existing features. Currently, the FSD upgrade only gets you the following features on top of the basic Autopilot: Navigate on Autopilot, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Summon (move your car forward or backward with the smartphone app while you are outside of the car). Eventually, FSD is supposed to add Smart Summon (your car will come to you anywhere within a parking lot), as well as the ability to recognize and respond to traffic lights, signs, and all other driving scenarios on city streets. When these features actually come to fruition, it might make the upgrade cost worth the money, but I think these features quite a ways off.
One of the features that really separates Tesla from other car manufacturers is the fact that they push out regular Over-the-Air (OTA) software updates to your car, free of charge, which fix bugs and add new features. It’s because of the OTA updates that Tesla vehicles actually get better with age. Since taking delivery of my Model 3 a year ago, Tesla has added the following features via free OTA updates:
Again, all of these items were provided free-of-charge through automatic over-the-air software updates to the car. Tesla has also stated that it plans to provide the following features in future updates:
Things I Don’t Like About the Tesla Model 3
If it’s not already clear, I really love my Tesla Model 3. It is truly is the best car that I’ve ever owned (or driven for that matter). I would have never considered writing a 5000+ word review on any other car I’ve owned. That said, there are a few areas where the Tesla Model 3 is lacking.
One of my constant sources of frustration is that the voice control system cannot make a phone call to a contact that has more than one phone number in their contact details. For example, when I press the voice activation button and say “call (my wife’s name) at work”, the system cannot differentiate between her work and mobile numbers, so it just puts a pop-up choice on the touchscreen to dial either her work or mobile number. It’s not a major inconvenience, but with all of the technology that the Tesla Model 3 has, I cannot believe that it can’t do this, especially when my 2013 Ford Fusion could do this without issue.
In addition, the Tesla Model 3 does not currently have the ability to read or respond to text messages, like most other cars can nowadays. Again, this is a feature that my 2013 Ford Fusion had the capability of doing. However, Tesla has stated that this is coming in a future over-the-air software update.
Aside from these rather minor annoyances, the most significant problem that I have noticed with my Tesla Model 3 is a musty, mildew smell coming from the HVAC system. According to online forums, this is caused by moisture getting trapped on the condenser coil when the HVAC system stays in recirculating mode all the time. Tesla has reportedly fixed this through an OTA update, which now turns off recirculating mode to run fresh air over the condenser coil for a few minutes after you’ve reached your destination. The problem is, this fix is preventative, and it does not resolve existing odors. For that, I need to replace the cabin air filters and spray the condenser with condenser coil cleaning fluid. Unfortunately, the cabin air filters for the Tesla Model 3 are not yet available at regular auto parts stores like AutoZone.
Even with the minor gripes that I've noted above, the Tesla Model 3 is the perfect sports sedan in my opinion. It’s an absolute blast to drive, it’s economical to operate, it’s comfortable, and it keeps getting better with every over-the-air software update that Tesla releases. In addition, there are no compromises in switching from a typical gasoline-powered car to a Tesla vehicle thanks to Tesla's Supercharger network. While other electric cars can be limited in where they can go due to few charging options, Tesla has charging stations conveniently placed in all countries in which they sell vehicles. If you have any questions at all, feel free to contact me via Twitter (@MattClipper) or email. And again, if you’ve found this information helpful, please consider using my referral link when purchasing a Tesla:
Copyright © 2019 Matt Clipper