We talk a lot about electric cars here, Tesla chief among them. But since Tesla is different than other manufacturers in the way they market, sell, and deliver their cars, we thought it would be useful to answer the question of how to buy a Tesla in the first place, starting with how to test drive one.
Test driving a Tesla
Tesla doesn’t really have traditional dealerships, and a lot of Tesla stores are in malls. Without a big lot of cars available for test drives, how do you get some seat time?
Tesla does give test drives at most locations, but they only have a few cars available at each store for them. And on busy days at the mall, it can be hard to walk in and get a test drive.
If you want to test drive a Tesla before you buy, your best bet is to call your local Tesla store and set up a test drive appointment ahead of time. For some mall stores, on low-traffic days, you may be able to walk in and test drive a Tesla, but don’t count on it. Calling ahead is a good plan. You can also sign up on the internet and wait for Tesla to get back to you.
Not all Tesla stores offer test drives, and in some states, Tesla is not allowed to do test drives due to antiquated dealership laws. So check your local laws first.
If there aren’t any stores in your area or they’re not allowed to give drives, you might be able to find local test drive events through Tesla’s website or fan-run events like Drive Electric Week where there are sometimes test drive/ride opportunities. Some local/regional EV advocacy organizations exist for this purpose too, here’s one in Florida for example.
EV owners tend to like answering questions for newbies, so they can be a good resource either in person or online. If you have any friends or family with a Tesla, they might also want to give you a test drive.
How to buy a Tesla
Rather than selling through dealership lots, Tesla sells most of their new cars through orders on the internet. You can go to their site and configure a new Model 3, Model S or Model X (if you use that link, you’ll get 1,000 free miles of supercharging).
Tesla does have a “secret menu” of sorts. If you want the $35k “Standard Range” Model 3, you’ll have to order the “Standard Range Plus” first. Then, after entering your order and paying your $100 order fee but before finalizing your Motor Vehicle Purchase Agreement, call Tesla. Wait a few days and they will take care of it. Don’t sign the paperwork until you see the $35,000 price on it.
Most of the time, you will have to wait a few weeks for delivery after your configuration. For new models like the Model Y which comes out in March, the wait can be much longer. The wait can also be long if you live in a territory Tesla has just started shipping to.
For unreleased vehicles, Tesla usually charges an upfront fee to get in line, then contacts customers roughly in the order they placed their reservations.
The Model Y is coming out in March, and it has a $100 order fee. That order fee is not refundable. The same applies to other current models – when ordering an S, X, or 3, you’ll have to pay a $100 nonrefundable order fee.
How to get a Tesla faster
If you’re getting a newly-released model, higher-optioned versions usually get delivered first. Sometimes current Tesla owners and California customers get priority as well. This is due to loyalty/familiarity with Tesla’s order system, and proximity to the factory.
If you don’t want to do a custom order and wait for delivery, you can get one faster by going to Tesla’s new inventory site and see if there are any vehicles in stock in your area that match your preferences.
There’s usually a good amount of Model S and Model X vehicles there, but not as many Model 3s. Tesla added the Model 3 to their new inventory site last year, but there isn’t always a lot available as the car has been quite popular.
How to buy a used Tesla
Tesla sells used cars as well, which you can access through the Tesla Used inventory page. There’s a better-sorting but less sleek third-party site here that lets you search through Tesla’s inventory. Or a mobile-friendly version from the same guy.
Alternatively, you can go through a local dealer. Car dealerships do occasionally get Teslas as trade-ins or at auction. You can find a local dealer at one of these links:
Can I trade in my car?
Tesla does take trade-ins, just like most other dealerships. Since Tesla doesn’t sell ICE vehicles, if you trade in your gas car they’ll just sell it to a third party or at a dealer auction. The effect for the buyer is the same – you leave your old car with Tesla, they apply that equity as a partial payment on the new car, and you drive off and let them deal with the old car.
But just like other trade-ins, you’ll probably get more money selling private party without middlemen. So it’s your decision whether the ease of bringing the car to Tesla is worth it, or if you want to eke the best value out of your old car by selling it yourself or taking it to some other dealer.
Can I get financing?
You can also bring your own financing. Some credit unions will even offer discounts on electric car financing.
Some people have had trouble with financing a Tesla through outside sources because Tesla prefers getting a full check upfront. Outside banks and credit unions often won’t provide that until they have the pink slip and signed documents. You may need to do a little extra work with your Tesla salesperson and your loan representative to reconcile the two, but it should work out in the end. Most lenders should have worked on a Tesla loan before so they ought to know how to do it by now.
Are there still government incentives to buy a Tesla?
After you buy your Tesla, be sure to apply for any relevant government incentives. While the federal tax credit has been eliminated for Tesla cars, there are still state, regional, local, and utility credits available in many areas. Tesla maintains a list of state incentives, which is a good place to start. Check around in your local area to make sure you’re not missing out on anything.
What do I have to do before I get my Tesla?
Now that you know how to buy a Tesla, you need to get ready to take delivery of one.
First, log in to your Tesla account online. That’s where you’ll find information on your delivery, confirm the date, and find the documents you need to prepare before your delivery date. At some point, you’ll get contacted by a Tesla “Delivery Specialist” who can guide you and answer questions. Now would be a good time to download the Tesla app too.
One thing you want to do is think about where you’ll charge the car. While Tesla has an extensive Supercharger network, owning an EV is different from owning a gas car. Instead of driving to a gas station every week, you’re better off if you can just charge it at home or at work. It will be cheaper and more convenient if you set up home charging.
Home charging setup – check for outlets
To do this, you should have a look around your garage. If you have an unused dryer or RV outlet, you can probably charge an EV without any additional modifications to your electrical system. Take a picture of the outlet and read the numbers on it, then look to see if an adapter exists for that outlet type.
Speaking of which, if you want to use your Model 3 to open your garage, you need to get Tesla’s $300 “Homelink” option.
NEMA 14-50 is the outlet Tesla has generally recommended, but there are others that work just as well. Teslas (and most EVs) come with an included charging cable and Tesla sells adapters for various outlets for $35 each. If you have an outlet already, you’ll need to order an adapter for your specific outlet separately.
Tesla used to include NEMA 14-50 adapters with their cars, but they don’t anymore. Sometimes Tesla’s outlet adapters are sold out, so it’s best to think about this well in advance of delivery. Teslas all still come with an adapter that allows them to use a J1772 plug, which is the standard for non-Tesla charging stations. Companies like QC Charge have additional charging options available.
Here’s what various outlets look like, though Tesla doesn’t sell an adapter for all of these. The further down and to the right you go on this chart, the more kilowatts the outlet can handle and the faster your car will charge.
Home charging setup – if you need upgrades
If you don’t have any of these outlets, you should call your electrician to see what upgrades might need to be done. If you don’t have an electrician already you could find a local one or go through Amazon Home Services. This can cost a significant sum depending on the status of your electrical system. It could be a couple hundred dollars, or a few thousand. There is a federal tax incentive to reduce this cost, and some states and utilities have their own incentives too.
You can optionally buy a wall charging box from Tesla or a J1772 charging box that will let you charge EVs that don’t use Tesla’s plug. These wall boxes can charge your car faster than Tesla’s included charging cable, depending on your house’s electrical system.
But there will likely be little practical difference since you’ll mostly charge overnight at home. The main benefit is that the boxes look nicer and cable management is easier. Also, it means you can keep your mobile connector in your trunk all the time when you go on the road.
If you live in an apartment building or something of the like, talk to the owners, HOA, etc. In some states, they can be trouble when it comes to making electrical modifications. In California (and soon New York), there are laws requiring that HOAs and owners of multi-unit dwellings must allow owners to install their own charging station for an electric car. Check local laws for more specifics.
Regardless, look into special rates for EV charging. Many utilities have them and you can sometimes get a significant discount on your electricity. Often this will be called a “time of use” or “TOU” rate, which gives you cheaper electricity if you charge overnight, when most EVs are plugged in.
You’ve bought your Tesla, now it’s delivery day
You’ve done everything you need to do and it’s finally time to take possession of your new car. You will have worked with your delivery specialist at this point, and set up and confirmed a delivery date. Usually, you will go to a Tesla delivery center, sign some documents and receive a short orientation. The whole thing should take half an hour or so.
Sometimes, especially in busy months like the end of the quarter, you might not get much of an orientation. Your delivery specialist might be a bit swamped in late March, June, September, and especially December. Tesla isn’t always great at customer communication, especially during busy times. Delivery specialists tend to be more communicative than the rest of the organization, though.
If you’re far away from a delivery center, or in a state that has weird dealership laws, during busy times of year, you might be offered the option of home delivery. In this case, Tesla comes to your house and delivers the car directly to you. Sometimes CEO Elon Musk does it himself (okay, don’t expect this to happen – you’re more likely to find him at the factory these days anyway).
When you take delivery, you’ll want to do a walkaround of the car and make sure that everything looks fine and there aren’t any scratches, misaligned panels, etc. There are delivery checklists online, but most of these are far too detailed and really unnecessary. Look for anything that would bother you and see if Tesla can fix it on the spot. If not, make a service appointment to have it fixed. This is more likely to be an issue with early production cars from new vehicle lines (though our very early Model 3 turned out fine).
If you feel like you didn’t get enough of an orientation, Tesla hosts new owner workshops periodically. Ask your delivery specialist for information on that. In your Tesla, you can also tap the “T” button at the top of the display, then tap Owner’s Manual. Or just google your questions, chances are someone in a Tesla fan community has asked and answered your question before.
Finally, if you want to use TeslaCam and Sentry mode, you’ll need to install a USB storage device. I use an SD reader and high endurance microSD card. Dashcams tend to chew up USB flash sticks with constant data writes. High-endurance cards are designed for dashcams/security systems so they will last longer.
How to buy non-Tesla electric cars
If you want to buy a non-Tesla electric car, the experience is similar to buying any car. Head to your local dealership, and hope that they don’t try to steer you away from an EV (be strong! don’t let them sell you a gas car!). Electrek maintains a list of EV purchase deals and EV lease deals, both of which can occasionally offer really deep discounts. Even if none are near you, you can take these to your local dealer and ask for a match.
Here are some links to get in touch with local dealers about some electric cars in the 2020 model year:
- Nissan Leaf
- BMW i3
- Chevy Bolt EV
- Hyundai Kona Electric
- Kia Niro EV
- Audi e-tron
- Jaguar i-Pace
- Porsche Taycan
If this post helped you, you can use our Tesla referral code when ordering a new Model 3, S or X. You’ll get 1,000 free miles worth of supercharging if you do.
FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.
Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.