The Tesla Model S is one of the most revolutionary cars of all-time, and its supporters and some of the motoring press have hailed it as the greatest car of all-time. While many tout the fact that the lithium-ion powered motors eschew all of the moving parts of a traditional internal combustion engine, that fact only tells part of the story of the costs of maintaining a Tesla, especially long-term ownership costs once these cars are out of warranty.
As these cars age, we will see the true maintenance costs, and they will certainly be higher than early-adopters expected and possibly higher than many traditional gasoline-powered cars. Some of the maintenance costs are inherent to Tesla’s electric motor, but others are not inherent to its lithium-ion battery pack system, but rather the result of Elon Musk’s design for the chassis and other components. These are the reasons that the Tesla could be an expensive car for long-term owners and those who buy the EV on the second-hand market.
Replacement Lithium-Ion Battery
Tesla is offering owners 8-year warranties on the car’s lithium-ion battery, with a limit of 125,000 miles on 60kWh batteries and unlimited miles on the 85kWh modules. These batteries wear down with each charging cycle and using them in extreme temperatures can further decrease the usable life of the Tesla batteries. As of 2014, the batteries are estimated to cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to replace, but Tesla says they will sell them for $12,000 if needed once the vehicle is out of warranty. The average internal combustion engine costs roughly 10-20% of the respective vehicle’s MSRP, meaning that the cost to replace most gasoline engines is typically around $2,000 to $4,000. The days of a gasoline engine making it to 100,000 miles being an achievement are long gone, and most modern engines are capable of reliably making it to 200,000 or 300,000 miles without major work.
Tesla’s Modular Components
Tesla has been battling the auto dealer lobby groups for the right to sell its cars directly to customers and the vehicle is difficult to obtain in many markets. While Tesla will send a technician out to the customer, there are still many issues that could prove costly down the road. How much will these service calls cost once the cars are out of warranty? Many of the technicians are presently showing up and replacing whole assemblies due to the car’s modular construction, but how much will it cost the consumer once they are no longer covered under Tesla’s warranty? Replacing a whole assembly when only one part of the assembly has failed could make owning a high-mileage, out-of-warranty Tesla vehicle a costly proposition, not to mention the cost of getting a Tesla technician out to your house under such circumstances.
Proprietary Parts and The Mothership Problem
The Tesla Model S is a highly innovative machine with many proprietary parts and tools that extend beyond the motor powering the EV. Try taking a Tesla to your local indie garage for suspension work or motor problems. Tesla parts are not widely available on the open-market and the machine’s advanced technology limits DIY’ers. Once the warranty has expired, many Tesla Model S owners could find themselves facing pricey repair bills for the vehicle’s running gear and miscellaneous rubber components that are considered wear items. Although the car eschews the moving parts of a gasoline engine, suspension and steering parts still exist and rubber degrades over time. Dealership visits could prove expensive for second and third owners of this high-tech vehicle filled with proprietary parts requiring proprietary tools for service. With only 30,000 Tesla vehicles on the road at the start of 2014, parts availability could become a concern down the road and those costs will only be amplified by the low number of techs trained on diagnostic and repair of the EV’s unique parts.
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