What’s the better choice? To buy a used Tesla Model S or a new Model 3? In this post, I write about the pros and cons of both options, what aspects to consider when making a decision, and how I would have decided today if faced with that choice.
The costs of both variants can be very similar. I suspect that this is the reason why many people who actually want a Model S consider the variant with a used Model S. The Model 3 scores in comparison to the used Model S with more modern technology. And this technology is currently making such massive progress in electric cars that a few years can make a real difference. Now in winter 2020, a new Model 3 LR (Long Range) will be available from about $46,490. Here is a screenshot from the Tesla website:
A used model S75D from 2016 costs with 35,593 miles as used car directly from Tesla $46,200.
As an example I will take a closer look at these two vehicles and compare the details. So let’s take a look at some known and less known advantages and disadvantages of the Model 3 compared to the used Model S:
For Tesla Model 3/Y 2017 2018 2019 2020
A used Tesla Model S…
- The Space The Model S clearly offers more space than the Model 3 and is the ideal touring sedan. The trunk with the large tailgate is unbeatable compared to the Model 3 and will only get serious competition with the Model Y.
- Two screens. Only the Model S and Model X offer the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel.
- More conservative interior design. The tidy interior of the Model 3 is and remains a matter of taste and not everyone likes it (of course, the opposite can also be true)
- Smart Air suspension. This function is not available in Model 3. Attention: On older Model S the air suspension only offers height adjustability and no change of damping.
- The sunroof was previously available as an option until around summer 2017. It is not available for Model 3. But the sunroof also has disadvantages.
- HEPA filter. This additional filter is not available for Model 3. Attention when buying a used car: For the first Facelift Model S cars from 2016 it was still optional.
- Wider seats than the Model 3 and larger interior.
- Older vehicles until about June 2017 still have real leather. (Yes I know, it is a matter of taste)
- Older vehicles have “Lifetime” free Supercharging (all Model S and Model X ordered BEFORE January 15, 2017 and not owned by Tesla as used cars).
- The design is no longer up to date and dates from 2012, but I think that the Model S has a timeless design.
- The battery technology of the Model S is still based on the older 18650 cell type. This also results in the following point:
- Slower fast charging capability. Due to the older type of rechargeable cell, older Model S batteries only charge at a maximum of about 98 to 150 kW, even under ideal conditions.
- The four-year factory warranty may already have expired or is about to expire for a model S of comparable price. The warranty on battery and drivetrain, however, should still be active at 8 years.
- The Pre-Raven Model S still have the old motors compared to all Model 3. The disadvantage is less efficiency and no one-pedal driving (recuperation to a standstill).
- The mileage. An older used car naturally has a certain mileage compared to a new car. However, this is relativized to a certain degree for an electric car, since one can assume that the motors have a very long lifetime.
- The infotainment computer (MCU) is still the MCU1 version in older cars, unless the previous owner has purchased an MCU upgrade. Disadvantages: slow operation and missing functions compared to the newer MCU2.
- The autopilot hardware in the older Model S is still AP1, AP2 or AP2.5. It was not until March 2019 that the AP3 hardware for fully autonomous driving was installed in the Model S. An upgrade is possible, but requires the purchase of FSD if the vehicle does not already have this option.
- The back seats are not heated in all Model S. This was an optional winter package until about fall 2017. Compared to the Model 3 SR+, the seat heating in the Model S cannot be purchased later.
- In Europe: The widely used CCS charging plug is optional for older Model S and only available at extra charge.
- No official trailer hitch from Tesla available.
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…or a new Model 3
- More modern design (which is, however, ultimately a matter of taste.)
- Better fast charging capability. With the more modern 2170 battery type, the Model 3 LR charges at Ionity charging stations and Supercharger V3 with up to 250 kW (depending on situation-related factors such as battery temperature).
- Europe: CCS charging plug is standard.
- The current generation of the autopilot computer for autonomous driving is installed (AP3). But to use the functions the FSD option is necessary.
- The infotainment computer (MCU) is up to date with the MCU2 and offers all functions (sentry mode, YouTube, Netflix, all games)
- Zero mileage of a new car and maximum warranty.
- Permanent-magnet synchronous reluctance electric motors offer higher efficiency and thus greater range. Furthermore, recuperation up to standstill is possible.
- New Model 3 from the end of 2020 will have a heat pump, which will reduce the range loss in winter caused by the interior heating.
- Also available with trailer coupling ex works.
- Full warranty is still left.
- Homelink (garage door control) costs extra (about 500 EUR). With Model S this function was standard until 31. May 2019.
- The trunk is not huge.
- Only one screen centered. This is ultimately a matter of taste and habit.
- No option for air suspension.
- No option for sunroof.
- No option for heated steering wheel. (but according to rumors this could happen for the new Model 3)
- Narrower seats than the Model S.
- No real leather. (This point is also a matter of taste, of course. But the imitation leather is excellent).
Less space on the back seats. In general the interior of the Model 3 is a bit smaller than the Model S.
Features of both vehicles
- Electric tailgate (it will also be standard on the new Model 3 from autumn 2020)
- The range can be different. Depending on which Model S you compare the new Model 3 with. Previously, the battery capacity was part of the model name (for example: Model S90D = 90 kWh, Model S75D = 75 kWh). An overview of the ranges.
- Connectivity. When you buy a used car directly from Tesla, premium connectivity is not included even for older cars. However, vehicles whose original order was placed before June 30, 2018 will have premium connectivity for the lifetime of the vehicle when sold privately. This connectivity is also retained for private sales. (To be on the safe side, you should check in the vehicle settings under “Software” to make sure that the vehicle really does have premium connectivity. This will be removed if the used car has been owned by Tesla meanwhile)
- Autopilot. The current autopilot without FSD included in the base model is approximately the same as the former autopilot with EAP. Only the automatic lane change is an advantage of EAP. Overview with a comparison.
- Full potential for autonomous driving (FSD). Older Model S from October 2016 on do not differ in FSD from a current Model 3 because with the purchase of FSD the autopilot computer of the Model S is upgraded to the AP3 version.
Who has the choice, is spoiled for choice
Personal circumstances, more precisely “one’s own lifestyle”, can also further influence the decision. For example, Model 3 is undisputedly not really as suitable for a family as Model S (even better would be Model X). But of course for most people the budget is also a essential point. Another alternative to reduce the price even further would be to buy an even older Model S. But the factor “more modern technology” is becoming less and less attractive. With new Software updates, the old AP1 autopilot no longer gets any new functions. So for fans of technology, autopilot, etc., the only choice is clearly the Model 3 or a Model S that can be upgraded with FSD.
If you decide to buy a used Model S, you should also consider private purchase. Vehicles from private sellers are usually cheaper and often have FSD or EAP compared to the used Tesla. Also, lifelong premium connectivity can be included in a private purchase. If you still want to search for a used Tesla car, you can also find one abroad. It can be financially very interesting to import a vehicle from the Netherlands to Germany (unfortunately not interesting for Swiss because of the customs). The Tesla CPO inventory is helpful in this search.
Personally, I would not overestimate the fast charging capability. With my Model S75D I like to travel long distances and charge at the Supercharger usually with 95 – 110 kWh when I arrive with about 10 to 20% battery condition. I think that’s absolutely fine and I don’t mind the 30-minute break every 2 to 2.5 hours at all (be careful when buying an 85 Model S and the reduction when fast charging). Of course, you would get more out of a newer generation of rechargeable cells but I don’t think that’s necessary compared to the Model S 75, 90 or 100 kWh battery. Much more important to me is the tailgate and the big trunk of my Model S. The only alternative for me is the Model Y, because the trunk of the Model 3 is simply not practical enough for me. And at the current time, I would personally do just that and wait for the Model Y launch in Europe.
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