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EARLY TESLA MODEL S GUIDE

(originally written Feb 18, 2021; latest update July 30, 2021)

Why? When I decided to buy a used Tesla, I spent a ton of time sorting through forums and reviews, trying to understand features and options, what years these options were available, what issues I might find, along with a basic understanding of what to expect from a non-combustion car. Despite always working on my vehicles, these cars are unique, so this was all very foriegn to me. Tesla changes things and there isn’t exactly a company-driven database for the consumer. This page gathers up what I learned…

PURCHASING
How Much Should You Expect To Pay?
The first Tesla was the Roadster, which was essentially a go-kart death trap. Then came the Model S, which was released in 2012, followed by the Model X in 2015. The S and the X are considered full-size luxury, while the newer 3 and Y are the mid-sized models with modest interiors. There were quite a few 2013 and 2014 Model S cars available when I bought mine in early 2021, and the price for them was very roughly $30,000. At this price, I could expect a lower mileage 60 or 85 series or a higher mileage P85 or 85D (Performance or Dual Motor) model. These early years do not have any sort of autonomy capabilities since they do not have the hardware to do so, nor is it worth the money and effort to retrofit them. The first AutoPilot cars came off the assembly line in Sept 2014, and the models capable of Full Self-Driving did so in Oct 2016.* All cars made after these periods came from the factory with the most current hardware of that era built-in, so you only need to pay for Tesla to unlock these features remotely. I was just looking to get my feet wet in the EV market and had planned to finance half the car, so I set $30k as my limit.

* as of Spring 2021, truly-autonomous Full Self-Drive (Autosteer on City Streets) is still not possible except to beta testers, but the package does offer many other capabilities. In July 2021, Tesla announced that "FSD-capable" cars built before 2019 would need to upgrade to the HW3 hardware at the owner's expense.

I found a private seller with a very well-maintained 2013 Model S 85 with under 48,000miles. The car included the Tech Package (pretty much a must-have when looking at cars built before April 2015) with parking sensors, Smart Air Suspension (SAS), Panoramic Roof, performance seating (which I believe means it has contrasting piping and is less likely to show wear due to the Alcantara bolsters), the 19” Cyclone wheels (standard on 85 cars) had been replaced at some point by the staggered 21” Arachnids with fresh tires on the rear set, and still had nine months of the battery/drive warranty. This second owner, who had bought it used from Tesla, had receipts of the drive unit being replaced in Dec 2020 with the latest -Q iteration along with an alignment. A bonus was that the Free Unlimited Supercharging and Free Unlimited Premium Connectivity stuck with it. He let it go for $28,500, which I felt was pushing $3000 under fair market value. I found that at a certain point, say half the MSRP, their market value tends to drop $3000 a year. So, if you find that most Model S cars of a certain year are priced around $30k, expect to pay roughly $36k for a Model S that is two years newer with the same autonomy level unlocks.

Note that between February and July 2021, prices for used Teslas had risen about 20% ...along with most used cars.

Early Model 3 vs Earlier Model S
Generally speaking, compared to a 2012-2014 Model S, you can probably find a single motor 2017-2018 Model 3 with 25-40k miles in the low $30k range (March 2021) from a private seller. You'd also be able to upgrade to Full Self-Drive on a Model 3. The FSD would need to be purchased for $10,000 (or leased at $199 a month), but it's a capability that the pre-Oct 2016 Model S cars will never have. Performance-wise (0-60 & range), the early Model S and early Model 3 cars are almost identical, so that's a draw. Where the Model S shines is the bigger Infotainment, the additional dash screen, and the spacious cargo area (even with the rear seats up). The Model 3 has a tight trunk opening that is similar to a Mazda compact, whereas the Model S has a liftback that lets you lay cargo within it - unlike an SUV where you have to kind of push things into it from the back. Dropping a mountain bike into my Model S is a breeze compared to the Jeep Grand Cherokee that it replaced. For cargo, the Model S is basically a station wagon in disguise. However, there is a reason the Model 3 is known as the "cockroach of California" - it's everywhere because it is Tesla's best bang for the buck, especially if you want to go Dual Motor on a budget. The 2017 Model 3 Long Range RWD does have an edge in range due to their efficiency (how many kWh it uses to go 100miles), but the older Model S cars have free Supercharging. The less-ubiquitous, more luxurious Model S has a bit more mystique to it, which may make it more satisfying to drive for those willing to sacrifice the newer software features.

Note that the earliest version of AutoPilot became available in late 2014.

How Much Range Do You Need?
The first couple of months, I was using the standard household outlet to recharge at 4mph. This did cause me weekly range anxiety, fearing I'd not have enough recharged by morning. The average driver, on an average day, ventures out for about a 40mile roundtrip. However, there are days when I'll put more than 100miles on and that used to make me nervous if I had something else planned the next day. A lot of that anxiety was alleviated when I added a 30A charger to recoup 17mph.

However, even with a solid home charging option, the real problem is that no amount of home charging helps when you're going on day trips. Personally, I find a 250mile range to be the minimum for my needs. This is because I occasionally drive to Orlando from Tampa, and my destination is a 175mile roundtrip (this doesn't include "phantom drain" as the car keeps itself cool while parked there). That meant, for my budget, I chose the 85 model over the 60 and 70 since I didn't want to sit at a Supercharger for an hour each time I went. A used Model S 85 with a battery degradation of 5% has a range of about 251miles ...and only if we remember to fully charge before leaving. In a worst case scenario, subtract 30% due to the highway not regenerating power, and the car has a range of only 176miles. So on the way back from Orlando, I usually stop at the Supercharger in Kissimmee or Lakeland for twenty minutes, just to give me a cushion of at least 40miles.

There are a few solutions to the range issue, but they will all come at a price: 1) a Model S 90D (or a Model 3 Long Range) could do the mentioned trip without a Supercharger, but were well beyond what I budgeted; 2) if the destination has a public charger that is conveniently on-site and available upon arrival; 3) rent a car for the long distance vacations.

Badging: 85 vs 85D vs P85 vs P85+ vs P85D vs P85DL vs P85D+
The Model S 85 vehicles were predominantly single-motor, RWD cars with an 85kWh pack, while the "D" signified dual-motor. The standard was the 85, which came with 19" rims. The 85D added a second standard motor up front for AWD. The performance-minded P85 came with 19" rims but saw improved acceleration via a larger motor and a different drive inverter - the inverter converts DC from the battery into AC to power the motor. The P85+ added the $10,000 Plus Package consisting of staggered 21" Turbine rims with sportier tires, upgraded shocks (though the air suspension could be optioned), added stabilizer bars to reduce body roll, and had beefier/stiffer suspension bushings* for tighter geometry. The P85D is the 85D with a larger motor at the rear and the standard motor at the front, along with the alternate invertor. The Model S P85D+ was the ultimate in Tesla performance back in 2014. Apparently, everything else could be spec'd-out identically between all of the models from that year's options list. Any car with an "L" in the description signifies that it has Ludicrous Mode unlocked, and it is the one identifier that is not part of the badging on the rear-passenger portion of the vehicle.

* I believe these improved bushings eventually became standard? These are likely in all of the link and control arms, so it could be at least twenty bushings, by my rough count ...not exactly a simple upgrade for a regular 85. Also, Tesla offered a Plus retrofit package for the 85 cars, but did not include the stabilizer/sway bars because the installs were too involved.

While the single-motor P85 is much quicker than the dual-motor 85D, some report the 85D to feel more refined. The consensus in 2014 seemed to be that the P85 was not worth the additional $10,000 over the base 85 model, however the P85+ rates far superior. Casual drivers have complained about the Plus Packages being too sporty, regarding steering input and stiff suspension. In 2015, Tesla offered Ludicrous Mode as an over-the-air unlock, but a Perfomance-badged car was required to purcahse this option. The downside, especially with Ludi Mode, was that many joked that the P85+ seemed to be designed solely to destroy tires ...but that was really up to the driver's foot. Some owners reported that they were much happier swapping stock 19" rims onto their P85+ for improved tread longevity, reduced risk of sidewall and rim damage, reduced road noise, and improved ride comfort over performance.

Private Sellers vs Dealers
The best prices are going to be private sellers. I prefer these since you get to meet the person and see the car exactly how they’ve treated it. Also, they can provide additional history you simply will never get from a dealer, and may even have easy access to repair records. Tesla CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) tends to run the most expensive, especially for 2015+ cars. In recent years, Tesla’s inspection process has been minimized, so don’t believe that any of their used cars are in top “certified” condition. Instead, they give you a 1year/10,000mile extended warranty to cover anything they might miss during their very basic inspection. Also, if you order one from a CPO across the country, you will pay shipping on a car you actually haven’t seen since they use a single stock photo. Third party dealers seem the least favorable to me because they provide no benefits like history or warranty.

One of the issues some people have with Tesla, is the way the company allegedly treats old contracts, changes agreements, or amends their policies. For instance, Free Unlimited Supercharging (FUSC) is something the earlier vehicles could be optioned with (though all 85 series vehicles came with FUSC standard) and has been historically transferable. However, there are instances where buyers of used cars claim this feature was removed after transfer of ownership - if not simply a matter of people confused about their car’s history, which I believe is almost always the case. With a Telsa, such features can be shut off remotely, though I’ve not come across an occurrence of anything major. Again, I think a lot of the problems here involve confused buyers not being diligent in their research, which admittedly, is pretty difficult. Well, aside from them shutting down the ability to even pay for Supercharging on people that have rebuilt Teslas - this is true and seems to be done in an attempt to get these cars off the road because it can become a real hassle if the owners travel. I'm not a big fan of some of Tesla's business practices, but every manufacturer has a checkered history.

One of the shady practices of Tesla’s is the CPO enabling every used vehicle that comes through their doors to its maximum autonomy of the car’s included hardware. This is great for the budget buyer looking for a deal on a car with those capabilities, but it also instantly raises the value of a 2017+ trade-in that they have received as a standard-optioned vehicle by $10,000 with a mere keystroke. Furthermore, this upgrade is linked to the owner (understand that Unlimited Supercharging is linked to the car), so they can do this over and over on the same car until every Tesla owner has paid for Full Self-Drive. To me, this practice seems like a great way for Tesla to cover the cost of Premium Connectivity for everyone that buys a vehicle from the Certified Pre-Owned inventory, yet still turn a profit. The downside is, don’t expect to go to the CPO and find a deal on a non-unlocked car you plan to upgrade later as funds become available.

Model S Warranty Periods
The warranties are transferable, and currently are:
Mechanical: 4 years or 50,000 miles
Supplemental Restraint System: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Battery and Drive Unit: 8 years or 150,000 miles
Purchase via Tesla CPO: adds 1 year or 10,000 miles of Mechanical

Insurance Costs
Expect your premiums to go up, especially in the first year of ownership, which could substantially offset the money you're saving on fuel. There are two reasons for this, with the first being that service work on Teslas is still specialized. There simply are only so many shops that receive certification training for their repair, even cosmetically. And Tesla themselves can be finicky on what cars they will service - they have been known to refuse to touch aftermarket parts. They may work on cars with aftermarket parts (like adjustable camber links), but they will certainly avoid installing them. They will also refuse to work on, or help you, with any car that has ever been deemed salvaged - this is due to safety concerns. For example, replacing hardware that needs to be married to a car with a rebuilt title? Good luck.

Secondly, insurance prices tend to be high due to Tesla’s parts manufacturing. Prices for these run very high because you can’t just buy a part of an assembly, you have to buy the whole unit. This causes a good number of Teslas to be totalled out where most common cars wouldn’t. For example, the cabin air filter on a Model X is at least 1ft by 3ft. However, this paper filter is permanently glued into a massive plastic frame. You can’t just purchase the paper element alone, you have to purchase the entire $500 assembly. eBay has a large and lucrative parts market for Teslas due to this very reason. On the bright side, I played with my Progressive quotes and found that when I renew after one year of ownership, my premium should go down about 25%.

Free Unlimited Premium Connectivity (lifetime) &
Free Unlimited Supercharging (lifetime)

These are both grey areas, which is due to how confusing the changing policies were over the years. So, some people might think they had one offer when they were actually part of another at the time of purchase. Understand that when the word “ordered” is mentioned on the Tesla site, it is referring to the purchase of a new and a used vehicle - to clarify, a used vehicle in their CPO fleet is still “ordered.”

Regarding the Model S, X, and 3 fine print, the Tesla site currently states that any [Supercharge-capable] S, X, or Premium Interior-spec 3 ordered before July 2018 received lifetime Free Unlimited Premium Connectivity (FUPC) and that any Tesla ordered July 1 or later, did not get this perk. Understand that FUPC is linked to the vehicle, not the owner: because, according to this mid-2018 change, it is implied here that an owner could not move his/her FUPC into a new 2019 vehicle. Standard Connectivity only includes Navigation, where Premium includes everything else, including live traffic, satellite maps, and music streaming. As of January 2020, orders through Tesla CPO come with a thirty day trial period of Premium Connectivity. After the trial period, Premium Connectivity will be a subscription of $10 a month.

Historically, FUPC has always transferred with the vehicle between private sellers until the death of the car. Unfortunately, the Feb 2021 fine print states that FUPC may be removed once the car receives “retrofits or upgrades required for any features or service externally supplied to the vehicle - e.g. telecommunications network.” I figured this relates to the upgrade from the MCU1 to MCU2 (see below), since it upgrades the Infotainment from 3G to LTE. But according to a Dec 2020 forum post by TeslaTap, "all the 3G cars have lifetime connectivity, which remains even with the LTE upgrade." I did call a Tesla Service rep in Feb 2021, who stated that the MCU2 upgrade should not affect my FUPC and that the procedure usually takes less than four hours.

The previous owner of my car showed me that Free Unlimited Supercharging (FUSC) was on his Tesla CPO order sheet (I saw that he paid $40,400 for the 2013 S85 in July 2019 with 18,000 miles). Unfortunately, the policy on FUSC is confusing because there currently isn’t a detailed FAQ regarding its transfer on their site like FUPC. It gets convoluted, but according to what I gathered, all vehicles ordered up until Jan 2017 were equipped with FUSC and this was linked to the vehicle until its death. For orders after this deadline (though I’ve read stories of owners getting it beyond this due to reconciliation for delivery delays), owners were given FUSC for as long as they personally owned that particular vehicle. Somehow, mine made it through the Tesla Certified Pre-Owned system in 2019 with FUSC intact. So, maybe the 2017 policy change applies to new vehicle orders only, rather than the CPO vehicles that already had it? Apparently, up and through 2016, you could continue to add FUSC as an upgrade to any 40 or 60 Model S for $2500, no matter when you bought it. Currently, you can only get free Supercharging through new car incentives, but these are generally limited to a thousand miles and/or a year in duration. Be aware that free Supercharging costs Tesla a large sum every year, so I believe the company is doing what it can to eliminate FUSC through attrition. In 2021, they phased out the thousand free miles of Supercharging you could get per referral.

According to one owner, his Tesla Account stated this in October 2018, under Supercharging: "You have free, unlimited Supercharging for your current Tesla vehicle...If you choose to sell your current Tesla, free Supercharging will transfer to the next owner. In addition, up to five friends you refer will also receive free Supercharging. Read our Supercharging terms." No chance of confusion there. Mine does not say anything this obvious.

Verifying Premium Connectivity & Free Supercharging
To easiest way to verify if the car has Free Unlimted Premium Connectivity (FUPC), click the car icon at the bottom left of the Infotainment screen, then select the "Software" tab. Under the VIN there should be a heading saying "Premium Connectivity" and under that, it will either give you an expiration date or say "Included Package" (if it has an active account). If it says "Included Package," that means that the car was given unlimited access at the time of the order and has it free for life.

You can only do this next method once ownership has been transferred within Tesla’s database, otherwise you would have to ask the current owner to show you their account. Log in to the Tesla Account website (not the app) on a computer, find the vehicle and click “Manage,” then click on “Details.” This appears to show the Specs and Upgrades of the original order since mine still shows the 19” Cyclone wheels. However, it lists No Driver Assistance (twice, for some reason) and No Ludicrous under Specs, both of which didn’t even exist until July 2015. My Car Details are indicating that I have FUSC and FUPC in the Specs section - strangely, it also shows FUPC in the Upgrades section. Knowing that my FUSC definitely transferred, I am thinking that you want to see these in the Specs portion for the greatest chance of transferability. Also to note, this window very oddly does not show the Tech Package or Smart Air Suspension for my vehicle.

There are two other ways to check if the car has Free Unlimited Supercharging (FUSC). One way is to get in the car and click on the lightning bolt at the top left of the Infotainment screen. In the bottom right of this battery level window, you will see the “Supercharging” heading. If it says “No Recent Supercharging,” that is a good sign - mine said this before and after transfer of ownership. If instead says "Paid Supercharging" or shows a dollar amount (even $0.00), then it does not have FUSC. The second, and most for-sure way to find out, is to go to a Supercharger station and plug it in. A few days after transfer of ownership, I still had no credit card info attached to my account, but drove to the closest Tesla Supercharger station, and simply plugged it in. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but it immediately started pulling 33kW without any prompting! Mine continues to show “No Recent Supercharging” and FUSC does not bother to display last location within the car- it can be accessed through the Tesla website.

Transfer of Ownership in Tesla’s Database
This is pretty simple, but also kind of crazy. I was halfway home when the previous owner texted me that he was unable to release the vehicle without first doing a Factory Reset from the Infotainment screen inside the car. This requires the seller’s credentials. Once he texted me his email and password, the car quickly reset, and then he was able to release it from his online Tesla Account, and the website requested my email. Since I had already set up a Tesla Account the day prior with that email, this automatically added the car to my account. Only took a couple minutes and I was actually still out running errands when we did this procedure.

The Tech Package
In late 2013, this was a ~$3500 option that included:
- turn by turn navigation (became std in Mar 2015)
- LED cornering lights
- fog lamps (discontinued from Tech Pkg Feb 2013 and offered for $500)
- Homelink for garage doors
- keyless entry with auto present door handles
- convenience lighting (lights the ground when a door is opened)
- hi-def back-up camera
- power liftgate
- chrome accents on rear center bottom bumper
- chrome front air intakes
- memory seats
- memory mirrors and steering wheel (introduced in Feb 2013)
- daytime running lights (became standard after Sept 2013)
- power folding/heated mirrors (introduced late 2013)
- parking sensors were a separate $500 option that were added to the Tech Package mid-2014
My first Tesla is not autonomy-capable, so I personally cannot imagine owning a Tesla without the Tech Package features to bridge that coolness gap a little. They add so much enjoyment to the vehicle and every one of them puts a smile on my face every day that I drive it.

Smart Air Suspension
This option was available for $2250 if you chose to get the Tech Package. The SAS system replaces the standard coil spring suspension with four large air struts containing pneumatic springs, driven by a pump. Via the Infotainment screen, you can adjust the height to four levels. The lowest setting can be programmed to engage above a set speed to reduce wind drag at higher speeds, thus improving efficiency. The two taller heights over standard can be programmed to raise each time the vehicle approaches a set GPS location (aka geo fencing) to reduce scraping of the undercarriage over dips or the doors on sidewalks. Be especially mindful of proper toe-in settings (see above) with this option.

Panoramic Sunroof
This was a $1500 option for 2012, but had been raised to $2500 for 2013. This sunroof was notorious for leaking, and the culprit is usually drain tube failure from dirt or disintegration. This can cause the water to back up and flood over into the interior - Tesla’s service department fix is to periodically blow them out with compressed air. This flooding had become such a problem, along with the sunroof shattering, that the option was discontinued in 2018.

The panoramic sunroof can make a noise, that sounds like a dull rattle just above the rear view mirror. It can be constant or intermittent. To resolve this, open the sunroof and look for the black, metal tab at the front of the glass - it will be directly above the center console. Get some cloth tape, and wrap this tab (two layers is enough) to reduce the noise caused by it tapping against the front of the sunroof frame when closed.

Drive Unit Issues
Just about every early Tesla has gone through at least one drive unit, with me reading about some cars receiving three or four of them. I think this was especially true for the 2012-2017 vehicles as the bugs were sorted out by their engineering department. These “growing pains” are something that the traditional manufactures who are just now entering the market will likely contend with. The drive unit is the entire motor assembly, and back in the day, Tesla was swapping them out willy-nilly. The earliest symptom for replacement was any sort of grinding or scraping noise from the unit under acceleration. The first iteration was -A, and the most current iteration is -Q for early 2021. When replaced, the vehicle usually receives a remanufactured unit that is rebuilt to the most current specs. One of the key updates is the use of ceramic bearings. Elon insists a lot of these units were replaced that didn’t need to be, but as mentioned earlier, there were/are no individual parts. This problem is said to be exacerbated by continuous hard acceleration, as the switch to ceramic bearings was due to their ability to withstand the high temperatures resulting from this type of driving. However, even if the bearings were the only issue, the entire motor was automatically replaced. On the upside, this error had dramatically cut down on the wait time to get the cars back on the road compared to a traditional vehicle blowing a motor.

General Things To Look For
Some of the more obvious issues that might present are paint chips, windshield chips, and rim scuffs. Teslas seem to be very susceptible to all of these issues, especially the rims if they have the 20" or 21" option. Many vehicles nowadays have less durable paint than others, especially when compared to older cars. This has a lot to do with modern paints being water-based, and I first noticed this on my 2014 Aprilia RSV4. Luckily, Tesla offers a kit that will yield excellent results if you're patient. On the plus side, a peppered front end might give you an advantage when negotiating the price if you don't mind spending a few hours correcting your paint. I've also had good luck with do-it-yourself windshield chip repair kits.

Another common cosmetic issue is that the front bumper frames can rust. This rust will then drip and find its way out from behind the fog lamp area and leave light orange streaks across the fascia. It seems Tesla was unable to fully paint the insides of these metal structures and some owners, like me, noticed rusty streaks after washing the car. After months of ownership, I have only noticed this twice, once after a wash and once after a big rain. I've read of some vehicles getting this corrected through Tesla, but that option has probably expired. I haven't tried, but removing the front fascia and sealing these areas off is probably the best option.

One major item to look for is coolant leaks. There is a coupling at the front of the battery frame that connects the coolant in the car with the collant in the battery. The car essentially splits into two pieces: the passenger body that lifts off of the battery frame. There is also an electrical connection up front that links the two halves of that system together. The two o-rings of the coolant connections can become damaged during assembly, or just begin to leak after several years. Also, if the car took an impact to the undercarriage, it could leak elsewhere. Take a look under the car, checking the entire area between the front and rear wheels. Run your hands along the bottom of the car, below the doors. Any signs of a dripping or wetness? These repairs require the body to be lifted from the battery, so are not fixable in 99.9% of consumer garages.

Make sure all the door handles present and all the exterior and interior lights turn on. You may see dead bugs in the tail lights, but this is common. My front speakers were blown, due to the foam surrounds rotting away - they sounded like the frame was rattling against the door during lower frequencies (this is sometimes referred to as "farting"). Be sure to check the EQ on the Infotainment because turning the low frequencies down can mask this.

How many remote key fobs are there? I believe the Model S and X came with two during original purchase - Model 3 and Y come standard with entry cards. I dropped one of my fobs after about a week of ownership, and it started to eat through batteries within 24hrs. These will cost at least $85 from third parties (though they seem authentic) and Tesla sells them for the Model 3 and Y for $150. I could not locate a Model S or X fob in the Tesla Shop, but the forums mention they cost $235 through the Tesla service centers. The third party vendors indicate that the ones they sell should function across all vehicle models, though. Otherwise, the app will work just fine except that the car will not passively unlock nor will the door handles auto-present unless there is a key fob nearby.* Passive unlock means the car will unlock when the fob comes within three feet of the vehicle, at which point it will also present the door handles.

* I have seen owners state that the older fobs for the Model 3 did not have passive unlock capability, but the newer ones do. So there may be some difference in the fobs.

Don't be surprised if panel fitment isn't precise. I have a piece of chrome trim on the rear window that doesn't exactly flow to the front window trim as I'd like. I have found this is not entirely uncommon in brand new Teslas* and I noticed my friend's new Model Y had a larger gap between the hatch and the left tail light than the right when we picked it up - I guess this requires quite a bit of work to adjust and I am not sure she ever bothered taking it up with Tesla. The lower part of the front doors on her Model Y also looked off, but comparing it to others on the lot, they all had this same appearance. This did not appear to be an assembly flaw and may have something to do with how the vehicle pulls the door in to shut it. I imagine fitment issues are best resolved when mentioned during new deliveries, and doubt they will fix these problems for free on one that is out of warranty. Just keep this all in mind.

* I suspect this might have a little to do with Tesla trying to meet production goals: even if someone notices a minor issue like panel fitment during assembly, they may keep it moving down the line to let the service centers deal with it later, just to keep up with new vehicle orders. Not the best practice, but they have deadlines ...that they sometimes fail to meet.

Wheel Choices
I have the 21" Arachnids in silver. The standard size for all Teslas is either 18" or 19", which provide less road noise and a more comfortable ride - those who can live without the low-pro look will be better off with the stock rims. The 20" and 21" upgrades will get you better performance (mine corners like a slot car), but you are going to hear more road noise, notice more road imperfections, will have to be more weary of curbs and potholes, lose a little bit of battery range, and feel it in your wallet. The stock tire for my staggered 21" rims is the Michelin Pilot Super Sport with Acoustic Tech (245/35x21 and 256/35x21). May 2021 pricing for a set of four is nearly $1500. Owning a Tesla with 18x8.5 or 19x8.5 rims, you can purchase a square set (not staggered) of Pilot Sport 3 Max tires for about $400 less.

Understand that Michelin's 30,000 mile warranty does not apply to staggered rims since you can't properly rotate them. Instead, they offer a 15,000 mile warranty on them. Some owners complain of replacing their rear 21" Super Sports every 12,000 miles or less, but that likely depends on the abuse the tires take. An alternative to 21" Michelins is the Falken Azenis FK510, with a price of about $850 a set.

Brake dust on these cars are worse than anything I have ever owned. My silver rims look dirty very quickly, and are a giant pain to clean. My advice is, if you have a choice, choose a darker colored wheel set. One strategy I have found to clean them is to buy one of those "sponges on a stick" you use to clean drinking glasses, which will allow you to reach in through the spokes.

Battery Degradation
One of the big concerns from prospective buyers is the threat of lithium-ion battery degradation and/or total failure. I’m not sure why this is a big deal really, given that combustion engine cars are notoriously at risk to have their power source fail after 150,000 miles? Right now, we have no idea how long the current run of Tesla batteries will last, but Elon Musk suspects at least 200,000-300,000 miles should not be an issue ...maybe even 500,000 miles. They may not die, but I’m sure we’re going to see some substantial range loss (degradation) at that point. Recently, Musk has promised that a new battery is coming that is expected go one million miles.

Degradation is a complex problem and there are many factors that affect battery life. But it seems heat is the biggest culprit concerning EV (electric vehicle) battery failures. The Nissan Leaf was the first vehicle to show this issue, with Arizona cars experiencing abnormally high degradation rates. Those Leafs rely on a passive cooling system to reduce battery temperatures, whereas, even the earliest Teslas incorporate an active liquid thermal management system for the battery. This system is designed to cool the battery even when the car is parked. Newer Teslas (2018+) have focused on improving battery cooling measures further, especially during harder/aggressive driving and Supercharging. These improvements help make these new batteries capable of handling V3 Supercharging at 250kW with minimal effect on the battery's expected life. There are actually a multitude of unexpected protocols in the software to protect the battery. For instance, at very low temperature, the battery can degrade if being charged. So, in colder weather, the car limits the regenerative braking to avoid damaging the battery.

The next most problematic factors are charge cycles and depth of discharge. A charging cycle basically refers to a full charge from 1%-100%, so it would take many small charges to equal one charge cycle. Obviously, higher mile cars have a higher number of theoretical charge cycles, so there's not a lot you can do about that. However, keep in mind that the benefit of a larger battery capacity of a Tesla, compared to a Leaf, means there are less required charge cycles for the same mileage. Depth of discharge (DOD) is how much you deplete the battery before plugging it back in. Obviously, the further you go, the more battery you use up. Not only does depleting your battery down to lower levels increase battery degradation from DOD, but now you are using almost a full charge cycle to bring that back up ...you can see how these two factors play a role together.

OWNERSHIP
Degredation Prevention
So, continuing from the "Battery Degredation" just above, what steps can we take to prolong battery life? One way is to limit the times we top the battery to 100%, only doing so when needed, like the day prior to a long trip - this is why the charging limit screen shows the final bar as "Trip." It is generally recommended to limit the charge to 90% of the capacity to help maximize battery longevity. Try to keep the battery above 10% and always avoid letting it fully discharge to reduce further damage. There is also a safety net regarding capacity to help prevent total depletion, being that 0% is not actually 0% - the car will shut down even though there is still some charge remaining. Tesla recommends that you keep the vehicle plugged in whenever possible, allowing the battery to receive a healthy trickle charge, even stating this helps the battery perform better. Parking vehicles in the shade will assist the active system at maintaining a cooler battery. Aggressive driving will heat up the battery more, so resisting the urge to stomp the accelerator will help prevent battery wear (and motor wear). Also to note, when you choose a Tesla Supercharger on your Navigation map, the vehicle automatically starts the protocols to prepare the battery for Supercharging.* So don’t just drive to the Supercharger - let the car know your intentions.

* This seems most important in cooler climates or short drives to a Supercharger. From my understanding, this is to give the vehicle a chance to warm the battery to 70*F which prevents [battery crystallization]. As of now, I don't believe there is any way to manually initiate the battery conditioning for a non-Tesla DC fast charging station outside of Navigation.

Personally, I set my top-out at 85-90% of the total capacity. The previous owner did so and it seems that my Oct 2013 had less than 5% degradation when I purchased it in Feb 2021, which is phenomenal by most accounts. Several eight year studies have shown that 2012-2013 Tesla Model S batteries are showing, on average, well within 10% battery degradation. At a 10% loss, that equates to the range of a Model S 85 dropping from 265miles to 238miles - a 26mile loss isn't much when you have a larger battery. This is an impressive statistic, especially when you think back to the passive-cooling Leaf, where some cars in very hot climates were exhibiting 20% degradation in only a few years - a drop from a 73mile range to 58miles.

State of charge (SoC) is how full the battery currently is. The least stressful SoC for a battery pack is 50%, and the closer to 0% and 100% it gets, the more stressful the SoC. Also, the longer it sits at the ends of the spectrum, the more stress the battery continues to endure. Tesla Service Centers seem to recommend a 90% state of charge limit as this might be the best compromise between battery health and range readiness. If range isn't a concern, maintaining a charge between 40% and 60% is likely the most desirable state.

Another factor that is rumored to reduce battery degradation is limiting the amount of DC fast charging the car receives, especially to 100%. This includes Tesla Superchargers and any other public high amperage chargers provided by third parties. According to independent research by Electrek in 2020 on Tesla data through 2017, the average Tesla owner sees about 5% degradation in 100,000miles. Oddly, they found that the 90kWh batteries seemed to degrade faster than the 85kWh packs. At the time of the study, Electrek had access to a Model X 90D used in the Tesloop (Tesla's one-way rental program in California) that had a battery failure at 317,000miles in 2018, but was showing signs of 10.5% degradation at almost 100,000miles on the two year old replacement 90kWh pack. Electrek suspected this Model X's accelerated degradation was linked to the new chemistry being used in the 90kWh packs, but also worsened by the likelihood of numerous DC fast charging to 100%.

Supercharging
As for Supercharging (SC; how Tesla refers to their Level 3 direct current fast charging technology), some users suspect that Supercharging degrades the battery faster than home charging, with the slow and steady standard outlet arguably the best. I'd wager this true, to some degree, given that the newer cars with improved battery cooling can handle higher Supercharge loads, but Tesla claims that Supercharging does not degrade the battery and there have been users who prove this by driving their cars back and forth across the country (despite what I mentioned above). According to Tesla, Supercharger units are designed to manage the charge, depending on the vehicle’s history/needs. For instance, Tesla claims that vehicles frequenting the Superchargers more than once a day may receive lower-rated charges at these facilities to help reduce degradation. This protocol will also go into place depending on the car's depth of discharge history. Here's a 2017 article explaining how Tesla adjusts their Superchargers to limit degredation of their batteries. However, some owners have complained about this throttling practice - it would be nice if there was some literature on this and an Infotainment option. I am currently unsure if non-Tesla DC fast charging is compatible with the Tesla Supercharging throttle algorithm I just mentioned, but that article implies that it is. Given that, when Tesla cruely turns off the Supercharging capability of a salvaged/rebuilt car it also hinders the car's ability to accept third party DC fast charging - this leads me to believe the car does all the math on its own. Also, the Tesla Shop sells an adapter for CHAdeMo (the brand of charger mentioned in that article), so I am more inclined to believe the vehicle is controlling the throttling rather than the charging station.

The rate a Supercharger will replenish a battery is dependent on several factors, including temperature. But the main factor seems to be the vehicle's state of charge (SoC), or how depleted the battery is. The 120kW-rated Superchargers should recharge an empty Model S 85 in about 75mins. Some models, like the Model Y Performance can draw larger pulls off the 250kW-rated Superchargers and refill in half the time - maximum draws are dependent on the vehicle's hardware and software. My second SC experience, I had a SoC of 53% and was pulling about 34kW (equating to about 111mi/hr for my battery). One day later, I decided to hook up at a Supercharger with about 45% left, and the car was receiving 65kW (219mi/hr) until it reached 50% when it dropped to 33kW (111mi/hr). So, don't expect to recharge 50miles in 15minutes if the battery is at 75%. On my fourth trip to the SC, I had a SoC of about 26% (65miles left) and was initially getting 72 kW (250mi/hr) - I recharged back to 200miles in about 40mins, with it tapering to 37kW at that point. The Supercharger tapering-off is another counter-measure to prevent battery degradation.

When traveling long distances and Supercharging is required, the Tesla will generally advise to only charge long enough to get to the next SC rather than topping-off to 100%. This is for two reasons, with one being that filling a battery to the max can cause unnecessary stress to the pack. But the primary reason is that as the pack closes-in on 100%, the charge speed is greatly reduced to prevent damage. With this dramatic speed drop, it therefore becomes far more efficient to leap frog to the next Supercharger where the lower state of charge will allow a larger amperage pull. With this method, the car can recover the most miles in the shortest span of time. The software may calculate that it is more efficient to do two twenty minute chargers along the route than a single forty minute charge. If the computer plots a course that has you always approaching the next SC at 20% battery, this will reduce the amount of time you're sitting at a charging station to a minimum.

Another factor that dictates the charge rate is the number of vehicles sharing a power source at the charging stations. Stalls have an assigned number with a letter - the letters are the branches coming off an individual power source. You want your own numerical source for maximum charge, so choose a stall of a different number than the one(s) already being used. Also, choosing a letter branch with a car that is at least 80% full means they won't be using as much of that source (because their kW pull will be tapering off), leaving more for you. It would be nice if the Infotainment could tell us where to park for best performance, instead of asking and/or trying them out. Be weary that there is an idle fee if the sits in an SC with a topped-off battery for more than five minutes, but this only occurs when half the stalls are being used. You can log into your online Tesla account, then click on the history tab to get a rundown of your Supercharging kW usage via the monthly invoices.

For incredibly detailed information regarding Superchargers, check out this entry on TeslaTap.

Important note: Supercharging was not a standard feature on early Model S cars with batteries smaller than 70kWh, so be very mindful when purchasing one from the first few years. However, some 60 series cars had the $2000 optional hardware installed. The original Roadster does not have this ability either, but all other Tesla vehicles do. Not having DC fast-charging would make road trips extremely time consuming, if not downright impossible. Personally, I would avoid cars without this capability.

Home Charging
Superchargers use direct current (DC) to rapidly replenish the Tesla batteries, but home chargers use alternating current (AC) and rely on an onboard charger to convert this to DC, which can then be stored in the DC battery. A Supercharger bypasses this conversion unit since it is already providing DC power. Early Model S vehicles came with the Gen 1 Mobile Connector Bundle. This included a lightweight carry bag with the main 20' cable. At least two adapters were included: a NEMA 5-15 (standard household outlet) and a NEMA 14-50 (oven/RV/campsite outlet; 4-prong). The vehicle should also ship from the factory with a Tesla-branded SAE J1772 adapter (part# 167358-00-B) for use at public Level 1 and Level 2 EV charging stations (see below). The Gen 1 charger can transfer 40amps, which can equate to a recharge rate of 11kW/hour or 29miles/hour from a 50A outlet.* The Gen 1 may be the best all-around charger that Tesla has ever released. I found that if I am diligent at plugging into the 3-4miles/hour standard outlet (12A or 1.6kW/hr) every time that I get home, as Tesla prefers, my worries of running out of miles are minimal ...and that includes spending 24hrs at a fire station two to three times a week. I do have my Rubicon as a backup, though.

* the safe output from any home outlet into a continuous load is 80% of its rating, so 50 x 0.8 = 40.
Apparently, there was a run of Gen 1 chargers that could deliver 60A loads, but mine plainly says 40A on the sticker (it is an -E iteration, so I'm guessing the originals were 60A).

Tesla currently offers the Gen 2 Mobile Connector Bundle and the Gen 2 Corded Mobile Connector. In true Tesla fashion, you're forced to do extensive research outside of the Tesla Shop for exact differences. The standard equipment Gen 2 Mobile Connector (MC) is the cheaper and more versatile of the two. It includes the storage bag, the 20' cable, and a NEMA 5-15 dongle. The dongle can be swapped out for different outlets, so you can buy a few and be prepared for anything. However, unlike the Gen 1, this charger is limited to 32amps (4kW/hr). This equals about 23miles/hour even when connected to a NEMA 14-50 outlet, while the NEMA 5-15 still provides 3-4miles/hour to the Model S. To add confusion, sometimes the non-corded Mobile Chargers are referred to as the Universal Mobile Charger (UMC).

The Gen 2 Corded Mobile Connector (CMC) is almost twice the price of the usually sold out Gen 2 Mobile Connector above. "Corded" means there is no changeable dongle, as the NEMA 14-50 plug is hardwired directly to the unit. However, you could buy a third-party adapter to plug into something else. The benefit of this model is that it will allow a full draw of 40amps to the vehicle, just like the Gen 1 model. It only comes with a storage bag to keep it organized while on the go.

The Tesla Wall Connector is a stationary home charger that is hardwired to a home's circuit panel. The unit can be installed inside or outside and is eligible for a tax credit. The downside is that it cannot be taken with you. It is about the same price as the Gen 2 Corded Connector, but it can deliver up to 48A through the 18' cable. The 48A equates to a charge rate of 34miles/hour on all Model S vehicles, and up to 44miles/hour on certain Performance and Long Range models. The onboard charger inside the car, which converts the AC from the outlet into DC for storage in the battery, is one of the limiting factors here. The Standard Range Model 3 and Y models come with an onboard charger that does not have the power handling of the onboard charger inside the Model S, Model X, Performance, and Long Range vehicles (7.7kW vs 11.5kW+). This means the max amps the Standard vehicles can pull from the Wall Charger will be 32A (4kW/hr), which is the equivalent of the Gen 2 Mobile Connector. Model S cars made between 2012 and April 2016 are limited to 40A, while remaining non-Standard vehicles can pull up to 48A. Also to note is that there was an early, short-lived option to purchase a second onboard charger that would max the AC pull to 72A on a Model X or 80A on a Model S.

Regarding charge rates, it seems that you may see a drop in amperage throughout the charging process, as is the case when Supercharging. From my understanding, the onboard charger will charge the battery quicker in the beginning of the cycle, then reduce amperage as it nears the top-off point. This is definitely true when recharging the battery to 100% and is another protocol Tesla utilizes to extend battery life.

Highway Mileage is Different
The rated mileage for these vehicles seems to be calculated with city driving in mind. City driving provides plenty of opportunities for the vehicle to use regenerative braking to recharge the battery en route to the destination. In optimal conditions, the cars can regain approximately 30% of their battery discharge during decelerations. However, on the highway, the vehicle is in a near-constant state of high energy draw. The car's navigation does a good job at calculating this difference, so there's no real worry of an unexpected Supercharger search in the middle of nowhere. Just understand that if you ever plan to take a long trip via the highway, you're likely going to need to make more stops than you think.

For example, a trip from Orlando to Atlanta clocks in at about 440miles. The range of a fully-charged 2013 Model S 85 with 5% battery degredation is about 250miles. So, one might think that the battery would only require a single stop to recharge for an hour at the halfway point (Tifton, GA), leaving some miles to spare at the Atlanta destination. But since it is all highway, Tesla's Go Anywhere software (using an equivalent Model 3 Standard) predicts the need for three stops, totaling an hour and forty-five minutes on the Supercharger network. These calculations are echoed on EV Trip Planner. Keep in mind, if you leap frog to multiple Superchargers to maximize the power draw (lower states of charge = higher kW pulls = shorter charge times), you can shave off some of the downtime. In the Orlando-Atlanta example, EV Trip Planner calculates that you can reduce the total charging time by twenty minutes if you use five Superchargers along the same route.

Understanding Charge Rates Between Models
When comparing recharging rates between different models of Teslas, especially home charging, you may notice that a Model 3 recharges at a faster miles per hour than a Model S. This has to do with the model's efficiency, or how many kWh the car uses to travel 100miles. Efficiency is dictated by many factors that include the car's weight, horsepower, drag coefficient, motor type, and number of motors. The biggest factor seems to be that the earlier motors were an AC-induction type while the newer motors are a more efficient permanent-magnet type. In any case, a 2013 Model S 85 has an efficiency rating of 32kWh/100miles whereas the 2018 Model 3 Mid Range only uses about 23kWh to go 100miles. Since this Model 3 uses less power to go the same distance, it will appear to recharge mileage faster than the 2013 Model S even though it is recharging the battery at the same amperage. Using a 30A outlet, a Model S will recharge 17mph, while a Model 3 will recharge 22mph despite both cars drawing about 6kW/hour from the circuit. However, both of these cars have the exact same maximum trip range because the less efficient Model S has a larger battery to make up the difference.

Public Charging
Regarding the Tesla SAE J1772 adapter, it is a Type 1 AC adapter for use at public non-fast charging stations when an outlet or fast charger may not be available. It is compatible with both Level 1 and Level 2 charging and should be included with every Tesla. Level 1 allows for 120V at 20A, which is what a lot of electric vehicles come with for their home charging units. Level 2 provides about 240V at 40A, which is about what Tesla's original equipment home chargers are capable of. You can see there may be no benefit for using the J1772 and it is essentially there in case you don't have access to an outlet, like in a parking garage or are using an AC ChargePoint station (seem to range from 3 to 6kW/hr). Level 3 charging is DC fast charging (DCFC). The third party Level 3 chargers include CHAdeMO and CCS1. Currently, there is only a CHAdeMO adapter for Tesla and Tesla seems to be refusing to build a CCS1 adapter. Some third party EVgo DC fast chargers have the Tesla chargers installed on them.

Camber and Tire Destruction
This problem is most common on cars equipped with the Smart Air Suspension (SAS), though it can happen on spring suspension vehicles. The entire line of Teslas are considered sports cars, and so the wheel geometry is designed to produce that experience. This comes in the form of noticeably negative camber, especially on the rear tires when the SAS is fully-lowered. I saw this exaggerated negative camber on my rear wheels on the first day and immediately looked into it, since I had never owned a car like this. I found numerous, endless posts about owners tearing through tires in 5000 miles, with the innermost tread showing exposed cords. Cars equipped with wider 21” rims seemed to be the worst offenders and owners claimed the camber was the reason. This problem was evident from 2013 through several more years on the forums, with Tesla producing adjustable camber links to fix the issue for a short while, though they abandoned this.

I started considering purchasing adjustable camber links since the stock ones are solid from mount to mount. Then I found an entry on Edmunds in Sept 2013 (yes, 2013; *facepalm*), claiming the issue with their test car was not the correctly-set negative camber (as most cars they test in this class also have similar camber), but the out-of-spec toe of the rear tires. The rear toe is adjustable with the stock linkage, but it uses an eccentric cam where the bolt had apparently loosened or bumped out of position. If the rear end wiggles out of factory spec (which is toe-in) and settles into a toe-out situation, the high torque will quickly scrub the inside of the tires off when combined with this camber, as it did in their 2013 Model S. So the true solution doesn’t appear to be adjustable camber links, rather aftermarket toe links that eliminate the suspected eccentric cams. Some owners have instead gone the route of finding service shops that offer lifetime alignments. Go here to learn how to check your Model S’s toe at home.

MCU System Upgrade
Replacing the original MCU1, the MCU2 was rolled out May 2018. This is the entire Infotainment system and is also the hardware responsible for controlling the autonomy features. It's basically a computer tower with an attached screen that is stuck in the dash. Improvements of the MCU2 over the MCU1 include:
- Faster and smoother touch screen
- 5GHz Wi-Fi and LTE support (formerly 3G on MCU1)
- four times the memory (32MB eMMC)
- bluetooth album art
- video streaming (while parked, req’s Premium Connectivity or WLAN)
- Caraoke and TRAX (requires Premium Connectivity or WLAN)
- improved audio quality
- Dashcam and Sentry Mode (likely only 2017+)
- recording of Sentry Mode (must be AP2.5+ equipped)
- road visualization improved (must have AP3)
- side cam display while in reverse (no side cams on 2013 models)
- does remove analog AM/FM/XM radios since new unit is all digital
- - $500 upgrade will add digital FM/XM radio with improved reception

In Jan 2021, Tesla began offering owners of older cars containing the MCU1 the option to retrofit the MCU2 into their cars for a reduced price of $1500 (previously $2500). Not so coincidentally, this offer comes around the same time Tesla was ordered to recall and replace the original 8MB eMMC contained inside the MCU1 units. This multimedia chip is soldered onto a daughter board and is at risk of overfilling and crashing from all of the vehicle data that it stores. The new flash chip increases capacity to 32MB. You can either get the free eMMC swap or pay for the MCU2 retrofit with the updated flash memory - in my opinion, if you need the eMMC upgrade, you should probably get a further discount on the MCU2 upgrade since the unit will be out anyways. I spoke to a service rep that stated the MCU2 upgrade should have a day-of turnaround.

The way to confirm which MCU you have is to open the main menu on the Infotainment by clicking the car icon in the bottom left. Now click "Software" at the bottom left of this list, and then "Additional Vehicle Information." If it says "NVIDIA Tegra" in the processor field, then this is the MCU1 unit. The MCU2 uses the Intel Atom CPU.

From my understanding, the eMMC receives so much data that the original can fail within four years on cars with higher mileage. Unfortunately, it seems the new MCU2 was not reprogrammed to reduce the amount of writes the eMMC has to endure, so this problem is likely to remain ongoing even after the upgrade ...the failure may just take four times longer to occur. Indicators that the eMMC has failed could be a car not powering up, a black infotainment, a car unable to receive a charge, or a greatly reduced limit to mph.

Software Not Updating
If an update fails to download, the MCU may say something like "Connect to Wi-Fi" and the green progress bar on the Software screen will look like a small green dot. Go into the Safety & Security screen and select "Power Off" to shut the car off. If charging, the car may boot itself back up after a few minutes. Otherwise, wait five minutes and then press the brake pedal to wake the car. The download should then begin on its own. Some have reported the issue was related to the old eMMC being full on their MCU1, so the recall may need done if the above procedure doesn't work.

Resetting may also help, especially if the app fails to connect. Just hold the two scroll buttons on the steering wheel until the Infotainment screen turns black, then wait for it to reboot on its own. Here's info on the different methods to reboot a Tesla.

Road Noise
This seems to be most problematic in Model S vehicles with 21” wheels, likely due to the shallower sidewalls of the tires "amplifying" the sound of rubber churning over the road surface. This is the added price you pay for driving a car that doesn’t have a combustion engine making noise right in front of you: you notice every little sound. These low-profile tires are also less forgiving, so can tend to produce a slightly rougher ride than the 19” setups. The easiest solution to reduce road noise is to order a set of floor mats that help muffle the sounds coming through the undercarriage. One of the most-favored mats for sound deadening the Model S is the 3D MAXpider Kagu floor mats. I bought these mats and the fit is perfect. They were not as thick as I had expected, so I opted to dismiss the instructions and leave my stock mats in place to further muffle any noise. These mats do seem to reduce the road noise coming from the front wheels ...and they are far easier to clean and can catch spills.

Brake Pad Failure
With Teslas using regenerative braking, the brake systems are rarely pushed to any sort of limit. This reduces heating up of the pads to a level that evaporates condensation. Any water left on conventional brake pads has the potential to penetrate between the pad and the backer, breaking down the glue. This can eventually lead to the pad separating completely. The solution to this is to install galvanized brake pads that use a mechanical attachment method to bind the pad to the backer, eliminating the problematic glue. There is a company called NRS that makes them.

The Refresh
This is the term used for when Tesla released the "second generation" of the Model S in April 2016. I find it funny that some owners refer to their 2017+ as refresh models, as-if it was an option. The easiest way to tell the difference is the front bumper: any Model S built before April 2016 has a large black oval, while the refresh has a paint-matching front fascia with sleeker looking headlight internals. The refresh included an upgraded onboard charger that allowed for a 48A draw on alternating current supplies (household), rather than the original 40A. The update also allowed for the HEPA air filtration system option that is an additional giant activated charcoal filter with "bioweapon defense mode" to drastically reduce pollution levels inside the vehicle. Two new wood finishes were also added to the interior choices.

AutoPilot, Enhanced AutoPilot, and Full Self-Drive
This can get incredibly confusing due to the AutoPilot software having a designation and then the hardware having it's own designation. This is a basic outline of how things played out, but you can go here and here for more details. The current breakdown of features, direct from Tesla, can be found here. The most confusing part is that, as of July 2021, Full Self-Drive (FSD) still doesn't actually autonomously self-drive from destination to destination as the name implies - essentially, the option is a purchasable place holder until it releases beyond beta testing.

In Sept 2014, the AutoPilot hardware (AP1) was added via the "Tech Package with AutoPilot" option, although I've seen claims that all cars got this hardware no matter the purchase options. The easiest way to identify the earliest cars with this first suite of hardware is if there is a forward-facing camera mounted at the passenger side of the rear view mirror (can be seen from the outside of the car). At the end of 2014, radar and ultrasonic hardware was added to this suite, mostly to help alert the driver of danger. Around June 2015, legitimate AutoPilot features started trickling out, using the complete ensemble of AP1 sensors, but at an additional cost for this software update. This bundle featured Adaptive Cruise Control, Autosteer, Autopark, Summon, and possibly Auto Lane Change. The AP1 system will not be capable of literal Full Self-Drive. In Oct 2016, vehicles came equipped with the hardware suite dubbed HW2, allowing for either Enhanced AutoPilot (EAP; added Smart Summon and Navigate on AutoPilot) or Full Self-Driving (adds Stop Sign & Traffic Light obeyance, plus a beta version of Autosteer on City Streets for those that had purchased FSD). Hardware 2.5 mostly improved performance and reliability, rolling out in Aug 2017 to include Dashcam and the ability to adjust to adjacent traffic speeds. HW3 was released in March 2019 (at the time, owners with HW2 and HW2.5 were eligible for free upgrades) to greatly enhance autonomy performance. Tesla claims that HW3 greatly improves processing power and is only necessary to take advantage of the newest Full Self-Drive software capabilities, for instance, giving the car the ability to identify traffic cones. With the HW3 rollout, Tesla again restructured the packages to two variants: an extremely basic AutoPilot package standard on every vehicle; optional Full Self-Driving with all of the software's eventual capabilities. Note that the older AP1 and EAP packages (purchasable software upgrades) had several more "autonomous" features than the newer AP package, which only features Traction Aware Cruise Control and Lane Keep.

In October 2020, Tesla released the beta for completely autonomous Full Self-Drive to only about a thousand users, and then another thousand in March 2021. Yes, it is confusing since the 2016 packages have been called FSD and AutoPilot for years, but the cars haven't actually done what the FSD name implies ...and they technically still can't. In 2019, Musk promised that total FSD [for the masses] was going to happen within a year, then loosely blamed delays on government regulations (which seems to be unfounded). Some of the beta user's access was pulled when Tesla found they were using the tech without being prepared to provide intervention ...because some videos show that it is actually required and can be dangerous. The fact that the software is now being tested on a larger scale should quicken the release of the final version.

At the end of 2020, the FSD package was increased from $8500 to $10,000. Starting in July 2021, Tesla provided an additional option to subscribe to FSD for $199mo (or $99mo if the car was already operating with the now-defunct $4000 Enhanced Autopilot). At the time, Autosteer on City Streets was still not available outside of a few thousand beta testers. Also, Tesla has reneged on it's promise that all 2016+ vehicles would be capable of FSD and now require pre-2019 cars to upgrade to the HW3 hardware at their own expense.

Navigate on Autopilot vs Autosteer on City Streets vs FSD Beta
Ah, the always confusing word play of Tesla. All of these are part of the Full Self-Drive package and imply the same thing, but are not. Navigate on Autopilot works on highways only - the car does most of the work, but requires the driver to pay attention and acknowledging actions like lane changing and entering off-ramps. Autosteer on City Streets allows the vehicle to do so in town, but since it isn't actually available to the masses yet, it's only included in FSD Beta. Again, there are only a few thousand vehicles testing FSD Beta.

Navigate on Autopilot allows the car to turn the steering wheel, brake, and accelerate on its own. However, the car requires feedback from the driver for actions like lane changing. The non-beta FSD package also includes Traffic and Stop Sign Control, but requires active supervision and acknowledgement to procede. Acknowledgements are done via the turn signal stalk and applying torque to the steering wheel. If you fail to acknowledge an event, the feature will disable itself for the duration of the trip. On the other hand, FSD Beta is the one you think the car should be doing when the package you bought is called Full Self-Drive. FSD Beta v9 still relies on the driver to pay close attention (as s/he may need to intervene), but does not require input to perform any of the actions.

There is a good YouTube channel that demonstrates how FSD Beta functions (for better or worse) on the busy streets of downtown San Francisco and San Diego. Tesla provides a lengthy page that explains the most-latest terminology of these complex, ever-changing features.

Chill, Sport, Insane, Ludicrous, Warp, Raven, & Plaid
Earlier dual motor Model S cars came with a Sport Mode to increase acceleration and top speed over the normal Chill Mode. However, some cars have Sport Mode as their base mode. Then came Insane Mode, which was eventually replaced by Ludicrous Mode in the newer cars. Ludicrous is an option that is available on dual motor Model S cars and was first announced for the P85D in July 2015 as an upgrade. This purchase not only unlocked Ludicrous Mode (an homage to Spaceballs) for a performance boost, but the service department also installed an improved main contactor that allowed the stock 85mWh battery of the P85D to function as a 90kWh battery. This upgrade was available then for $13,000, but has since been discontinued. By the end of 2016, Ludicrous+ became a purchasable software upgrade in the P100D, which heats the battery to 122*F to further increase power output (approximately +33hp). And yes, these modes place additional strain on the motor, gearbox, and battery. Warp Mode can be unlocked by holding the Ludicrous+ button for five seconds, which will heat the battary an additional 5*F.

Raven was not a model of car, but rather the designation for the powertrain update in the 2019 Model S and Model X. This ushered in the replacement of the now-obsolete AC-induction motors by the more efficient permanent-magnet motors that had been introduced in the first Model 3 and Model Y vehicles. This also marked the year when the Model S and Model X no longer carried a number designation that indicated the vehicle's battery size - it has remained 100kWh. Rumor has it that the "Raven" name was inspired by Mystique, aka Raven Darkholme, from the X-Men properties.

The Model S Plaid, which is another Spaceballs reference, was announced in Sept 2020. The 2021 Model S saw its second refresh, most notably to the interior with a yoke-style steering wheel, horizontal Infotainment system, and a rear entertainment display. This was also the year that the Model S was outfitted with a Model Y-style heat pump instead of relying on a less effecient resistive heating system. Rather than Plaid being an unlockable software option like Ludicrous Mode, it became the designation for the Model S's performance model. The Model S Long Range retains dual motors while the Plaid and Plaid+ introduces Tesla's first tri-motor configuration. The Plaid+ will also feature a new "structural battery" design as it's power source. The structural battery, which increases rigidity, is essentially a honeycomb for the new, round 4680 battery cells to be placed within. Performance-wise, the Plaids turn out more than 1000HP, run 0-to-60 in 2.0 seconds, and are capable of 200mph. The Plaid+ also boasts an astounding range of 520 miles from a full charge (twice the range of my 2013 Model S 85) while also slightly outpowering the Plaid. The Plaid+ experienced several delays in 2021 with the new 4680 battery packs, and was pushed back to a 2022 release.

Plaid+ Update: Early June 2021, Musk announced they were abandoning the Plaid+ because the Plaid was already so good. No big surprise there, as this is a typical "Elon breaking promises" story. He also stated that they did not perceive a need for anything with a range greater than 400miles, due to people needing to stop to use the restroom or eat for twenty minutes. However, select a Model S Long Range (400miles) in Tesla's online Go Anywhere software, and choose a 400mile destination via the highway, and you're making two stops to Supercharge during a 6.5hr trip, which total an hour - this is because you're not regenerating power on the highway. By Tesla's claim of a 520mile range, the Plaid+ would be able to do the same trip with a single twenty minute stop, which would be a perfect scenario in regards to Musk's thinking. So, I called bullshit and believed there must have been an issue with the 4680 battery configuration and this is one way to get out of those pre-orders with some dignity ...and get those buyers to spend their money on a Plaid right now. So, is this new range belief of Musk's placing a cap on progress? Not likely, because the difference between the Plaid and Plaid+ specs seemed to be the different battery packs: a month later (end of July 2021), Tesla made an announcement that the 4680 cells had been testing successfully and that they were nearing finalizing a means to manufacture them efficiently. So, I think we will still see a Plaid+ in the next couple years, it might just be referred to as something different.

Most Desirable Model S On A Budget (...in the future)
Given the battery degradation risk of the 90kWh packs, I'd be inclined to lean towards a late-2017 Model S 100D that will also include the now-required autonomy hardware (HW3). Note that the Model S would no longer be offered with a single motor configuration from 2017 and on, so that's a key benefit to availability numbers of dual motor prospects. Driving the Model S 100D instead of a Model S 85, you're cutting two seconds off the 0-60mph time with the additional 136hp while still adding seventy miles to the driving range! I bought my 2013 Model S 85 in February 2021 to get my feet wet with Tesla, and if the experience goes well, I hope to find a 100D with desirable mileage around $30k in 2026. Unfortunately, I'll be saying good-bye to free Supercharging and free Premium Connectivity.

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CrankyGypsy (established 2001)