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Ten years ago, Teslas were nearly $100,000. Today, you can get them for a fraction of that. A cheap Tesla popped up near me, so I had to check out how they’ve held up. Does it still feel like a $100,000 car? Can I buy this thing to flex and impress my friends? I needed to know.

Everyone wants to ball on a budget, right? You know, when you spend a small amount of money on something that can fool people into thinking you’re loaded? A classic example of this in the car world is to buy an older, depreciated luxury car and then fail to mention what year your car is when you tell people you have a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or similar.

Product cycles seem to be getting longer; used luxury cars that don’t look that old to the common non-car person can be had for dirt cheap. For years, not-so-old used BMW 7 Series, Mercedes CLs or GL or S-Classes have been found at cheap car lots for about the same price as a base Honda Civic. If you had the cash, would you have a BMW 550i, or a Civic LX? You’d take the BMW, duh! Sure, maybe the BMW’s got an iDrive system that sometimes cuts out, it’s got close to 100,000 miles and is nowhere near a warranty, and sure there might be an intermittent check engine light for a VANOS solenoid, but who cares, right?

Of course the peril of this proposition is that used luxury cars cost a lot more to maintain than new economy cars, so your attempt to be “ballin’ on a budget” by buying an old Bimmer can end up feeling more like “ballin’ into bankruptcy” if you’re not careful.

At any rate Teslas, definite status symbol cars whether you love them or hate them, don’t seem to be too populous on cheap used car despite the fact that first examples of these cars are now pretty old. Part of the reason is that for a long time used Teslas tended to be refurbished and resold by almost exclusively Tesla itself, and for the most part resale for Model Ss has stayed high.

After a while, demand came down with age, time, and the introduction of other models, and now it’s not crazy to see a Model S wholesaled at a dealer auction like any other used car. Out of curiosity and having too much time on my hands, I took a quick gander at a cheap used one near me. I wanted to know, was the Model S destined to be a “ballin’ on a budget” option, destined to a dealer, rife with problems lot to be purchased by someone who solely wants to make an impression to strangers? Plus, I was curious about what a well-used example would be like to drive.

I Test Drove a $25,000 Tesla Model S From a Used Car Lot and Here’s What I Found
Image: StarfleetCars screenshot


This 2013 Tesla Model S 60 RWD was for sale near me, for around $25,000, or about how much a decently equipped new Honda Civic costs at your local Honda dealer. This example of a Model S had done about 98,000 miles, and according to its record, is accident-free.

I’ve heard early Teslas, (and current Teslas) can have some not-so-great quality control. The car here was definitely silver, but some of the panel gaps up front looked a bit spacey; as if the car had been repaired in an accident. Most buyers likely wouldn’t care, including myself, but I do notice. The car also was sitting higher in the front than the rear, but it seemed to be all even when the car started moving. It appears that sometimes older Model Ss tend to leak out of their air suspension. 

I Test Drove a $25,000 Tesla Model S From a Used Car Lot and Here’s What I Found
Does the ride height look weird to you? – Image: Kevin Williams

The car was plenty quick on the road, even in this single-motor, non-performance, 60 kWh battery trim. I’d guesstimate that 0-60 came somewhere in the six-second range, plenty quick for a modern sedan. The steering is nice, with lots of heft, albeit lacking in feel a bit, but I mean, doesn’t every modern car “lack feel”?

I Test Drove a $25,000 Tesla Model S From a Used Car Lot and Here’s What I Found
I think the original Model’s nose cone looks better than the most recent facelift. – Image: Kevin Williams

I didn’t like the self-presenting door handles or lack of a stop/start button, but I’m sure I’d get used to those things if I owned the car. Also, the Model S I drove didn’t have any autopilot or “full-self driving” features.

As far as typical used car stuff, a few semi-minor issues presented themselves on the test drive. The rear suspension felt a bit jiggly and bouncy, I suspect those air struts are leaking. The screen was cracked and leaking, common on older Model Ss. The gauge cluster informed me that the 12-volt battery needed to be replaced, so the vehicle could do some over-the-air system updates.

I Test Drove a $25,000 Tesla Model S From a Used Car Lot and Here’s What I Found
See what I mean about panel gaps? – Image: Kevin Williams

Back in the day, lots of Tesla detractors were pretty critical of the car’s interior, most insisting it was not as nice as its stratospheric price tag suggested. Now, nearly ten years later, the Model S’s interior feels about as nice as any other dejected luxury car you’d find on a cheap used car lot. Sure, the screen will need to be replaced, and maybe the trim could fit better, but a similar BMW or Mercedes probably has some interior squeaks or temperamental interior electronics. Time really is the great equalizer.

I Test Drove a $25,000 Tesla Model S From a Used Car Lot and Here’s What I Found
The screen is cracked, and leaking. – Image: Kevin Williams

I guess this car, once a huge spaceship, seemingly unobtainable by regular humans, is now essentially the same fate as that BMW 550i I alluded to earlier. For a few more dollars, you can get a new Chevy Bolt EV with more range, and brand new without any miles on the odometer. Who wants that, thought? Bolts are dorky, and they don’t drive anywhere as nice as a Tesla. 

The car seems like a fair deal for someone interested in a Tesla. Time to ball out, y’all.

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