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USED GUIDE: Tesla Model S packs room, comfort, power

A used Tesla Model S’s reliability looks to be relatively solid, though serious shoppers are advised to contact a Tesla dealer to arrange a pre-purchase inspection before they buy. - Tesla
A used Tesla Model S’s reliability looks to be relatively solid, though serious shoppers are advised to contact a Tesla dealer to arrange a pre-purchase inspection before they buy. - Tesla

The Tesla Model S is a dedicated electric vehicle (EV) that’s been on the scene for some years now.

Tesla is likely the first brand that comes to mind when shoppers think of electric cars, and the Model S is one of its most instantly recognizable.

The Model S is pure electric — there is no fuel tank, no exhaust system, no engine, and no gasoline involved in any way.

Various Model S versions are available, and they’re all powered by recharging the on-board battery at a charging station.

Model S features front and rear trunks, very generous cargo space, and a unique interior. Features included a large central touch-screen interface, a glass panel roof, advanced safety features, autonomous driving technology, and more.

Interested shoppers will find that the Model S is covered by an 80,000-kilometre warranty. Additional warranty coverage may be available for the model you’re considering through the automaker, too.

This big four-door car should pack the room, comfort and power required for effortless and upscale family travels — and all without having to ever visit a gas station, or scheduling an oil change.

Horsepower output ranged from about 360 all the way up to 700-plus, depending on the model selected. Some models even featured All-wheel drive (AWD), referenced by a ‘D’ in the name badge.

Reliability looks to be relatively solid, though serious shoppers are advised to contact a Tesla dealer to arrange a pre-purchase inspection before they buy.

Note that at writing, no Tesla dealers are present on the East Coast — so for Tesla drivers who live there, the Model S may be a niche buy that has to be transported to an out-of-province dealer when servicing is required.

Though an EV like this isn’t the ideal choice for many Canadians, here are some tips and checks to consider if you’re interested in buying a used Model S — whether as a primary means of transport, or a fuel-free second runabout.

Charging Gear

Before purchase, shoppers should carefully inspect the charger cable, plug, and any other charging hardware that comes with the Model S they’re considering. Chargers and cords should be repaired or replaced at any sign of wear, tears or other damage, which may be a safety hazard. If you’ll need a new charger cable, be sure to assess the cost before you agree to buy. Use of a worn or damaged charging cable is not advised.

Check the forums

A handy starting point toward investigating Tesla ownership exists online. Various Tesla owner clubs and forums are available online, and within, numerous owners share photos, experiences, tips, advice and more. These forums can be a wealth of information for perspective owners, as well as a good place to chat with existing owners, or to post any questions you may have. Many Tesla owners, online and otherwise, are happy to share their experiences and advice.

Patience and best practices

The Tesla Model S is a rare car in Canada and, also, a dream car for many car buffs from all walks. Low sales volumes mean that reliability information is somewhat difficult to nail down with much certainty, so for maximum confidence and peace of mind, shoppers are best to shop patiently and ideally through the Tesla certified pre-owned program, which requires vehicles to pass a 70-point inspection carried out by a Tesla technician before being offered for sale. Start the process early, as Tesla CPO inventory tends to be very limited at any given time. A used Model S may not be the car for you if you need your new-to-you ride to arrive in quick order.

Check these things

Based on various owner reports online, shoppers are best to check a few key areas in their used Model S candidate ahead of their purchase. Confirm proper operation of the folding rear seats, the climate control, all door handles, all windows, and all locks. Run the central touch-screen interface through its paces too, confirming that each command is met with the appropriate response as outlined in the owner’s manual.

Software updates

Uniquely, the Model S is able to download and self-apply software updates automatically, once connected to a Wi-Fi network. Software updates are occasionally released by Tesla to optimize or correct the operation of various vehicle subsystems. Though this process is largely automated, shoppers are best to contact Tesla customer support and confirm that all software updates for the model they’re considering are in order, for maximum confidence and minimized likelihood of headaches.


Like most cars, the Model S was subjected to several recalls, which address latent safety defects. Dealers perform recall work free of charge, to keep drivers safe. Ask a Tesla dealer to help determine which, if any, recalls are outstanding for the model you’re considering, and arrange to have the work completed as quickly as possible.

The test drive

On a test drive, remember that while the Model S is a cutting-edge electric vehicle, it’s also car, with parts like brakes, tires, suspension components and more that can all wear out and require attention. Shoppers should also check for signs of water leaks into the trunk and floor of the vehicle. Also, be on the lookout for squeaky sunroofs, worn-out brakes, inoperable wipers, and alignment issues. As reliability and build quality seem to vary somewhat widely, be sure to protect yourself by having a Tesla technician inspect the model you’re considering before you buy it. This is your single best defence against buying a battery-powered pile of someone else’s headaches.

The information presented above is gathered from online owner discussion groups and collaboration with a network of automotive repair professionals. The above information is not a comprehensive list of all possible issues with the vehicle in question and is instead intended to draw shopper attention to possible trouble spots they may wish to investigate before they buy. In most cases, problems listed above are reported with relative rarity in comparison to total sales volume. Shoppers are advised to have a dealer-performed pre-purchase inspection on the vehicle they’re considering for maximum peace of mind.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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