I Bought a Discounted Tesla Model 3 and Went on a Road Trip

Published in MotorTrend
1 week ago   by Erika Pizano

Tesla sells its vehicles to customers directly. Unlike selling through typical dealerships, where pricing can vary from one dealer to another, Tesla offers fixed prices across the country, regardless of whether you order through a Tesla sales advisor or on Tesla’s website (which most people do). So, how is a discount even possible? I found out and used it to buy a discounted Tesla Model 3 Performance 2,200 miles away, which I immediately road-tripped home on Route 66.

Finding a Price-Adjusted Tesla

In Tesla’s inventory, “price-adjusted” vehicles occasionally pop up. Basically, Tesla has used the car for demonstration purpose or test drives. Once Tesla decides to get rid of it, the car appears on the inventory system with its price adjusted (Tesla does not like the word “discount”) according to mileage and age. The car is not exactly new but can still be registered as new and can qualify for certain government incentives.

Although Tesla has fixed pricing, the company is also notorious for manipulating pricing and options multiple times a year for various market reasons (changes to tax credits, for example). The Model 3 Performance Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive had a $70,200 base price back in 2018 when we pitted it against an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, but by March 2019, its price had gone down to around the $60,000 mark, and now, in June 2020, it can be had for $56,190. That’s great for a cheapskate like me, but you can get “new” ones for even less if they’ve been “price adjusted.”

I became interested around the time the price came down to $60,000, but I’d heard about price-adjusted cars and figured I could do even better. A friend introduced me to a Tesla sales advisor to help me hunt for a price-adjusted car. Sales advisors are your best bet to find one, since vehicles can go very quickly once they show up on the inventory list. “Find me any Model 3 Performance with Autopilot below $60K, and I don’t care about color,” I told the advisor.

At first, he showed me a $58,490 gray one with a $6,510 price adjustment due to 25 test drive miles. Yes! Only 25 miles! However, it was in Dallas, Texas, so I hesitated, and someone else nabbed it. It was then I realized you must take a leap of faith if you want a price-adjusted car. It’s technically a new car, but it’s been used and the level of wear and tear on the car is typically unknown until you see it in person.

A few days later, a white one in Chicago with 2,875 miles showed up, priced at $59,100 after a $7,600 adjustment. According to its VIN, it was built in December 2018, making it just five months old at the time. This time I put down a deposit right away. Tesla offered to transport the car to L.A. for $2,000, but being a cheapskate, I chose free pick-up in person. The whole ordering processing was just as seamless as ordering a new Tesla online. I created a Tesla account, paid the $2,500 deposit on a credit card to gain some cash back, submitted some personal information as instructed, and applied for financing through Tesla (Tesla works more like a financing broker finding you a lender rather than doing the lending itself). I claimed the car on April 8, 2019, and I had one week to go take delivery in person.

A Taste of Tesla Drama

Everything went crazy the night before I planned to pick up the car. The evening of April 11, Tesla announced another pricing restructure and made Autopilot a standard feature instead of a $3,000 option. Under this new pricing, I could order a new Model 3 Performance in black (standard color) and only pay $1000 more than the one with 2,875 test-driven miles. That instantly made the trip a lot less enticing. My sales advisor stayed up late trying to find out whether my car would be adjusted according to the new pricing, but sales advisors found out about the change at the same time as the public and everyone at Tesla HQ in California had already gone home for the night.

The next morning, I hopped on a one-way flight still unsure whether I’d had terrible luck on the timing or if I’d get the discount applied retroactively. As I fell asleep on the plane, I was thinking, in the worst case scenario I could refuse delivery and tour the city for the weekend before booking a flight home. Not too long after I walked out of the terminal into a gray sky, I received a call from Tesla Westmount informing me they were still working on the paperwork. I had arranged airport delivery, and that was no longer possible, so they arranged an Uber to deliver me to their store.

Upon arrival, I saw a very clean white Tesla Model 3 with white seats sitting right by the storefront window. I opened the Tesla app on my phone and saw the car showing up under my account. Yup, that’s the one! I was soon greeted by a representative, who told me they’d need a bit more time to finish up the paperwork since they had to work with a team back in California to redo it all based on the new pricing. Yes! Good news!

While I waited, another representative walked me through and let me inspect the Tesla. I knew full well I was not buying a brand-new car, but it appeared to be in better condition than I expected. I only found two minor paint chips on the front bumper and two on the driver’s side door sill. They knew I would drive it back to Los Angeles right away, so they made sure all the tires were in good condition and properly inflated and fully charged the battery. Soon after I had loaded my luggage, set up my driver’s profile, and paired my phone as key, the paperwork was ready for me to sign my life away to a massive financial burden. The adjusted final price came out to $55,600. Factoring in $3,750 of federal tax credit, I bought a white Tesla Model 3 Long Range Dual-Motor Performance with black and white interior for $51,850 (before sales tax and registration fees).

Bring the New Child Home

Sitting in the driver’s seat, looking at the black leather steering wheel with its Tesla logo in the middle, I thought, “Now what?” I looked up. There was no speedo behind the steering wheel but a clean view of the lot and a tiny glimpse of the fender on the left. I looked to the right. There was a big touchscreen with a navigation map on it. I typed in “Supercharger St Charles,” drove off the lot, and headed south toward St. Louis, Missouri.

If things went according to my original plan, I would have taken delivery of my Model 3 at the airport and driven into Chicago to visit a pizza place recommended by an MT officemate who grew up in the area. However, paperwork took longer than expected, which I cannot complain about because I ended up paying $3,500 less. I needed to hit the road back to L.A. It was around 4 p.m. when I got onto I-55 South, right at the start of Friday rush hour.

A big part of the reason I had my eye on a Tesla was Autopilot. My usual commute in L.A. takes two hours each way on the infamous 405 freeway, and while Autopilot obviously would not shorten the commute, it could ease some of the burden in stop-and-go traffic. Two taps on the gear stalk, and Autopilot was in action (the first tap was for Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, or TACC, and the second activated Autosteer). It handled the traffic gracefully and gave me peace of mind for the 2,200-mile journey ahead.

The sun was nearly gone as I approached the first Supercharger stop in Springfield, Illinois, around 8 p.m. A friend recommended an Irish pub with good food near the Supercharger, but it had been a long day, so I just rested in the car as it charged and was back on the road in 25 minutes.

“All right, I’ll pick you up from the supercharger at 9:45 then,” my friend, Corey, texted me. A few years ago, Corey drove his Honda CR-Z from St. Louis to Los Angeles to visit for a few days. I showed him some fun, scenic roads in So Cal, and we had not met since. This time, I was passing by and he offered to meet up and let me sleep at his place. The navigation system’s ETA wasn’t too far off; I arrived at the Supercharger site in St. Charles at 9:55 p.m. I plugged in my “new” Model 3, and we went to a nearby pub to catch up.

According to Corey, I should avoid Colorado due to snow because the Model 3 Performance came with summer tires. The safest route would be going south to Oklahoma, then across the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona, and back to California. After some trip planning, I drove to his place, hooked up the Tesla to a 110-volt socket to keep it topped off, and crashed in his basement.

If I could do this trip again, I would spread the drive out over a week and stop at various places to explore. However, on MT’s test schedule, a Jaguar XE SV Project 8 was coming in for testing. I absolutely could not miss that, so I had to be back in L.A. on Monday. I had three days to cover about 1,900 miles from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Definitely doable, but it didn’t leave much time for sightseeing.

In the morning, Corey and I said good-bye. He sent me off with a first-generation Tesla mobile charger that supports higher current than the one that came with my Model 3 for faster charging when I couldn’t find a Supercharger. He also handed me a gooey butter cake, a St. Louis specialty (if you know where to find one in L.A., please let me know).

After breakfast at a quirky local café, I got back on the road with Oklahoma City as the day’s destination. According to Tesla’s navigation, I would arrive by 7 p.m. I reached the first charging spot in Springfield a quarter past 1:00. Springfield? Again? Well, Springfield, Missouri, this time. There were eight Tesla Supercharger stalls behind a gas station with a rather large convenience store next to it.

As I walked toward the store, I saw a banner reading, “Welcome Tesla Drivers, please see wine room for Tesla perks.” Out of curiosity, I investigated, but not being too much of a wine person, I grabbed some snacks and iced tea instead. As for the Tesla perk: 10 percent off my purchase.

The Model 3 needed 50 minutes to charge, but I stayed a little over an hour as I checked the weather and read the owner’s manual. Soon after I got back on the highway, I saw a corner case for Autopilot’s image recognition: a semi hauling another identical semi facing the opposite way with a pick-up truck on a trailer in between them. From afar, it looked like a semi going backwards, and it only got weirder as I got closer. Good luck with that one, AI.

After I crossed the border into Oklahoma, the sky started to leaden with clouds, the temperature dropped below 50 degrees, and then a rainstorm came. It gradually got worse as the sun went down. Road visibility had worsened enough that the Tesla showed a warning on its screen: “Poor weather detected, Navigate on Autopilot limited.” I slowed way down and stayed in the rightmost lane. On a couple of occasions, the car got confused by an exit. It attempted to follow the exit instead of remaining on the highway because it had difficulty identifying lane markings. I took back control of the steering but left TACC on.

Aside from Autopilot’s vision problems, another big concern in these kinds of conditions was potholes. The P235/35R20 tires on the Model 3 Performance are known to be bad at handling them. The last thing I wanted was a flat tire in pouring rain at night in the middle of nowhere. I decided to slow way down and follow behind a semi-truck. TACC kept a consistent a distance from the semi while I focused on spotting any trash or potholes in the road. The machine and I had to work well together to endure these challenging conditions, and we escaped unscathed.

I arrived at the Supercharger site in Oklahoma City in one piece at 9:30 p.m. I plugged in and picked up the gooey butter cake, had a bite the size of a credit card, and decided that was enough sugar to last me the night. Looking at the map, I found the next Supercharger was only an hour away in Weatherford, Oklahoma, located right outside a hotel that seemed to be a safer place to stay than where I was, especially because I wasn’t planning on getting a room.

Tesla Motel 3

Welcome to the Tesla Motel 3. I exited the driver seat and checked in to my “room” at the back of the car. There was ample room to store my luggage in the frunk and the trunk’s underfloor compartment. With the rear seats folded down, I pulled out a sleeping bag and was able to stretch my legs flat lying at a diagonal from the end of the trunk to the back of front passenger seat. This motel room has a glass roof, and looking up through it I could see the sky had cleared from the storm. It was a chilly night, so I tuned on all the seat heaters and adjusted the climate control to a comfortable level. Instead of reaching all the way to the screen up front, though, I could do it all on the Tesla app on my phone while lying down. That was possibly this motel room’s most luxurious feature.

“What the bloody hell am I doing? What’s the purpose of this trip?” I asked as I looked at the night sky, then I soon dozed off.

A Crossing of Modern Technology and Automotive History

With all the windows and two glass roof panels on the Model 3, I was woken up by the light shining in at sunrise. I put away the sleeping bag, pulled the rear seats back up, turned off the seat heaters, left a tip in the center console for all the housekeeping work, and was back on the road with Autopilot fully engaged again.

The first stop of the day was the historic Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café and motel in Shamrock, Texas. Built by J.M. Tindall in 1936 right by the intersection of Route 66 and Route 83, it served as a café and a gas station and became a popular establishment. Built in the Deco style, it features vertical lines and metal tulip decorations. In a bit of historical irony, Tesla built a Supercharger right behind it.

It was not until I reached here that I realized my journey was more or less on Route 66. Once the Model 3 was done charging, I just had to pull it up next to the old gas pumps with their Route 66 signs to let it meet a piece of automotive history. After a photo, I had to get back on the road. It was Sunday, and I still had three states to cross.

The American West

The rest of the trip was rather boring. It was simply heading west, staying on I-40 until I hit Barstow, California. The scenery was typical American West: sunny weather with big rocks with various desert backdrops. I made stops in Amarillo, Texas; Santa Rosa; Albuquerque; Gallup, New Mexico; and Holbrook, Arizona, and ended the day in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Here again, I checked in to Tesla Motel 3 at a Supercharger site in a hotel parking lot. But this time, I passed out hard and did not wake up in time to unplug the car, so I ended up with a $30.84 bill. Tesla bills its charging fees by time usage in most states on this route, the exception being California, where it bills by energy used.

I started the last day at 4:00 in the morning, planning to sleep in my own bed that night. I stopped in Kingman, Arizona, for a quick breakfast sandwich, then got moving again. As soon as I spotted a Prius clogging the left lane, I knew I had crossed the border into California. After the last charging stop in Barstow, I soon encountered traffic on I-15 heading south. Yup! I was getting close to L.A.! By noon, I was back in MotorTrend’s office in El Segundo with the front of my “new” Model 3 covered in dead bugs. After a car wash, I found myself back at my second home, the infamous 405 freeway, but this time, I had my buddy Autopilot with me.

More Like the New Child Brought Me Home

Between Chicago and L.A., I stopped at 18 Supercharger locations. Some stops were longer than others, not because the car needed to charger longer, but because I had to rest and do other stuff. Still, I didn’t find it any more inconvenient than taking a gas-powered car on a road trip. Sure, the refueling stops were longer, but I was also able to rest more frequently and feel less stressed out while covering hundreds of miles a day.

Speaking of stress, Autopilot was also a massive help. Except for the part where the weather was extremely poor, I can almost say it drove me home. It handled the burden of doing most of the driving on the highway for hours and hours. All I had to do was keep watch for unexpected road conditions and take over during off-highway driving. I was more of a backup pilot providing help when needed. Without Autopilot, I highly doubt I would’ve been able to drive 2,200 miles in three days by myself.

The entire trip cost me $146 in Supercharger usage. According to the in-car trip record, Autopilot and I covered 2,226 miles, and the car used 743 kW-hr of energy. So far, I have had this car for a little over a year. Want to know how this discounted Tesla Model 3 did in the first year? An article about that is coming up. Before that, feel free to get familiar with some Tesla terms.

The post I Bought a Discounted Tesla Model 3 and Went on a Road Trip appeared first on MotorTrend.


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