How I Bought a Tesla When I Said I Wouldn’t

[You wanted 2,500 words on my first 2 weeks of owning my first electric vehicle, right? You’ve been warned, here it is.]

Last summer my family and I experienced a electric vehicle for the first time, by renting a Tesla Model Y on our trip to our nation’s capital. I wrote about that experience previously on this blog, including the conclusion (spoiler alert) that I would not be buying a Tesla.

Fast forward to last week, my family now owns a Tesla. How did we get here?

A lot has happened since last summer. One thing that did not change was that my wife and I very much wanted to trade our 12 year old Honda Odyssey for an electric vehicle. We are on a mission to decarbonize our lives within our means. Our plan was heat pumps, EV, solar panels, in that order. We received quotes last year on heat pumps to replace our oil burner for heat and hot water. Our first estimates were not something we could afford, but we are investigating new options this year.

The plan after our summer EV roadtrip was a Ford Mustang Mach-e. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t cheap. But it was a nice vehicle and we could pull it off. Then Ford stopped accepting orders for the 2022 model. The while they were accepting orders, the internet was ripe with reports of dealers adding extravagant fees to orders… sometimes right at the point of delivery. This matched my only previous experience with a Ford dealer, where my wife and I investigated a Ford Flex before buying the aforementioned Odyssey. We got out of that dealership as soon as the sharks started circling. Later in 2022 Ford began accepting orders for 2023 models, with long wait times, and a steep price increase. Only the rear-wheel drive model with the small battery would qualify for the federal tax incentive.

We liked the Model Y, but the Long Range AWD model was still roughly $70k. Not doable. Volkswagen had a decent option in the ID.4. We liked our previous VW, and while the vehicle was receiving vanilla reviews, it would have worked fine. But at the time (and I believe this holds true as of this writing), VW had not begun selling ID.4s built in their Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. This means the $7500 federal tax rebate for EVs would not apply to the vehicle. The only other possibility was a Hyundai Ioniq 5, which is appealing in several ways and has solid reviews. But it suffered the same trouble as the VW: assembly outside of the United States (or selected trade partners—the Mach-e is actually assembled in Mexico). We could buy a Chevy Bolt, which is generally regarded as “excellent for the money” but is significantly smaller than the rest of these options, meaning it would really only be an around-town option. Our goal was to be able to make a family trips within a 2-hour radius with in the new vehicle.

There was nothing left to do but wait for something to change. In the meantime, Tesla’s CEO did his best to make buying a Tesla less appealing with his Twitter shenanigans and right-wing provocations.

Then everything changed in January. Tesla dropped the price on the Model Y that worked best for us by nearly 20%. The IRS had declared that the specific requirements of battery assembly that account for half of the federal tax incentive would not be in place until March at the earliest. Sensing an opportunity, Tesla made a bold move, and brought the Model Y down to the neighborhood of its original price. With the potential federal ($7500) and Massachusetts (MOR-EV; $3500) incentives, we could buy the Model Y for only $2k more than we bought our Subaru in 2019.

I ran the numbers with my wife, and we placed a reservation within a few days. Then started the waiting game. Would we receive delivery before the battery rules would be announced?

In mid-March, (it appears) we won that bet. We are pretty sure we will qualify by having taken delivery before the new requirements had been announced.

The catch? I had to retrieve the car during a March nor’easter snow storm. I watched a drive slide right off the road in front of me on my was to the Peabody Tesla Service Center.

We ordered a 5-seat, Midnight Silver, with 19” Gemini wheels and tow kit, January 19. In my previous review, I noted how harsh the ride was over the DC city streets. That vehicle had the gorgeous Induction 20” wheels, and hardly any sidewalls. Low sidewalls mean two things: rough ride quality, and much higher chance of tire damage or wheel damage. So while I find the Gemini wheel covers hideous, I had to get the smallest wheels available. I will buy aftermarket covers in the near future.

We also ordered the Tesla Wall Connector to install in our garage, which arrived a few days after our order. Our electrician installed it, and with permit and inspection, that added $1250 to the $400 for the charger.

I had a pleasant experience once I got to the Tesla Service Center. They had the car in an indoor bay, and when I arrived, it was unlocked and I had “as long as I wanted” to inspect it prior to using my phone to finalize the purchase. I took about 30 minutes, and used this web app checklist for inspecting the Tesla. The bodywork and interior of the Austin, Texas-made vehicle looked good to me. There were three things that are “maybes” on Model Ys. Mud flaps, Paint Protection Film (PPF), and a cargo bay cover. Mine only had the latter… the design of which is not particularly intelligent. The cover is articulated with three fold points. It appears as if you can lift the end straight up, which would be a perfect design. But, due to the design of the trunk/hatch space, the cover can only lift about an inch, making reaching items against the backseats infeasible. You have to arrange the placement of the cover before filling the trunk, and the cover sits awkwardly on top. Next to the lack of Ultrasonic Sensors (USS) for parking and other distance assistance, this is the biggest disappointment.

What about the missing mud flaps and PPF? These are considered “standard” on Model Ys delivering to areas where snow is common. The flaps reduce damage to the body from sand and salt kicked up from the road surface during the winter. The PPF covers a vulnerable area of the rear door bottoms. The service advisor said they were out of the supplies, and they would install them free at a future service appointment. I can understand that, but I wish they had said that upfront. I wonder if they offered this to customers who did not ask. I’m not delighted I have to drive 25 minutes both ways again because they didn’t have all the parts. Lastly, the service advisor should offer a tutorial for using the vehicle, but none was offered to me.

As I write this, it’s been two and a half weeks since we took delivery. What do we think so far? It’s as fun as I remember from the DC trip. My first thought was whether the DC model had the $2,000 acceleration boost option, because while this thing is very aggressive, my memory seems to remember the rental as even more so. It’s probably better for my wife that the pedal is not that eager. I realized what I liked the most. It’s that there’s no gears to shift, the acceleration is buttery smooth delivery of ample torque to all four wheels.

In late 2022, it came out that Tesla had begun shipping a refined suspension on the Y. As I mentioned before, that was the worst part of our experience in DC. Hard to say how much is our smaller wheel diameter, and how much is the new suspension, but it’s meaningfully better over rough roads. That said, it’s not right to think of this vehicle as capable as a Subaru, off-pavement, suspension-wise.

The Tesla delivers bumps to the occupants much more directly than our Subaru Ascent does on the same rough areas. The ground clearance is 2 inches lower than our Subaru, as well. It’s better to think of this vehicle as a spacious hatchback that won’t freak out on a maintained gravel road, or awkward, rutted dirt parking lot. This is fine for our needs. If we lived on rutted dirt roads in Maine, as we aspire to, I would look into aftermarket 18” wheels with even more sidewall space, and possibly metal skid plates, as opposed to the plastic ones that ship with the vehicle. Before winter, I will be considering aftermarket wheels for winter tires.

We love to drive it, and whichever person has the most driving to do takes the Tesla. Most days that’s my wife, because most days I work from home. This dramatically reduces our carbon emissions and gasoline consumption. With our roughly $0.32/kWh electrical rate, we’re not saving huge money over gas. But we are saving. I have the car set to charge only on off-peak hours. One day, generating our own solar electricity will bring this cost to almost nothing.

What don’t we like? Not much. As I noted during the DC experience, the interior is not as refined as I would expect from a $55,000 vehicle. Good, but not great. The lack of parking assistance is my primary complaint. Ultrasonic sensors (USS) were removed from the design, allegedly as a cost saving measure in 2022, with a promise to return the dependent features via a promised future software update. As of today, that update has not arrived for my vehicle. In the past two days, owners online report receiving the update. I reserve my judgement until I receive it.

I did not purchase the $15,000 upgrade for Full-self driving mode. This interests me in an academic sense, but I would never pay more than $1k for that, and it would need to be better than it is today. The progress of autonomous driving software v11, as seen in beta test videos on YouTube appears impressive. I am most interested in that software because it is believed that Autopilot features will run on the same “software stack” and that would improve features I use, such as Autosteer. Right now, Autosteer has disabled itself while in use, or won’t allow itself to be turned on at seemingly random times. I haven’t even driven daily for the past two weeks, and I’ve experienced these at least 4–5 times in clear weather. When it works, it’s pretty great.

In just my first few weeks, I have experienced “phantom braking” while using Traffic-aware Cruise Control (TACC) a few times, although a gentle version, not a full braking episode that could lead to being rear-ended. I use TACC about 90% of the time I’m in the car. Yes, even on town roads, although not on the smallest and twistiest.

I am interested in several features of “Advanced Autopilot”, namely Navigate on Autopilot, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark. I cannot justify $6,000 for these, maybe again $1k. If it could park in, and leave our garage on its own, which is a point of anxiety for my wife in particular, I’d instantly pay $1k.

The remaining qualms are in the infotainment system. To be fair, it’s the best designed, and most performant I’ve ever used in a car. But that’s not a particularly high bar. The primary complaint is how much worse the experience is for phone calls and most importantly, text messages. CarPlay is just so much better here. I wish Apple and Tesla would work something out between them—I have to believe 80% of Tesla owners in the US are iPhone users. I don’t need the full CarPlay experience, but for us, the experience of phone calls, texts, and podcasts (run directly from the phone over Bluetooth) is a large step backward. As a side note, I prefer the design of Apple Maps in CarPlay to Tesla’s Google-backed nav system, by a small margin. The feature I miss the most is Apple Maps allows you to easily toggle the navigation voice between on, off, and alerts-only. Tesla only offers a volume control.

Recently, Apple Music was added as a feature, for “premium connectivity” subscribers. The interface is usable and attractive, very familiar to Apple Music subscribers. But the implementation is buggy. I had to force the infotainment system to reboot within an hour of owning the vehicle because the Apple Music app froze. I’ve had to reboot it a second time when it refused to connect to my phone’s Bluetooth (I troubleshot and rebooted the phone first, of course). At least there is an easy way to reboot the infotainment system (hold both steering wheel buttons until the screen shuts off), even when driving. When our Harmon/Kardon based system in the Subaru takes a nap, the only way to get it back is to pull over and shut off the car.

Premium connectivity includes features that should be included with the car… Apple Music and the ability to view traffic within the nav system maps. These are features on everyone’s phone. I understand having to pay for bandwidth, but if I have unlimited data, I should be able to put that data through my hotspot. I don’t have a problem with having to pay to stream security video from the car, or stream Netflix while the car is parked (for example, while at a public charger). I will ultimately subscribe to Premium Connectivity for $100/year after the complimentary period.

The last thing is the Tesla mobile app. This is easily the best auto-companion app I’ve seen. Featuring many useful controls you can use from anywhere, you also can contact roadside assistance, book any service appointments, and communicate with service via messages through this app. It’s also how you manage the purchase, and you use it as your key to the car. For iOS users, there are home and lock screen widgets, and even limited “Hey Siri” commands, such as asking how much charge your battery has. The control I find most useful is “pre-conditioning”, where you can start the climate controls before you get to the car, and if the weather is hotter or cooler than optimal for battery performance, the car will heat or cool it for maximum efficiency before you depart.

In the end, this is a functional car that makes even short trips fun. Like all vehicles, it is not perfect. It’s a great match for our day-to-day needs. If it offered a usable 3rd row with adult headroom, it would be nearly perfect for our family of five + dog, for local trips and even road trips.