How to Buy a Tesla

August 22, 2021 • 
7 min read
Tesla Model Y

Five years ago, I bought a 2017 Honda CR-V. It was my first car with active cruise control, lane keep assist, and most importantly, Apple CarPlay. I loved all the technology, and for the most part, they all worked well. But then I started to have issues with CarPlay. The car would disconnect from my iPhone at the most inopportune times (e.g., I need to follow the directions on Waze) or even black out and reboot in the middle of a drive! I had my Honda dealer look at that infotainment system at least five times, but they could never fix the issues. They’d run diagnostics and update the software. The system would be stable for a few months and then fritz out again. I would call Honda, and they would tell me to call Apple. Apple would say to call Honda. I was stuck in a loop, and it sucked.

I started to wonder why software updates for my CR-V couldn’t be pushed over the air directly to my car. Or at least let me install it from a USB thumb drive.

Cut to late May, amid a very hot used car market, I realized that I could sell my Honda and buy a Tesla. And so I did just that.

It has only been a month, but I love my Model Y. It’s fast and incredibly fun to drive so far. While the car does not have CarPlay, I think that’s OK because—like my iPhone—I will get software updates that improve and unlock new features in the car.

The Tesla buying experience was unlike any other I have ever had. And unfortunately, they don’t currently do a great job of communicating the steps.

So if you are in the market for a Tesla, here’s my guide to hopefully help you out.

Test Driving

Like anything you’re about to drop more than $30,000 on, you’ll want to test it out—kick the tires, so to speak. Go to Tesla’s website and schedule a test drive. You’ll pick the car you want to test drive and when. Before you go to your test drive, I suggest watching a couple of tutorial videos on the car. The videos from Tesla are nice and short.

When it’s time for your test drive, head to the Tesla store, and don’t forget to bring your ID with you. The sales advisor will show you around the car and walk you through the basic controls. Unlike every other test drive you’ve ever taken, they will not go with you. Therefore pay attention as best you can, because there will be some new things you’re probably not used to. Try to get their mobile number so you can contact them if you forgot how to do something. But you watched the tutorial videos first, didn’t you?

If you want to try autopilot, you’ll need to agree to some waivers. Oh, and you have only about 30 minutes, so make the most of it.

TL;DR…

  • You’ll test drive the car without a Tesla salesperson in the vehicle
  • Learn the basic controls beforehand
  • You’ll have 30 minutes

Ordering

When you buy a Tesla, unlike buying from any other car dealership, you’re most likely ordering it. There may be local inventory, but chances are, there won’t be any because of how popular these cars are.

Be forewarned that the wait, as of this writing, is two to three months, depending on the model. But if you’re in a hurry and you aren’t particular about the color and configuration, you could score something much sooner. Simply go to your local Tesla store and ask if they have any inventory configurations. These are basically canceled orders, so in essence, you can jump the line. With this method, you may have your Tesla in days or weeks rather than months. Assuming you do want to get your exact configuration because you’re paying for a very expensive car, read on.

Before you go to the Tesla website and start the ordering process, find a referral link! By going through a referral link, you will receive 1,000 miles for free to charge up at Tesla’s Supercharger network, and so will the friend you received the referral from. If you don’t have a friend who owns a Tesla, use the referral link from a YouTuber, Redditor, or blogger who helped you out the most. Here’s mine if this post has been of any help.

OK, once you’ve clicked on the referral link, choose your car and start configuring it. The options are mostly self-explanatory, so I won’t go through them here. Once you’re done designing your Tesla, click “Continue to Payment.”

When you’re on the payment screen, three tabs break down the financials for you: cash, lease, loan. Clicking through these tabs will help you decide the best way to finance your car. You will not be paying for your vehicle today. Therefore, don’t worry about getting third-party financing ready right now or transferring money to your checking account. Instead, you will pay Tesla and figure out the cash/lease/loan option when your car is ready to be delivered. (If you need to change your payment method after placing your order, you can do so by contacting Tesla.)

Pay the non-refundable $100 deposit, and then you’ll be prompted to figure out your delivery options. Either Tesla will deliver the car to you, or you’ll need to pick it up from your nearest service or delivery center. Of course, this all depends on where you live.

That’s it. Next comes the most challenging part of the process.

TL;DR…

  • Get free Supercharger miles by using a referral link (here’s mine in case you need it)
  • Configure your car
  • Pay your $100 deposit

Waiting

Depending on where you live and how fast Tesla’s factories are building cars, you may have to wait weeks or months. In fact, my first estimated delivery date was “3–13 weeks,” i.e., three weeks to over three months! (FWIW, my car was delivered about eight weeks after my order.)

Chart showing the estimated delivery date changing
I charted the changes to my EDD on my account page.

In the meantime, get all your paperwork together for Tesla. They’ll want proof of insurance and maybe a couple other items, but now it’s just a waiting game.

Your local delivery center may receive shipments, for example, only in the last week or two of the month, depending on your area. So you may see your delivery date jump around a little bit—or a lot—when you check your Tesla account. But you just have to be patient and wait for Tesla to build your car.

Also, during this time, don’t expect to hear much from Tesla. You can reach out to the sales advisor you talked to when you test drove the car. Or you can try calling your local delivery center and ask for an update. They have internal tools that will take a look at what the factory says it will be building, and they may be able to give you a more precise estimate of when you might be getting your car.

So while you’re waiting, here are some things to do:

  • Watch some YouTube videos about your car
  • Those videos could even talk about some accessories you may want to purchase*
  • Get a Tesla Wall Connector or other charging method installed at your home (if that’s a possibility)

* A note about accessories: Unlike all other manufacturers, Tesla will update their vehicles whenever they feel like it. Therefore be very careful when buying accessories for a car that you don’t have yet. If you expect to have it within weeks, it’s probably safe to buy now. But if the car you ordered is estimated to be months away, hold off because Tesla may make a modification to the model. As a result, your new accessory may not fit anymore.

TL;DR…

  • Be patient
  • Be strong

Pre-Delivery

When the Tesla factory decides to build your car configuration, you’ll receive a vehicle identification number (VIN). Congratulations, you’re one step closer! You should be notified by text or email of this momentous occasion. Note that this does not mean they’ve actually made your car yet. It simply means that they plan to build that configuration and plan to ship it to your area. In other words, things can happen, and you could still be unmatched with that VIN, however unlikely.

(PSA: If you receive your VIN close to the end of the quarter—i.e., end of March, June, September, or December—the chance of your VIN going to someone else closer to the Fremont factory increases. This happened to me.)

Once you have your VIN, you can start the process of finalizing payment and insurance. Do these steps as quickly as possible because you don’t want to give Tesla any reason to give your VIN to someone else.

When your Tesla is on its way to your local delivery center, you will receive a message asking to schedule your delivery appointment. You’ll likely receive a three-day window, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like you can change that range. So do your best to rearrange your schedule and make it work.

Finally, as you wait for your delivery appointment, review the video tutorials that Tesla sent you. Then, when you go pick up your car, you’ll know how to operate it so that you can drive it home safely.

TL;DR…

  • You’ll first receive a VIN
  • Get your insurance and final payment terms together
  • Schedule your delivery appointment
  • Review the tutorial videos

Delivery

You’ve waited weeks, maybe even months, and now it’s time to pick up your Tesla! You may have heard horror stories of terrible quality control on Tesla’s part. Obviously, those are all true, but likely you won’t have any issues or some very minor ones.

For whichever model you purchased, there are great checklists available:

Download and print your checklist before heading out to pick up your vehicle. Also, don’t forget to bring your driver’s license and additional documents relating to your payment, trade-in, and insurance.

Unlike purchasing a car from a dealership, the whole pickup process should take no longer than 15–20 minutes. When you get to the delivery center, perform a quick inspection. Make sure it’s generally in excellent condition, without obvious dents, dings, or scratches. Unless something is really egregious, accept the vehicle, and then take your time performing the full inspection at home in your own driveway. Many minor issues can be fixed via a mobile service call, or at worst, you can bring it in.

The Tesla employees there may not volunteer to show you around your new car. So as previously mentioned, be sure to review the video tutorials for your vehicle before the pickup.

Once you’ve signed all your paperwork, congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of a brand new Tesla.

Post-Delivery

Your new Tesla is high-tech machinery. It won’t operate like any other car you’ve owned. So watch Tesla’s video tutorials and read the owner’s manual. Then sit in it and play with all the settings and controls. Aside from the physical things like mirrors, steering wheel, and seat adjustments, you’ll want to customize your Stopping Mode in the Driving menu. Creep will be closest to a gas car, where the vehicle will continue coasting (a little) when you let your foot off the accelerator. Hold will initiate regenerative braking more quickly and will be the most energy-efficient. Roll is somewhere in between. This will take getting used to. Lots of people will start in Creep mode and work their way up to Hold mode.

Conclusion

That’s it! Enjoy your new EV.

I have a lot to say about the customer experience design of buying a Tesla. While I appreciate not having to go through a dealer and that awful experience, Tesla’s could and should be fine-tuned. Tesla’s vehicles are not inexpensive, so their customer experience should be a lot less chaotic. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where I’ll throw out some ideas on how Tesla can improve the buyer’s journey.