The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Tesla for Cheap

Tesla Model S 2018 in Berlin

Tesla has quickly become the gold standard as far as EVs go. They’re fast, innovative, fun to look at, and a blast to drive. The big issue is that they’re also insanely expensive. If you’re looking for a good deal, don’t bother looking through a coupon book, just read the rest of this article.

The best place to start is with a base-level Model 3 with high mileage. Buying it from a private seller will offer the lowest price, just be sure to avoid buying it through a connection on an online EV marketplace. It also helps to check out Tesla’s CPO offerings directly through their site.

I put together this guide to help potential Tesla buyers find a great price on a Tesla. I also put together some tips that will help you fit a Tesla in your budget without breaking your back.

What Makes Tesla So Great?

If you haven’t heard, Tesla is leading the pack when it comes to EVs. It’s a luxury electric vehicle that looks great, goes fast, and is super reliable.

They were the first major company to exclusively offer EVs, and the rest of the industry is following their lead.

Whenever a new EV is introduced, it’s immediately compared to the comparable Tesla. Their battery packs and motors are also used for aftermarket buyers who convert their ICE to an EV.

Tesla Model S on the street of Amsterdam

If you test-drive one, you’ll understand the hype.

The only problem is that this level of performance and luxury comes with a high sticker price (as you’ll see in a second). That’s the sole reason why I put together this article. I want you to get a Tesla for as cheap as possible so you can experience it for yourself.

The MSRP of Tesla Models

How can I talk about getting a Tesla for cheap without talking about their MSRPs? This term stands for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. It’s what Tesla says their cars should be worth.

Since there are no dealerships in the mix, the MSRP is also the price the car is sold at. Comparatively, a 2021 Honda Civic has an MSRP of $21,250 but you might only pay $18,000 for it.

Model 3: $39,990 to $69,990

Model S: $89,990 to $148,990

Model X: $99,900 to $143,490

Model Y: $53,990 to $74,990

As you can see, a base-model Model 3 is the least expensive option by far.

How to Buy a Tesla (Current Business Model)

The current business model is my favorite as far as car manufacturers go. You can hop right on Tesla’s site or visit one of their many showrooms across America. 

On their site, you can build the car to your exact specifications — exterior and interior colors, performance packages, any extra bells or whistles you want.

Tesla store showroom

When you’re done building it, you’ll get a non-negotiable amount that you have to pay. You can decide between buying it in full upfront, leasing it, or getting a loan through Tesla. For the loan or lease, you can adjust all the parameters and you’ll be left with a monthly price.

 To complete the order, you simply pay and plug in an address that you’d like the car to be shipped to. They’ll give you a rough delivery timeframe and then ship the exact car to you.

Meanwhile, a Tesla factory will put together a car to your specifications and send it over to you.

Understand Your State’s Restrictions

I had a buddy who tried to lease a Tesla in Delaware and it turned out they had to go through New Jersey instead. Yes, there are some weird laws and restrictions when it comes to picking up a Tesla.

When I wrote about car manufacturers selling direct to consumers, Tesla was the big name in the conversation. They’re the only car manufacturer that sells directly to their consumers without going through a dealership.

Woman sitting inside a Tesla Model S EV

Still, 10 states completely ban Tesla purchases within their state. Another 20 states have a certain level of restrictions when it comes to Tesla showrooms.

Before getting your heart set on driving to a showroom and picking up a Tesla, you should do some homework. Even if your state bans Tesla sales, you can still get a Tesla and have the registration transferred to your state of residency — not a big deal at all.

Disclaimer: Don’t Grab a Car You Can’t Afford

I realize that some people will be reading this article looking for a way to afford a Tesla despite not having the budget for it.

As much as I love Teslas and recommend them to everyone, I highly suggest that you don’t get it if you can’t afford it. While the following tips will help you find a cheaper Tesla and find ways to fit it into your budget, I don’t want people making the mistake of grabbing a car that they can’t afford.

If nothing else, just save up for a few years until you can afford the Tesla. If you need a lower-cost EV in the meantime, think about the Chevy Bolt.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about reducing that sticker price.

Ways to Get a Tesla for Cheap

This first section is all about finding a Tesla for cheap. This means that the car will have a more reasonable sticker price to get things started.

Buy it Third-Party

The absolute cheapest way to get a Tesla is to buy one directly from a private seller. Actually, this is the cheapest way to buy any car.

How does it work? Go to your favorite car marketplace and check out the listings. Reach out to people who have reasonable posts and work out a deal.

If the price is way too low, then avoid it. Something is majorly wrong with the car or the deal is a scam.

Look for a CPO

A Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle goes through a lot of testing before getting the blessing from the manufacturer. It’s essentially a low-risk way to buy a used car.

A typical CPO car goes through a multi-point inspection by a certified inspector. It’s the manufacturer’s way of saying “don’t worry, this car is still great”.

Tesla sells CPO vehicles directly through their site. It comes with a markup because of the guarantees associated with the program, but they’re still cheaper than new Teslas (obviously).

Tesla Model S 90D Interior

Get Basic

The cheapest version of any car is going to be their basic model. This model will strip away all the extra bells and whistles and leave you with the simplest version of the car. With Tesla, you can take $17,000 off the purchase price by getting the basic model.

At the end of the day, a Tesla is a Tesla. From the outside, they’re nearly identical. From the inside, it’s still an incredible driving machine. This is my way of saying that you probably don’t need the higher top speed and faster 0-60 or the lower suspension. The Tesla is pretty great as-is.

Go For High-Mileage Teslas

A common car-buying tip to minimize the overall cost is to opt for high-mileage options.

They’re cheaper because they’re usually closer to the grave. However, an EV can last a really long time. Third-party studies suggest that the motor and battery packs won’t conk out until after 500,000 miles.

So, what’s so bad about picking up a Model 3 with 150,000 on the odometer? If you’re looking to minimize the price tag, this is probably your best bet.

Haggle (Whenever Possible)

Haggling the price for a used car is a delicate (and frustrating) dance. However, it can work wonders on the right seller. You can knock off a few hundred or thousand bucks pretty quickly if everything works out well.

With Tesla’s business model, there’s no way to haggle on the purchase or lease price, so this is reserved just for private sellers. I put together an ultimate guide for negotiating car prices if you want to learn more.

Blue Tesla Model S on the road

Avoid a Dealer’s Lot

I might sound like a broken record, but a dealer’s lot should only be your destination if you want to overpay for a vehicle.

In the case of a Tesla, it becomes even more dramatic. Remember, there are no Tesla dealerships in America (currently). So, if you’re shopping at a dealership lot, it means that you’re buying from a company that has no business dealing with EVs.

They won’t know how to do a thorough inspection of the electric vehicle. You could be driving a lemon of a Tesla home after writing a massive check.

Don’t Fall for the “EV Marketplace” Scam

Attempting to buy a Tesla through an “EV marketplace” is rarely a good idea. This is typically a group on Facebook that specializes in listing your Tesla and getting it sold.

It’s also a place for EV enthusiasts to talk about what they love in their Tesla. It’s completely different than a true car marketplace.

Why is it a bad idea to shop in an EV marketplace? For one, the people in these marketplaces will dramatically up price their Tesla. They know that they’re selling directly to people who are so in love with EVs that they join a marketplace.

Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model X EVs on display

It’s like selling your cat sweaters at a local cat fan club.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for fake Tesla posts to go up. The poster’s main goal is to scam you and take your money.

Clearly, this isn’t the case with all of these markets, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to avoid them altogether.

How to Fit a Tesla in Your Budget

I’m a big fan of budgets and making the numbers work. It’s the sole reason why I put so much emphasis on finding out how much car you can afford before going to a dealership.

Since I’m a budget guy, I want to talk about how to fit a seemingly expensive car (like a Tesla) into your budget. Let’s say you already know how much money you can spend a month on car-related expenses. Time to squeeze a Tesla in there.

Stretch Out the Loan

While this isn’t the best personal finance advice, it’s one way to fit a Tesla into your budget. Stretching out the loan repayment period means that you’re dragging out how long it takes you to pay the car off.

On Tesla’s site, you’ll notice that a 48-month term requires $908 a month while a 72-month term works out to $616 a month.

If you actually run the numbers out, the interest really messes with you as you extend the loan. 48 times 908 is $43,584 while 72 times 616 is $44,352. Just about $1,000 gets added, but the monthly bill is significantly lower.

This gap grows as you get bigger and worse models of Tesla. I ran the same comparison with a Tri-Motor AWD Model S and the gap was ugly. Between a 36-month and 72-month term, there’s a gap of nearly $5,000.

Put More Money Down

On the other side of the coin, you can minimize your monthly payment by putting more money down. Basically, the monthly value is worked out by taking how much you owe, dividing by how many months you’re repaying it, then factoring in the interest.

Giving money in exchange for the car - purchasing a vehicle

Putting more money down is reducing how much money you owe on the car, which reduces your monthly payments.

This is a very common technique that people use when they’re buying or leasing a car. If you have some extra dough in your savings account, you can essentially “save” more money each month in car payments. Yes, I know you’re not really saving money by doing this, but you’re freeing up more of your monthly budget.

Rent the Car Occasionally

A surprisingly lucrative way to make up some of the money you spent on your Tesla is to rent it out. Sort of like people who buy vacation homes on beautiful lakes and rent out the home whenever they aren’t planning on using it.

A place like Turo will let you put your car up as a rental when you don’t need it. Someone else will use it, pay you for it, then return the Tesla to you.

For everyone working from home today, this is exciting news. Your monthly payments become much more manageable when you’re also receiving monthly payments for the same car.

Consider a Side Gig That Uses Your Tesla

Another way to achieve the same thing is to find a side gig that uses your new Tesla. My personal favorite way to do this is to become a Premium Uber driver since Tesla is a luxury brand.

You could also become a delivery driver which often pays an hourly rate, tips, and additional payment per mile as a way to comp gas expenses. Of course, you’re not spending it on gas so this extra money goes right in your pocket.

Count the Gas Savings

As you already know, a Tesla doesn’t need any of that pesky gasoline to keep going. I think it’s a fun exercise to calculate how much money you’re saving with your new EV as a means to soften the blow to your budget.

Not sure how much you spend on gas? There are a few ways to figure it out quickly.

Tesla being charged at the Tesla charging station

First, calculate how many miles you drive a year. You can do this by dividing your odometer by how many years you’ve driven it or finding out how many months it takes you between oil changes. If there are 8 months and 10,000 miles between oil change #1 and #2, now you know how many miles you drive a year.

Take this total mileage and divide it by your car’s average miles per gallon. This will tell you how many gallons of gas you’ve put in your car. Multiply this by your area’s gas prices — sorry, Californians — and you have the total you’ve spent on gas alone.

For example: If I drove 1,500 miles in a month and my car averages 25 miles per gallon, then I put in 60 gallons of gas in one month. Around me, gas is $3.00 a gallon. In one month, I spent $180 on gas.

Another way to say this is that a Tesla will save me $180 on fuel a month.

Calculate the Maintenance Savings as Well

Another reason why people love EVs is their lack of required maintenance. No more oil changes or fuel filter replacements.

The math is pretty simple to work out. Dig up your years’ worth of maintenance bills from your local auto shop or dealership and add them all together. Nearly all of this will be saved after the switch to a Tesla — the only real maintenance is air filters and tire rotations.

Tesla Model S EV view from the back

Consider Leasing it

Leasing an EV might seem like an odd option since electric cars typically last longer than ICE cars. Still, it’s a viable option if you’re looking to minimize your monthly payments.

At the end of your lease, you’ll have the option to buy the Tesla at a pretty fair price. If you think your career will improve and you’ll be able to afford a Tesla better in the next 2 or 3 years, a lease might be the best thing for you.

Looking on their site, the price to lease a base Model 3 isn’t bad at all. It works out to $523 a month for 10,000 annual miles.

This goes against the ideas I have of leasing compared to owning, but it might be the best option for someone dead-set on getting a Tesla.

Conclusion

There are many ways to get a cheaper Tesla or minimize the effect it has on your budget. If this guide helped you, drop a comment below and let me know. For more car buying guides, explore the rest of my blog. I also have a list of products that every Tesla owner needs to pick up.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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