Here’s the true cost of buying a Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 is already one of the biggest product launches of the year. At a base price of $35,000, it brings many of the same features from the company’s expensive luxury vehicles to a more affordable version. 

Most experts believe the $35,000 price is going to make the Model 3 a mass-market success, and early sales numbers indicate it’s well on its way. Tesla has already sold 500,000 deposits at $1,000 a piece since last year, according to Bloomberg

But the truth is a $35,000 base model isn’t packed with all the fun options that you’d expect to get from a Tesla vehicle. Features like the self-driving “autopilot” software, all-wheel drive, and a larger battery will add literally thousands of dollars to the total cost. Plus, when you add in extra fees like the home charger installation — things get even murkier.

With this in mind, we’ve decided to take a much closer look at the numbers and figure out exactly what people are getting for their money. So, without further adieu, here is what buying a Model 3 is actually going to cost you.

Everything in the base model

The base price Model 3 sells for $35,000 and comes with a standard battery that provides about 220 miles of driving per charge. The car itself can hit 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, which technically isn’t  as fast as the 2.8 seconds it takes the Tesla Model S in “Ludicrous Mode,” but should be plenty of power for most drivers.

The car’s top speed is a respectable 130 mph, and the interior is decked out with basic textile seating and a gigantic 15-inch touchscreen control console. The base model also includes keyless entry and control from the Tesla app or an NFC-enabled card.

Admittedly, this is a lot of technology packed into the base model of a new car, but since this is a Tesla, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

The first Model 3, which went to Elon Musk.

The first Model 3, which went to Elon Musk.

Notably absent here are the extra bells and whistles like Autopilot that make Teslas some of the most exciting cars on the road. As is true with most modern vehicles, you’ll have to spend a ton of money to get some of the more interesting features. 

Extras cost thousands more

The price tag starts ballooning once you start adding the optional upgrades. The first uptick in price comes if you want your new car in any other color than black. That’ll run you an extra $1,000 for any of the other five, raising the total to $36,000.  

You can also upgrade to the $9,000 Long Range battery package, which pushes the capacity up to 310 miles per charge. 

Charging is also faster on the Long Range battery, clocking in at 170 miles per 30 minutes at a Supercharger station and 37 miles per hour with a 240V outlet, 40A home charging setup. 

The Long Range battery package also makes the car faster, cutting the 0 to 60 time to 5.1 seconds and bumping the top speed to 140 mph. But all of these improvements will cost you more. The better battery package will bring you up to $45,000

Tesla’s Autopilot feature is one of the brand’s most wanted upgrades, as Elon Musk has claimed the current hardware package will be capable of full autonomy once the software catches up. Model 3 buyers might not be tempted by upgrades that are purely aesthetic, but the potential for a self-driving car could be more appealing. 

The Enhanced Autopilot Package, which currently offers semi-autonomous capabilities, costs an extra $5,000, so that would bring the car up to the $50,000 mark. Full Self-Driving Capability, which isn’t even functional at launch with no definite timeframe for activation, is an extra $3,000 on top of that. Your self-driving, long range, non-black Model 3 is now $53,000

Thrifty customers might be more likely to resist the temptation for the 19-inch sport wheels and the Premium Upgrade Package for the Model 3’s interior, but those options are also available. Tack on $1,500 for the wheels, and $5,000 for the luxe interior. A fully-loaded Model 3 goes for $59,500 before tax and title.

Home charging will also cost more

The most difficult cost to estimate for the Model 3 is also one of the most essential: how much will you pay to power your vehicle. Tesla has a few calculator tools that estimate savings compared to gasoline, but the company has casually avoided the fact that most people will need a new, special outlet installed into their homes or garages.  

The Tesla Model 3 can technically charge from a standard 120v outlet using an adapter, but it barely gets any fuel that way. Tesla recommends that its customers install a 240v outlet in their homes instead, which can become a complicated process, depending on the setup. 

A Model X charging at home.

A Model X charging at home.

New Model 3 owners will have to hire a licensed electrician (Tesla offers a database of specially trained professionals for the job), so the cost varies depending on who you call for the job. It ultimately depends on any number of factors, including potential service panel upgrades, home improvements to make room for the system, and relevant permit and inspection fees. 

Tesla claims the costs might range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and enthusiastic owners on web forums mostly agree, with the lowest reported estimates for the job coming in around $350 and the highest up to $7,000.

Tesla also sells a line of Wall Connectors for home charging starting at $500. They’re not required, but make it easier for people to manage the entire installation process. Although installations can vary widely, our local Tesla shop told us that installing one of the Wall Connectors will likely run new owners about $1,500

Charging on the road

Charging outside the home might also add to the long-term cost of the Model 3. Tesla once offered free use of its Supercharger network to all owners, but now there are some fees for vehicles ordered after January 15, 2017. 

New Model S and X owners are given 400 kWh’s worth of Supercharging credits (roughly 1,000 miles) every year for free charging. The Model 3 owners won’t be given any credits, so drivers will have to pay for their Supercharging power when they use public chargers. 

Fees are assessed once those credits are used up. Rates vary by region, so you can check out your state’s estimated cost here. Tesla’s calculation tool projects that an extra 1,500 miles driven on a Supercharger will cost drivers about $90

Model S sedans in a Supercharger.

Model S sedans in a Supercharger.

There are other public EV charging locations out there, too. Tesla has its Destination Charging option, and third-party providers like ChargePoint offer public power sources with partner businesses, which expands the network even wider. ChargePoint CEO Pasquel Romano told Mashable that drivers who depend on the power stations might pay about $539 annually, or about $45 per month.

There are other unique factors at play — chiefly Supercharger and body shop expansion and delayed and costly repair concerns — that make buying a Tesla different than any other car on the road.  

Tax credit benefit

Tesla and other EV companies have long touted the federal (and in some areas, state) tax credits available for consumers as an incentive to buy their electric cars. The federal tax credit, which has been available since 2010, knocks an extra $7,500 off a car’s starting price once applied. Model 3 buyers who qualify can actually depend on a lower cost before tax and title and other incentives: $27,500.

That tax credit might not be available for many prospective Model 3 owners by the time their car is ready for purchase, however. The IRS code stipulates that the credit can only be applied while an automaker has sold fewer than 200,000 qualifying vehicles in the U.S. Tesla’s eligibility is dwindling, according to a market estimate by Edmunds that was reported by CNBC

Tesla's Model 3 handover event.

Tesla’s Model 3 handover event.

Image: Lance ulanoff/Mashable

Tesla is down to about 79,000 credits, according to Edmunds. That’s no small number of vehicles — but Elon Musk’s bold manufacturing plan calls for the automaker to pump out 20,000 Model 3s per month by December, and 50,000 per month by the end of 2018. That ramped up production is justified in order to catch up with the total of Model 3 reservations, of which there were roughly 400,000. The credit will likely be maxed out soon in the Model 3’s release timeline.  

The credit has a year-long phase out period that begins in the first two calendar quarters after exceeding the limit, cutting the incentive in half to $3,750, then in half again for the following two quarters to $1,875.

That means some drivers hoping for an even less expensive shot at the Tesla experience will likely wind up out of luck. So, in short, you should definitely consider all of the upgrades — and especially the cost of installing a home charger — before you finally decide plunk down the money for a brand new Tesla Model 3.

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