Life With Tesla Model S: Trying Out The Service Program

2013 Tesla Model S in Queens, NY, service center, awaiting delivery to buyer David Noland, Feb 2013

2013 Tesla Model S in Queens, NY, service center, awaiting delivery to buyer David Noland, Feb 2013

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Tesla's announcement last month of its new service program sounded almost too good to be true.

If anything went wrong with my 2013 Tesla Model S, promised CEO Elon Musk, instead of schlepping to the nearest service center, I would simply await the arrival in my driveway of the Tesla service tech.

He would be driving a low-mileage, top-of-the-line 85-kWh Model S Performance loaner car.

We would trade cars. And he would whisk mine back to the shop, leaving me to drive the fanciest model of Tesla until my lesser 60-kWh car was fixed and returned to me.

It almost made me wish something would go wrong with my car.

Well, last week, it did.

Two things, actually.

The seat-belt buckle for the left-rear seat wasn't clicking into place properly, making the belt unusable.

And the button on the charge cord was intermittently failing to remotely open the charge port.

At first, the button failed only occasionally. But it had become increasingly balky, and by now  was failing most of the time.

That meant I had to clamber into the driver's seat and open the charge port via the touch screen.  Not a huge deal, but annoying nevertheless.

So I called the Tesla service center in White Plains, New York--about 40 miles away from my home in the Hudson Valley--to set up an appointment. I was given a slot for the following week.

Unfortunately, though, they only had one loaner car, and it was already scheduled to be in use during the time I had scheduled.

I would have to bring my car in and wait for it.


As I pulled up to the service center at the end of the 45-minute drive, my visions of a sprawling Lexus-style service palace quickly abated.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

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Tesla's White Plains service center, just off Interstate 287, is a small, drab, nondescript building in a low-rent industrial area.  It has no sign or Tesla logo; I found the building only after noticing a whole bunch of Model Ses parked outside.

The service bay at least looked Tesla-worthy: Like the factory in Fremont, California, it was spotlessly clean with white-painted floors.

I handed over my keys and settled into the waiting room.

Though small and sparsely furnished, the waiting room at least featured an upscale Keurig coffee maker. And instead of People magazines, it offered The New Yorker, Food & Wine, and Barron's.

(After its recent bearish article about Tesla's long-term growth outlook, I wonder if Musk will ban Barron's from all service-center waiting rooms.)

And, thank goodness, there was no television set blaring news or talk shows.

After about an hour, the maintenance tech came into talk about my car.  The seat-belt problem was easy: The receptacle had simply slipped too far down below the seat cushion, preventing the tang from being pushed into it far enough to click in properly. He just pulled the receptacle up a bit, above the cushion.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

Enlarge Photo

Duh. Should have figured that one out myself.

As for the charge-cord button, it had of course worked flawlessly during numerous charge-door test openings. He had lubed the charge door, but said there was nothing else to be done.

For perhaps 20 minutes we chatted about the upcoming software update 4.5, the status of the sleep mode, the ideal charge level for battery longevity, and the various other matters that Tesla fans talk about.

There was no bill, of course; everything was covered by the warranty. I drove away quite satisfied with the experience.

Okay, maybe Tesla's rosy promise of Model S Performance loaners for all was too good to be true--at least until its inventory of loaner cars grows substantially.

But I found a service technician I could actually talk to, decent coffee, and no mind-numbing TV in the waiting room. 

I'll take it.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S owner and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.


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Comments (17)
  1. Yeah, I imagine the loaners are concentrated in the larger CA markets to start. Price of being on the bleeding edge, I guess. Glad everything else was up to snuff.

  2. David, did they charge your car or offer you to do so? I know in the hour you waited with some of it spent on the charge port cover there isn't much of an opportunity, but one of the differentiating items among the other makes' service centers is if they plug your car to charge after finishing service.

  3. I've had two maintenance visits to the San Diego Service Center. My experience was pretty much as David's. They charged my car on the first but not the second visit. Depends on how many new ones are being prep'd for delivery. They tend to get priority.

  4. Thanks! So speaking of priorities in my humble opinion existing customers should not be second, especially at a service center. Although it is true that with the hundreds of miles of range the Model S does not desperately need intraday charging, doing so at the service center would be convenient and a nice gesture (just like the coffee and magazines in the waiting room). Maybe even as a part of the supercharger network philosophy and expansion, Tesla should consider the service centers as a priority for charging their customers' cars.

  5. On the other hand, I don't expect Toyota to fill up my Prius with gas when I go in for service. For Tesla to have done so 50% of the time is actually kind of remarkable. It's easy to get spoiled in an EV.

  6. Also, I am NOT sure if it is a safe thing to do. I certainly don't them to charge the car while they are working on it. So, it would only make sense if they supercharge it at the end. But it would require them to install superchargers (enough of them) at every service station AND ask you to wait longer...

  7. No, the car wasn't charged.

    That would be a nice touch--a Supercharger to top up the battery. And if Tesla really wants to be top-drawer, they could throw in a car wash, the way the local Mini dealer does for my wife's car. She even gets a lunch voucher at a nearby diner.

  8. Just a tip from a fellow Model S owner... The button on the charge cord communicates with the vehicle via wires embedded in the rear hatch window and I have found that if I point it toward the rear window it works better.

  9. I tried that, on the advice of a Tesla hotline rep. Didn't work.

  10. As a Model S owner, I am very pleased with Tesla's service. I previously owned a Prius, and I would have to sit over an hour each time I had the oil changed. I have only had two minor issues. The first time, they offered to come pick up the car and drop off a loaner. I drove to the service center (50 miles away), and they fixed the problem. The second time, they sent out a Tesla Ranger and they fixed my door handle in the parking lot of my business while I was at work. The service personnel have a great attitude, and I could not be more pleased.

  11. Andrew, as a future Tesla Model S driver, I hope, thank you for the real world feedback. Just like with Mr. Nolan, it is appreciated.

  12. When I first got my car, I had a fault warning that Tesla diagnosed and cleared in a few minutes remotely from Palo Alto (via the 3G cell link), while I was sitting in the car. Now THAT'S service.

  13. Competent, fast, free warranty service. And the NADA says we need third party dealerships to "protect and serve" the customer.

  14. "As for the charge-cord button, it had of course worked flawlessly during numerous charge-door test openings. "

    I always hate one of those "No Trouble Found" type of problems. It is hard for the technician to work on and frustrating for the owners. But they can't fix it if they can't reproduce the problem.

    Do you know what the "frequency band" of the remote? Is it RF? If so, can there be any other "interference" nearby that can cause this? Any other higher power communication devices nearby to "saturate" the receiver?

  15. Perhaps Xiaolong is correct. Mr Nolan can be a detective and have another article about what he found was interfering with his RF signal when plugging in to the Model S. It would be local to his home. It could be his satellite dish, TV remote, daughters hair dryer, top secret underground base. whatever.

  16. We just picked up our black 60 kwh June 4th from White Plains. The staff was extremely enthusiastic about their company and product. There was only one issue, and it's the only issue we've had with the car in the first 1000 miles. Due to a severe lack of charge points in the service center, the car wasn't charged enough for us to drive 100 miles home from White Plains...doh! So Tesla gave us their 85 kwh performance car and we headed to the dinner reservations we had made, and Tesla picked up the tab. When we finished dinner our new car was waiting for us outside the restaurant. Very classy indeed! The car is absolutely astounding and has exceeded all our expectations. Not a single issue has developed within the first week.

  17. I live south of Boston and recently had a slightly noisy coolant pump replaced on my wife's new Model S. At our request, the Tesla service center in Watertown brought us a Tesla Roadster to drive. We had a blast, but were glad it was not our daily driver. Hard not to like service like this!

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