2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]Enlarge Photo
After 20 months and 26,000-plus miles, I finally spent my first dollar on maintenance for my 2013 Tesla Model S.
Almost 2,000 of them, in fact.
The total was $1,858--the cost of four new tires and Tesla's recommended annual service.
Up till that point, tire rotations, washer fluid replacements, service bulletin updates, and the like had been handled during service visits to correct minor glitches under warranty, and hadn't cost me anything.
DON'T MISS: Life With Tesla Model S: Three Days Of Service Nirvana (Sep 2013)
For almost two years, I literally didn't spend a single cent on the car--beyond the cost of its electric "fuel."
Onsite service by Tesla Motor technicians on 2013 Tesla Model S, upstate NY [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
Tires: low price, plus installation
My Model S, equipped with the standard 19-inch wheels, came from the factory with Goodyear Eagle all-season rubber.
I'm no tire or performance-driving expert, but they seemed fine. No problems, no complaints.
Still, after 26,000 miles of moderately aggressive driving, the tread on all four was getting down toward the wear bars.
I decided to upgrade to Michelin MXM4 all-season grand-touring tires, which Tesla offers as an OEM option.
The Michelins' tread-wear and speed ratings are a bit higher than those of the Goodyears, and Tesla says their reduced rolling resistance improves range by 3 percent. (That's about 8 miles.)
Tesla charged me $1,131 for the set of four tires--$250 each, plus $125 for mounting and balancing, plus a $6 tire disposal fee.
2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2013 Tesla Model S [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
I was a bit surprised to be charged extra labor for installation. In my experience, that's normally included in the price of a new tire.
But Tesla's price for each tire was more than $100 below Michelin's list price, and actually $13 cheaper than Tire Rack, which I've found is usually the rock-bottom cost.
Over 26,277 miles, $1,131 works out to 4.3 cents per mile for tires.
That's actually more than my electricity costs over the same distance, which amounted to just 3.6 cents per mile. Amazing.
Postscript: The new Michelins are much smoother and quieter than the Goodyears. This may be due to the brand switch, or the change from thin, worn-out tires to thick new ones.
Whatever the reason, the improvement is stark. We'll have to see about tread life.
2013 Tesla Model S at Supercharger station on NY-to-FL road trip [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
In the Fall of 2012, as Model S deliveries were beginning, Tesla announced an annual service program for the car--priced at a surprisingly high $600.
Moreover, the service was required in order to maintain the warranty.
MORE: Tesla Model S Service Contract: $600/Year, Or Warranty Voided (Oct 2012)
One of the huge advantages of an electric car is reduced maintenance--no oil to change, no air or fuel filters to clog up, virtually no brake pad wear.
So I was puzzled that Tesla had priced its annual service about three times as high as that for a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. (And infinitely higher than BMW's, which is free for the first four years.)
2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class (S500)Enlarge Photo
The $600 was more than 10 times what I'd just paid for the annual service on my Chevy Volt, which had both a gasoline engine and electric motors.
I was particularly dismayed by the no-service/no-warranty policy. To my mind, it verged on blackmail. But apparently a lot of other Model S owners-to-be agreed with me.
A survey by Tesla Motors Club showed that only 9 percent liked the maintenance program, while 12 percent hated it so much they said they would cancel their orders because of it.
So what was actually covered by this gold-plated and mandatory maintenance plan?
According to the Tesla website at the time, the $600 annual fee included an inspection, replacement brake pads and windshield wipers as required, 24-hour roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, and software updates.
2013 Tesla Model S in winter, Hudson Valley, NY [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
By the time my car was delivered in February, 2013, however, it had become clear that roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, and software upgrades applied to every Model S--whether or not the owner had opted for the $600 service.
As far as I could tell then, my mandatory $600 service that first year would buy me a look-over and some new wiper blades.
Low-maintenance electric cars indeed.
My owner's manual was no help in trying to figure out what actually was done during the annual service. It said only, "Take Model S to Tesla every 12,500 miles or 12 months."
Later, as I approached the milestones, I learned that newer owner's manuals listed the following maintenance schedule for the Model S:
Three of those four items didn't apply during my first year.
2013 Tesla Model S in Florida, during New York to Florida road trip [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
As for the fourth, Tesla had already rotated my tires--for free--during a service visit for a minor warranty glitch.
Fortunately, by then, Tesla had reversed course on the warranty issue. No annual service would be required for owners to maintain their warranties after all. (It turned out that such a requirement was illegal--not to mention inadvisable.)
With that policy change, it became a no-brainer for me: no service, at least for the first year.
But by October 2014, I'd had the car for 20 months and had just passed 26,000 miles. The car was going into the Tesla shop in Mount Kiscoe, New York, for the new tires anyway. So I decided to go ahead with the service.