The odometer on my 2013 Tesla Model S ticked over 49,000 miles yesterday.

That means I’ll soon be facing a big financial decision: whether or not to buy Tesla’s extended warranty, or as they call it, extended service agreement (ESA).

The car’s standard bumper-to-bumper warranty is four years or 50,000 miles. (The powertrain—battery, inverter, and drive unit—is guaranteed for ten years and “infinite” miles.) 

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Mostly as a result of a 10,000-mile coast-to-coast trip last winter, I’ll hit the 50k mileage limit first, a bit short of three years after delivery.

Tesla offers the option to extend the warranty coverage for another five years/50,000 miles. But the price tag is steep: $4,000.

Competitive cost

Four Large is actually a pretty competitive price as these things go.

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S electric-car road trip, Route 66 Museum, Elk City, Oklahoma [photo: David Noland]

Mercedes charges $4750 for a three-year/50,000-mile extended warranty—the longest available—for its S-class. A 3/50 extension for the  slightly smaller E Class runs $3750.

BMW’s extended warranty for the 5 series—also limited to 3 years and 50,000 additional miles—runs from $4,000 to $5,500, depending on the model.

Limited options

Unfortunately, though, the Tesla ESA is one-size-fits-all:  four years and 50k miles, take it or leave it.

Both Mercedes and BMW offer multiple options for shorter extensions with less mileage—at lower prices.  A one-year/25,000-mile extension for a Mercedes E Class, for example, is $2200

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This is a factor for me, because I’m not sure I’ll keep my Model S for another four years. That dual-motor Model 3 crossover, due out in 2018, is looking pretty good.

And who knows what goodies Elon may come up with to make a trade-up to the 2016 or 2017 Model S irresistable?

Unknown territory

The major thorn in my decision-making process is the lack of long-term out-of-warranty repair history with the Model S.

Only a few hundred cars are more than four years old, and I’m guessing no more than a few thousand have driven past 50,000 miles. So only a minuscule percentage of the Model S cars on the road have a history of out-of-warranty repairs to study.

In fact, poring through the Model S owner forums, I couldn’t find a single first-hand testimonial that said “I had an out-of-warranty repair, and this is what it cost me.”

Tesla Model S in Albuquerque's 'snowstorm' during NY-to-California road trip [photo: David Noland]

Tesla Model S in Albuquerque's 'snowstorm' during NY-to-California road trip [photo: David Noland]

I’m happy to be a pioneer in the electric-car wilderness. But a pioneer in the Tesla out-of-warranty-repair wilderness? Not so much.

My repair history

Lacking anybody else’s repair history, I have no choice but to fall back on my own—which has been pretty good.

There have been a few balky door handles, all of which were eventually replaced with improved versions. After two years, the rear lift back latch stopped latching.

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And just recently, my 3-G connection (necessary to display the map and play music, among other functions) failed due to a bad cable.

All these problems were quickly fixed under warranty.

In addition to fixing these problems, Tesla also replaced several parts preemptively, without any problem occurring or complaint  from me. 

My 12-volt battery, part of a bad batch that caused problems in many other cars, was replaced early on. 

Onsite service by Tesla Motor technicians on 2013 Tesla Model S, upstate NY [photo: David Noland]

Onsite service by Tesla Motor technicians on 2013 Tesla Model S, upstate NY [photo: David Noland]

And just recently, my 85-kWh high-voltage battery was sent back to the factory to upgrade the main contactor. (A loaner battery was installed for the two-months the repair was in process.) 

Again, no cost to me.  

My total expenditure on the Model S over 32 months and 49,000 miles has been $1,000 for a new set of tires and $1,200 for two regular service visits.

Long-term worries

The truly big-ticket items (battery and drive unit) are still covered under the powertrain warranty.

And I doubt that the little niggling problems of the sort I’ve had in the past would amount to $4,000.

But there are a few potential show-stopper problems that worry me.

*The touch screen.  Sure, it’s a cool screen, but what happens when it comes up black one morning? The car is essentially unuseable without it. I’m haunted by my personal 30-year history with computer screens, which has been, shall we say, mixed.

Cost to replace?  About $6,000, according to a Tesla service manager I talked to. Ouch.

*Air suspension. Back when I was awaiting delivery of my car, air suspension was in effect a mandatory option.  To get my preferred standard coil suspension, I would have had to wait three or four months longer. But after waiting four years, I couldn’t bear the thought of more delay.

So now I’ve got the air suspension, and it worries me. I’m told air suspension was notoriously unreliable in older Mercedes, and for a couple of years I passed almost daily a deflated example resting forlornly on its haunches out back at a local repair shop. The image still haunts me.

But a Tesla service manger reassured me that Tesla’s air suspensions have been very reliable so far. But if they do fail, replacement cost would be about $2,000 per axle.

*Door handles  A notorious problem from the beginning, my door handles were replaced with allegedly improved versions. But how long will the improved ones last? Nobody knows.

If they fail again, it’s a $1200 repair. Each.  

Bottom line

I’m terribly torn. Should I be the savvy consumer, the gutsy adventurer willing to roll the dice and strike out into little-known territory?

Or should I succumb to the comfort and security of the Tesla womb, coddled and protected from any uncertainty or—God forbid—risk?

I’m still mulling. Stay tuned.


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