The Tesla Model S is the undeniable leader in mass-produced electric vehicles (EV) when it comes to the magic trifecta of range, charging speed, and service, but one question haunts many prospective Tesla buyers — what in the world is included in the optional and expensive annual maintenance plan? With the price per service running several hundred dollars, it may seem an outrageous price to service a car that, per Elon Musk, contains only 6 parts that wear out — 2 windshield wipers and 4 tires.
The service itself is recommended every 12,500 miles or every year, whichever comes first, which seems like an odd arrangement. Adding to the mystery, skipping the annual service does not void the warranty… so how important could it really be? After purchasing my Model S, that question was still unanswered and I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery when the first service was due on my Model S.
Having purchased a used Model S with just over 29,000 miles on it and subsequently putting another 2,600 miles on it to drive it across the United States, my first scheduled ‘annual’ service would be at the 37,500 mile marker. The Tesla Model S maintenance schedule follows a 4-year cycle with prices fluctuating from $400 to $900 depending on the year/mileage and corresponding services required. The 37,500 mile service is $400 and only notes a few relatively basic items on the schedule, with one exception:
The key fob battery replacement was something I could easily do and just used two CR2032 batteries that I already had on hand to swap them out. A handy tutorial gave me the confidence needed to pry the key fob open without fear of damaging it. Wipers also seemed like low-hanging fruit and, living in Southern California, aren’t something we frequently find ourselves in need of (unfortunately).
The cabin air filter proved a bit more difficult, but I was able to find an aftermarket replacement online that I was able to get shipped to my house. The Tesla Service Center will also sell you a cabin air filter, with folks online typically being charged $35, but with a few people claiming the bill was $50.
Kmanauto has a great video on YouTube showing how to replace the filter. He also has tons of other helpful Model S videos from his experience as an inquisitive Model S owner equipped with more automotive knowledge than the average Joe. The video for the filter change is at the bottom of this article for anyone interested in his no-nonsense overview of the filter swap procedure.
With the first 3 of 4 service tasks checked off, I reached out to Tesla Service to understand what the ambiguous “multi point inspection” entailed, to see if it was really worth the extra couple hundred bucks. They shared the text from the Tesla Service website, with no more detail to be gleaned. Maybe the austere response has something to do with my writeup on the Tesla Service screens….
The inspection gives the car a bumper-to-bumper, roof-to-wheel inspection to ensure that everything is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, with a few specific checks called out. From the Tesla Service FAQs:
- The Tesla team will remove the wheels and rotate the tires if necessary
- If a wheel alignment is determined necessary, this service can be performed for an additional charge.
- Logs will be pulled and examined, and all systems will be tested for operation.
- The drive unit assemblies will be inspected, and the temperature management system will be checked.
- Your brakes will be inspected. If the brake pads are outside of recommended specifications, they can be replaced for an additional charge.
- Normal items, such as windshield wipers, will be replaced as needed.
- Tread wear is inspected and if new tires are needed additional charges will apply if new tires are installed.
Of all of these items, most are items that can be relatively easily checked by someone with the interest and enough mechanical skill to change a tire. Though, a few items stand out due to the proprietary/technical nature of the tasks. Specifically, the inspection of the drive unit assembly, the temperature management system, and checking logs are Tesla proprietary tasks for the time being.
DIYers are still out of luck in most areas with only one state in the US (Massachusetts) even having the ability to access the service manual. With the manual only being online and with steep fees being levied to access it, maintenance of Teslas is sure to be an interesting topic as the fleet continues to age out of the warranty. I understand the reasoning behind a dynamic online manual — especially with so many flavors of the Model S running around — but it doesn’t feel customer friendly to prevent owners from learning about and servicing (or even to consider servicing) a car they own.
The big asterisk hanging over access to Tesla service manuals relates to “Tesla Approved Body Shops,” which are able to access the manuals for free. Interestingly, this access appears to only be intended for actual body work for accident repair, as all of the locations within 200 miles of me are body shops and do not appear to offer service such as log viewing and diagnostics. Hilariously, one of the approved shops near me is Ferrari of Beverly Hills (~100 miles away), which made me laugh and seems interesting. I wonder if that’s just an excuse for Ferrari to get its hands on the Tesla manuals….
For this round of service, I am planning to pass, but with the next service being a major service with several mechanical services — AC Service, Replace the Battery Coolant, and Replace the Brake Fluid — on the list, I just may have to spring for the $900 (!?!) service if the service manual isn’t available by then.
As a final note on the topic, the Model S service can be purchased in advance in the form of 3 and 4 year maintenance packages, which do let buyers save some cash if they have the money up front and don’t mind the commitment.
Top image by Kyle Field, screenshots from TeslaMotors.com