A DIYer’s Guide To The 1st Year Of Annual Service For The Tesla Model 3
Rich Rebuilds recently stepped back from the operations at his new digs (at the Electrified Garage) to give his viewers an inside look at what all goes into the annual service for a 1 year old Tesla Model 3. He talks with his lead tech, who previously worked for Tesla in their service department, to deconstruct not only the tasks Tesla performs during the first annual service, but the why behind each.
The result is a helpful video for Model 3 owners looking to perform the service themselves and for owners just looking to get to know their vehicles a bit better before taking their cars in for service. It is a great primer and is also just excellent content to watch for those looking to better understand how vehicles and specifically electric vehicles work. I will unpack all the juicy details below, but if you want to dive right into the video, don’t let me get in the way:
The Tesla Model 3 they are servicing has racked up 16,000 miles and makes a great candidate for this video. They are located in the Northeastern United States, where drivers get to plow through all four seasons, including salty, wet, snowy conditions that we just don’t get out here in California.
Disclaimer: Be sure to take proper safety precautions before performing maintenance on your vehicle yourself. It is far too easy to get hurt while performing service on your vehicle, so note that you do so at your own risk. We are not automotive maintenance experts and this article does not provide full detail on any of the tasks discussed so please — go out and get proper training before taking any of these tasks on yourself.
Wheels & Tires
First of all, they pull the rims off and check the pressure of each tire. They are looking for each to be at 42 PSI, but your mileage may vary there depending on the tires you’re running and their specific preferences. Whatever the correct pressure is for your neck of the woods, checking your tire pressure is worth doing every couple of weeks and shouldn’t wait for an annual service check.
Next up, they check the wear on the tires. The wear patterns on tires indicates whether they have been running at the correct pressure and whether or not the vehicle needs an alignment. For more depth here, Bridgestone has a great primer on its site, so if you are planning to perform this service yourself, drop in over there to get more details of what problems to check for and what the root cause could be. If the wear patterns indicate an alignment issue, you will probably want to take the car to a shop to have the service performed by professionals with a precision alignment system.
At a high level, it’s worth checking the wear on the tires while you have them off. Check for nails, screws, or other projectiles that may have embedded themselves in your tires as well because it is entirely possible that you may have picked something up that hasn’t caused problems yet.
When you’re ready to put them back on, rotate the tires using one of two patterns. For rear-wheel drive vehicles, the front tires should be pushed to the opposite rear wheel. The rear tires then move directly up to the front slot ahead of them. For example, the front driver’s side tire moves back to the rear passenger side while the rear driver’s side tire moves up to the front driver’s side slot.
For all-wheel drive vehicles, all tires should swap positions in an X pattern. The front driver’s side tire moves back to the rear passenger side and the rear driver’s side tire moves to the front passenger side. Rotating tires is one of the lower hanging fruit that DIY owners can take on with just a few tools, but be sure to familiarize yourself with the process, as it still involves lifting the vehicle off the ground, which can be hazardous if done improperly.
Suspension & Alignment
With the wheels off, now is a good time to look at the suspension. Tesla’s annual service includes a check of the sway bars for play, all of the ball joints, and tie rod ends for excessive play. This is a task best performed by an expert, since you have to know what you’re looking for. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it is a great time to familiarize yourself with some of the larger components in the suspension, since they are all but hidden with the wheels on.
If the tire wear indicated an alignment is required, get that taken care of as well. Rich notes the bolt where the toe of the wheel can be adjusted. This is the angle at which the wheel points along the front-to-back axis of the car when looking at it from above. A toe-in setting is when the front of the tire is angled in towards the center of the car while toe-out indicates that the front of the tires point away from the center of the vehicle.
While you’re down there, check the springs to make sure they’re seated right. The springs move with every single up and down movement of the car and get jostled around quite a bit on some of the more interesting, less maintained roads out there.
I know what you’re saying. “I’m in a Tesla, so my brakes never need changing!” Well, yes, but no. Check it out. Just like on internal combustion vehicles, cleaning and lubing the brakes is critical for cars in areas that experience real winter weather where salt is applied to the road. Salt corrodes metal in the car and that’s not something you want happening with your brakes. Keeping them clean and lubing them back up hedges against this to keep them in good shape for the rare occasion when you do need them.
Before we get to that, it is still worth checking the brake pads themselves for wear. They should last a lot longer in an electric vehicle like a Tesla, but who knows how your better half drives the car when you’re not looking (because it couldn’t be you mashing on the brake pedal, right?).
Rich’s techs at the Electrified Garage took a wire brush to the calipers and a wire wheel to the pads and bolts. It’s a simple matter of removing the start of the corrosion and sealing it back up again with some lube. They aren’t lubing up the contact face of the pads because that can completely kill the pads and significantly reduce their ability to slow the vehicle. That’s clearly bad, so don’t do it.
Ironically, the fact that the Model 3 doesn’t use the brakes nearly as much as on internal combustion vehicles makes the annual brake service more important, so things don’t corrode and seize in place. The majority of the slowing action in the Model 3 comes from regeneration, allowing brake pads themselves to stay in place for many, many years.
True DIY Tasks
Underneath the car, a number of plastic and fiber panels are strung together to streamline the airflow under the car. Over time, the bolts and clips that hold these in place can come loose, so it’s a good idea to check these to ensure they’re all still in place. Replacing any missing bolts will ensure a long life for your plastic panels and keep any squeaks or rattles coming from the undercarriage to a minimum.
Back up top, replacing the windshield wiper blades and topping up wiper fluid is a great pair to check as well. Depending on how much use they’re getting, these are 2 of the 3 top wear items in the car, with tires being the other major item on the list.
Finally, replace your cabin air filters. It’s a quick and easy task that just about anyone can do. They cover this starting at ~26:42 (click here to watch from that point). These live in the center of the dash and are accessed from the passenger side footwell area.
The first annual service is important for the Model 3, as it is the first chance you have to officially catch any small things that have gone wrong (see above) or any small items missed by Tesla when your vehicle was first put together. Even if you are not planning to do any of this work yourself, it is an interesting look inside what makes the Model 3 tick (or to keep it from ticking).