2 Ways To Upgrade To A Tesla For “Free”

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See two examples below of how to upgrade from a Honda Accord or Nissan Altima without any upfront cost or increase in monthly costs! One is for people who like to own their cars, and one is for people who lease their cars!

Example For People That Like To Own Their Cars And Drive 24,000 Miles a Year

Let’s say you just paid off your 2017 Honda Accord and have no car payment. I hear people say all the time:

  • You can’t beat no car payment.
  • At least it is paid for.

You know what beats that? Not paying a fortune to fill the tank every week!

Offer from Carvana for a 6-year-old Accord with 95,000 miles
Inventory Model 3 from Tesla.com

In this example, you buy a base Model 3 for $37,860 and you trade in your Honda Accord for $11,365 while also qualifying for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs. You use a credit card balance transfer deal to pay that $7,500 to Tesla and pay it back when you file your taxes in 6 months. Then you finance the remaining ~$19,000 for 7 years to get the lowest payment at a competitive credit union.

DCU credit union rates

You end up with about a $300 monthly payment, as you can see below.

So, you now have a $300 car payment and before you didn’t. This doesn’t sound “free” to me! Hold on — I’m going to give evidence that electric cars are MUCH cheaper to fuel and maintain than gas cars. First, here are the fuel cost for the two vehicles:

Screenshot from the EPA.gov site comparing a 2023 Tesla Model 3 and a 2017 Honda Accord

So, for someone driving 24,000 miles a year, the $2,350 a year fuel savings comes out to $196 a month.

Now let’s look at repair and maintenance costs for both cars. I found a great study from Consumer Reports that it donated to the public (you don’t need a Consumer Reports subscription). It has all kinds of good info, but the table below is from page 11 of the report.

From Consumer Reports

This suggests that the Honda will have $158 in repair and maintenance costs every 2,000 miles (2,000 miles times $0.079). It also suggests that in 4 or 5 more years, you will have reached the end of the expected life of your car, at 195,000 miles. The Tesla Model 3 after 4 years is about a quarter into its expected 300,000 to 500,000-mile life. The Tesla repair and maintenance costs are expected to be $24 a month for the first 50,000 miles (basically, $600 for new tires is the only significant cost) and $56 a month for the next 50,000 miles. So, for the first two years, you will be paying $134 less in repair and maintenance cost every 2,000 miles ($158 minus $24) and $102 less for the next 2 years ($158 minus $56).

So, if we add up the savings from fuel, maintenance, and repairs, we get $196 + $134 = $330 in savings every 2,000 miles! After two years, the savings drop to $196+$102= $298. So, the savings could pay for the auto loan payment!

At the end of the 7 years (or anytime before that), the 2023 Tesla will obviously be worth way more than a 2017 Honda Accord. So, you will be building equity without enduring the pain of higher monthly costs.

Example For People Who Like To Lease Their Cars & Drive 12,000 Miles A Year

This is much simpler.

If you are leasing the Altima, you could have someone take over that lease (pretend it ends this month), and then you could take over someone’s Tesla lease for only $23 more a month. You can’t drive either car 2,000 miles a month without mileage fees, so let’s assume 12,000 miles a year for this lease example.

“So, your savings for fuel, maintenance, and repairs would be about half or $165 a month, but this is far greater than the $23 increase in costs. If instead of an existing lease, you want a new lease, see below.”

New Tesla lease


The new lease will be $112 more than the example Altima lease (probably because interest rates are now higher), or $102 more than a new totally stripped Camry.


Toyota Lease from Toyota.com


Of course, to compare to a vehicle closer to a Tesla, the payment almost doubles to $766 for a well equipped Camry


Toyota lease from Toyota.com

So, you can see how you can get all the safety, emissions, performance, and fun advantages without breaking the bank!


Whether you own your cars or lease them, the Tesla Model 3 is very affordable right now (even more affordable in states like Colorado that have a $5,000 tax credit). Especially for people who drive a lot of miles a year, the expected immediate fuel, repair, and maintenance savings of the car (and other electric vehicles) mean you don’t have to invest a fortune now to receive savings far into the future. I showed how even a person with a paid off older car could switch to a Tesla Model 3 without any outlay of cash or increase in monthly expenses. I didn’t calculate the ending value of the 2017 Honda Accord after 7 more years of high mileage vs. a 2023 Tesla Model 3, but it could easily be worth over $10,000 more, since the Tesla would be about half used up at 168,000 miles whereas the Honda with 263,000 miles (it starts with 95,000) is well past its expected life.

If you want a more in-depth look at all of the costs of ownership, here is one of my recent articles.

If you want to take advantage of my Tesla referral link to get Reward Credits, here’s the code: https://ts.la/paul92237 — but as I have said before, if another owner helped you more, please use their link instead of mine. If you want to learn more about Tesla’s new referral program, Chris Boylan has written an excellent article on it.

Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Tesla [TSLA], BYD [BYDDY], Nio [NIO], XPeng [XPEV], Hertz [HTZ], and several ARK ETFs. But I offer no investment advice of any sort here.

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Paul Fosse

I have been a software engineer for over 30 years, first developing EDI software, then developing data warehouse systems. Along the way, I've also had the chance to help start a software consulting firm and do portfolio management. In 2010, I took an interest in electric cars because gas was getting expensive. In 2015, I started reading CleanTechnica and took an interest in solar, mainly because it was a threat to my oil and gas investments. Follow me on Twitter @atj721 Tesla investor. Tesla referral code: https://ts.la/paul92237

Paul Fosse has 225 posts and counting. See all posts by Paul Fosse