What To Buy: A New Tesla Model 3 Or a CPO Tesla Model S?

AUG 3 2018 BY EVANNEX 32


Guest Blog Post: Jorge Sierra*

Lead image caption and credit: (Beauty and the Beast: Jorge Sierra)

I’ve been driving a Tesla Model S for about 4.5 years now, and have driven about 90,000 electric miles. I absolutely love my 2012 P85, and will never to go back to an internal combustion engine car again. In fact, we just purchased my wife’s new 2018 Long Range rear-wheel drive Model 3 and our household now has 100% electric transport.

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Jorge Sierra. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

One of the questions I most often encounter (from others interested in a Tesla) remains: “Is it better to purchase a CPO Model S or a new Model 3?”  Having now driven and experienced my wife’s Model 3 for some time puts me in a good position to answer that question and provide a little perspective.

2018 Model 3 Features Lacking in a 2012 Model S

For a subjective comparison, I put together a spreadsheet with a side-by-side comparison of the features in my 2012 Model S P85 vs my wife’s 2018 LR RWD Model 3.  In addition, for the features missing from my car, I put an approximate timeframe of when those features became available in Model S.  This should serve as a good guide to anyone on the fence between a CPO Model S and a new Model 3.

Above: A list of features lacking in a 2012 Model S that are available in Model 3, and, when they became available on later versions of the Model S (Source: Jorge Sierra)

When you look at the list of unavailable features and the time frames in which they became available, you can see it’s not such a cut-and-dry decision as to whether or not one should buy a similarly priced CPO Tesla Model S or a new Model 3.

Model 3 currently starts at $49,000 and discounting the $7,500 tax credit it is $41,500.  I would say to get the majority of the features in the list above, you would need to purchase a 2015 CPO or newer.  Currently, there are no 2015 CPO Model S vehicles for less than $46,000.

2012 Model S Features Lacking in a 2018 Model 3

Here is the list of features that are available in a 2012 Model S has that are not available on Model 3:

  • 17” vertical touchscreen console unit
  • 21” wheels
  • Auto-presenting door handles
  • Calendar touchscreen app
  • Camping mode (keep climate control on from touchscreen)
  • Dual chargers
  • Free supercharging
  • Instrument panel display
  • Manual climate control airflow adjustment
  • Paint Armor
  • Panoramic roof
  • Powered liftgate/trunk
  • Rear-facing seats
  • Smart air suspension
  • Web browser touchscreen app

Other Differences

Of course, being a much larger vehicle, Model S has more storage space than Model 3.  The Model S frunk is significantly larger than Model 3, particularly early rear-wheel drive models such as mine.

The acceleration of my P85 is noticeably quicker than Model 3, but Model 3 is certainly no slouch.  It has more than sufficient acceleration for getting on the highway and passing. Model S handles well, but compared to Model 3 it feels a bit more “floaty”, as you would expect from a very large sedan.  I feel much more connected to the road in Model 3, and it has near-zero body roll.

Although my Model S comes with free supercharging, it is a first gen battery and is limited to 90 kW supercharging.  The long-range Model 3 can supercharge up to 135 kW and has a much longer range. This allows Model 3 owners to save more time (saving hours of supercharging time on longer road trips). In addition, paying for supercharging is still much less than paying for gasoline.

Both vehicles have upgraded sound systems, but the Model 3 system sounds better.  The smaller cabin and better sound insulation of the Model 3 make the acoustics better, and I think it’s a higher quality system.  Even phone calls made through the Model 3 sound much better than in my Model S.

Above: My 2012 Tesla Model S P85 (Photo: Jorge Sierra)

The only major feature my Model S has that I really miss in Model 3, is the ability to keep climate control on from the touchscreen, when exiting the vehicle.  I often make quick stops at the grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, etc. With a couple of taps of the touchscreen, I can keep the A/C running and the car stays cool in the hot Florida sun.

The good news: that feature could easily be added in a firmware update.  As a workaround, after exiting Model 3, you have to launch the smartphone app and reactivate climate control.  It’s a bit of a hassle, and it’s much more convenient to do this via the touchscreen.

Another thing to consider is the differences in warranty.  If you purchase a CPO Model S with fewer than 50,000 miles, you get a warranty similar to what you would with a new Model 3: 4 years/50,000 miles, whichever comes first.  For battery and drivetrain, you’ll receive whatever is remaining on the original warranty.

If you purchase a CPO with over 50,000 miles, the “frunk-to-trunk” warranty is cut to 2 years/100,000 total odometer miles, whichever comes first.  Most if not all CPOs that are comparable in price will likely fall into this warranty category.


Taking into consideration current CPO prices, and the full $7,500 federal tax credit still being available for Model 3, I would say it is probably better to buy a new Model 3.  You’ll get more (and better) features than you would with a CPO Model S, and likely a better warranty as well.

Above: My wife’s 2018 Long Range rear-wheel drive Tesla Model 3 (Photo: Jorge Sierra)

If you can manage to find a 2015 (or newer) 85 kWh (or larger battery capacity) Model S with under 50K miles for less than $45,000, then it may be worth getting the CPO.  I would review the list of available features, and try to do an apples-to-apples comparison to a new Model 3. However, I think it’s extremely unlikely to find such a deal at this point in time.  Perhaps as the fleet continues to age, some vehicles matching that criteria may come available.


*Jorge Sierra has been a Tesla Model S owner since June 2014 and has rolled about 90,000 electric miles since then.  Jorge is the creator of Radar Alerts for Tesla vehicles, and is also an active member in the Tesla subreddit under the handle GeekLad.

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

Categories: Buying Advice, Comparison, Tesla

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32 Comments on "What To Buy: A New Tesla Model 3 Or a CPO Tesla Model S?"

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One omission is the battery. Model 3 is the next gen battery, bettery power density, better charging specs and probably better reliability, cycle life and longevity. Model 3 is also much more efficient. When you buy a electric car, you are basically spending most of your money on the battery so based on this, with the Model 3, you are getting a much better battery for less.

True, but the Model S battery has proven to be very reliable. For me, I’d go with a CPO Model S, I think the exterior design has aged quite gracefully.

Exactly, use EV Trip Planner or similar and looking at the Model 3 LR I can actually use it as a gas car substitute because of the added efficiency and newer faster charging battery. I can make my annual trip back to Wyoming in nearly the same amount of time as my gas car. If I look at even short range model 3 or any of the older Model S cars they add several hours charge time relative to the Model 3 LR, making my 13 hour or so drive into 15 or more. No chance I would buy a used Model S unless it was a high end model or significantly cheaper than a new Model 3 LR ($60k with AP+FSD).

We took our first trip that was 480 miles in our Model 3. It was really just like taking a gas car. Driving around an average of 75 mph with AC and 3 of us and luggage, we stopped 3 times (we would stop three times regardless for family bathroom breaks) and plugged in. We plugged in and did our business of going to bathroom, standing in line to get coffee or whatever and then by the time we walked back to the car we just unplugged and drove on. There was no waiting around in the car or checking any apps to calculate how far until our next stop. Before leaving the house we just simply looked at where the Superchargers would be and they were all spaced around 2 hours apart so we just stopped at each one to take a short break. There were actually 4 Superchargers on our route so we just skipped the first one since we started the trip with a full battery. Each stop was between 10-20 minutes depending on what we were grabbing to go and how many people needed to go to the bathroom. Charging up to 50% from what ever… Read more »

I could not agree more. I took my Model 3 for a 300 mile trek and when I did my normal stops for bathroom or food the car was ready before my family and I. AC was on non-stop since it was 90 outside. Could not have been any easier. Oh and my gas car would have cost about $110 round trip where my model 3 was $22. Thanks Tesla!

We took a trip in our Model 3 of over 1700 miles. We would get food before we plugged in to charge and we would finish charging before we were done eating. Really enjoyable experience overall

He did touch on range an charging speed. As for longevity, that remains to be seen.

Right. It is absolutely far too soon to pronounce the Gigafactory 2170 cells as having better longevity than the older 18650 cells.

We’ll likely have to wait a couple of years for third-party evidence to trickle in about real-world battery capacity retention/aging in the Model 3, just as we did with the Model S when it was new.

We can hope the 2170 cells are better — or at least not worse, since battery longevity in the Model S is already better than was expected — but every time a battery maker changes the chemistry, the results are going to be different. And not always better in every single characteristic.

The path to obtaining a CPO Model S, is still considerably shorter than that of the Model 3.

Is the wait worth it? Only you can decide!

Kudos to Jorge Sierra, to help with considering the ramifications and cost benefit analysis, in what could be a difficult Tesla comparison shopping decision.

Ron Swanson's Mustache

Ha. Great article, I’ve been looking at used Model S’s online wondering this exact thing.

I find the Model 3’s driving dynamics to be much more fun than the S. Unless you need the cargo space, my vote is for the 3.

What video game is that?

It pretty much comes down to which one you like better, and what car suits your own personal needs. Both are good options with different target audiences. Ignore what people on the internet say is “better”, and judge based on what meets your own needs/desires.

Yup. Choosing a car to buy has both practical/rational and emotional considerations. The article above may help a potential car buyer with the practical/rational reasons, but the only way to find out one’s emotional reaction to the cars is to give each of them a test drive, or at the very least sit in each for a bit.

Alas, the dual chargers option is no longer available either as pre-order or post order in the store. Also Autopilot 1.0 vs. 2.0 dates matter and are not on your list (you list enhanced autopilot with the Autopilot 1.0 date, and enhanced requires 2.0)

It is difficult to tell if a CPO Model S has dual chargers, but that would be a prerequisite for me. Odd that the dual charger is no longer listed as an add-on…

I was unaware that the early Model S could only SuperCharge at 90 kW, is there a clear date where that changed?

Dual chargers affects only slow (L1 or L2) charging, not Supercharging. From discussion on the Tesla Motors Club forum it looks like the dual charger option was discontinued, both because Tesla upgraded the single chargers from 40 amps to 48 amps, and because dual chargers didn’t benefit most customers.

A relevant quote:

If a home or destination connector is connected to 240V and 30A circuit then, it’s a waste for dual chargers because even a single charge can handle 50A circuit.

To be useful for your dual chargers in your car, your home or destination power connectors must provide a breaker with 240V and 100A.


It is difficult, but not impossible to find dual charger CPO’s. ev-cpo.com allows you to search on the “must have” of 2nd/high power charger. Then from that list, take the partial VIN and confirm it has dual chargers by going to their “option code lookup” and confirming it has CH01 Dual Chargers.

Here is one:


Only one choice? Used Model S all the way !

I’m just the opposite, Model 3 for me! It’s more manageable size for my garage.

“Here is the list of features that are available in a 2012 Model S has that are not available on Model 3:

“…Panoramic roof”

Huh? I don’t know what they call it on the Model 3, but it certainly does have a panoramic windshield/ glass roof!

I believe that Model S is 4 inches wider thus having true “panoramic” feeling:)

And 9 inches longer I think. To big for my garage

I have a 2015 Model S70D and a Model 3 I purchased in January with 13K miles on it. No question, I would go with the Model 3. I prefer the more compact size and the view out the window with the low cowl is amazing. Plus the added range makes long trips much shorter.

wait a minute.
Rear passengers now have USB and cup holders?
I have to admit that would be useful for our 2013.

Neither. I will buy a luxury European sedan instead.

I didn’t wait… bought a 2013 CPO Model S85 a year ago for $43,500. Best car purchase ever. Had 60,000 miles on it, 95% capacity retained. Can’t see any capacity loss over the last year. Runs rings around the 2011 Leaf I drove for 6 years. I wanted the speedometer right in front of me, so didn’t consider waiting for Model 3.

5 months left on my Volt lease. My decision is between these exact 2

Ultimately I prefer a smaller vehicle, but a P85 for around $40k I would consider

If you want a big car or prefer the styling of the inside of the S go cpo. Otherwise the 3 is the better choice.

What car do you take on road trips (500+ miles)?

Don’t take it the wrong way as I am big fan of EV’s; but I think I will have at least one ICE vehicle until there is affordable EV with range >500 miles.

Model 3 steel roof black and cloth seats.

The Model S Cold Weather package includes heating steering wheel, this isn’t available on the Model 3.