Ah, the used Model S vs. new Model 3 debate—it’s an age-old question among prospective Tesla buyers. Given that they are both similarly-priced and both come with factory warranties—which one do you choose?

This is a confusing topic, and something that’s been mulled over many times on r/teslamotors and a variety of other places. But as experts in the used Tesla world who’ve been faced with the same decision, we wanted to give our take on the problem. So, let’s jump right in!

New Model 3 vs. Used Model S—What Are Your Needs?

Before you get too far into the “used Model S vs. new Model 3” debate, it’s important to think first about what your needs are prior to mulling over features and pricing comparisons.

For starters—are you someone whose lifestyle even works with a Model 3? If you’ve got kids, car seats, frequently haul a bunch of cargo, are a larger/taller person, need the option to tow something, etc.—you may find that a Model 3 isn’t even the best Tesla for you. In fact, it may not even be tenable.

On the other hand, if you’ve got a smaller family, don’t require as much parking space, cargo space, and other core features that a Model S provides, a Model 3 may be a viable option. In this case, a Model 3 and a Model S may both be on the table.

In terms of differences—yes, everyone knows the Model S is a larger, more “sedan-like” car, where the Model 3 is a smaller, sportier, more compact car—but the truth is that both of these vehicles don’t work for everyone’s lifestyle. So, before you get any further down the used Tesla vs. new Tesla rabbit hole, you need to decide if both of these vehicles are an option based on your lifestyle, family needs, etc. just based on their pure size and core functionality alone.

So—if you’re someone who could live with either a Model 3 or a Model S (this is not everyone)—then keep reading!

Older Model S vs. New Model 3 Pros and Cons

Aside from their core functionality, there are some well-known and lesser-known pros and cons about the Model 3 and CPO/used Model S, so let’s take a moment to look at those.

New Model 3 pros:

  • More modern vehicle
  • Better battery technology
  • All Model 3 vehicles have at least Autopilot 2.0 hardware
  • Better/more responsive touch screen than older Model S vehicles with MCU 1
  • Sportier, better-handling vehicle
  • Better sound system (yes, really)
  • Better range
  • Faster charging
  • Brand new (no scratches, dings, wear, etc.)
  • Easier to obtain (can be purchased from local Tesla store, no shipping from another location)

New Model 3 cons:

  • Smaller, more narrow seats
  • Only one screen
  • Less cargo space
  • Generally slower than Model S
  • Fewer high-end features (no sliding panoramic roof, heated steering wheel, etc.)
  • Less luxurious overall
  • Slightly less “wow factor” and presence
  • Additional registration tax (in some states) and destination/doc fee

That about sums up the new Model 3 pros/cons. Now let’s look at used Model S pros/cons:

CPO/Used Model S pros:

  • Significantly discounted performance models (used P100Ds, etc. are often $30k less than new)
  • Larger interior/seats
  • Two screens (one in dash, one central screen)
  • Real leather available (if you’re looking for this)
  • Greater variety of paint colors (favorites like Obsidian Black Metallic)
  • Larger capacity for cargo, camping, etc.
  • Towing available
  • More wheel/tire options
  • Free unlimited supercharging is often included
  • Autopilot is often included

CPO/Used Model S cons:

  • Sometimes it can take a while to get your Tesla
  • Scratches, dings, etc. and other condition issues can be present vs. new
  • Sometimes you might have to pay for shipping if the vehicle you want is in other state
  • You may not be able to see/inspect the vehicle before purchasing
  • Great deals often disappear before you can act on them
  • Higher mileage vehicles often have limited warranties CPO warranties are limited to 1-year now
  • Technology (Autopilot hardware, MCU, etc.) is often older vs. a Model 3

If you’re wondering when we mean by “it can take a while to get them” etc., just take a look at this video from good old Uncle Rich:

And that about sums it up for the general pros/cons of a CPO Model S vs. new Model 3. But what about warranties? Let’s take a look at that situation.

Comparing CPO Model S Warranties vs. New Model 3 Warranties

Things have changed quite a bit over the years when it comes to Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Teslas.

First of all, even though the community still calls them CPO cars, Tesla doesn’t really sell “Cerfitied” vehicles anymore. Yes, they do inspect them and don’t resell vehicles with a certain amount of mileage or damage, but their process used to be quite a bit more rigorous where they actually reconditioned them. But, this proved to be too much work, so eventually they stopped doing this.

There are basically 2 warranty levels when it comes to a CPO Model S: There’s only one warranty level as of late 2020:

Vehicles that are under 4 years old and 50k miles get another 4 year, 50k mile warranty, very similar to the factory warranty.

Vehicles that are over 4 years old and 50k miles get another 2 year, up-to-100k mile warranty.

Update for late 2020/early 2021: Tesla only has one warranty option for CPO vehicles now: 1-year, and that’s it. Getting a 2 or 4-year warranty on a used Model S used to be a killer benefit of buying a CPO vehicle, but that’s now gone away.

The awesome thing about buying a CPO Model S is that you get that peace of mind that comes with a Tesla warranty. However, in a lot of cases, this doesn’t really matter because extended warranties from Tesla are available, so you can get a killer deal buy shopping for a non-CPO Model S from a private party, and then just add an extended warranty.

The only caveat to this is that Tesla will not currently allow someone to purchase an extended warranty on a vehicle that was held by a dealer, so that’s something to consider when you’re purchasing.

What About a Non-CPO Used Model S? Is This Any Cheaper?

Yes! A non-CPO Model S bought from a private party (like many that are listed for sale on Find My Electric) are often actually a better deal than a CPO Tesla.

Yes, you do have to do your due diligence vetting both the vehicle and the seller—but the thing about private sellers is that they often set lower prices than Tesla for used vehicles, and there’s also room to negotiate—and Tesla does not negotiate at all, in any way.

And, as mentioned above, if you’re worried about the warranty you can always add an extended warranty. The only caveat to this situation is there are some years and mileage limits where Tesla will not allow an extended warranty to be added (no later than 30 days or 1,000 miles past the expiration of the factory warranty).

What About a CPO Model 3? Or Used Model 3 in General?

Buying a CPO Model 3 or a used Model 3 is actually an excellent way get a great deal and save money on things like Full-Self Driving, and to avoid the destination and doc fee.

CPO Model 3s are available on Tesla’s website, and they are very similar to a CPO Model S—but one important thing to note is that at the time of writing, Tesla does not currently offer an extended warranty for Model 3. Will they in the future? We don’t know yet—because Model 3 warranties haven’t expired by year (only by mileage) in some rare cases as most Model 3s are pretty low mileage still. That said, it’s something they may offer in the future, but currently (at the time of writing) they do not.

Because Tesla doesn’t currently offer any special warranty on a CPO Model 3, there’s really not much difference between buying from Tesla and buying from a private party—minus their inspection (which you can have them do on a private party vehicle that you’re interested in). The biggest difference is that you can negotiate with a private party and save some additional money in many cases.

Used Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Model S vs. New Model 3—Which is the Better Value?

So, the ultimate question—what’s a better value—a used Model S (CPO/private party) or a new Model 3?

The answer is—it’s a tie in our opinion. There are pros/cons to each one, and they work out to be about the same price—so it really just depends more on whether or not you want a Model S or Model 3. A used Model S can be found in excellent condition often times as most Tesla owners care for their vehicles pretty well, so it’s really a matter of deciding what you want, narrowing down the specifics, and then going from there.

Where Can You Find a Good Deal on a Used Tesla Model S?

Well, right here of course! Find My Electric is the ultimate used Tesla marketplace­­—and we’ve got a variety of listings for Model S, Model 3, and other Tesla vehicles. And if you’re selling a Tesla, you can do that here too! And of course if you’ve got any questions about buying, selling, or just want to engage in some nerdy talk about Teslas—feel free to reach out!