How to buy a Tesla online

Tesla lets you skip the dealership, order a car from the comfort of your couch

Tesla Model Y official

Buying a Tesla has always been a little bit different than buying a car from other automakers. Instead of recruiting franchised dealerships, which is the status quo in America, the company decided to sell its cars through its own stores, a strategy similar to the one adopted by big tech companies like Apple. The process became even more unique when the California-based company announced it would shift to a fully digital sales model. As of early 2019, Tesla sells its cars online exclusively, meaning motorists can order a Model 3 or a Model Y from the comfort of their couch.

It’s an innovative, forward-thinking approach to retail that’s unique in the automotive industry. Here is how the process works.

Find the model and version that suits you

To start, visit the company’s official website and select the model you’re interested in. Tesla currently sells four cars: The Model S, the Model X, the Model 3, and the Model Y. Each one is offered in several configurations. For example, the rear-wheel drive Model 3 lineup includes standard-range, standard-range plus, and long-range variants. Buyers who need all-wheel drive can select the long-range or performance version.

Tesla clearly states the price of each car on its website, but it warns potential buyers that the figure it provides includes potential incentives and gas savings. Its site lists the entry-level Model 3 at $26,950, because the company deducts the $3,750 federal incentive many buyers are eligible to receive, as well as a $4,300 gas saving, which represents six years’ worth of gasoline. The actual price of the car is $35,000.

Clicking on each version tells you precisely how much you’ll pay for it depending on whether you’re buying it in cash or financing it. You can estimate your monthly payment, which will vary based on the amount you put down, the length of the loan, and the annual percentage rate (APR). Tesla also lets buyers get a more precise estimate of how much money they’ll save after going electric by punching in how many miles they drive annually and how much they normally pay for fuel.

By entering their zip code, buyers can find out approximately how long they’ll need to wait before taking delivery. The more expensive variants of the Model 3 ship faster than the cheaper versions. If you’re in California, you can get the range-topping performance model within two weeks, but you’ll need to wait between six and eight weeks if you’re interested in the entry-level model priced at $35,000.

Configure your car online

Tesla Model Y official

You’re ready to configure your car when you know which one you want, how much you’re going to pay for it, and how long you’ll wait before taking delivery. Configuring a Tesla is simple, because the company’s list of options is relatively short. The standard Model 3 comes standard with black paint and 18-inch alloy wheels. Tesla charges extra for silver, blue, white, or red, and it gives buyers the option of adding 19-inch alloy wheels. The online configurator lists each option’s price. The 19-inch alloys cost $1,500, for example, while the red paint adds $2,500 to the price.

There are no interior options to choose from if you’re building an entry-level Model 3. More expensive variants can receive a two-tone, black-and-white interior at an extra cost. Every 3 can be upgraded with Autopilot, a $3,000 option, and full self-driving capability, a $5,000 option that requires Autopilot. Tesla warns that even the full self-driving option doesn’t turn any of its cars into autonomous vehicles. The company is working on driverless technology, and buyers who tick the box will receive it when it’s ready via an over-the-air software update.

Place your order

Once you’ve built your dream Model 3, Tesla asks for a refundable $2,500 deposit before it processes the order. You’ll need to create a Tesla Account by entering personal information like your name, your phone number, and your credit card details. Tesla notes that buyers can modify their order after they send the deposit. The company assigns buyers a delivery adviser after it receives an order, and that person becomes the customer’s point of contact for the remainder of the transaction. All of the documents — including loan-related paperwork, if needed — are uploaded online, so there’s no need to visit a store.

The delivery adviser notifies the customer as soon as the car is ready. Where buyers take delivery of the car depends on where they live, but the company told Digital Trends that it goes to great lengths to make each transaction as painless as possible. While home delivery is available, buyers who live relatively close to a Tesla store can choose to have their new car shipped there.

What about a test drive?

Tesla Model Y rear

Some Tesla stores keep a small inventory of cars for buyers who want to drive away in a new Tesla immediately. Customers can visit these locations to test drive the model of their choice before ordering it online, but the company pointed out that 82 percent of Model 3 owners purchased their vehicle without driving it first. Those who nonetheless want to try before they buy can contact their nearest store to arrange a test drive.

Tesla knows buying a car without taking it for a spin is risky, so motorists who order online and skip the test drive step can return their car within seven days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. Those who drive before buying can return the car by the end of the first calendar day after they take delivery. Either way, the return is final; you can’t ask for the car back if you change your mind, and you can’t swap it for a different car. If you return a Model 3 because you realize you need the bigger Model S, you’ll need to start the ordering process from scratch.

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