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  • Scott

5 - Needle in a Haystack

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Now that my adoring, caring, sweet, and beautiful wife… with albeit suspect judgment, had given the green light on a bright red 5,000-pound rocket sled, I was ready to start looking for the Tesla of my dreams. I was officially on the search for the common man’s supercar with hypercar speed. Thankfully, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was the car I originally built, numerous times, on the Tesla website after they announced the P90DL back in July of 2015.



Here are the options I was looking for that were available at the time:

  1. P90D With Ludicrous Mode (762 HP/713 Ft-lb of Torque)

  2. Red Multi-Coat Paint

  3. Black Interior

  4. Premium Interior and Lighting

  5. Unnecessarily Complicated Sound System

  6. Rear-Facing Jump Seats in the Back

  7. Autopilot

  8. Panoramic Sunroof

  9. Smart Air Suspension

  10. Carbon Fiber Rear Spoiler

  11. Subzero Weather Package

  12. 21” Turbine Wheels

In total, just 3-4 years earlier, all those options led to an absolutely ludicrous grand total on Tesla’s website of $147,000. By 2019, many of those options were standard, and the price of a similar new car had dropped significantly. So, easy task, all I had to do was find a 3.5-year-old car with all those options.


The Usual Suspects

In this next section, I’ll talk about how I searched for my Tesla, plus I’ll offer some tips on how to search for a car in general. If you’d like to learn more about those sites and some of my thoughts, please read on. If you’re primarily interested in the general story, please jump ahead to the “The Deviants” section, where I talk about my Tesla specific experiences.



Top Car Search Websites:

I hadn’t searched for a car in a long time, so some websites like CarGurus and Cars.com had improved significantly since I last saw or used them several years ago. It also became quite apparent one of the more prominent companies had gone through and gobbled up the smaller companies, then streamlined them. Several sites are very similar to each other, which means they are probably owned by the same parent company and probably pull from the same databases. So, you may only have to pick one or two sites to focus your search on because the others will be redundant.


The Four Tops

I found that I kept coming back to four sites.

Here are my thoughts on each of my favorite four sites.


eBay

eBay is a fantastic place to search for cars and get a sense of the market. I usually search nationwide because it gives me a sense of what the market is like for that particular car in different regions. I quickly discovered that used Tesla’s in California were more scarce and more expensive than in other parts of the country. In eBay, you can also filter for completed listings and see what cars actually sold for, how long it took them to sell, and you can tell if they’ve been relisted multiple times. The only drawback to buying on eBay long distance is, it can be challenging to purchase a car sight unseen. I’m always a little reluctant to buy a car that I haven’t personally inspected or hired someone else to inspect.

Many cool finds on eBay helped me get a sense of the market and helped me understand what the price range may look like locally. I found a few cars that matched my specs in Florida but just didn’t feel comfortable with a remote transaction. There’s also a Florida joke there somewhere, but I’ll pass for now. Anyway, I continued to check eBay throughout the process and set up a search alert.



Carfax

I liked the Carfax site a lot because I could quickly glance through the search results. It shows many details in one snapshot, such as mileage, a brief description, simple Carfax info, ownership timeline, personal/rental use, and service history. They also show approximately how under/overvalued the car is. I like having all that info in one snapshot to quickly move on to look at something else if needed, instead of wasting time clicking through a bunch of submenus.



Edmunds

Edmunds is easily one of the best automotive websites in general. Their research and owner reviews are excellent, and their search listings are well laid out. You don’t get the at-a-glance details you get with Carfax, but once you do get into the individual listings, there is a lot of information, and you can quickly transition to more detailed research about the car in general if you want to. One of the fields I like in their price details section is the “Negotiation Insights” element. You can quickly see how long the car has been listed and how many times the price has dropped. There is also a fair price estimation tool that is neat.



CarGurus

CarGurus was another site that seemed to work really well for me. They don’t have the at-a-glance detail that Carfax has, but the detail pages are well laid out and have a fair amount of information. They also have some excellent infographics and data like Edmunds regarding the pricing history and mileage. There’s may even be a little better.




Miss Congenialities

eBay, Carfax, Edmunds, and CarGurus all worked out well for me when I was looking for a Tesla. The other sites I listed were good too, and I’ve used them to window shop at different times in the past. However, I seemed to get better results and information with the four preceding sites. I also tried to limit it to just a few sites because many of the listings are redundant, and for the most part, they are all pretty comparable. Your preferred website(s) will probably be highly dependent upon your personal preferences for layout and readily available details. Here are some quick notes on our runner’s up.


Autotrader

Probably one of the oldest sites on the list here, they’ve been around forever. I used to list covered wagons on here back in the day. The at-a-glance details aren’t very robust, but the detail pages are useful, and the website is easy to navigate.



Cars.com

Very similar to the others, but also limited at-a-glance information. The details are good and well laid out, but it doesn’t offer much readily available, directly useful information.



KBB.com (Kelley Blue Book)

For a long time, KBB has been the benchmark for many car guys and dealers used to set prices. Their prices were generally higher than the market before the internet, but the algorithms have gotten a lot better. It’s a great place for reviews and research, on par with Edmunds in many ways. However, the at-a-glance information is limited, and the detail pages are very similar to other sites.



The Car Connection

They have a nice summary page and history for the vehicle you are searching for. It has a lot of details and even a review. However, they don’t seem to have as many listings as the other sites, even with the same parameters selected. Also, the at-a-glance info is minimal, and so are the details pages. I thought it was kind of funny that when I looked at their page, the first Adchoices ad that appeared was for CarGurus.



The Deviants

I also tried a couple other interesting resources, to say the least. I started with Tesla’s website, and that’s a long but fascinating story. I also tried a service that scrapes Tesla’s website and aggregates it. Read on, and you’ll see why you would even need a service like that. I also tried just cruising the forums looking for deals.


Tesla.com

One of the first places I tried was Tesla.com. Sounds strange, I know. One of my preferences was to buy a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) car from Tesla that was still under warranty. The only place to find one of those was on Tesla’s website, so I tried it. The used section of their website is excellent. It’s well laid out. You can filter for anything you want nationwide, down to the last detail. The at-a-glance info is also great. It lays out everything for you very well. The details page is also very good, you get a full breakdown of everything for that particular car, and it lists all the important warranty information. A lot of comfort comes from knowing you’re buying an expensive and complicated car directly from the manufacturer, with all the warranty information provided through a relatively streamlined purchasing process. Or, so it would seem.


Tesla.com didn’t make it into The Four Tops because it’s kind of a mess in certain respects when you dig a little deeper, and I’ll share some insight into why. A lot of the listings don’t have actual pictures of the cars. They are just renderings. If you want real pictures of the actual car, you have to reach out to Tesla, and they either email them to you or send you a special link to them- if they even have actual pictures available. If you’ve got so much money, these things don’t concern you, or if you aren’t worried about paint and interior imperfections, it’s probably no big deal—more power to you. I hope to be there someday. If you prefer to see the car before you buy it, this may be a serious constraint for you, I know it was for me. But wait, it gets better. Well, not really, the opposite of better.


So, I did what any prudent cybernerd would do and trolled the interwebs and forums looking for real-life experiences dealing with the CPO process from Tesla. What I found was quite interesting. Many fanboys (and fangirls) raved about how easy the process was, and many people said how great the process…used to be. I also started reading many stories from recent deliveries in the last couple of years. There was a consistent theme with a lot of the more recent stories. Many people said the pictures and descriptions missed A LOT of imperfections that were more than slight. Now, to be fair, one person’s scratch is another person’s completely totaled and unusable automobile. I would definitely fall into the latter category.


The more I read, the more I found that many people complained they were rushed through the acceptance process, and it really felt like Tesla wasn’t willing to budge on fixing the issues or lowering the price. It was more like you paid for it. You’re stuck with it. As I mentioned, there were a lot of people who raved about the process. I would assume those people were lucky and either got what they expected and/or aren’t the kind of people who care about paint chips, curb rash, torn interiors, etc. To each their own, but I wouldn’t want to be surprised when I took delivery of an expensive luxury car. The whole value proposition of buying a CPO, warranted, and inspected car from Tesla, all of a sudden wasn’t worth the significant premium of $3,000-5,000. At the time, you could still buy an extended warranty from Tesla if the car met specific criteria. A new warranty offering from Xcelerateauto.com had also just emerged. The prices for those warranties were comparable to the premium you’d pay for a CPO, and you had the exorbitant luxury of seeing and driving the vehicle before purchase.


Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only shortcoming at Tesla.com. Oddly enough, they don’t offer any way to save parameters and have them shoot you an email when a new car matching your criteria is listed. I’ll try not to rant too much, but you’re one of the most advanced automakers and technology companies on the planet, and there’s no way to just inform me of new inventory? Somehow, all those other websites I listed seem to be able to make it work. They may have a good reason for it, but it doesn’t make sense from a customer-facing perspective. When I asked for a call back on a car, I believe I inadvertently got some insight into why they don’t have pictures posted and why they don’t offer the functionality to notify you of new listings.


As I was looking through the used vehicles, I’d found a few that interested me, and I requested callbacks. A day or so later, a very nice lady from Telsa called me and was ready to share information about the cars I’d requested callbacks on. She told me all about one of the cars, but the other two weren’t available anymore. I said that’s odd, I just saw them yesterday. She said, yeah, the popular models actually sell pretty fast. I asked, but there weren’t any pictures of the actual cars on the website. Do people actually buy them sight unseen? She said, all the time. My mind was blown, but the complaints I read online were starting to make sense. I asked about the fact that they don’t offer some notification of new inventory on the website, and she said we don’t offer that because the cars generally sell so fast, your email would be out of date by the time you got it. I said, so from a practical perspective, how do people look for the car they want? She said most people check the website a couple times a day, and when what they want comes up, they just buy it right then and there. Wow, super enlightening.


So, no wonder a lot of people weren’t happy, right? You’re buying a car, almost on impulse, with no pictures, only your confidence in Tesla that the car has probably been reconditioned to near perfection. Part of that is on the buyer, and part of that is on Tesla. I’m a fan, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not a big enough fan, and nowhere near enough of a baller to buy a car I’ve never even seen pictures of, let alone, never looked at in person, nor driven. And, part of this is on Tesla, come on, do it right. I’m sorry, but taking pictures of the car before you sell it is like, car sales 101. At the end of the day, you’re selling a premium car to people who have the means to buy a premium car, but you’re offering Yugo level service. Because you are a premium brand, it’s probably fair for many folks to expect the car to be in excellent condition and just trust in you that it will be. So, there’s plenty of blame to go around.




EV-CPO Hunter

I found this website in one of the forums when I was doing research for CPO experiences. It’s really fascinating because it looks like it’s straight out of 1997, but it’s very potent and helpful if you want a more expedient and informative way of searching for a CPO than Tesla.com. I can’t comment on the app. I never used it. It probably has a more modern interface than the desktop or mobile versions of the website. This website blends all the functionality and information of CarGurus.com or a similar site with the Tesla CPO database. They offer various subscription levels that allow you to save search parameters and receive email or SMS updates when new vehicles are available from Tesla. The website also just has loads of information and data about Tesla’s in general, I recommend checking it out. For me, this platform was moot by the time I found it. After the conversation with the lady at Tesla and after reading all the CPO horror stories, I just decided it wasn’t worth the CPO premium Tesla charged. I felt like I was better off buying a car that qualified for an extended warranty, so I could get a discount on the front end, then use the savings to buy a Tesla warranty on the back end.




The Forums

I also looked through the forums for used cars, but nothing really resonated with me. I actually decided to shy away from personal listings and go through a used car dealer instead. I know, it sounds counterintuitive. My rationale was, I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a personal transaction. If I was already established in a Tesla club or an existing owner or just had the money to spend more freely, it would have been a great option. However, it just wasn’t right for me at the time. I’m sure that if you established rapport on the forums and developed relationships with the members, it would probably be a great way to buy a car from someone who is likely a fan and who has perhaps taken excellent care of their car.



Hopefully, all of this information gave you a good idea of what I used to find my Tesla and some of the interesting information I found along the way. I’ll dig into the actual search itself on the next entry, talk about what I found along the way, what worked, and some trials and tribulations that led to finding the Tesla I’d been searchin’ for.

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