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Tesla Model 3 Maintenance Costs May Be Higher Than ICE Cars

We all know that EVs should be cheaper than ICE cars to maintain, but will the Tesla Model 3 be less expensive to maintain?


Three years ago, Torque News was one of the first publication to challenge the myth that electric vehicles cost less to maintain than gasoline-powered cars. Time marches on and we felt an update was needed since the Tesla Model 3 will soon define the electric car in America.

The Tesla Model 3 has now arrived. Tesla is a bit behind on its paperwork and hasn't yet finalized its on-line pricing. However, Tesla does have a list of all of its other vehices. Tesla's published maintenance prices make it easy to compare the cost of maintaining a Tesla to other cars in other segments. There really is no car exactly like the Model 3, but for comparison, we will use some internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and hybrids at about the same price point. We will use the least expensive maintenance costs listed, the Model S RWD for our Tesla Model 3 estimate.

Before we begin we need to time-stamp this story. Like all costs, Tesla's service plans may increase over time. As of today, Tesla's service plan page lists the following costs to maintain one of its vehicles. The plans were previously listed for individual models, but Tesla has changed the page to reflect all of its vehicles.

First year or first 12,500 miles = $475
Second year, or 25,000 miles $ 725
Third Year, or 37,500 miles $475
The total of these three equals $1,675, but Tesla offers a pre-paid "Three-year or 37,500 miles" plan for $1,550, which saves a Model 3 owner $125.
Year Four, or 50,000 miles is a whopper. $825. However, Tesla also offers a "Four-year or 50K miles" plan costing $2,325. The prices repeat at the same intervals. Like all Mfg. maintenance costs, these prices don't include tires.

BMW Comparisons
Let's now compare the prices of a model that is often compared to the Model 3, the BMW 3-series. Here is BMW's maintenance cost schedule: Year One, Year Two, Year Three - Included. No cost.

This is a change for BMW, who had previously included four years of maintenance, but for the model year 2017, dialed it back a year because most of its customers keep their car just three years. BMW has an estimated 10K service interval (more on this follows) for oil and its first major service is usually after 60K miles. However, BMW uses condition-based maintenance. The vehicle's computer keeps tracks of the life of the service items. On, we found that prices for the first non-covered service between 40K and 60K ranged from $79.00 to $379.00. Oil changes and inspections for a BMW usually cost around $100 unless more is needed. So, for the first three years BMW has no maintenance costs, but following that, it seems the BMW would always be less expensive than the Tesla to maintain given that every 4 years the Tesla costs a minimum of $2325. One interesting fact; BMW's EVs also have included maintenance, making them the least expensive EVs to maintain in the U.S.

Jaguar Comparisons
One exciting new premium sedan is the Jaguar XE. It is designed to compete head to head with the BMW 3-series. Jaguar now includes five years or 60K miles of service with all new cars. Again, it is hard to see the Jaguar costing more for routine maintenance given that it starts with a nearly $4,000 advantage over the Tesla heading into year six.

Toyota Comparisons
The Prius may not be as exciting as the Model 3, but it presently outsells all of Tesla's vehicles combined every month. The Prius also has a similar, but lower price point to the new Model 3. Toyota includes 2 years or 25,000 miles of maintenance at no added cost. Heading into year three, the Toyota Prius is ahead of the Tesla Model 3 by $1,150 in maintenance costs. That is a hard head start to overcome since the Prius is designed for low cost of maintenance. Unlike many popular ICE cars, there is no timing belt to change in the Prius. The Prius' traction battery is even serviceable after it lives out its hundreds of thousands of miles of expected life.

The Tesla Model 3 is a game-changing EV. It will be the most popular electrified car if all goes to plan. However, it will also be one of the most expensive cars in the U.S. market to maintain.


David Ransdell (not verified)    August 29, 2017 - 1:39PM

Actually, the page you link to is different than you say with pricing details for
* Rear-drive S,
* All wheel drive S and
* Model X.

The Model 3 is not mentioned on the page and could be different, but since it is not mentioned, it is too soon to make statements of fact about it...

Fürer Urs (not verified)    August 29, 2017 - 5:08PM

Please note, that you've forgotten that for ICE cars you have to pay extra for oil, sparks etc.

John Goreham    August 29, 2017 - 8:57PM

In reply to by David (not verified)

Funny you brought up map updates. I hated Lexus for charging me to update the nav in my IS 350C. Just came from the new Camry 2018 regional media presentation (NewEngland). The new Camry's navigation system updates every 15 minutes over the air. No added charge. This according to Toyota.

Patrick McSwain (not verified)    August 29, 2017 - 5:09PM

Since there are no Tesla Model 3's out in the wild or a warranty/maintenance handbook I'm struggling to figure out what the topic of this article is. But let's continue.

Cost of maintenance is not just Preventative Maintenance. It's mainly when your powertrain breaks at 50,001 mi on BMW, 60,001 miles on Jag and Toyota. Or other other systems after their warranty. You can do a lot of oil changes for what it cost to replace a BMW 1/2 shaft. And we won't even get into the rod bearing issues.

Concerning Priuses? Low powered cars have always had better than average reliability, so the Prius Prime which takes over 12 seconds to reach 60 mph on electric power should last several lifetimes. And it's 10+ second gas engine should last about the same. But even so, if you look enough, you'll find horror stories. Especially if you accidentally wander into the full sized pickup and SUV models of Toyota's lineup.

The Tesla Model 3 might have high maintenance costs. It might not. To be honest we won't know for years.

Going by your criteria, the Chevrolet Volt is apparently the cheapest. It had 1 free service since new in 2013. $0. Since the gas engine rarely runs, and the EV drive first service is 150,000 miles (replace coolant), you normally run out of years before miles on oil changes, and 4 year air filter intervals.

We will see how cars with similar performance compare to the Model 3, but it could be years. This article is WAY premature.

John Goreham    August 29, 2017 - 9:04PM

In reply to by Patrick McSwain (not verified)

Patrick, you make many valid points here, and yes, this article and every article about the Model 3 are premature. However, with Tesla, that is the nature of the game since the company takes deposits and delivers cars before releasing everyday data every other car maker has ready prior to launch. You're right that ICE cars do have defects. However, with Tesla going through 3 (three) drive units in its Edmunds long term test vehicle apparently, ICE cars are not alone in drivetrain issues. The Tesla Forum has page after page of drivetrain replacements. Have a peek:

John (not verified)    August 29, 2017 - 5:22PM

My Model S has 90k miles and has not gone in for a routine service yet (besides tires), and is operating perfectly. As Tauran said, the service is completely optional and I'd guess only about half of the Model 3 customers will do it. Please edit your article and title to emphasize this.

John Goreham    August 29, 2017 - 9:10PM

In reply to by John (not verified)

Thanks, John and Tauran. A good point for adding to the discussion. Why a company charges for what you call "optional" maintenance is another sticky subject. Tesla uses the term "recommended" in its service page. Is Tesla simply being unethical collecting this money for unnecessary work, or do the service items that the Tesla service page list have real value? You mentioned tires. Tesla's service includes tire rotations. At 90K are you on the original wiper blades? Same fob batteries? You are skipping the recommended drive unit fluid service and the battery coolant change at 50K? Same brake fluid at 90K? Your cabin air filter is now at six times its design life before being changed? Let's save this subject for the day when the follow up is written after Tesla publishes its Model 3 maintenance guidelines.

komocode (not verified)    August 31, 2017 - 1:29PM

In reply to by John Goreham

wait, you said "Let's save this subject for the day when the follow up is written after Tesla publishes its Model 3 maintenance guidelines."
but you also said this in the piece:
"However, it will also be one of the most expensive cars in the U.S. market to maintain."

You already made the assumption that it will be one of the most expensive cars, but now you're saying let's wait for the Model 3 maintenance guidelines? Very odd...

John Goreham    August 31, 2017 - 2:24PM

In reply to by komocode (not verified)

No argument here. The haphazard, unprofessional way that Tesla handles product information, product launches, and even sales data is unlike any comparably-sized company. Want to hear what's even odder than not knowing the actual cost to maintain a car already on sale? There is no official EPA data for the Model 3 yet. Unlike crash data, which usually follows an introduction by a few months or longer, we don't even know the efficiency, range, capacities, or any other commonly disclosed data for the Model 3 and it is on sale and being delivered. That is unheard of. So every media outlet is doing their best to keep up with the limited info and past experience that can be compiled.

Eric (not verified)    August 30, 2017 - 11:24AM

Almost all luxury ICE cars require premium gas, so even if they have a 3 year maintenance plan, does the author take into consideration that annual premium gas costs alone would cost several thousand a year? Also, Tesla vehicles have an 8-year, unlimited mile warranty on the battery and powertrain, show me a luxury car that has a warranty that's even remotely close to that. The Model 3 should last for 1 million miles according to Tesla, in that amount of time you would buy and sell somewhere between 5-10 luxury ICE cars if not more.

John Goreham    August 30, 2017 - 1:11PM

In reply to by Eric (not verified)

The Model 3 certainly looks to be a great car. We'll know more when it is tested by the media. You are mistaken about the premium fuel, and believe me, I am no fan of premium. Almost all luxury cars recommend premium, almost none require it. The Lexus ES350 is the top-selling luxury car in America and it uses regular. As does the Lexus ES 300h hybrid. As does the Lexus CT 200h. Several thousand for gas? Annual fuel costs for the ES 300h is $900 according to EPA. Is the Model 3 a luxury car? We'll see. Similar warranty? Every hybrid or EV sold in California. Every Prius has an 8-year 100K warranty regardless of its location. A 1 million mile car? Put down the Koolaid.

Erik (not verified)    August 31, 2017 - 5:14PM

It doesn't sound to me like this comparison has anything to do with maintenance costs for ICE vehicles or EVs, but more that a car with the first few years of maintenance included in the sticker price costs less to maintain over those years than a car that doesn't include the maintenance. If the Model 3 started at $36,675 and included the first 3 years of maintenance, then the argument as presented would be void. Comparing the value of two vehicles over 3-4 years of ownership by including maintenance into the equation makes sense, but that maintenance isn't free, it's either baked in the MSRP or it isn't. If you want to actually compare the maintenance costs for ICE vehicles and EVs, then you should be comparing the costs of the services being performed.

John Goreham    September 1, 2017 - 10:52AM

In reply to by Erik (not verified)

That is certainly a valid viewpoint. Why the paying customer would really care, I can't be sure, but AAA just this week released a comprehensive look at the costs of all maintenance (AAA includes tires and consumable items like wiper blades). AAA concluded that all EVs averaged have an annual maintenance cost of $982 per year. Tesla's high maintenance costs per year no doubt skewed that number upward. All ICE vehicles, including pickup trucks and performance cars, averaged to $1,186 per year. Included value is not something Tesla ignores in its overall costs either. For many years, Tesla included free energy via its Supercharger network. That has now ended of course. Here is the AAA story including links to the source:

New Model 3 Owner (not verified)    July 18, 2018 - 8:43AM

I know this is an older article, but thought I would update what I found in the owners manual in terms of maintenance that would cost the owner $. I am not including trivial expenses like washer fluid:

* Rotate the tires every 6,250 miles
* Brake fluid. Every 2 years or 25,000 miles whichever comes first.
* Battery coolant. Every 4 years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.

This is all they have in the maintenance schedule. Is this really going to cost an owner $2300 over 4 years?