Zero Emissions Zero Cost

Leonard Van Ryn, May 8, 2015

My wife, Sarah and I drive our Model S a lot and love it! Additionally, it seems to pay for itself the more we drive it. Sound crazy? Well, let us explain.  

We purchased our Model S in September 2013 for $96,000 including California sales tax. We received a $7,500 federal tax credit and $2,500 California rebate so net purchase cost was $86,000. Using Kelly Blue Book information, our current value appears to be around $77,000, which comes out to $9,000 of depreciation. Our loan APR of about 2% resulted in interest expense of $2,400.

We have driven 54,000 miles over the past 18 months. We took lots of road trips between Northern California and Southern California to visit family, as well as cross-country trips (like Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota). We’re even planning a trip to Glacier National Park and Canada this summer.  

Servicing is optional on Model S (not required for warranty), so we have yet to pay for any. Of course it has visited Tesla’s service center for warranty issues and free tire rotations (we are even still running our original set of tires with 3/32 to 4/32 tread depth remaining). Consequently, we feel we have saved at least $2,000 in servicing costs that would have been required for a typical internal combustion engine (ICE) car for 54,000 miles.  

The advantages of driving electric increase the more you drive.


We charge for free. We happen to have free EV charging in the garage where we park and obviously use Tesla’s free Superchargers on road trips. Probably about 75 percent of our charging comes from using Tesla’s Supercharger network.

Below are the numbers balancing our estimated depreciation costs against estimated savings from not operating a 20 mpg ICE car assuming $3.50/gallon fuel cost. While many ICE cars have better fuel mileage, our experience with our previous car (Mercedes ML350) was about 18 mpg, there are not many full-size sedans with the power of a Model S (e.g., Mercedes CLS 550) that get more than 20 mpg anyway.


Depreciation $9,000
Interest $2,400
Total Costs $11,400

Savings from not operating ICE car

Fuel $9,400
Service $2,000
Total Savings $11,400

Net Cost: $0.00

With low depreciation, low energy costs, low service/maintenance costs, current government subsidies, and driving lots of miles, the car seems to pay for itself. And, the advantages of driving electric increase the more you drive.

Even if our depreciation cost was actually more than stated above, we will continue to save on fuel and service/maintenance costs. Plus we won’t see the annual depreciation rates that typically decrease as a car ages. Theoretically, if we keep this up, the savings will eventually pay for Model S entirely.

Service and maintenance

There is little service and maintenance needed for the Model S. Besides normal tire rotations, Tesla recommends changing the brake fluid every two years and the battery coolant every five years. That’s about it. The brake pads will virtually never wear out because of regenerative braking. Obviously, items like tires, wiper blades, washer fluid, and cabin filters just get replaced as needed.

We anticipate maintenance savings will become an even larger factor in the future because of the simplicity and unlimited mileage drive-train warranty (8 year) of Model S. So many drivers have experienced major drive-train (e.g., transmission) repair bills in the 100,000 to 250,000 mile range with ICE cars. With Model S, Tesla would be covering us until around 250,000 miles with no mandatory servicing requirements.

The Model S is really a no-brainer.


We pay insurance rates comparable to my previous car (Mercedes ML350). In talking with other owners, we hear similar experiences. I think if you ask your agent for a quote, you will be surprised that a car of this value has rates that are comparable to ICE cars costing much less. Maybe it’s because Model S is considered one of the safest cars in the world.

Owning Model S has been amazing. Even after 18 months, we can’t wait to drive it every day.  After meeting many other Model S owners while Superchargering, we have yet to meet one that had regretted their purchase. If you happen to be like us who drive more than 30,000 miles a year, the Model S is really a no-brainer. In my opinion, there simply is no other car in terms of driver experience, safety, and cost, which will serve high-mileage car owners as well as the Tesla Model S, not even close.  

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