Tesla Clearly Confused About Secondhand Vehicle Sales

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Last month we covered an alarming trend where Tesla appeared to be intentionally removing features from vehicles as they entered the secondhand market. Used automobiles are typically sold with their original equipment intact. The previous owner may have wanted to yank out the tape deck or remove the fuzzy steering wheel cover before handing it over, but these are things you probably negotiated before any money changed hands. Unfortunately, things have only grown more complicated in the (post)modern era.

Reports have rolled in of Tesla stripping cars of thousands of dollars worth of features (mainly Autopilot and Ludicrous Mode) simply because they’re in line for a new owner. This sets an ugly precedent for the industry and undermines the time-honored tradition of the private sale. However, there seems to be some amount of confusion surrounding the company’s official policy and its behavior.

Jalopnik, which first reported on the issue, has spent the last month trying to get answers from Tesla — with mixed results. While the company did restore the erroneously named “Full-Self Driving” suite to one de-featured Model S, citing it as a miscommunication, other secondhand shoppers weren’t so fortunate.

From Jalopnik:

One Tesla owner who reached out, Brett, bought a 2018 Tesla Model X P100D from a Tesla dealership in March 2019. Because the car was a showroom vehicle and the previous year’s model, he got it at a bit of a discount, and the car was equipped with Ludicrous Mode (he confirms it was available as an option in the menu), which was further evidenced by the badging on the car, which featured an underlined P100D badge, which is normally used to indicate a car equipped with Ludicrous Mode from the factory.

Brett added FSD to the car for $5,000 extra, though there were issues with Tesla’s systems knowing he had paid for that option. In the process of confirming he had indeed paid for FSD, Tesla decided he didn’t really pay for Ludicrous Mode (which was originally a $20,000 option) and removed Ludicrous Mode from his car.

This echoes other claims floating around various Tesla forums. Customers or independent retailers purchase a used vehicle, take it in for servicing, are subjected to a surprise “audit” and find themselves suddenly on the hook for a pricy feature the vehicle had just days earlier. In the case of Brett, upon further inquiry Tesla basically said he wasn’t entitled to the go-fast software.

“We have reviewed your situation extensively and while we understand that this misconfiguration may have caused confusion, it would not be fair to those who have paid for Ludicrous Mode to make an exception,” a Tesla employee responded. “We are happy to help you purchase the upgrade, or you’re welcome to use your vehicle with Insane Mode.”

The manufacturer has yet to issue an official response as to why this practice exists, though the brand’s customer support hotline told both us and Jalopnik that any features purchased when the car was new (that weren’t subscription based) would carry over to all subsequent owners. This would be a huge relief if we didn’t already know Tesla was acting contrary to the claim. Instead, it feels as though the automaker is testing the waters to see what it can get away with.

Considering used vehicle prices typically account for options, Tesla needs to make abundantly clear what its official policy actually is. While few wish to see Ludicrous Mode, Autopilot, and FSD embrace the subscription model, it would at least provide some clarity for secondhand shoppers. Alternatively, Tesla could stop being so greedy and simply leave the content in its cars alone. Sneakily removing content after someone purchases a vehicle is a bridge too far — tantamount to theft.

For now, the issue doesn’t appear too widespread and primarily impacts units with the most bells and whistles. There’s even a chance that these are isolated incidents (though the window for that being a viable reality is quickly closing). Tesla has had over a month to respond to this. The few answers given, however, have not been heartening.

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 19, 2020

    I will not buy a Tesla ever and I doubt Tesla would want me as a customer. Teslas are overpriced and their attitude is you should be grateful that they are willing to let you buy one of their products and you should thank them for taking your money. I am not a fan of Detroit but I would trust GM and Ford before I would trust Tesla. GM and Ford will be coming out with their own EVs and yes GM already has the Bolt and honestly I would rather have a Bolt than anything Musk comes out with.

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Mar 19, 2020

    If these "Features" are a subscription model, I shouldn't need to resubscribe when I byuy my new Tesla, correct? Subscriptions stay with the user. I buy these features, then I trade in my Tesla, tesla removes them from my old car and I use them on my new car if we are following the traditional model for this stuff.

  • Mike Some Evs are hitting their 3 year lease residual values in 6 months.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I am just here for the beer! (did I say it right?)
  • El scotto Tim, to be tactful I think a great many of us would like a transcript of TTAC's podcast. 90 minutes is just too long for most of us to listen. -evil El Scotto kicking in- The blog at best provides amusement, 90 minutes is just too much. Way too much.
  • TooManyCars VoGhost; I was referring more to the Canadian context, but the same graft is occurring in the US of A and Europe. Political affiliation appears to be irrelevant.
  • The Oracle Going to see a lot of corporations migrating out of Delaware as the state of incorporation. Musk sets trends, he doesn’t follow them.