Tesla Motors has tackled a number of pressing issues in the auto industry, from electric cars to direct sales. We’ve covered various Tesla topics at length including How Tesla Owners Become Brand Ambassadors and How To Reboot Your Tesla Model S.  One thing Tesla can’t control however, are the high costs of repairs that comes with the relative newness of the Model S. A Model S owner recently found out the hard way that even seemingly minor damage can total a $90,000 vehicle due to the high cost of repairs.

Over at the Tesla Motors Club forum, a user going by the handle “standardcode” posted that after a year of happy ownership, his Tesla Model S 85 was involved in (what looks like) a relatively minor accident. A flat tire, a damaged door, some wheel well damage…too bad to drive around with, but surely not enough to total a car that sold for around $90,000, right? Wrong. I’ll the post speak for itself:

“So the Tesla-certified body shop takes apart my car to check for the damage and meets the appraiser sent by my insurance (Ameriprise) to discuss the repair. A day later it turns out that Ameriprise is declaring my baby a total loss!! Why you ask? Apparently Tesla-certified body shops aren’t cheap. In addition to the $10,000 in parts there’s $20,000 in labor. Ameriprise decided they’d rather declare the car a total loss than pay $30k+tax for repair.”


$10,000 in parts sounds about right, but $20,000 in labor? How? Well just as exclusive as the Model S are Tesla-certified body shops. Back in March of 2014, Fender Bender ran a story talking to two body shops that had taken the Tesla certification. In both cases the certification was relatively easy and simple, requiring three five-day courses at $1,500 each and a special $30,000 riveter. Within days Tesla was sending in vehicles to get repairs. In short orders Teslas started coming through, four or five a week in both cases, making up as much as a quarter of each shop’s weekly work.

Of course when it comes to repairing luxury cars, neither parts nor labor is cheap. But in “standardcode’s” case, the $30,000 quote seems way out of line with the pictured damage, unless there’s some serious carnage we’re just not seeing. It has him reconsidering making another Tesla purchase, as the high cost of repairs at the moment is understandably frustrating. Is this a case of a shop taking advantage of a customer/insurance company? It’s worth noting that “standardcode’s” insurer, Ameriprise, has pretty awful ratings (just Google ’em). They’re the same insurance company you get out of Costco, and why anyone would insure a $90,000 automobile with a Costco-approved insurance company is beyond me. I love Costco…but maybe not for insurance.

More “established” brands have less of an issue as there are generally more body shops to chose from, as well as a larger parts bin to pull from. Tesla will only sell parts to certified shops and because the shops are working on high-end cars, their work comes with a hefty premium. It’s another one of the drawbacks of being an early adopter, though in this case it may be the Tesla’s aluminum body rather than its electric drivetrain, that is the source of ownership woes.

It’s been suggested that one potential issue is frame damage, specifically “ripples” in the overlapping sheets of aluminum bonded to form the frame. Replacing these requires a lot of labor-intensive work, driving costs up. There are similar concerns with the Ford F-150, which is also utilizing an aluminum body. Ford is working to ensure that owners have plenty of options when it comes to getting their pickups fixed. Right now though there just aren’t enough shops to go around, and that may mean that these shops can upcharge wealthy owners who don’t really have any alternatives.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind though when buying a Tesla Model S though. You’re signing up to drive a car that no one else has ever attempted to build before, and that’s going to come with some drawbacks. Limited driving range, limited availability of chargers, and high repair costs seem like a small price to pay to be behind the wheel of a cutting edge electric vehicle.

That is, unless you’re the one left footing the bill.

Source | Image: Tesla Motors Club Forum