All Tesla Roadster owners can now buy the optional Tesla Roadster 3.0 upgrade pack.

Staff Long Term Review: Five years owning a 2010 Tesla Roadster

One of the big questions facing any prospective new car buyer is, “Who’s going to look after this car throughout its life?” Well, ok, that might not be a big question if you’re buying a regular BMW, Ford or Nissan, etc. – it’s the dealer network. but, it does become a little more significant if you’re buying a more niche vehicle like an electric car from BMW, Ford or Nissan? Ok, still the dealers but, maybe specialist dealers. But, what if you’re buying a niche electric car from a hitherto unknown silicon valley startup? And, what if that car is going to be the single most expensive car you’ve ever, and may ever, buy? Who is going to look after it in five years after the company that made it has disappeared? Was I nuts?

2010 Tesla Roadster on the track

Most people thought I was nuts, even putting down a $5,000 deposit raised incredulous eyebrows. I have to say, I don’t begrudge anyones opinion that I was nuts – Let’s face it, I was.

When I ordered the car, I didn’t have the means to pay for it in full and it was my expectation that I would, at some point, reluctantly, call for the deposit to be returned. What I wanted to do was tell the world that there were people out there prepared to put something, if only a deposit, on the line to support an amazing idea. I think that they call it KickStarter today.

As time progressed, my confidence in the company, Tesla Motors, slowly grew – they were making all the right moves and many analysts were shifting their opinion from “Utter nonsense’ to just “Nonsense” but, the inflection point came for me when the whole of the owners in waiting were called to a meeting at Tesla HQ – I joined by phone. At that meeting, Elon Musk, the newly anointed CEO, having just taken the reigns from Martin Eberhard, took the mic and with conviction and just a hint of nerves, announced that the Roadster was not going to happen at $107,000, it just wasn’t! He went on to say that the price would rise, the features would fall and that everyones deposit was waiting for them if they wanted it back.

At that meeting, I suspect that Tesla lost a couple of deposits but, if they did, I don’t know whose they were. It takes determination and conviction in the mission to take risks like Elon took. Only the foolish, the arrogant or the very confident can pull that off. Needless to say, I respected that and, it’s why I have a five year old Tesla Roadster to write about.

So, how did it pan out? How has Tesla Motors changed? Here are my experiences with the car and the company.


Ah, happy days, the big un-boxing to beat all un-boxings, for me anyway. August 2009 heralded the day my 2010 Tesla Roadster arrived. I’m not going to say it was awesome… waste of good words. What it was, was the first precarious step down a path that, as it happened was one-way.

The first year of ownership highlighted just how professional a company Tesla is. No, it wasn’t corporate professional with legions of support staff and layers of management to ensure that every thing was taken care of,  but rather, boutique professional where a small team of people get to know you as you get to know them – I’m still friends with my tech, Raph’ Garcia even though he ascended the ranks through Tesla. When I did experience problems, he was there day or night to dig in and figure it out. The worst issue that I had was a little bit of Sciatica in the battery pack in month five. A trapped wire caused some errors to show up.

The first year of ownership also coincided with the installation of the first public charger in New York City – I had to build my own Public-to-Tesla Roadster adapter:

CharePoint J1772 charging point in NYC

CharePoint J1772 charging point in NYC

Year two saw the start of the upgrades. As a daily driver, the Roadster required some updates to both keep me happy and to improve on the, let’s face it, basic interior. Extra sound insulation and updated seats went in at the New York Tesla Gallery.

Year three, much like year two, all still going well. More upgrades: fancy wheels, more sound insulation – all carried out by Tesla’s service staff in New York.

2010 Tesla Roadster flank

Year four was just driving but, changes in my job and a growing concern that my Roadster wouldn’t last for ever had me moving my commute to a regular car… which, by that I mean a BMW ActiveE.

Year five was less miles again and I continued to commute in a knock-about car – a 2013 Ford Focus Electric – okay, I sound like a spoilt brat. The thing is, the Roadster has become that “Polished to a reflective shine, weekend car” that comes out when it’s not raining and/or someone needs to have their idea of what an electric cars is… Reset at 0.7G.

Year five also heralded the arrival of the “Roadster Sport Suspension upgrade” – New Jersey roads are not kind and pummeled the basic stock shocks to death, but hey, make lemonade right?

Where do we stand after five years and 40,000 miles?

  • Brake pads: None.
  • Oil: None.
  • Exhaust components: None.
  • Emission system parts: None.
  • Major component replacements: None
  • Minor component replacement: 3 Trouble with the TPMS, replacement of the the tiny 12V backup battery – now a Li-ion one (cue nerdy “Ooow”) and, shock absorbers pummeled to death by the New Jersey potholed roads.
  • Self-inflicted component replacements: 3… I snapped off the indicator stalk getting in one day, I broke the interior lamp trying to upgrade it to LED and the drivers door mirror wouldn’t co-exist in the same physical space as a passing SUV.
  • Tires: 8… Traffic lights, 0-60 in 3.9, say nothing.
  • AC fluid: 4 recharges – It’s a Tesla Roadster thing, they recharge it every year, not sure why.
  • New Jersey Inspection stickers: -1

I’m particularly proud of that last one. In New Jersey, all cars are inspected every year after their fifth birthday. Much like many countries and states, NJ inspects cars but, with today’s electronic systems for bulb failure, tire pressures and more, it has become little more than an emissions test. So little that 100% electric vehicles like the Roadster no longer require the test. As a result I was able to pull off the sticker when it expired. There’s a certain feeling of mischief in flagrantly parading a car around that’s deliberately missing part of its government branding.

The place on the screen where we normally find an intrusive sticker.

The place on the screen where we normally find an intrusive sticker.

So, did I miss anything? Ah, yes, the range! Well, this is where the story turns from good to great. Two things kill battery capacity, cycle life and calendar years. Our New Jersey temperature extremes from -20℃ / -4℉ to +40℃ / 104℉ don’t help either however, after about 215 battery charge cycles and five calendar years my range on the, fairly accurate, display has changed from:

  • Regular charge peak, in summer: 195 down to 185 miles
  • Full charge: 242 down to 231 miles

I’ve lost about 5% of my available range. That’s it.

Others have lost more, some suspect problems with their batteries, some suspect more rigorous use and/or less than perfect storage. To be fair, my car has spent most of its life in a garage, on power and at room temperature. It’s spent little time out in the bitter cold or in the scorching sunlight away from its power feed, it’s been able to warm or cool itself at will. I’ve resisted the urge to charge it right up to its limit and have only discharged it to a few percent a couple of times. It’s lived the battery equivalent of the high life. But, that’s not something that’s too hard to do.

But, what about Tesla Motors themselves? Well, they’ve grown up. My maintenance in the first few years was done by Raph’ who would stop by and fix things up in my driveway. By year four, Tesla built a service center near me that I have to take the car to. It’s closer to me than the Ford dealership, about the same as BMW so, same there. The people there are pleasant and helpful – same as BMW then, the place is spotless… no comparison there then.

Tesla Motors has reached a level of maturity it seems – they’re no worse than any regular dealer in my opinion, only better in many ways – the product is better so, that’s a leg up for them that they leverage at every opportunity – they’re even talking about power-train upgrades being developed for my car!

So, did I dodge a bullet or make a shrewd choice? I researched the technology and the company a little but, there was a great deal of blind faith. It worked out well and paid off for me but, my heart felt condolences go out to those that bet on Fisker and Aptera – I understand and admire your passion.

Tesla Roadster Rally 2009 NYC

Tesla Roadster Rally 2009 NYC


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  • BenBrownEA

    Absolutely in awe of your experience. I wish this was on the front page of the NY Times and every other paper. I’m sure you and your household had a few discussions about putting a down payment on a Tesla…

    • Michael Thwaite

      “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” – Ferris Bueller

  • Stephen Noctor

    Great, especially the part about pulling off the inspection sticker, that must have felt great! Goodbye friendly folks at the DMV!

    • Michael Thwaite

      Long story… nnnWhen I first took that car to get a sticker on day one, I expected a lot of trouble – the DMV is another experience, this was NJMVC – I rolled up early having being warned that the lines could be crazy (having spend two-whole-days at the DMV getting a license, I was inclined to believe the rumors!). When I arrived 30 mins before the open, there was already a line! The gates were open so we’d already filed in and I was about 10th in line. An official walked towards my car, stopt, turned around, scurried back to the office, banging on the window he was gesturing to someone inside. He turned back to me, pointed at me and then to a separate bay outside. Oh great, I thought, here we go, ‘We don’t do your kind here, you have to go to {fill in distant location}’ but no! Both guys came over “Wow, this is our first electric, are these things really as insanely fast as I’ve heard?” – yes indeed sir they are. We chatted for about the same time as I’d have been stuck in line… maybe longer, but who cares? I even chatted with other motorists that wanted to know when an affordable one would be here so they didn’t have mess around with inspections! So, about now then :-)nnnBTW: Did you know there’s a roaring trade in fake stickers – Pfft! Don’t these guys know anything?

  • RedmondChad

    Thanks for sharing all the details, Michael!nnnMy Roadster arrived about a month later than yours. 45,000 miles later I am still in love. And my wife is in love with her Tesla Model S (38,000 miles on that one).nnTesla does an awful lot right. But frankly, all EVs have insanely high satisfaction ratings; a lot of the secret is simply the electric drivetrain. They are too fun to drive, and ridiculously cheap to operate. Many gas drivers are afraid of what can go wrong with a new type of car, but like most EV drivers there is no way I am ever going backwards and buying a gas vehicle. I’m happy to consider makes other than Tesla, but I will only be looking at EVs.

    • Michael Thwaite

      We have an i-MiEV, the EV equivalent of the bottom rung but, you know what, under that rung is a whole heap of gas cars* that don’t hold a candle to it in terms of fun factor.nnn* Actually, most…. wait, no, all.

  • Dennis Pascual

    Michael, great write up and appreciate the expertise that convinced us to go ahead and pick up a CPO Roadster last year… I still have to get permission to take the car out from he better half, but truly enjoy they experience.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I’ve driven the hallowed P85D – the most powerful car I’ve ever driven! – But, the Roadster is still wired like it’s had too many expressos – I love it!

      • Dennis Pascual

        I was at the P85D launch. I liked the rating in the S85D for range… It’s all I really want in my daily car… Speed, I have to borrow 😉

  • evjuice

    But wait! Theres More!! 400 mile range now possible:

    • Michael Thwaite

      Can’t wait to find out more but I’m in fear of the price!

      • evjuice

        Come’on Michael!nWe have saved so much money on our Roadsters these past 5 years (6/4/2009) . No reason we can’t go along with Elon’s diabolical plan of getting every penny of our hard earned money by continually offering tantalizing Tesla updates that just have to own.

        • Michael Thwaite

          Yeah Yeah… he’s already got me for sport suspension, sport seats and two rounds of sound insulation – diabolical indeed 🙂

    • D. Harrower

      That is awesome news indeed!nnThough, I find myself in agreement with the owners who have suggested that, for the type of car the Roadster is, this battery upgrade would be better served by cutting weight rather than increasing range.nnWith no Supercharging capability and limited storage, the Roadster is ill-suited for long-distance travel, IMO.

  • Aaron McFarland

    Great to hear that the car has been a success. Definitely makes me feel good being a stock holder for the company.

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