Buying a Tesla in New Mexico

(Note: A version of this post was submitted to EV4Corners. Check them out for all things EV, including DC fast charger news, in the Four Corners region.)

Tesla sells to customers via their website, rather than through a franchise dealership network. For this reason they're not allowed to operate directly in New Mexico. This adds a little uncertainty to the Tesla purchase process.

I live in New Mexico, and I recently bought a Model 3. Here's how everything played out for me. I hope this information helps others who may be considering a Tesla.

2020 Tesla AWD LR Model 3
2020 Tesla AWD LR Model 3

24 August

In late August, 2020, I created a Tesla account and paid the $100 to start the purchase process. I opted for the least expensive long-range Model 3 available. The website said to expect delivery in 3 to 5 weeks.

Within a couple of hours I was contacted by my assigned "Inside Delivery Specialist". Right off the bat he explained that, since I lived more than 220 miles from the nearest delivery center in Longmont, CO, my Model 3 would be delivered via a Carrier Direct delivery.

I owned a Chevrolet Volt, and I'd already received a provisional trade-in price from the website. To finalize the price I needed to upload several photos of the car, including one of the current odometer reading. There was no loan on the Volt, so I also needed to upload a scan of the title.

While waiting out the delivery period, I contacted my bank to verify that I could use Tesla's preferred payment method, an electronic transfer. I also contacted my insurance company to set up coverage for the new vehicle.

If you've followed Tesla's activities over the past few years, you know they've had issues with initial build quality. This adds some risk for buyers in New Mexico. In particular, when I made my purchase the state had only two Tesla mobile service technicians. Fixing any major quality issues would require taking the car to Longmont.

Fortunately, a kind soul had posted a Model 3 delivery inspection checklist. I downloaded a copy. It said that paint flaws were the only issues for which buyers should refuse delivery, and that most problems could even be fixed by a mobile service technician.

Teslas aren't hard to drive, but their human-machine interfaces differ from most other cars. Door handles, keys, "shifting" – almost everything is different. What's more, with carrier direct delivery nobody is available to explain how to operate the car. So I took time to watch all of the tutorial videos on Tesla's website.

16 September

About three weeks after I placed my order, my delivery specialist emailed. He had a VIN for the Tesla. It was time to fill out the motor vehicle purchase agreement, provide proof of insurance, and make final payment.

I called my insurance agent, who emailed a new insurance card. Then I logged in to the Tesla website, uploaded the completed documents, and set up the electronic transfer.

19 September

A couple of days later a trade in packet arrived via Fedex. The packet contained a notice saying that it needed to be completed and returned within 48 hours. The instructions said to sign only the yellow highlighted areas on the forms: Odometer Disclosure Statement for Title Transfers, Trade-In Annex, Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Forms, State of California DMV Statement of Facts.

The Odometer Disclosure Statement in particular was worrisome. It requested the same sort of info I'd provided at the start of the trade-in process, weeks before. I started wondering whether, in addition to signing the highlighted fields, I was supposed to fill in an updated odometer reading. The alternative, to leave so much information about the Volt blank, seemed akin to handing someone a signed, blank check.

It was a Saturday, but I emailed my delivery specialist. He confirmed that I just needed to sign my name in several places. I also needed to sign over the title to the Volt, and include it when returning the packet.

He added that he was seeing an estimated delivery date of 28 September. I should expect a call from the carrier once he arrived in New Mexico.

This was, surprisingly, an emotional day. The Volt was not quite four years old, and it had been a great car. I felt wasteful for trading it away before using it up. On top of that, even if the new car had a serious flaw that forced me to reject delivery, the Volt was gone. There was no going back now.

Volt in Snow
Chevrolet Volt: gateway drug for electric propulsion

26 September

At the end of the following week I got a text message and a phone call, both from an unknown number, asking to meet the following morning at the Santa Fe CarMax.

A follow-up text came the next day at 7:10 AM, an hour before our appointment. The carrier driver was at CarMax, ready whenever I could get there. "Also I think you have a return unit. I'm not picking that up. It's going on a different truck."

This was news to me. I replied that I needed more time to find someone who a) was awake and b) could come with me to drive the Volt back home. He checked in with his dispatcher. "Bring the return unit if you can."

It was easy to find the delivery truck, festooned with Teslas, parked just behind a pearl white Model 3. I greeted the driver and started looking over the car.

The delivery checklist had been intended for customers who were taking delivery at Tesla delivery centers, who could have small problems resolved before driving away. This was a different situation, so I paid particular attention to the paint.

Everything looked good. Door handles, windows, everything worked. The panel gaps were consistent. The paint had no flaws. (I did eventually discover a small missing chip on a door hinge, visible only when the door was opened.) I had lucked out.

But there was one problem: I couldn't find the temporary tag. The driver shrugged apologetically and said Tesla had not given him any temporary tags. Everyone else on his route had just gotten into their cars and driven off.

Okay... I handed over the keys to the Volt, climbed into the Model 3, and started getting acquainted.

A year earlier, returning from a trip to Yellowstone, I'd stopped at the Tesla showroom in Denver. At the time I was just window shopping, so I was surprised when the showroom staff offered a solo test drive of a Model 3. The rear-wheel drive they lent me had a slightly firmer ride than the Volt and significantly more road noise. It had more power, but the difference wasn't that striking.

This all-wheel drive Model 3 gave a stronger impression. The ride was firmer than the Volt's. The cornering and handling were noticeably better. It was actually a bit quieter than the Volt. And it had a lot more power.

Considering the price difference, one should expect the Model 3 to be a nicer car than the Volt. Still, I was both relieved and pleased.

I'd added a section for trade-in items to my delivery checklist. The lack of a temporary tag had distracted me from these. About halfway home I suddenly remembered that I'd meant to remove the license plate from the Volt.

I headed back to CarMax, hoping the carrier would still be there. Alas, he was already gone. But the Volt was still there, looking forlorn at the back of the carrier truck lot. I retrieved the plate and felt another pang of guilt for "discarding" what had been my favorite car.

Goodbye, Good Volt
Goodbye, Good Volt.
I hope its new owner enjoys it as much as I did.

Now I had a Model 3, but I couldn't drive it anywhere. A web search revealed that "no temporary tag" was a common problem, and the fix was to ask the delivery specialist to email a PDF of the temporary tag.

It was a Saturday, again, but I gave it a try. My specialist called back and said he'd contacted the "shipping team", who would be sending the tag.

28 September

A couple of days passed with no tag in sight. I emailed again. The delivery specialist said he'd contacted the shipping team again, and that he would let me know as soon as he had more information.

30 September

When I made my purchase, Tesla had a 7 days / 1000 miles, no questions asked return policy. I thought this period began as soon as a customer took delivery. Now four of those days were gone.

I contacted my delivery specialist again. This time there was no reply, so I tried the Tesla advisor who'd started my whole purchase process.

As luck would have it, this was September 30th: the end of the quarter. I got an automated reply saying the advisor was out of the office, assisting with deliveries. The message provided a phone number for the Tesla store and recommended calling for quicker assistance. So I did.

Once I reached a human, he assured me that the return period wouldn't start until the temporary tag was shipped. Since I was buying in a state where Tesla was not permitted to operate (or words to that effect), the tag would be included in the registration packet. Tesla would send that within 7 to 10 business days of my receiving the car.

This didn't match anything I had read about the experiences of other buyers. Neither did it match what my delivery specialist had told me.

Happily, I didn't have long to stew. Within the hour I received an email from "Lone Tree Order Support". It was the Tesla Advisor, forwarding a PDF of the temporary tag.

No problems manifested during the 7 day period. The car was (and is) great.

19 October

Given the temporary tag mix-up, it should have been no surprise that the registration packet was late. After the 7 to 10 business days elapsed I contacted my delivery specialist again. He replied that the "DMV team" was still processing my registration documents.

The packet did eventually arrive, via FedEx, after 15 business days. This left one last task: registering the car and paying the vehicle excise tax.

23 October

I reached the Santa Fe MVD Express about 25 minutes before it opened. A line of customers, spaced six feet apart, already extended halfway around the building. It took about 50 minutes to get to the front door.

MVD Express had long since established procedures for reducing COVID transmission risk. They took my registration documents and my phone number and told me I could wait in my car. All told, the whole errand took 1 1/2 hours.

Conclusion

The Tesla purchase process is ever changing. For example, the 7 days / 1000 miles evaluation period has been discontinued; and I've read that Carrier Direct delivery to New Mexico, which was free for me, now costs $750. Still, if you're a New Mexico resident who is interested in buying a Tesla, I hope this post has been of some help.