Last month we reported about Tesla’s occasional practice of removing features like Autopilot and Ludicrous mode from used cars after they’d been purchased by people who bought the cars with those features enabled. While Tesla eventually restored the removed features to the subject of the original story, I’ve been in touch with a number of people with similar stories, and, perhaps even more importantly, with Tesla employees who have confirmed that often Tesla’s actions have been directly counter to the company’s own policies, at least as understood by Service Techs and help center workers.
It’s also worth mentioning that, while I have spoken with Tesla employees at call centers and seen correspondence from service techs about this issue, Tesla corporate has so far not responded to any of my inquiries, not from the previous story, and not from this one.
I called Tesla’s customer support line at its call center in Draper, Utah. I spoke with two different representatives, and asked each if a feature that was on and available on a used Tesla—I used Ludicrous Mode as an example for one and Autopilot as an example for the other—was a feature that would stay with the car, or if the feature would need to be re-purchased by the next owner.
Both representatives assured me that the features are connected to the car’s VIN, and remained with the car for “the life of the car.” I had them clarify that these features were not subscriptions and were more like installing features in any car, which they confirmed.
I wanted to hear from a Tesla Service Tech as well, right from a Tesla-owned dealership, and I was able to do so when another Tesla owner, Michele, reached out to tell me about issues she had with her purchased-new Model 3, and specifically getting her Autopilot system purchase registered with Tesla’s systems.
I asked her to email her local Tesla dealer (this one was in Santa Barbara) and find out exactly if those features she paid for could be sold with her car if she decided to sell it, and this was the response she got (emphasis mine):
Good Morning Michele,It looks like Tesla did a full-fleet audit of Autopilot which cause this on your vehicle since it was purchased through the service center and not online or the mobile app. Autopilot once purchased stays with the life of the vehicle.
So, we’ve got two very different stories coming from Tesla. On the one side we have what has been actually happening to buyers of used cars. On the other we have the responses I got from call center representatives and an official dealer service advisor are very clear that any feature that was ordered with the car, be it FSD or Autopilot or Ludicrous Mode, stays with that car, keyed to that car’s VIN, for the life of the car.
This fits with how cars have been bought and sold for over a century: the original buyer of the car picks a set of factory-installed options, and if those options are on the car at the time of sale, unless specifically addressed otherwise, those options are considered intergral parts of the car that is being sold.
That means that whatever price was agreed upon for the car is expected to include those options, and if the automaker decides to remove any of those features post-sale, that’s theft.
Again, this is in opposition to what we’ve seen in the examples sent to us directly and appearing in various forums online—Tesla has treated add-on features like FSD and Ludicrous mode as being non-transferable when the car is sold—such as in the cases mentioned here of Alec, Brad, and the used car dealer who bought a Model X for his father.
These both can’t be right. The way that makes the most sense and seems the most fair is to treat these features as any car features like air conditioning or heated seats have been treated. They’re part of the car. When you sell the car, they go with it. Period.
If Tesla does not want to employ this method, it needs to make that absolutely clear to potential buyers of used and new Teslas alike. If you’re buying a used Tesla, the features that need to be re-purchased should not be available on the car when it’s being sold, and if you’re buying a new Tesla, the customer has a right to know they cannot count on those expensive features being part of the car to maintain its resale value.
If Tesla wants to make Autopilot and Ludicrous mode a subscription-type service, then it needs to own up to it and accept its lumps for deciding to do something so craven and greedy. We don’t have to like it, but we’d have to accept it if they made it obvious this was how it worked.
As things are now, it’s confusion. Customers are told one thing very clearly and simply from service centers and help lines—features stay with the car for life—but some customers, without any clear pattern, are told the opposite, in what feels like a brazen attempt to extract thousands of dollars for the company from every Tesla sold used.
I’ve given Tesla plenty of chances to set the record straight here, and if it somehow decides to finally reach out, I’m happy to present its side here, and hopefully bring some clarity to this mess.
As it stands now, though, I’d encourage every Tesla potential buyer, new or used, to get everything clarified and in writing when it comes to your expensive options.