Best & Worst Tesla Model S Years

We've ranked each Tesla Model S model for every generation so you can avoid picking the worst Tesla Model S years and pick the best year.

In this guide, I’ll break down all Tesla Model S model years, unveiling the best Tesla Model S years to buy and the worst years to avoid.

Our insights are backed by rigorous analysis and data from reputable sources like the NHTSA, Consumer Reports, and Kelley Blue Book, providing a wealth of information on reliability, year-by-year owner satisfaction, and safety, ensuring our recommendations are well-founded.

Specifically, we’ll explore the performance and technological advancements of the Tesla Model S with common problems and recalls faced by different model years, helping you decide whether you’re buying new or used.

Let’s dive right in!

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Table of ContentsShow

Tesla Model S Generations

The Tesla Model S, introduced in 2012, revolutionized the electric vehicle market with its impressive range, performance, and luxury features.

As Tesla’s flagship sedan, it set new standards for electric mobility, offering cutting-edge technology, such as Autopilot, and a sleek, aerodynamic design that contributed to its efficiency and speed.

Below is a table listing the generation of the Tesla Model S from 2012 to the present.

GenerationYears
1st Generation2012-Present

Significant changes between generations, especially in technological and performance enhancements and interior updates, might be the deciding factor for potential buyers.

Tesla Model S Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

In our rankings and categorizations of the best and worst years for the Tesla Model S, we consider a wide range of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
  • Annual maintenance costs
  • Safety ratings
  • Consumer Reports reliability scores
  • Consumer Reports owner satisfaction scores
  • NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
  • Edmunds owner ratings
  • JD Power owner ratings
  • Kelley Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
  • VehicleHistory owner ratings
  • Cars.com owner ratings

Below is an overview graph that combines all the ratings from the sources mentioned.

Tesla Model S Car Smite Score Combined Overall Score

Next, we present a table categorizing all model years of the Tesla Model S into best, neutral, and worst years, offering a clear and concise comparison.

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
1st Generation2018
2019
2020
2023
2024
2021
2022
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017

“Neutral Years” of the Tesla Model S do not have as many accolades as the best years but also do not have significant issues like the worst years.

Certain factors, like NHTSA recalls, negatively affect a car’s overall ranking. A higher number of complaints and recalls indicates potential reliability issues affecting the vehicle’s categorization.

Let’s dive into the best, neutral, and worst years.

Best & Worst Years for Tesla Model S 1st Generation (2012-Present)

Tesla Model S 1st generation 2012 model
The 2012 Tesla Model S

Since its launch in 2012, the Tesla Model S has epitomized the evolution of the electric vehicle, melding luxury, performance, and zero emissions into an iconic sedan.

Over the years, Tesla has continually updated the Model S, enhancing its capabilities, increasing its range, and refining its technology to maintain its status as one of the most advanced electric vehicles on the market.

The Best Years: 2018, 2019, 2020, 2023, 2024

The best years of 2018, 2019, 2020, 2023, and 2024 for the Tesla Model S are characterized by remarkable technological advancements and performance enhancements, with fewer complaints.

The introduction of the Plaid model in 2021, continuing into 2023 and 2024, brought a tri-motor setup delivering an astonishing 1,020 horsepower, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in just under 2 seconds.

These years also saw the rollout of improved battery technology, extending the range to over 400 miles on a single charge for the Long Range variants.

The interior saw a significant redesign, featuring a new 17-inch horizontal touchscreen, an updated Autopilot system for enhanced autonomous driving capabilities, and the addition of the yoke steering wheel.

Despite these advancements, it’s important to note that some owners have reported concerns with the yoke steering design and initial software bugs in the infotainment system. However, Tesla has addressed many of these issues through over-the-air updates.

The Neutral Years: 2021, 2022

For the Tesla Model S, 2021 and 2022 represent a period of transition and refinement. These models introduced a significant refresh of the Model S lineup, including updates to the exterior styling and a major interior overhaul.

The refresh introduced a more powerful and efficient heat pump, enhancing HVAC performance in various climates. The Plaid variant was announced, offering groundbreaking performance, though it was more widely available in 2022.

These years maintained high performance and range, with the Long Range model offering up to 405 miles per charge.

Issues during these years included initial teething problems with the infotainment system due to the updated processor and occasional hardware-related recalls, such as those for the malfunction due to overheating CPU, loss of power steering, and decreased windshield defrosting.

However, these issues were relatively minor and addressed promptly, making these years an attractive option for those seeking the latest Model S features without the premium price of the newest models.

The Worst Years: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

The Tesla Model S years to avoid, from 2012 to 2017, while groundbreaking, were plagued by a series of issues that impacted their reliability and owner satisfaction.

Electrical system problems were widespread, with numerous reports of malfunctioning infotainment systems and touchscreen displays, which are crucial for controlling most of the car’s functions.

Recalls during these years were significant, addressing critical issues such as power steering assist failures due to gear housing corrosion, the unexpected activation of automatic emergency brakes, and autopilot failures.

Suspension issues were also reported, particularly with control arms and fore links, leading to additional recalls and safety concerns.

While these models set the foundation for future improvements and remain a testament to Tesla’s innovation, the frequency of these issues makes them less reliable for potential owners looking for a used Model S.

See NHTSA 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 Tesla Model S recalls and complaints.

Tesla Model S Resale Values

Discover the graph below, which shows the Tesla Model S’s average resale values over time.

Tesla Model S Average List Price

Conclusion

What is the best year Tesla Model S to buy?

It’s pretty clear that 2018-2024 are the best and most reliable feature-packed Tesla Model S model years, offering the best of Tesla’s innovations.

Conversely, 2012-2017 are the worst Tesla Model S years to avoid due to their higher incidence of reported issues and recalls.

Which year of the Tesla Model S do you consider offers the best value for its price?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Jonathan Eckert

Jonathan is an ASE-certified mechanic with over 22 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. His expertise spans a wide range of vehicles, but he specializes in diagnosing and repairing Japanese cars. His previous workplace highly commended his meticulous attention to detail, and that's exaclty what he uses at Car Smite to craft the best guides for each purpose.