On Buying a Tesla in New Mexico

By Mitchell Chapman

Tesla sells directly to customers via their website, rather than via a franchise dealership network.  For this reason they’re not allowed to operate directly in New Mexico.  As a result, for New Mexicans the Tesla purchase process involves a little risk and uncertainty.

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 any others who may be thinking about buying a Tesla.

Day 1: 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 that price I needed to report the Volt’s mileage and to upload several photos of the car, together with a photo 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 3 to 5 weeks, I contacted my bank to verify that Tesla’s preferred payment method – electronic transfer – would be acceptable to them.  I also contacted my insurance company to set up coverage for the new vehicle.  They explained that they could email proof of insurance as soon as I had a VIN for the Tesla.

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

Fortunately, a kind soul had posted a Model 3 [delivery inspection checklist] (https://github.com/mykeln/teslaprep).  I downloaded a copy and began familiarizing myself with the most common issues.

The checklist said paint flaws were the only issues for which buyers should refuse delivery.  Most problems could be fixed by a mobile service technician.

Tesla’s website has a series of tutorial videos explaining how to use the vehicle.  Teslas aren’t hard to drive, but their human-machine interfaces differ from most other cars.  Door handles, keys, procedure for “shifting” – almost everything is different.  What’s more, with carrier direct delivery nobody will be available to provide an introduction to the vehicle.  So I took some time to watch all of the videos.

Day 24: 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, upload proof of insurance to my Tesla account, and make final payment. 

I contacted my insurance agent, who emailed a temporary auto identification card.  Then I logged in to the Tesla website, uploaded the completed documents, and set up the wire transfer.

Day 27: A couple of days later, on a Saturday, 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 worried me.  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 got me sorted out.  He confirmed that I just needed to sign my name in several places.  I also needed to sign over the title to the Volt. I uploaded scans of all of the signed forms so he could review them.  He confirmed that everything was in order, and gave the OK to take them to Fedex. The delivery specialist also let me know that he was seeing an estimated delivery of day 36.  I should expect a call to schedule trade-in and delivery once the carrier had arrived in New Mexico.

This was, surprisingly, an emotional day.  The Volt was not quite four years old, and it was in great shape.  I felt wasteful for giving up a car before using it up, as I had done with every other vehicle I’d owned.  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.

Day 31: 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.  I made one more pass over the inspection checklist.

Day 32: The next morning at 7:10AM, an hour before our appointment, a follow-up text arrived.  The carrier driver was at CarMax, ready whenever I could get there.  He added: “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.  My delivery specialist had always said I’d be handing over the Volt and taking the Model 3 at the same time.  I told the driver that I needed time to find someone who a) was awake and b) could come with me to drive the Volt back home.

He quickly coordinated with his dispatcher.  “Bring the return unit if you can.”

I drove down to CarMax.  It was easy to find the delivery truck: its trailer was stacked with several Tesla models.  A pearl white Model 3 was parked in front of it.

photo by M. Chapman

I greeted the driver and started looking over the car. The delivery checklist had been created for customers who were taking delivery at Tesla delivery centers, and who could therefore have most problems resolved before driving away.  This was a different situation, so I focused my attention on the paint.

Everything looked good.  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 could fix this on my own.)  I had lucked out.

However, there was one problem.  I couldn’t find the temporary tag.  I asked the driver, who shrugged apologetically and said Tesla had not given him any temporary tags.  He said that everyone else on his route had just climbed into their cars and driven off.

Okay  …   I gave the driver the keys to the Volt, climbed into the Model 3, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and started the drive home.

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 to let me take a solo test drive of a Model 3.  I remember my impressions: this rear-wheel drive Model 3 had a slightly harder ride than the Volt, significantly more road noise, and a fair bit more power.

Now, driving home in an all-wheel drive Model 3, I got a much different and more pleasant impression.  The ride was firmer than the Volt’s, but the cornering and handling were noticeably better.  This Model 3 was no louder than the Volt, and in fact it seemed a bit quieter.  And it had a lot more power.

Given the price difference between the Model 3 and the Volt, one should hope the Model 3 would come across as a nicer car – a *much* nicer car.  All the same, I was both relieved and pleased.

I’d penciled in an extra section on my delivery checklist.  It listed items related to the trade-in.  The absence of a temporary tag had distracted me from these items.  As a result, I made it almost halfway home before remembering that I had meant to remove the license plate from the Volt.

I headed back to CarMax.  Alas, when I got there the carrier was long gone.  But the Volt was there, looking forlorn at the back of the carrier truck lot.  I got my plate, and felt another pang of guilt for “discarding” what had been a really good car.

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.  The solution 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”.  They would be sending the tag.

Day 36: 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.

Day 38: When I made my purchase, Tesla had a seven 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 couldn’t get a response from my delivery specialist.  I decided to try the Tesla advisor who had contacted me at the start of this process, when I’d first requested a trade-in quote.

As luck would have it, this was (September 30th:) the end of the quarter.  I got an immediate auto-reply saying the advisor was out of the office, assisting with deliveries.  The message also recommended to call the Tesla store for quicker assistance, and it provided a phone number.  I called.

Once I reached a human, he assured me that the return period wouldn’t start until the temporary tag was shipped.  He said that, 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 was supposed to send that within 7 to 10 business days of my purchase.

This didn’t match anything I had read about the experiences of other Tesla 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 Suport”.  It was the Tesla Advisor, sending a PDF of the temporary tag.  Finally, I could start driving the car.

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

Day 57: Given the temporary tag mix-up, it should have been no surprise that the registration packet was late.  I waited until after the 7 to 10 business days had elapsed, then contacted my delivery specialist again.  Even though he was on vacation he responded, saying 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.

Day 61: 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.  About 50 minutes after I got in line, I was inside the building.

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.  Within 1.5 hours of my arrival, everything was done.

Conclusion: The Tesla purchase process is ever changing.  For example, I’ve recently read that Carrier Direct delivery is no longer free, and that it now costs $750.  Still, if you’re a New Mexico resident who is interested in buying a Tesla, I hope this story has been of some help.

Comment ( 1 )

  1. Nick
    I am in New Mexico and have also purchased the same model. If you don’t mind me asking, roughly how much was the total for tax and everything at the DMV?

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