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Greg Furstenwerth thinks of himself as a Tesla fan. But after months of waiting on parts and appointments for his out-of-warranty Model S, he decided to take repairs into his own hands.
Furstenwerth preordered the Model S, and in 2013 became one of the first people to get the car in the state of Hawaii, he says. He later drove the electric vehicle across the United States before there was a Supercharger network. He did this, he said, to shut down the electric car haters who ceaselessly griped about range anxiety.
"Tesla used to call me," he remembers. "They'd tell me, 'hey we noticed that there's something going wrong with your car.' Or when I had my flat they did their courtesy roadside service. They really took care of me, actually, as an original preorder. But as soon as I exceeded my warranty, the interactions all went away. I was treated like I didn't really own a Tesla."
As an early Model S owner, Furstenwerth is among the first to deal with service needs for this luxury electric car out of warranty. The company recommends all repairs go through its own service centers or authorized providers. But there can be long waits to get an appointment at a Tesla service center or get new replacement parts.
Because he lives on an island outside of Seattle, getting into a Tesla service center for Furstenwerth required a long drive. He wouldn't always be guaranteed to have a loaner car to get him back home, either. Tesla did not offer its Tesla Rangers service, a kind of mobile mechanic that comes to an owners' house, where he lived.
So he looked to independents. He found, unfortunately, a dearth of professional mechanics willing and able to work on his Model S.
That's because Tesla doesn't make spare parts, diagnostic tools and even repair manuals readily available. Aftermarket parts aren't abundant, either. No major player manufactures these today.
The few who can fix a Model S, and even fewer who can fix a Roadster, are left to buy "parts cars," and salvage parts from used Tesla vehicles. Some reverse engineer and make these parts with 3D printers.
Furstenwerth, who says he has always been good at figuring out how to fix things himself, learned how to diagnose and fix his Model S by taking it apart and putting it together several times. While he has taken part in some online forums where Tesla owners discuss their issues and fixes, mostly he was on his own, with no car schematics or manuals from Tesla.
He found parts were available from some small suppliers online. But he had to track them down individually. Among his issues were leaking tail lights, failing door handles, a passenger window behind the driver that fell out of place and faulty wiring in his driver's side door.
He says if he had been able to get a timely appointment, he was looking at a minimum of $14,000 in costs. At one point, he even considered destroying the car.
"I was infuriated beyond belief because everyone told me that it was an impossible car to work on" he said.
They were wrong.
"When I opened it up, I find out that it's the easiest car I've ever worked on. Easiest device I've ever worked on. They built a Lego car. It's like putting together Legos, taking apart Legos. If you can put together Legos you can put together a Tesla Model S."
Now, Furstenwerth is thinking about how to help other out-of-warranty Model S owners fix their cars on their own, too.
"I want to see Tesla wildly succeed," he says. "I have no problem with them being vertically integrated, and running things the way they do for cars that are in warranty. But if they want to get in the mass market, unless they're gonna run every single service center in every single small town, there's no way it's acceptable to have people for minor issues drive and kill an entire day to go to the service center, just for some free Keurig coffee."
Since he fixed his Model S, he's put more than 2,000 miles on it, driving it from Seattle to Detroit, he says.