Tesla can be sloppy and inconsistent in the way it handles returns and refunds, leaving some customers stressed and others stranded with no car and no means to buy another until they get their money back.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, as Tesla exerted itself to achieve profitability, CEO Elon Musk urged people to place their orders before year-end, when a tax credit for electric cars would become a lot less valuable. He touted the company's lenient return policy as part of his sales pitch.
Musk emphasized the refund and returns policy in a series of tweets, saying: "full refund if Tesla can't deliver your car this year," and "If you order a car without a test drive you get 3 days to return for a full refund vs 1 day if you do get a test drive."
In reality, getting a refund hasn't been simple for some Tesla customers, as the company has struggled with growing pains that Musk has described as "delivery logistics hell."
CNBC interviewed more than a dozen people who have recently sought refunds from Tesla, and reviewed their correspondence with the company along with relevant financial records.
These people returned their cars for allowable reasons, or decided to cancel their reservations with Tesla rather than move an order forward.
In extreme cases, Tesla left customers waiting for months beyond the date when sales or customer service personnel had originally promised to repay them, they say. In one case, a refund check for a $1,000 reservation fee bounced. In another, Tesla did not refund the $1,000 reservation fee, but instead sent a $40,000 check for a car that the customer never took possession of. In both cases, Tesla says it is now working with the customers on a resolution.
Even in cases where payment was prompt, some customers recounted that they received no information notifying them that Tesla had paid them back.
A Tesla spokesperson said, "Anytime we get a refund request, we work to process it as quickly as we can," and noted that most refunds are sent within 30 days. But the spokesperson said fraud prevention and processing delays with certain financial institutions may lengthen the response.