Rich Benoit has been enchanted with Tesla electric vehicles since the company first rolled out its flagship sedan, the Model S. The IT manager turned his curiosity into YouTube fame in 2016, cranking out videos about the cars, including how to buy, fix and mine wrecked Teslas for spare parts.
"The reason I started my YouTube channel was to kind of demystify Teslas in general. So I purchased a Tesla Model S a few years ago, and I started taking it apart to see if I could put it back together," Benoit said. Today, his channel "Rich Rebuilds" is approaching 500,000 subscribers. The most popular episode, "Can you drown a Tesla motor?" has garnered 2.3 million views in less than a year.
Dubbing him "Dr. Frankenstein of Teslas," his followers frequently send payments to support his video blogging habit, as well as random items for his cars, home and garage.
He's received custom car parts like lug nuts, door handles, mats, as well as air fresheners, cleaning products and more. Someone sent him a life-sized poster of Elon Musk. Someone had pizza delivered to his house, which Benoit liked. On the weirder side of viral video stardom, a fan sent Benoit a puppy preserved in formaldehyde in a jar.
Over the years, Benoit said, followers increasingly reached out asking where to get a good deal on a spare part, or offering to pay him to fix their cars when Tesla service centers couldn't or wouldn't do so.
In the winter of 2018, Benoit partnered with a former parts manager for Tesla, Chris Salvo, to open up their own repair shop. Salvo is also the founder of EV Tuning, an online store that sells parts and accessories to electric vehicle owners.
While they have both been holding down day jobs, this spring they broke ground on their Electrified Garage in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
"I was never thinking of opening my own shop," Benoit said. "But I'd been denied so many times by Tesla that I really started thinking there's got to be a bigger picture here, another player who can help others and get parts as well. Now there's a place where people can go for third-party EV repair."
Their typical customers own Model S cars out of warranty, or Model 3's with after-market parts that have negated their warranties so they can't get Tesla do work for them, according to Benoit and Salvo.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long promised to ramp up the company's service in North America.
In July 2018, he tweeted, "Tesla body shops are ramping up fast. Aiming to go from 30+ days using external body repair shops to same day body repair with prestocked parts at Tesla service centers."
But Tesla is currently in a belt-tightening phase, recovering from mass layoffs and still under pressure to cut costs. So it's not clear when the company can make good on Musk's promises. This week, the CEO told Tesla service skeptics on Twitter, "we're ramping up service centers & Tesla mobile service worldwide."
Until more service centers open, or Tesla adds capacity and technicians, including "Rangers" – who drive to the customers' door to fix their cars – upstarts like the Electrified Garage are ready to repair, modify or rebuild.