Anti-EV pundits are using Hertz’s announcement that it plans on selling off a third of its EVs as proof that no one wants an EV. But, who cares what they think? If you’re like me, you’re probably always in search of a deal, and cable news isn’t where you find one. Right now, the ex-rental Tesla Model 3s look downright tantalizing.
True, most of the cars coming out of Hertz’s EV fleet are high-mile examples with limited (or no) warranties left. And, given how fast they’ve piled the miles on and Hertz’ rideshare program, they’re likely ex-rideshare cars. That means lots of DC fast charging that could have accelerated battery degradation and plenty of wear and tear from random disrespectful strangers constantly entering and exiting the back seat. But, after the IRA’s used car tax credit, these Teslas could easily be in the mid to high teens—a far cry from the more than $35,000 that new units would cost.
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The Hertz Teslas
Hertz made a big bet on EVs. In October, they accounted for 11% of the rental giant’s fleet. But the company walked back its plan. It announced it was selling 20,000 of its electric cars to reinvest in ICE vehicles, citing higher relative repair costs and depreciation.
Curiosity got the best of me: Would a used high-mile Tesla Model 3 be a good used EV? If I were to buy one, what exactly would I be getting myself into? I went to go look at one, partially for this story, but partially because I can’t resist a deal. What’s the worst that could happen?
I didn’t go to a Hertz-branded used car dealership. I don’t have a Hertz direct auto sales company near me, but Hertz won’t end up selling all 20,000 purged units through its handful of used car dealers. No, like any other company with a fleet of cars, Hertz also offloads them to dealers’ auctions. A local large dealership chain in my city of Columbus, OH had several high-mile Model 3’s to choose from, all priced at about the same level that Hertz is selling its ex-rental vehicles for. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the models on this lot were likely some of Hertz’s first models it purged from the ranks.
This dealership had at least five Model 3s all priced at the $25,000 mark and below, but I chose to look at the cheapest example; a unit priced at $20,500. It had done 106,000 miles, and after the IRS’s used EV tax credit, we’d be at $16,500, not including taxes or dealer fees. That’s not a lot of coin for a three-year-old car from a premium brand, no matter the propulsion type.I had an inkling that the higher-mile units would likely be some ex-Hertz units, I could tell just by the color and trim. Like the vast majority of the Hertz rideshare units, this was a Model 3 Standard Range Plus model, done up in black, with a black interior, and aero hubcaps. It’s about as basic as any standard Tesla comes, likely bought in bulk to satisfy a big corporation, not a want from a consumer.
A vehicle history report will not list the previous owner by name, yet it’s not hard to find out what company it was. The Carfax stated that its previous owner was a rental fleet, and that it was originally sold in Charlotte, North Carolina. Convincing, but not conclusive, as there are plenty of rental fleets and Hertz doesn’t have any special attachment to North Caroline. Yet, when I checked the car’s profile section of the infotainment, underneath the keys menu, one key straight-up says “Hertz Key” and is listed as a fleet key. I think it’s safe to say I was looking at an ex-Hertz Tesla.
According to CarFax, my example entered service in Charlotte, NC in April 2022. It exited service sometime last fall, appearing for sale in Ohio on December 1, 2023, with 106,000 miles. The car was also in two moderate-to-severe accidents; one front-end collision in November of 2022, the other a sideswipe in February of 2023. Neither was enough for the airbags to deploy, and the car was driveable afterward. It was repaired both times and put back into service, meaning the car kept its clean title. CarFax says that this car was on track to average 64,000 miles per year. That’s right in line with a non-stop livery service, way beyond the standard mileage for a weekend vacation rental car.
There were some issues. The example I drove had a TPMS fault, which I suspect was from a dead tire pressure sensor in the passenger front wheel. The front door armrest looked abnormally worn and wrinkled, and the driver’s side A-pillar trim had a deep gouge and black mark that you probably couldn’t fix without replacing the panel. Even without the CarFax, too, there was evidence of the car’s previous crashes. The front of the car was mostly fine, but whoever aligned the trunk lid should take another crack at it. Given the less-than-stellar accident history and high miles, I could understand why Hertz opted to send this one to auction or wholesale, rather than listing it on one of its used car lots. Hertz often only sells the cream of the crop at its own locations, and this example just wasn’t up to par.
Was the car any good?
Cosmetic imperfections and even a bum TPMS sensor should be secondary when finding the best deal on a used car. For the value-minded consumer, their used car search should revolve around finding reliable cars, for not much money, with lots of life left in them. It’s not realistic to expect an ex-fleet car—let alone a Hertz rideshare rental car—to be cosmetically perfect. Still, these high-mile Teslas ask a lot of big scary questions. Will these Model 3s be great options for budget-minded EV believers, or is shopping for a high-mileage fleet Tesla like buying a second-hand diaper?
I kept that in mind as I took the Tesla key card from the salesman and went on a jaunt with the well-used Model 3.
At least from a 20-minute test drive, I was surprised to find a car that drove pretty damn fine. Despite piling on more than 100,000 miles in about a year and a half of driving, this example didn’t feel it. This car felt mostly like any other Tesla on the road, for better or worse. The ride quality wasn’t great, and the interior plastics creaked more than a so-called premium entry should, but those are the same complaints I’ve made about brand-new examples of the Model 3. This car felt no worse. As a whole, this used example felt just as swift and sharp handling as the Model 3 always has. That’s a good sign, but a road test is only part of the car’s story. Are the unseen bits okay? Is the battery still in good condition?
Battery health company Recurrent Auto has faith in used EVs, and insists that in most used EVs, the battery is probably the last thing that should give a consumer worry. “We’ve seen the data that high odometer readings aren’t the whole story when it comes to battery condition and longevity. I think that Hertz is pricing these too low because the industry only thinks about mileage when setting values for used EVs. We know that used EV shoppers are valuing EV batteries that are in good condition regardless of whether the car has high or low mileage. So, it’s a real opportunity for savvy buyers to take advantage,” Recurrent Auto founder Scott Case told InsideEVs via email. This does ease my mind, but I still think it’s wise to get an actual battery test to see exactly where the vehicle stands concerning its remaining battery capacity.
And, that’s where things get tricky. Although polite and accommodating, it was very clear that my salesman didn’t know much about the car’s mechanical status, or what needed to be done to ensure the car was in reasonable order. I asked if they had done any sort of battery degradation tests, and my salesman said no. He said I was free to have that test done if I wanted to come back at a later time. I explained to him that a battery capacity test on a Tesla takes at least 24 hours, and it must be plugged into a Level 2 outlet. He just stared back at me blankly, insisting I could simply schedule a time to come back for an hour or two and do the test. Similarly, I asked Hertz itself if it was doing any battery degradation or capacity tests before it put any used EV on its lot, and it never answered. To add insult to injury, it’s not entirely clear if Tesla does pre-purchase inspections. Some report that they’ve been able to get a service center to do them, while others have been told to take a hike. I wish I had a press office to contact.
That’s frustrating. Because, before I went back to ask the salesman more pointed questions , I sat in the car for a second, pondering exactly what I had just experienced. To a lot of people, any Tesla is an aspirational vehicle; no matter if it’s a single-motor RWD Model 3, or a decked-out Model X Plaid. This example felt like a modern version of the champagne taste on a Kool-Aid budget folks I knew growing up—they were so happy to show off the fact they bought a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, even if it was a well-used older model. Yeah, it might have high miles, and sure they might have purchased a 320i instead of a 335i, but to them, it does not matter. They got their luxury car. It looks nice, drives nice, and they look cool in it.
In many ways, I think those are some of the folks who will end up with these used Model 3s. The issues my example had were minor. Even the body imperfections didn’t look all that out of place against the notoriously inconsistent and slapdash build quality of any given Tesla Model 3 on the street. If the car’s got a coat of caranuba wax, and some bright and shiny tire shine, I’m sure it’ll have enough cachet to impress their friends and neighbors. But even those types of buyers want to do some due diligence. Without tangible proof of the battery’s state of health, there’s no real strong way to know if things are all kosher. The Model 3 could be fine, or it could be a hot mess with a battery that’s significantly more worn than initially thought.
Thankfully, those hypotheticals can easily be verified with a few tests. At its core, buying an EV isn’t that much different than buying a normal car, a good pre-purchase inspection by a qualified, knowledgeable, EV specialist mechanic will be with its weight in gold. If the battery’s in a good state of health, and the price is right, an ex-Hertz Tesla could be a solid deal.