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Tesla's Model 3 is great to drive, but what's it like to own?

Bloomberg surveyed 5,000 owners on their first month of ownership, and the results are pretty encouraging for the automaker.

Tesla Model 3 Perforamance
We've lived with Tesla's people's car for a week at a time, but what's it like to own one?
Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Tesla's still working on quality issues, but the Californian automaker is making steady progress, according to the results of a huge survey Bloomberg released on Tuesday. The study, which polled 5,000 Tesla Model 3 owners, focuses on the ownership experience with the car in the first 30 days.

That tight focus means the survey is less of a comment on the Model 3's reliability and more of a statement on the car's initial quality. With that in mind, how did the Big T do in the eyes of its customers?

Not as bad as we'd have expected, actually. Tesla's quality seems to have improved more or less steadily since hitting a low point this year in February when the company was averaging 101 defects per 100 cars. This had a lot to do, Bloomberg says, with Tesla starting to ship the Model 3 overseas and stretching to hit production targets.

The worst month in the last two years for major defects was February of 2018, with February 2019 and July 2019 coming in second and third place. The last month documented is September of 2019, and that shows the lowest number of defects per 100 cars built at just 31.7 defects.

That number looks good, but how does it compare outside of the vacuum of Tesla? That's hard to say accurately. Obviously, sample size will have some bearing on the results, but for comparison's sake, the Porsche 911 was ranked highest in J.D. Power's 2019 Initial Quality survey with 58 problems per 100 vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership. While that's not an apples-to-apples comparison -- 90 days is obviously longer for problems to surface -- it's still something to think about. (Tesla does not participate in the J.D. Power survey.)

Tesla didn't immediately return Roadshow's request for comment.

So what kind of problems are Tesla owners having? It turns out that they're mostly to do with paint. Bloomberg reports that 12% of Model 3 owners claim to have had paint issues. (Tesla reduced the number of paint options in September 2018 in order to improve its quality record.) Looking at Tesla's user forums, some of the more common gremlins include paint that's too thin or improperly cured, so it chips easily or wears through to bare metal -- a problem that's exacerbated by owners' next biggest complaint: panel fit.

The automotive press has for ages made fun of Tesla about the issues it's had getting panel gaps tight and consistent. My personal favorite joke involves Tesla trying to recreate the Lexus "ball bearing" commercial from the early 1990s and running out of bearings, but I digress. The third biggest complaint comes from scratches and dents that were… ahem, installed by the factory.

The good news for owners is that once you get inside the car and start driving it, the number of problems drops off significantly. Interior issues are a little less than half as common as exterior ones, and owners report fewer than 10 problems per 100 cars that deal with the car's complicated electronics systems or climate control. The least number of issues come from the chassis, brakes and drivetrain.

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