Salvaging Your Way to a Working Tesla Model S for $6500

If you possess modest technical abilities and the patience of a few dozen monks, with some skillful haggling you can land yourself some terrific bargains by salvaging and repairing. This is already a well-known ideology when it comes to sourcing things like electronic test gear, where for example a non working unit might be purchased from eBay and fixed for the price of a few passive components.

[Rich] from Car Guru has taken this to a whole new level by successfully salvaging a roadworthy Tesla Model S for $6500!

Sourcing and rebuilding a car is always a daunting project, in this case made even more challenging because the vehicle in subject is fairly recent, state of the art electric vehicle. The journey began by purchasing a black Tesla Model S, that [Rich] affectionately refers to as Delorean. This car had severe water damage rendering most of its electronics and mechanical fasteners unreliable, so [Rich’s] plan was to strip this car of all such parts, and sell what he could to recover the cost of his initial purchase. After selling the working modules of the otherwise drenched battery, motor and a few other bells and whistles his initial monetary investment was reduced to the mere investment of time.

With an essentially free but empty Tesla shell in his possession, [Rich] turned his attention to finding a suitable replacement for the insides. [Rich] mentions that Tesla refused to sell spare parts for such a project, so his only option was to purchase a few more wrecked vehicles. The most prominent of these wrecks was nicknamed Slim Shady. This one

The Donor

had an irreparable shell but with most electronics preserved, and would serve as the donation vehicle. After painstakingly transplanting all the required electronics and once again selling what he did not need, his net investment came to less than 10% of a new car!

Was all of the effort worth it? We certainly think it was! The car was deemed road worthy and even has functioning Super Charging capabilities which according to [Rich] are disabled by Tesla if such a Frankenstein build is detected.

At this point it would probably be instructive to ask [Rich] if he would do it again, but he is already at it, this time salvaging the faster self driving P86. We suggest you stay tuned.

[Thankyou to Enio Fernandes for sending in the tip]

You can do this with consumer electronics as well if you have the contacts, by sourcing and assembling your own iPhone.

82 thoughts on “Salvaging Your Way to a Working Tesla Model S for $6500

  1. Ahhh, DRM in our cars finally becoming really detrimental to the user.
    I get that there’s a large amount of safety that goes into quick charging such a colossal lithium battery but why not (other than money) charge a re-certification fee.
    Preventing you from refilling the fuel tank of your car seems a bit extreme for the crime of salvaging a couple wrecks. How much longer until OnStar (other other ‘services’) permanently disable your car after it’s been written off by the insurance company? Half the time ‘totaled’ cars are fine structurally.

    1. I think you misunderstand what is meant by disabling the Super Charging capability. Normal Tesla Model S owners who bought before (IIRC) the beginning of this year get free use of the Super Charger network. He can still recharge the car, but if Tesla find out then they won’t give him free power.

      1. He can’t use the stations at all.
        That’s quite different from just making him pay for the electricity he uses. With this restriction he can no longer use the car for anything other than daily communtes. It’s restricted to the much slower plug in charging.
        That may be fine for some but IMO it’s a bad precedent.

        1. it unfortunately needs more than that. The area around the crack has significant material removal, on top of that in order to weld in that area you would need to pretty much disassemble the majority of the car as aluminum needs to be preheated prior to welding.

      1. That has very little to do with structural integrity and a great deal to do with liabilities that neither Chevrolet nor the insurance company want to assume. The car could be repaired, but it’s an aircraft-grade repair – dismantle, weld and inspect and would likely requires frequent subsequent inspection for some time.

        The large question is why an American car maker would make a car so susceptible to damage – there should be a sacrificial piece that got chewed up protecting it from such an obvious source of damage.

    2. I was quite annoyed at his claim that Tesla disables Super Charge on such cars. But then it struck me that it might just be sane/safe thinking. I would think twice before directing 100kW into something I salvaged together…

          1. @Phrewfuf: the pump stops pumping as soon as liquid comes up to the level of the nozzle. You can pull the handle again and it dispenses a tiny squirt of petrol and then stops again. You’d have to stand there a long time manually clicking the handle over and over before any would spill.

          2. Unless that fails and gasoline spills over the side of your car then you tell the gas station attendant of the potential danger and he says that pumps don’t auto-stop like you’re an idiot and you re-iterate that it’s a basic safety mechanism and then he says he did’t know that because he never puts more than $5 in his tank at a time.

            I’m still upset over that one.

    3. Tesla actually has a certification process but it’s up to them whether to let you pursue it and it probably is expensive depending on what was repaired. In this case, what is essentially a Frankenstein’s monster of a car, if they allowed it at all they’d probably charge quite a lot since they’d have to really tear it apart and check that everything is properly done and functional and safe.

      They don’t want to allow salvaged vehicles (even if it’s just repaired from a major accident) without certification because as you say the large battery pack makes it potentially quite dangerous to have on the roads, or even charging, if things go wrong.

      There has been at least one case of someone getting their salvage car made fully operational by Tesla though, so it can be done.

      1. I bet people would be happy to let Tesla install the power circuits & take a salvage title for it if they could get a model S for the price of a base model normal sedan, 10-12k has got to be worth a very limited liability warranty.
        I suspect this is more about brand protection than nervous bean counters.

    4. There is a positive thing about DRM in cars, even if that means the headlight of the car must be “married” with your car for it to work at all. And that is the problem with theft of car parts.

      Theft of car parts have become a widespread problem, atleast here in sweden. Since the introducion of immobilizers, and also a requirement by law that cars must have immobilizers, car theft is very rare now. (Mostly, the cars that get stolen is whose owners have been negligent with their car keys), but now instead, thieves steal car parts like the steering wheel, headlights, side mirrors, wheels etc.

      And I think it would be good if car manufacturers started making some circuit that means: Every car will refuse a part that does not have the car’s serial number in itself, and every part will refuse to work unless the car “authenticates” to the part with the car’s serial number.
      Even the wheels could be “married” to the car by having the TPMS sensor be required and “married” with the car – if the wheel does not have your car’s serial number programmed, the car won’t start.

      It won’t stop third-party car repair service stations either, because the repair service stations could just order new parts from manufacturer, and the manufacturer ask for serial number, programs it into part and sends the part to the repair service station.
      Another good thing with that is also that if the part gets stolen in transit, for example in postal service, its still useless since it can only be used with the car it has been programmed for.

      1. That’s basically a death blow to home repairers. Also: where do you stop? The engine? The battery? The windscreen wiper? Also: who’s going to keep all that stuff on stock? Usually parts fit in multiple cars, but with a DRM system like that it doesn’t work. Also, aftermarket products could be kept out by the car refusing to start because you put your favourite tyre rims on by “superhotrod” shop around the corner. Then you have to wast lots of time programming all that stuff, so repair shops will be much more expensive. Also: a professional criminal will just buy a programmer, or a shop. Also: things you add will also be adding a failure source.
        So baaaaaad idea.

        1. No. It wont be a Death blow for home repairers, because you could still order the part yourself, and then enter your VIN and then the programmed part will be shipped to you.

          And no, criminals wont be able to program it provided they do it in a secure way, so parts cannot be programmed after initial programming.

          1. As a guy who works in a main dealer selling parts, this is a terrible idea. It wouldn’t just be a case of entering VIN numbers, you’ll have to get proof of ownership and ID for every part you want.

          2. Rusty Shackleford: No. It wouldn’t be required with proof of ownership and ID. Because when you buy a NEW part, you obviously will own the new part. Of course, if there were a used part, it would of course be good to require the registration papers of the donor car, AND the electronic immobilizer key of the donor car. (Both, because when parts are taken from a donor car, its normally a scrapped one that is no longer in the car registry).

            But if its a brand new part, it would be easy, you simply enter any VIN you like the part programmed to, on the ordering website, manufacturers program that VIN to your part. If you enter a VIN that isn’t yours – your fault then you get a useless brand new part shipped home.

          3. Except that Ford/Volvo implemented the very technology you describe on a ton of their cars, and no, the parts don’t ever come coded. You have to take them to an authorized dealer, where the dealer’s computer fetches an authorization from Volvo’s central systems.

            Internet down? Too bad.

            Volvo decides to stop supporting that system? Too bad.

            Want to sell a part off your car, or buy a part off a car in a junkyard? Too bad.

            You should not need to do any of this to fix your own car.

            It’s absolutely insane. And of course the guys who chop up cars illegally? They’ve figured out how to reprogram the units. So it doesn’t stop theft, but it does do a great job of making money for Volvo off parts they already sold once.

      2. Imagine a situation where a moron on bicycle hit your parked car and handlebar just happened to be on the right height to rip off your side mirror and break it in the process. Now imagine this happens in Poland, your income is polish, and you need your car fixed to earn money. Typical Pole would buy a used part, maybe even with matching color and install it on his own for 5-10% of the price of new part. But someone decided that DRMing everything is great and you must buy new side mirror from manufacturer and install it at authorized repair station. Final cost will be 10-20 times higher than perfectly good used part, which happens to be 1/2 to 1/3 of typical polish monthly income.
        Long time ago my father had a piece of french engineering at its worst: Talbot Simca/Solara/something a strange mix of two different cars that had inherited worst aspects of both of them. So after a minor accident and another engine malfunction my father bought another Talbot Simca/Solara/something that had its own issues, and we disassembled it and used as donor of spare parts. It was cheaper than buying parts from stores or junkyard…

        1. You don’t need to install it at a authorized repair station.
          You could simply order the part yourself, and then enter your VIN at ordering, and then the programmed part is shipped to you.

          Something must be done to these car parts thefts, especially those from more expensive cars. I Think Car DRM is a great idea for that. For example, Volvo has started “DRM”ing the car stereo to the car to prevent stereo thefts.

          1. I like how you rich people all buy parts straight off manufacturers…

            …and don’t think at all about people salvaging perfectly good stuff off wrecked cars. Or someone installing an aftermarket part and selling his perfectly fine OEM part to a buddy or something.

          2. I understand that, but you also must understand the problem with car parts thefts. Sometimes there must be tradeoffs.

            Maybe a system where you can go get the part reprogrammed, but then you must show registration papers and also be able to bring the keys from the “old car” that the part was taken from.

          3. Yeh, do it with the spare bulbs (easy with xenon ones).
            Then 10y after car is EOL, EOL parts also, so you have to dump your perfectly running car for a bad light…

          4. Then, any kind of maintenance or troubleshoot would require twice the amount of time and work for not too much of an improvement.
            I am sorry that some people steal things, but sometimes, over-locking things is a PITA to the user and still won’t stop a motivated thief.
            For example, my car had locking lug nuts for preventing the wheels to be stolen, but I removed that after I discovered how terrible it makes changing a wheel (which by Murphy’s law always happens by the side of the road at night when it rains/snows).
            And for the same thing, my dad had two cars of the same brand, and we used to swap some similar parts for troubleshooting. That would be totally impossible with DRM.

            But every-time you are buying second hand parts, IMO it is a good thing to ask about the origin of the parts, and stay away from the suspicious sources (at least some of them look very obvious).

          5. Long time ago they made removable front panels for car stereos, which were DRMed to the stereo. One had to take the panel with him, and thief wouldn’t bother to steal the stereo because without the panel it was worthless. But if the front panel broke for some reason, one was screwed. Until manufacturers decided to sell the panels too and made available a way to program them to match the stereo. In the end DRM as protection against theft failed.

            If I were car parts thief and had to deal with DRMed parts, I’d reverse engineer the protection circuit to either unlock them or reprogram the DRM. It was actually done before with coffee makers that worked only with expensive coffee cups, then with spools of filament and 3D printer that could work only with DRMed ones. A friend of mine had a Dell (IIRC) laptop that worked only with genuine chargers. There was third, small wire that connected a memory chip in charger to the laptop for ID. So when cable broke, it was unfixable. My friend just cut out the piece of PCB with memory and installed it in laptop which after that became charger-agnostic. So you see, DRM is no problem for smart people, like hackers and car parts thieves, but it will drive the prices for everyone else, screw them sideways and won’t stop any crime. Was computer or console piracy stopped by better DRM schemes? Nope. Only honest gamers suffered countless problems with broken DRM implementations…

          6. Moryc: Im against DRMing of refillables, thats an entirely different thing, and that only exist to make the manufacturer’s pockets bigger.

            The great thing with car DRM is that even if its a couple that know how to reverse engiiner the DRM, its really only for one and one. Its not like someone can upload a file on the internet and then the DRM is cracked for every thief, but rather it requires some hardware knowledge, and if the DRM is well made, it requires modifying, tapping and other “hacks” before it will accept the “wrong” part.

            And the good with that is that most car thieves, wont be able to do this. They steal a part, and then notices it wont work, they lookup on internet and finds that only genuine, manufacturer-programmed parts of that car works. That makes the part worthless, and then the thefts of car parts from that model stops, because the truth about these parts spread, and nobody wants to buy them.

            Just look on how car thefts become basically a history after immobilizers came. Even if there is a few that knows how to replace the motor Control box with one they have all the keys for, car thefts are still very rare.

            If you Think about the charger, and it were so the DRM chip was embedded in the main processor of the charger, and the charger wouldn’t give off its ID (which could be like encrypted via challenge-response) before it had been verified to be within-specs. Then you wouldn’t be able to bypass that.

            Thats the truth. Expect to see more DRM:ed parts in the future. To cut down on thefts. I can imagine the next thing to be DRMed would be the steering Wheel with its accompanying airbag. Because these are popular to steal to then repair cars that have been part in accident.

          7. I have heard of a few cases where the key is not needed to start the engine. On most cars, the manufacturer installs a backdoor for test/manufacture purposes, so if it is properly engineered, a thief just has to break a window, plug a dongle in the ODB2 connector and start the engine (on some cars with keyless start, it even unlocks the steering wheel, otherwise, taking out a few screws or a hammer whack would unlock it).
            BTW, my car stereo was DRMed, but the key has been already reverse engineered, so you can guess the code only by knowing the S/N (exactly like the default password is linked to the MAC address on some routers).

          8. is car parts theft THAT bad of a problem?
            Dont you have insurance?

            I seriously suggest you have a look at john deere and the issues farmers are having with repairs.

            How would your DRM system work when an automotive company says that its too expensive to keep the DRM systems running for 10 year old cars and forces everyone to purchase newer cars?

            What about used parts? now if you cant install used parts, you have just created a crap load more junk that needs to be disposed instead of reused.

            DRM of any kind is never the answer! why? because i could always get around it no matter what you think. How are you going to stop me from removing the ECU of the car and install my own?

          9. I could buy all the used parts I have ever replaced as a result of repair, maintenance or theft several times over for the price it would have cost me to replace just the repair and maintenance ones once ordered new from the dealer.

          10. in addition, the only thing that DRM does is give more power to the auto manufacturers would love nothing more than have an easy way to have forces obsolescence. If you want to stop the theft of car parts, maybe you should be looking at your police officers to catch the criminals.

            If your idea of DRM existed then specifically this hack would never have existed and there would be 3+ whole cars going to the junk yard instead of being parted out to go to other products and projects

            All DRM does is give more power to the corporations and given that we all live in a world where the corporations have too much power, that is the last thing we need. Just wait a few years until the fallout from EME hits the general population (its DRM baked into the web standards)

          11. You realize that dealer parts are very expensive, especially for new car. For many people repairing their own car buy new is not a option. Whereas ordering the same part off a junked model will save you a ton of money. Which is what most people do. who have any mechanical ability.

            For rich people like you it’s a different story.

          12. Mike: Yes. It has become a pretty big problem. For example BMW owners, the insurance companies are a bit reluctant to give full insurance because of its big problem, they charge a high ratio if you want a theft insurance, and have a high cooldown rate on the reimbursment. (Example: 1 year old car = 100% of the value – insurance excess, 3 year old car = 70 % of the value – insurance excess, 5 year = 50 %, 8 year = 25% and so on). So if you get a part stolen on your 5 year old car, you will have to bring 50 % + excess yourself out of pocket.

            Example;
            5 year old car:
            Lets say your steering wheel + airbag gets stolen, value 1000€. The excess of your insurance is 100€
            Then they take 50 % of the value of the steering wheel, its 500€. Then they add the excess to this, so the final reinbursment value is 400€. Then you have to bring 600€ out of pocket yourself because of that.

          13. Your enthusiasm shows you’ve never lifted a wrench in your life. This DRM just encourages theft and raises part prices. When your only source is the manufacturer and aftermarket parts need additional electronics they either don’t get made or cost as much as OEM. Now suddenly its worth it to steal cars, chop them up and hack the systems that caused the situation.

        2. “Imagine a situation where a moron on bicycle hit your parked car ”

          Imagine a situation where a dumbass internet commenter feels the need to wind a cyclist-hating comment into his narrative.

          Grow up.

        1. Do you have a better idea? In the same way we have keys and locks on doors, and safes for our most valuable things, car parts needs to be electronically “locked” so thieves know that if they steal the part it will be completely useless. Certain car parts are so valuable so theves spend a great time stealing them…

          http://teknikensvarld.se/rattstolderna-sprider-sig-i-sverige-247054/

          There could be a feature that when you use a correct immobilizer key to start the car, the infotainment system could have a feature to “unmount” certain parts (programmed for that car) that then can be put into any car. But having a programming capacity at all, even if its a secure function, gets the risk that the part is stolen and hacked.

          Most secure is then that the old part cannot be reused at all.

          1. It really, REALLY astounds me that there are such authoritarian DRM advocates on a site like this. Go lock yourself out of everything you own. We’ll keep our freedom and sacrifice some security for it.

            Or perhaps it’s just a troll.

          2. @Rennika M:
            I also think DRM is bad when its only used to earn money. Like hardware that stops functioning after a certain time passed and you need to pay a fee to reactivate. Or when its used only for vendor-lockin.

            But in some cases, DRM can actually be good. One example of a good type of DRM is Microsofts DRM for Microsoft Office Documents, that is designed to prevent confidental documents falling into the wrong hands. Eg, a company administrator can decide the documents should only be readable by specific users for a specific time, on specific machines, and restrictions on what can be printed.

            In the same way here, the DRM in cars, even if some car manufacturers misuse them for their own pocketing, is good for the owners to reduce the problem with thefts of expensive parts. Volvo was first with “Car DRM” in the form of a stereo that is “married” with the car – and that actually made so theres almost none Volvo Stereo thefts left.

            The volvo DRM however has a flaw – and that is that anyone can buy a authorization account if they have a car shop, and thats why it has failed a bit – the bad guys just start a car shop, and use their account to reprogram stolen parts. Yes, it will be logged who did authorize the reprogramming of a part.

            Thats why it must be locked in such a way so the original key (from the “donor car”) is electronically required (like some encryption key or something) before a part can be reprogrammed.

  2. “Where for example a non working unit might be purchased from eBay and fixed for the price of a few passive components.”

    Sometimes. Or bought and then written off as a complete loss of the unit, shipping, spare parts, your time and hassle of it not working at all or barely being scavenged for a few spare parts at best.

    1. That’s the whole fun of it. Besides, no risk no fun! :)

      PS. I accidentally hit “report” instead of “reply”, there really should be some confirmation box, I see it happens quite often

      1. True, to a point. I am not saying don’t do it or anything. Just value your time fairly and know there are some good gems out there but also plenty of junk that only winds up costing both time and money and not getting you closer to what you were trying to do in the first place. Just trying to clarify that optimism is good but not every wrecked car project works out like this. Plus, it isn’t really fair to not value their time or expertise but that seems to happen so often.

        1. If you have the time, its yours and you can do what you like with it including spending an inordinate amount of time on a pet project. It is pointless saying that people should value their time at commercial rates before starting a project, if they can spare the time they will.
          Ever go fishing?

          1. I am not saying that one’s time always has to be valued at commercial rates. I am just asking that people try to at least be mindful of their time fairly when accounting for the true cost of a project.

            Yes, it cost you $5000 but if it took you 300 hours as well, that isn’t as much of a bargain unless it’s just a hobby or fun activity and even then, one should at least try to be generally fair in estimating or accounting for the time involved as one of the project costs.

          2. Yeah I go fishing but I realize that even if I catch a fish I’m $250 down the hole. That Xbox Live session? $100.

            Sleeping 8 hours a night? You don’t even want to know how much money you’re losing!

    2. Yeah that’s a risk every one seems to gloss over. I purchased an old Tek portable scope for 30$. Turns out the unit sat in a few inches of water that killed all 3 proprietary asics. Don’t regret it but with big ticket items I would be more careful.

      Still need to get rid of the old scope some how.

    3. A lot of people got dirt cheap Microsoft Trackballs when MS discontinued the Optical 1.0. The transistor that drives the tracking LED sits close to the edge of the PCB and part of the plastic shell. Careless assemblers hit the transistor hard enough to break one or two of the solder joints.

      Apparently ‘testing’ simply involved plugging it in to see if it lit up, which the “Oh look, I’m optical!” LED would do.

      Whomever took care of the returns dumped the defective ones on eBay cheap. A quick hit or two with a soldering iron and they were perfect.

  3. And the initial outlay? 20k? 10-15?

    What about all the other donor cars? And the time selling all the parts isn’t free, put it at minimum wage, what do you get?

    Interesting, sure, but a misleading article. Would I do it? Possibly, if I retired 3d and had the *disposoble* income, not to mention the disposable time.

    1. The Model S retails for around $68k. I’m not sure where you’re from, but in the US average minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Given that there are roughly 261 work days in a typical year, you’re looking at about 36 years of work to buy a Model S.
      while it’s impossible to take into account things like overtime, tips, etc., I think you agree that he came out ahead.

      1. Dammit, I really shouldn’t try to calculate things while half asleep.
        My point is, you’d invest FAR more time trying to buy the car outright, than doing what this guy did.
        Now then, I’m going to go into a coma on my bed.

      2. I don’t believe that the Model S’s target marketing demographic is a minimum wage employee though or what that particular comparison shows exactly?

        Curious how many hours this actually took to complete but if you were paying a mechanic to do so, I don’t know of any that work for or bill $7.25 per hour.

        It’s roughly 4.49 years unless you only want to work 1 hour per day. But that math also discounts other expenses, taxes, etc.

        1. As I said, what is the chance somebody on minimum wage would have the money to buy wrecked Tesla model S cars?

          Sure *after* he sold the parts he came back down to 6500, but if you are on minimum wage your car likely cost $900-$3000. Nevermind what these wrecked cars cost in initial outlay.

          What I did say was that even if you count your time at minimum wage, $6500 is not what he paid, just to list and sell the spare parts. Because you could argue he enjoyed taking apart and re-assembling the cars.

          1. Uh, whole giant companies are aimed at minimum wage workers, like certain chains of supermarkets.
            And like at least 75% of the economy of China. And like many cellphones and cellphone companies.

        1. “The minimum wage in the United States is set by US labor law and a network of state, and local laws. Employers generally must pay workers the highest minimum wage prescribed by federal, state, and local law. As of July 2016, the federal government mandates a nationwide minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. As of October 2016, there are 29 states with a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum”

          So the statement was false, the minimum is $7.25 but the ‘average minimum’ is higher.

          1. Realistically, it’s most likely not much over $7.25.

            Using data from this place for the states alone (not territories), filling in NONE and values lower than the Federal minimum with $7.25, and using the highest values available in the minimum wage column because I couldn’t be arsed to go further in processing the data… the average is at $8.38
            http://www.paywizard.org/main/salary/minimum-wage

            That ain’t buying a Tesla just yet.

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