Tesla’s Maiden “Voyage”

I’ve already confessed in prior posts that I am not a “car person”.  I’m not an engineer, or scientist or mathematician either.  So, my observations about my first long distance drive will seem really basic to those who ARE any of the things that I am not.  If any of the aforementioned happen to stumble upon this blog, PLEASE feel free to comment.  I would be enormously grateful for your insights, corrections and helpful hints.

The Driving Experience
From my 1,450 miles of driving during my 5 months of ownership, I already knew my Tesla was pretty damn amazing, well before I set off on my first long distance journey.   What I DIDN’T know was how incredibly relaxing a trip can be even when you’re the driver.  Want to take your hands off the wheel to get a cold drink, or rummage through your cooler?  No problem.  Self drive has it under control.  Are you usually tense when you are in stop and go traffic?  That’s a thing of the past, because the car stops and goes with traffic, allowing you, the driver to enjoy your surroundings, eat, change up your music – whatever you want.

When I missed the turn off for the Tappan Zee (now Mario Cuomo Bridge, but old habits are hard to shake) I was forced to drive over the GW Bridge.  What would normally be harrowing was just a long and least favorite experience.  I didn’t have to worry about being hemmed in on all sides by trucks.  The Tesla kept me safely in the middle of my lane.  

About being in the middle of the lane, I have learned I normally drive much closer to the right side of the road, so as I was learning the ins and outs of self drive, I freaked out when the Tesla pulled me to the left.  I was afraid it wasn’t going to self correct in time.  I’m glad that I practiced using the self driving feature on the winding, hilly country roads in my area so I could gain confidence in its safety.  

Trip Planning
When I used the Tesla trip planning app, it assumed that I would be starting on the trip at the current charge level. I had never charged to 100% before (the physicists know why, but WE don’t need to get into the technical details here) so the app led me to believe that I wouldn’t be able to make the 260 mile trip without stopping to recharge.  Wrong.  If I chose to do so, I discovered I could have easily made it the entire way, with at least 20% battery to spare.  

The Tesla navigation app recommends charging stops along your route. Take a look at the information the app provides for each charging station:

The app is designed to minimize charging times, so for the return, the trip planner suggested just one stop of 15 minutes. (I started my return with less than a full charge). Here’s the thing.  If you let the car sit after charging is completed, you get a 5 minute grace period.  If you linger longer,  as shown in the photo, you are charged $1 a minute idling fees.  That’s one way to make sure that the charging stations are available to everyone who needs them.  But, if you plan on stopping to have lunch and a bathroom break, you may WANT a longer charge time.  

Sad to say, I discovered the battery has a much longer range than my kidneys.  MY need to stop occurred WAY before I needed to charge.  Here’s another thing: for a reason that is obvious to the physicists and engineers, (but a mystery to me) a battery charges faster when it is closer to empty than when it is closer to full, so that’s something else to factor when planning your stops. So many things to consider.  I’m proud to reveal that I did somewhat better on the return trip mastering the car/body connection. One unanticipated snag was the charging station in Madison was “temporarily out of service”, disrupting my plan to charge while visiting with a friend. Fortunately, I knew that BEFORE I headed back, so was able to reconfigure my stops.  All these “discoveries” will make my next trip stops so much easier to plan.  

The “other’ charging stations
None of my family members have an outdoor outlet, so I couldn’t charge overnight using a regular household current. The closest chargers were two EvGo stations offering both slow and fast chargers. I had planned to use the fast CHAdeMO option but instead I experienced rude awakening #1: the adapter that came with the car didn’t fit. I would have needed to purchase the correct adapter for $450 from the Tesla store. I also discovered that the charging speed of even the FAST (CHAdeMO) connection was significantly less than what I would experience at a supercharger. (DEFINITELY not worth spending $450!) Next came rude awakening #2: I couldn’t get the included J1172 adapter to fit on the nozzle of the slower option. I was afraid of damaging one (or both) so I gave up and decided this would be something I would try once I got home (and had my trusty husband by my side). Luckily, there WAS a Tesla Supercharger about 15 minutes away, so that’s the one I used. The whole point of this stream of consciousness rambling is that home charging is essential for electric vehicle owners AND you need to give some thought to charging stops BEFORE you head off. It isn’t QUITE as easy and convenient as stopping for gas. At least not yet. So, no cross country trips in the Tesla will be in our near future.  I’d rather plan our stops around where we want to be, rather than where we have to charge.  

Supercharger options

Energy Consumption
The discoveries keep coming. Here’s another. When you let the car drive itself, energy consumption improves. At least it did for me. Here’s how I could tell. The energy app shows average consumption over three different ranges. 300 watt hours per mile is the expected average, but the thick solid line in the graph below shows the expected average when the terrain (and possibly external temperature?) is taken into consideration. The dotted line shows my actual results for the past 30 miles. If it is below the solid line, I’m doing better than expected. (This is one example where being “above average” ISN’T a good thing). Notice the little green triangle? That’s when the battery was recharging itself. If I continued to drive the way I had for the past 30 miles,  I would have sufficient energy to go another 157 miles. What’s puzzling is when you add the averages (actual and projected) you come up with 390 miles, which is far greater than the EPA range of 322.
This, by the way, was not my graph from the actual trip. Self driving widened the gap between the solid and dotted lines in a very positive way.

Everything Else
My 6 and 7 year old grand nieces proclaimed me their “coolest aunt” strictly on the basis of my car ownership. The ability of the car to fart upon command was definitely a huge hit, as was its ability to go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. They dubbed the fast acceleration “the rocket” and requested that I do “the rocket” again and again.

One final observation.  Having self drive and navigation, however does NOT eliminate the “back seat” driver, even when he (and so far it has ALWAYS been a “he”) sits in front.

Love ya, dad, but one driver per car is sufficient

 

My Tesla’s First Long Distance Road Trip

I had no idea when I picked up my “long distance” Tesla Model 3, on March 6, 2020, that it would be 5 months before I found out how far I could drive without stopping to recharge. In the 22 weeks that I have owned my hot wheels, I’ve driven less than 1,500 miles, which averages out to less than 10 miles a day. Our longest excursion, so far, has been our drive to the Delaware River, which is about 70 miles round trip.  Yes, I lead an exciting life.  

But all that is about to change. Shortly, my Tesla and I will be embarking on our very first long distance drive. Let me stop you before you conjure up a coast to coast road trip. In the age of covid, I define long distance as any drive that requires recharging somewhere other than our garage. My first trip will be to visit family in Massachusetts. That was the main reason for purchasing the long distance Tesla– my frequent family visits.  

Foolishly, I thought a range of 322 miles meant that I could drive the 260 mile trip on one charge.  Nope, the 322 miles is the EPA estimate, and like all the EPA estimates you see stuck on new car windows, it doesn’t consider speed, hills, weather, use of air conditioning, etc.  Knowing my  tendency to press the pedal to the metal, even starting fully charged,  I would expect a 260 mile trip to require a stop.  

First let me confess that prior to purchase, I was very concerned about the availability of charging stations. That fear was put to rest when my friend Laura gave me a tutorial from the front seat of her Tesla Model S.  She showed me that all you need to do is type in your destination on your display, and the computer not only maps out the route, but it also tells you where to stop to recharge, how LONG you will need to stop at the station, and how much of a charge will remain once you reach your destination. You want to see what the display looks like?  Check out the header photo of this post, which maps a route from home to the Fairhaven Library, assuming a starting charge of 80%. (WordPress just “improved” its software, so in the off chance that you can’t see the heading, here it is again.)

As of March, 2020, Tesla had 25,000 charging stations in the USA. Only Tesla owners are able to use these stations, which generally are located along major highways, and in places where you would want to stop, with bathrooms, food and/or shopping. But Tesla owners are not restricted to just these superchargers. The Tesla comes equipped with an adapter ( CHAdeMO –no I have NO idea what that means — just think of it as a piece of equipment named Chad) which allows you to connect at OTHER public charging stations that use”Chad” for hooking up.

Because there are a couple of EvGo stations  that are located more conveniently than the Tesla Supercharger, in the area I’ll be visiting, I signed up for an EvGo account. I found the EvGo website VERY user friendly and informative, especially for a non-engineer like me.   After reading its tutorial, I finally understood the three different levels of charging–which was formerly a mystery to me. 

EvGo offers two plans: a monthly membership, or a pay as you go option. You also can choose between “super fast” or  “faster than plugging into a standard wall outlet” chargers.  Obviously, the faster one is more expensive.  These numbers are approximate, calculated from the estimates on the EvGo page: $.30 per minute or $18 per hour for 180 miles of charge ($.10 per mile) versus $1.50 per hour for 20 miles of charge (or $.075 per mile).  Because no one in my family has a charging station (or a garage), I expect to be using that EvGo charging station at least once while in Massachusetts and will describe the experience in my usual painstaking detail.    

Back to my obsessive compulsiveness.  As my friends and family know, I am a planner, at least when it comes to travel.  Although I can do many things from my phone’s Tesla App, it doesn’t allow me to do any navigation or trip planning.  That can only be done from the car’s display. Maybe some people enjoy sitting in a parked car, but I don’t happen to be one of them.  Fortunately, the Tesla Motors Club website has very helpful and friendly posters who directed me to A Better Route Planner (which can be downloaded to your phone from the app store, or even viewed on your desktop.) Let me tell you, it’s much more fun planning imaginary trips from the comfort of your couch than from the front seat of your car!  At least it is to me. 

The information on ABRP (A Better Route Planner)is much the same as what you get from the Tesla Display, except that it also includes public charging stations, and provides estimates of cost and length of time for charging.  You start by inputting the your destination, % of charge (called “SOC” or state of charge), and the application does the rest.  Here’s a screen shot from my phone.  

 

You can include the desired “SOC” for  when you arrive at your destination, and can plot out your stops for your return trip, but you’ve seen enough shots of screens, haven’t you?    

For some reason that is clear to the technical members of the family, but not to me, the battery should be kept between 20% and 80% charged.  I don’t need to know why.  I went to Catholic school.  I do as I’m told.  Well, most of the time, or maybe some of the time, and this was one of those times.  Tonight, however, that sucker is getting charged all the way up to 100%, so tomorrow, I’ll be charged up and raring to go.  

Trip Insurance Update

Was it only four months ago that I questioned whether trip insurance was worth the cost? The world was a different place back then, wasn’t it?

Over the past two months, most of us have learned more than we ever wanted to know about insuring our adventures. When we buy a policy, we usually look at the summary of benefits–how much coverage is offered for trip cancellation, trip interruption, medical expenses, lost luggage etc. But how many of us take the time to read the exclusions? Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to get to the exclusion section, let alone the complete policy.

Even if you do decide to try to read the policy on line, it is likely that you will have to click through several screens to get there. Once you arrive, you will find that the list of exclusions is fairly universal among travel insurers. They include things like attempted suicide or other self inflicted harm, criminal acts, pre-existing conditions (unless certain specified rules are followed) AND something that never concerned me before — epidemics.

I have never purchased the more expensive “cancel for any reason” policies so I can’t speak to what those exclusions would be. I assume that it wouldn’t matter. If your spouse was incarcerated for robbing a bank, I imagine you could say that you are canceling because you just didn’t want to go on the trip. But we have no plans to test out my hypothesis.

Right now, so many flight and trip cancellations are truly putting the travel industry under tremendous strain. What happens when the travel company cancels the trip? When an airline cancels your flight? When you cancel and then a few weeks (or days) later, everything is cancelled? What if you cancel far enough in advance that the travel company’s policy is to give you your money back less a change charge, but the company changes their policy? What if the company doesn’t survive? We are all slowly learning the answers to those questions.

But enough of the anxiety provoking questions. Time for some good news and some praise for a company. For the first time ever, I decided to rely on my Chase Sapphire Reserve card to cover our trip insurance needs. Because the Chase Sapphire Reserve card has a rather significant annual charge of $550, (an increase of $100 from when I originally bought it)I had never considered trading in my Chase Sapphire Preferred card (no fee, probably because I had owned that card for more than 15 years, well before they started charging $90 per year). What changed my mind was a post in the Overseas Adventure Travel Forum. One of the posters alerted me to the fact that the Reserve card credits back $300 if you spend that amount on travel, something that we easily do, most years. So, the net cost for the card is actually $200 per year. We clearly could never get trip insurance for $100 per person, per year, so it was time to look a little more carefully at the plan provisions.

Because we have an excellent Medicare supplement, I wasn’t concerned about the skimpy medical coverage of $2,500. It would more than cover any deductible or copay from our Medicare supplement carrier. It also offered $100,000 in emergency evacuation and transportation not already covered by our Medicare Supplement. I also wasn’t concerned about replacement for lost luggage. I never check anything valuable anyway. What REALLY interested me was trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage.

After reviewing the provisions, I felt comfortable that this plan offers coverage as good as I would get elsewhere. The exclusions were standard, but it did have annual maximum benefits of $10,000 per person, $20,000 per trip (since it is only my husband and me, that works) and a maximum payment of $40,000 per year. Our travel expenses easily fit within those parameters. And if it appears that we would be exceeding those amounts, I would simply purchase a supplemental policy. As noted in my prior post, I had always purchased trip insurance from insuremytrip.com and had been pleased with the results. Our cost for very good coverage ranged from $250 per person to a high of $500 per person, which was significantly less expensive than what was offered by the travel company. Still, $0.00 per person seemed like a better deal to me, and that was what we relied upon to cover our costs for our planned Morocco trip the end of March.

In early March, we learned that my husband had a medical condition that was not life threatening, but needed attention, so we canceled. Two weeks later, our travel provider canceled all March and April departures, offering credits toward a future trip. Because our reason for canceling was not due to the epidemic, we were able to get a complete refund from our Chase insurance. And, because treatment has been delayed, I canceled a subsequent trip in June, and the cancellation penalty has also been refunded.

So what do I have to say about my experience with Chase Sapphire Reserve’s vendor, Allianz? Nothing but high praise. Claims can be submitted through their website, by regular mail or by email. The process is EASY and it was FAST. It only took two weeks from the time we submitted the physician’s statement until the time I had my check in hand. Pretty amazing given what has been going on in the travel insurance world.

So, my earlier advice still stands. Do your research, know what you need, and what you are buying when you are able to travel again. I hope it will be soon!

Confessions of a Tes-Lover

In late February, when I wrote my post about ordering my Tesla 3, the world was a different place. Although we vaguely knew there was something going on in China, back then, it didn’t seem like it was going to have much of an impact on us.

Boy were WE wrong.

There are plenty of posts, news items, tweets about the Coronavirus already, so no need to say more. Instead let’s focus on the positive: My induction into the Tesla Lovers’ Club. (Cult? Club?? You be the judge.)

As of today, I have owned my Tesla for one whole month. When I picked it up, my plan was to drive it short distances for a week, get used to its differences and features, then take it for its first long journey: a trip to Massachusetts and back, to visit my family. I had every intention of describing my experience of recharging on the road.

That plan, along with MANY other plans, went poof. Still, there is no shortage of things to say about my new “hot wheels”. Here are some things I have learned, after driving a total of 356 miles (but who’s counting?).

Things I Didn’t Know Before I Ordered
*There is no spare tire. If you have a flat, you call Tesla Roadside Assistance, which is available without charge for the duration of your warranty — 4 years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, and at the rate I’m going, we know which one it will be. The Tesla shop sells two different tire repair kits ($25 or $80). I’ve got 4 years to determine whether or not I need to have a do-it yourself option stored on board.

*When your car gets dirty, you have to find either a “touchless” car wash to protect the sensors and cameras, or you’ll be hand washing the exterior yourself. No problem yet. It’s hard to get a car dirty when it spends its days sitting in the garage.

*My (no longer owned) Prius and my husband’s Camry both had built in garage door openers. That feature is not included with the Tesla, but it can be purchased for an additional $300. Even if you purchase it in advance, however, “HomeLink” is not installed when you pick the car up. The good news–when I finally get HomeLink (because I DID buy it)–the garage door will know I’m arriving (or departing) and will automatically open (or close) for me. The side mirrors will fold in, giving me additional space on either side of the garage. I’m sure I’ll appreciate this feature even more when I’m in my 80’s. Let’s hope Homelink gets installed before then.

*Your smart phone functions as your car key, plus you receive a credit card sized back up “key” in case your battery dies. You can also purchase a key fob for $150. So far, the phone has been working just fine for me. I feel like I’m going through a second adolescence, though. My phone has almost become a part of my body. These days, I need to know where my phone actually IS, because you can do so many Tesla functions remotely, using it.

Starting Out
The interior looks VERY different from every car I ever owned. If you’ve never been inside a Tesla, here’s what awaits you. Instead of the usual dashboard, Teslas have a touchscreen that looks very much like an iPad. (Oh yeah, you can buy a charging pad, so you don’t have to have your charger sticking up on the console. )

The glove compartment includes two manuals: one with safety information, and one on the proper way to be towed, should the need arise. What it did NOT have was what one (“one” in this case being ME) would consider a standard user’s manual. Instead, the manual is “on line”, accessed by pressing the Tesla logo on the top of your touch screen.

If you long for the comfort of those printed pages, you can always download a manual from the internet and print the 230 pages yourself.
I was okay with reading it on-line. And that is what I did, for the five weeks between ordering and delivery. I was like a new mom, awaiting the delivery of her first born, preparing by reading everything available. I must confess, I was almost as excited about THIS delivery as the birth one, plus it was a whole lot less painful, but equally expensive.

What was NOT clear from the manual was how many “self driving” features were included with my long distance model 3, versus the $7,000 upgrade package. Let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised that I have more features than I expected, which means there were just enough to only mildly terrify me. Of course, you can operate it without activating any of the self driving features, but what fun would THAT be? Here’s a cool example: if I have Assisted Cruise Control activated, and am stopped behind a car at a red light, when THAT car goes, so does my Tesla, without my having to put my foot on the accelerator. Was I surprised the first time that happened? Hell ya.

The Learning Curve
Almost EVERYTHING in a Tesla is different: Opening the car doors, working the radio, adjusting the heat and side mirrors, opening the glove compartment, using–or not using –the brakes, stopping the car from “farting” after you activate that fun feature…

Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at the recessed door handle. It took me a while to coordinate the “press and pull” maneuver.

And once you’re inside? How do you get OUT? Take a look. Can you find the handle? If you figured out you press that single button on the top of the door, you’re smarter than I. Of course, the flash on my iPhone helped by making the interior look grey. It is actually black, so locating that little button was a bit of a challenge for me– a challenge that I am proud to say I have since mastered.

Almost everything else is controlled by the touch screen to the right of the steering wheel. Some functions can be accessed directly, but others are hidden behind drop down menus. As with everything else, once you learn the menu options, it’s easy. But imagine if you haven’t driven for a while, perhaps because you have been “sheltering in place” for three weeks. What do you think might happen? If you’re like me, your right back well below the midpoint of that learning curve.

Still, it only takes a little practice. Like using the brakes. Or NOT using the brakes, because you don’t have to very often. You just take your foot off what I used to think of as the “gas pedal” and if you had been going slowly, you stop. Right away. If you were whipping along at a nice clip, you slow down a little more gradually. But most of the time you stop without braking at all. As you are slowing down, you are also recharging the battery.

Okay, so I’ve held you in suspense long enough. The farting? All Teslas come with something called “Easter Eggs”. These are little toys that I’ll bet the engineers had great fun creating. Our son, during his elementary school years thought that whoopee cushions were the funniest thing ever. Clearly, so do some of the Tesla engineers, because one of the “Easter Eggs” gets the car to sound like a passenger has eaten three cans of beans. Being the mature adult that I am, I felt compelled to demonstrate this particular feature to a friend. That’s when I discovered how difficult it was to make it stop! But enough of the bathroom humor.

Bottom Line
I LOVE my Tesla. I love that software updates regularly occur over wifi. I love the smooth ride, the amazing acceleration, the ability to warm (and cool) it remotely via my iPhone, the security features, the entertainment options, the maps directing you to charging stations, the list goes on and on. I am looking forward to the day when I can actually GO someplace with it.

Stay safe and sane everyone, and remember all of those who are working every day under very stressful conditions, providing medical care and essential services to us all. Love and virtual hugs all around.

What a Difference Eleven Days Make!

It’s hard to believe that only eleven short days ago, we were weighing the pros and cons of canceling our trip to Morocco. Unless you are living in a cave, on an island, without cell reception, you know how the world has been turned upside down by the CoronaVirus. The tragedies in China, Iran and Italy are all heartbreaking and sobering.

On March 4th, when I last posted, the conventional wisdom (and internet info) said that if you washed your hands, didn’t touch your face, stayed six feet away from sneezers and had a relatively robust immune system, then you were in good shape to win the CoronaVirus battle. Okay, then. The more cautious (or as my mother used to say–the more REASONABLE) member of this traveling duo voted for immediate cancellation, while the other advocated to “wait and see”. My family has absolutely no problem figuring out who was who.

Ultimately we did both. We waited five more days, then canceled. It seemed like every hour, we were getting notified that something else was being postponed or canceled, like basketball, political gatherings, Broadway shows, our speaker series. As it turns out, a few days later, our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel announced that ALL March and April departures were canceled. Those who had not yet canceled could get a voucher for a future trip.

Some friends are currently out of the country. I just heard from one in Egypt. She said that OAT is cutting her trip short because of all the flight cancellations. Her group will be getting a pro-rated refund. Talk about a positive attitude–the group is already thinking about when they will be able to return. Another friend made it to JFK, then learned that Argentina had closed its borders to all travelers from countries with CoronaVirus outbreaks. HER trip ended before it even started.

We are concerned about the impact this is having on the wonderful tour guides we traveled with over the past several years. We hope that they, especially the ones in Italy, are safe and are not economically hurt too badly by this slow down in tourism.

So, where are we now? For the past few days, we have been practicing “extreme social distancing”. Today, we were notified that our local Y is closing for two weeks. We had stopped going two days ago, not because we are panic stricken, but because we wanted to do our part to help keep our community safe. Let’s hope that together we can all take the necessary steps to “flatten the curve”.