The Tesla Chronicles: 1. The App

Happy 2021 everyone. One of my resolutions is to write several Tesla posts relating “the good, the bad and the ugly” aspects of ownership. So, here goes. Let’s see how long THIS resolution lasts!

After you buy a Tesla, you simultaneously enter into a very intense relationship with your smartphone. Pre-purchase, I usually had a vague idea where my iPhone might be. Now, it is rarely out of my sight. Why? Because my iPhone is also my car key and the way to access all of the wonderful functions on the Tesla app. Check it out.

Yes, many cars allow you to remotely turn on your heat and air-conditioning. but can you also choose your desired temperature? Does it allow you to turn on the seat warmers? It only takes a swipe of “climate” to do both. Of course, you have to REMEMBER that function exists, which for me, is somewhat of a challenge.

Controls” allows you to flash your lights, blow the horn, remotely start the car, lock and unlock the doors, open the front and rear trunks, activate “sentry mode” (which turns on cameras so any activity around your car is captured on video). If by any chance you allow someone else to drive your car, you can limit the maximum speed limit and if you choose “valet mode“, you also prevent access to the glove box.

Charging” seems self explanatory, but it will be the subject of a future chronicle. (Bet you can’t wait)

Location” made me comfortable choosing a white car. My last three vehicles have all been red, because that is, by far, the very BEST color for finding a car in parking lots. (I have trouble localizing sound, so the noise button on many cars doesn’t help me much). Sadly, red Teslas cost $2,000 more, so I opted for the only color that didn’t increase the price. Because location shows you exactly where your car is at any time, that feature (and the inability to hot wire it) makes theft of your Tesla a bit challenging.

Those of us who didn’t pay extra for Full Self Driving (FSD), at time of purchase can change our mind at any time by swiping “Upgrades” and forking over an additional $10,000. FSD allows you to input your destination to let navigation take over. You literally can leave the driving to the car because FSD allows it to change lanes, exit highways, stop at traffic lights and stop signs- whatever is necessary to get you to where you want to go. It will even park itself upon arrival at your destination.

Let’s say when you arrive, the sun is shining but the weather takes a turn for the worse, and now the rain is coming down hard. No worries. With FSD, you can SUMMON the car to drive itself to pick you up. It might be worth $10,000 to see the expression on others’ faces as they watch the driverless car come rolling your way. Not to me, but I’ll bet there are others for whom it would be worth the $$$. As for me, I’m quite fine with the “less than full” self driving capabilities I currently have. If you think that might be the topic for another post, you could be right.

Another current upgrade: An acceleration boost. Instead of taking a whole 4.2 seconds to go from 0 to 60, for a mere $2,000, you can cut the time to 3.7 seconds. Who would care about half a second difference? Who would even notice? Certainly not members of MY demographic. I’m convinced, however, that there IS a particular demographic Tesla designers/engineers keep in mind. Hint: my son is definitely a member of their target market.

We still aren’t done with all of the app’s features. You can schedule “Service“, (another future topic) or call for “Road side assistance” (fortunately, so far I have no experience with THAT feature).

At the very bottom of the app is the odometer, the VIN and the software version. Yeah, here comes the BAD part. You can’t seesaw many miles you’ve driven unless you look at the app, or go through a screen or two on the “iPad looking thingie” in the car. Maybe it’s just me, but I LIKE being able to easily check how many miles I’ve gone.

Now let’s move to the TOP of the app. Tapping the gear box at the top left brings you to “Settings“, where you get emails and notifications about software updates (another future topic) from Tesla, access video guides, and synch your calendar.

The little arrow at the top performs the same function as location.

Finally, in the upper right hand corner are the wi-fi, internet and battery indicators, plus the “loot box”. The loot box is where your free supercharger miles show up whenever someone uses your referral link. If someone uses a referral link when they buy their Tesla, they also get 1,000 miles of free charging at a SuperCharger. If you happen to be in the market for a Tesla and don’t have a friend with a referral code, I’d be delighted to share mine. 

https://ts.la/shelley57380

So there is a whole lot of GOOD going on, but I promised Bad and Ugly so I’ll end with that: The BAD (and Ugly) is the supercharger miles expire. If you do most of your charging at home, which I do, then the only time you would use a supercharger is on a long trip. During Covid, there haven’t been many of those!

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