The Tesla Chronicles – 3. Updates

I sometimes find myself pondering life’s great mysteries (covid has had that effect on me). While gazing at the object in my garage, I ask myself, “do I own a car with a computer or do I really own a computer with a car?” (Take THAT, Socrates!)

Think about it. How many cars get periodic software updates over wifi? Not being a “car person”, I don’t know the answer, but my suspicion is, so far, there’s only one.

So, how does that happen? Your Tesla is sitting in your garage, minding its own business, when suddenly you get a notification. The Tesla App on your phone asks you whether you would like to install the latest software. It tells you how long the installation will take (usually about 30 minutes) and reminds you that you can’t drive while the update is downloading. But what it DOESN’T do is give you even the slightest clue as to what the update entails.

If you are someone who wants everything to stay in the same place and values consistency over possible improvements, then you might find the update feature to be a bit disconcerting. As for me, I always succumb to my “devil may care” side and bang that update button.

Voila, the next time, I get in the car, something (or things) has changed. To find out exactly WHAT, I have to consult the touchscreen in my car. At that point, I start to feel like I am trying to solve one of those kiddie puzzles that shows two photos side by side, challenging me to discover what is different. Except I didn’t have the side by side images. Instead, I got to consult “release notes”.

For this latest update, the first improvement was obvious: You could now look at the list of changes in the sidebar and easily navigate to the ones that are of interest to YOU. Don’t ask what those three bars on the right mean. I have no clue.
In case there was ANY doubt in your mind as to who is Tesla’s target market, the order of the improvements should make it VERY clear. I mean, I love my Tesla and all, but to sit in it and play games? The only time THAT happens is when I have certain young ladies with me.

I was also momentarily puzzled by the “emission testing mode improvements”, (Wait, an electric car has emissions?!) then I remembered the fart feature. Yes, there was even room for improvement with that essential capability.

For ME the most important update was the 6th one listed, “Driving Visualization Improvements”. Okay, tell me more…

Want to see how the touch screens differ? Clicking on the little x in the release note corner would reveal the “navigate” screen with the map area slightly reduced, but the big differences are on the left side of the screen.

You know the line in that old Joni Mitchell song “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? Well, that applies here. I didn’t realize the icon for voice commands (a little microphone) was missing until I tried to use it to call my husband. Check it out–NO mention of voice commands was made in the release notes.

Well, thanks to Covid, my days aren’t what you would call “full”, and I’m not driving much, so I had plenty of time to sit in my garage and scroll through the screens in search of my little microphone. No luck.
I also checked the internet to see if the online manual had been updated. Nope. Finally, I posted an inquiry in the Tesla Motor Club Forum asking how one can access voice commands after the update. Finally! A couple of posters were kind enough to tell me that pressing the right scroll button on the steering wheel activates voice commands. This isn’t the first time that the Tesla Motor Club has been the most effective route to getting my questions answered, so Tesla owners, keep that resource in mind the next time you need help.

Let me repeat: I LOOOVE my Tesla, but for crying out loud, why oh why is it so bloody difficult to learn what’s in an update? Why can’t the release notes be accessed through the Tesla App on your phone? And why are the explanations so brief? Jeez guys, I love engineers so much that I actually gave birth to my very own, but, come on, get someone with an English degree to help you explain this stuff!

I’ve also discovered that there are enhancements that aren’t even mentioned in the release notes. For example, prior to the update, while allowing the car to self drive, I would get frequent reminders to move the steering wheel a little. I understand that the intent was to ensure that the driver paid attention to the road by occasionally touching the wheel. Doing so lets my car know I am awake and would be in control, if necessary. But I’ve been driving for far too many years, so keeping at least one hand on the wheel is a habit that I don’t intend to break. It just feels comfortable. Nevertheless, even with BOTH hands on the wheel, I was urged to jiggle it with annoying frequency, and if I jiggled too vigorously, self drive turned off. If I DIDN’T jiggle, the screen lit up with a blue flashing light. When I had my car serviced (I’ll tell you all about it in a future post), I requested that the sensitivity of the steering mechanism checked, thinking that it didn’t pick up the pressure from my hands. Nope, it didn’t work that way, I was informed. The car was checking the “torque”.

Well, despite doing nothing different after the update, I was thrilled to see that I now rarely get the “jiggle” reminder. Now THAT’S a very welcome change.

The Tesla Chronicles – 2. Charging

I’ll admit it. I was reluctant to buy a Tesla because I was worried about running out of “juice”. What if I was on a long trip and I couldn’t find a charging station? Gas stations are everywhere, but what about charging stations? Fortunately, my friend Laura showed me that my fears were baseless.

Sitting together in her Tesla S, she asked me to specify a destination, typed it into the “Navigate” box, and voila! The car mapped the route (in my example here, we are going from Central Jersey to Columbus, Ohio), showing recommended charging stops, estimated arrival times, and length of time it would take to charge to the recommended level. (Never charge to 100%, but we’ll get into that later). If you click on one of the route’s pins, up will pop information about that particular supercharger–how many stalls and which amenities are available.

The car’s Navigation system usually recommends Tesla Superchargers along the route, and so far, I have been unable to find a destination for which there are not sufficient Superchargers, but who knows? Maybe it is possible. And what if you want to plan out a long trip, but don’t want to do it while sitting in your car? Fear not, there are options.

Like the Tesla Navigation app in your car, the top three apps map out your route, providing recommended stops for charging, with information about the amenities offered per stop.

If you prefer using your computer rather than your phone, here ya go:

https://www.plugshare.com/trip-planner.html

https://chargehub.com/en/chargehub-guides.html

https://abetterrouteplanner.com

There are more–but these 6 apps should get you started and keep you busy for quite a while.
The bottom three icons are for different charging networks. Evgo and Chargepoint charging stations are open to everyone. You just need the correct connector. For the Supercharger network you need the correct car. If it isn’t a Teslas, you’re out of luck.

The last time I visited my family in Massachusetts, I only knew about the EVgo network, so I was pleased to see that there were 2 EvGo chargers closer than the nearest Tesla Supercharger. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Lesson #1: make sure you have a compatible adaptor. Doesn’t sound difficult, does it?
But wait: the options are CHAdeMO, CCS, J1772 and NEMA. Although your Tesla comes with this neat bag stashed in the trunk, it only contains the J1772 and NEMA adaptors. Guess what the EvGo network uses? If you chose “none of the above”, you’d be right.

The J1772 adaptor is on the right. On the left, you see what awaited me at the EvGo station. Sadly, it was impossible to “mate” these two, although, believe me, I tried.

Subsequently, I learned that the gadget on the left is know as a CCS connector, which unfortunately, isn’t available for Teslas yet. A bit of a bummer, given that CCS is becoming the USA standard. Tesla DOES offer an adaptor for use with CHAdeMO connectors, but it is bulky and costs $450. Because CHAdeMo is not the standard of the future, I’m hard pressed to plunk down that kind of money, especially since enough Superchargers are available, although sometimes I have to drive 5 or 10 minutes out of my way. On the bright side, Superchargers are located near food, bathrooms, shopping, wifi, AND the other Tesla owners I’ve met while charging are all so friendly and helpful.

Lesson #2: Research the different charging networks. After I discovered PlugShare and ChargePoint, I learned that there were several OTHER charging stations nearby that offered FREE level 1 charging, compatible with the J1772 adaptor.

Lesson #3: Learn about the different charging levels. Level 1 is the power you get when you plug into a standard home outlet, using a NEMA adaptor. This gives you a charge of 110 volts, which gets you about 8 to 15 miles worth of charge per hour.
Level 2 is 240 volts, which gets you approximately 124 miles in about 5 hours. The only way to charge faster is with DC, and that is what the superchargers use. (You need the CCS or CHAdeMO adaptor to access a non-Tesla DC supercharger).

I learned from my electrical engineer son that 240 volts is the maximum you can get for home charging, and let me tell you, it takes a WHOLE lot longer to charge at home than it does with supercharging, but who cares? At home, you can charge while you’re sleeping. At least that’s what I normally do.

I know you probably have heard more about charging than you want or need, but one last thing: Your Tesla will go from 20% to 50% a whole lot faster than from 50% to 80%. Keep that in mind if you are using a network where you pay by the MINUTE, not by the kWh or mile (that’s how EvGo does it).

Here’s a visual example. I decided to start 2021 with the battery fully charged. The computer estimated it would take six hours and thirty minutes to go from 29% to 100%. When I checked the progress on my iPhone this is what I discovered.

After four and a half hours, the battery was at 98%, and it was estimated it would take almost another hour for the last 2%. That explains why the Tesla trip planner suggests that you run the battery to low levels before stopping to charge, and it never recommends that you charge to the maximum. I found that puzzling, until my son explained that it was like Lucy and Ethyl at the chocolate factory. Initially they could stuff a lot of chocolates into their mouths, but as their mouths got full, the “stuffing” got slower. Or if you prefer, think about filling a container with water and how you slow down as the container gets full.
You’ll see the trip planner shown at the top of this post has you run your battery WAY down before charging, plus it doesn’t have you charge too much, so you minimize your time at charging stations. Of course, when I go on long distance drives, I look forward to bathroom, food and stretching breaks, so I sometimes stay longer than suggested at the charging stops–but that’s just a personal preference.

As you’ve probably guessed from this post, I am NOT technically oriented. If you are, and would like more in-depth discussions, check out the Tesla Motors Club (https://teslamotorsclub.com) forums.

I hope this information is helpful. Any tips anyone wants to share would be most welcome. Let’s all learn together!

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!

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.  

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.