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.

Car Buyer or Cult Member?

Am I having a midlife crisis? Or did I just join a cult? I’m way too old for either, but here we are.

I feel like I have done the car buying equivalent of bungee jumping, except I haven’t jumped YET. I’ve been strapped in, led to the edge, and am waiting to either jump or be pushed. My emotions keep swinging from exhilaration to terror. What have I done? The bigger question: Does every future Tesla owner go through this while awaiting delivery?

First, let me say that although I am still in shock that a car can cost almost as much as our first house, I didn’t buy one of the super expensive Teslas. And our little first house, bought decades ago, was in Ohio, a much cheaper area of the country. Still, for someone who views a car solely as a means of transportation, it’s a LOT of money, even for the Tesla 3, which is the least expensive model. (I DID spring for the mid priced 3–the one with the battery that lets you go a longer distance. The top of the line, the Performance 3 is DEFINITELY for those with a need for speed.)

So, how did this happen? How did a non-car aficionado end up ordering a cool set of wheels? Simple. My son guilted me. He took the number of miles that I drove last year plus the amount that I spent on gasoline, and converted it into how much carbon I released into the atmosphere. Not as much as most, because for the last 11 years, I’ve driven a Prius. Even so, he calculated that in 2019, I was responsible for one TON of emissions. He’s an electrical engineer, so the odds are good that his calculation was accurate. But then again, he knows I don’t have the skills needed to check his math.

He knows my vulnerabilities. I am passionate about protecting the environment. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags (including reusable produce bags). I recycle, reuse and refrain whenever I can to minimize my carbon footprint. Because I love to travel, I figure I need to do whatever I can to offset my the carbon from the flights I take.

I also really liked the Tesla’s safety features, such as blind spot monitoring, and assisted cruise control. For an additional $7,000, I could have had the self driving feature. I didn’t get it, and not just because of the cost. Quite honestly, when I tried it out, I was terrified. What is REALLY cool, however, is that all of Tesla’s model 3’s (built after 10/2016) have all of the sensors, cameras and radar needed for self driving already built in. Should I become comfortable enough to add that feature in the future, all I have to do is pay for it, then download the software via wifi. And that’s another cool thing: Tesla updates the software regularly, so once you own a Tesla, you benefit from the updates that flow over your wifi network. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Only time will tell.

But back to those safety features. Even if you don’t spring for the super duper self driving feature, you still get “auto pilot”. If you are like me, and get into your zen mode while listening to the radio, you know that sometimes your foot gets heavy and you lose track of space and time – or maybe just the speed at which you are traveling. Am I right? Auto Pilot KNOWS the speed limits of the road you are zipping along, and will limit you to a number that you choose ( like +5 MPH over the limit). You can override the limit, but usually my problem comes from going too fast, not too slow.

Anyway, I am 4 days away from picking up the car that I ordered 5 weeks ago. What have I done while waiting? I’ve been reading the manual. Mike has been busy too. He oversaw turning our garage into a charging station. His mission was accomplished today.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out on the Tesla Message Boards. I wanted to find out things like, does it get hot in the car because of the glass roof? Approximately how far can you go on 1 Kilowatt of electricity? (And is it a Kilowatt or a Kilowatt hour? ) How much does it cost to use a Tesla Supercharger? Stuff like that. Instead I found posts like this one, chosen at random and cut and pasted:

I have a pair of Model S non-P caliper in my garage just for that purpose. However, I’m on the fence about it once I did more research. The big gain for the RB S caliper option is the increase thermal capacity of the larger and thicker rotor. On the other hand, the P3D pad is slightly larger than S pad. And there are already a number of track oriented pad on the market for P3D. Whereas the S pad is available in street pad only, the only other car that uses the same pad shape is Chevy Cruise econobox.

Did it scare me. You bet. Even though I am generally fluent in English, I had no bloody idea what that post was about! But then I realized that many of the Tesla buyers are engineers or car enthusiasts — most likely both. I am neither. I’ll stick to reading the manual. And keep my fingers crossed. Four more days, but who’s counting.