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!

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.  

To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.