Recently, my wife, dog, and I added about 2500 miles towards our goal of 500,000 miles on a journey back to Wisconsin from California to help my Mom for a few weeks.
Many people want to know what it’s like to drive an electric car on a long road trip, and I was one of them. Here are five things that I learned.
1. Charging was Not an Issue
Our trip to Wisconsin was a little over 2200 miles, and I was apprehensive about charging as I tried to plan out the trip. However, before leaving on our trip, a co-worker told me about a cross-country trip in their Volkswagon ID4.
He felt that the car was very comfortable, and the trip was great overall. However, he ran into several instances where none of the charging stations he stopped were working. As a result, he and his son stopped further down the road with just 6 miles of range. After that conversation, I was more concerned.
It turned out that I didn’t need to be concerned at all. The Tesla Supercharging network was fantastic. We had only one minor issue where a charger was only pulling 50 kilowatts of power. I looked at the Plugshare App and found that the charger I chose had problems in the past but that the other chargers worked fine. So I moved over one stall, and everything was great.
Also, we were able to stay at one hotel with destination charging through ChargePoint, and we had a full battery by the time we left in the morning. So I recommend doing that if you can!
2. Charging Stops Can Take a While, but Not For the Reason You Might Think
Superchargers are placed at reasonable intervals, but they are not always close to other amenities. For example, when we stopped, we would let our dog out to stretch and go to the bathroom, and we would often want to use the restroom too. Most Superchargers are close to places that have toilets like hotels, but it was unclear if we should use the bathrooms at hotels or not.
We did end up doing that, but we preferred when the Superchargers were near public restrooms or a gas station. On two occasions, our stop time was doubled and ended up being over an hour because we also wanted to grab something to eat or drink, but a gas station was on the other side of a divided highway and not walkable. So we charged up for 30–40 minutes and then waited in line at restaurants or gas stations for another 20–30 minutes. So essentially, we learned to try to choose spots that have sold amenities around them or drop a person off to get food and drinks while we charge across the street to save time.
3. Tesla’s Range Estimate Still Needs Work
Before leaving, I had mapped out the route with Google Maps, A Better Route Planner (ABRP), and Tesla’s online tool. Telsa’s site and the in-car system generally have you going farther and charging longer at stops. ABRP’s plan stops more frequently for less time. In the end, we did a little of both. There were times when Tesla’s guestimate was going to get us to a stop with less charge than was estimated.
Being my first trip, I didn’t want to get anywhere with less than 20% of the charge left. There were two times when we took extra stops to add some charge. One was partially due to accidentally taking the climate control system off automatic and having the blowers set to a higher than needed level. The other one was due to wind conditions reducing range. I wish that Tesla would use more of the data it has to give you a better estimate.
We were able to drive for 2–2.5 hours between almost all stops. We also tended to charge for a couple of extra percent of charge to provide a bit of a buffer. Tesla also offers a range estimate differently than you might expect, which you can read about in this Edmonds Article. Essentially, Tesla provides almost an extra 3–5% range after getting to 0 on your battery percentage. However, they still list 352 miles as the total range for a Long-Range Model 3, but you’ll never see that in the real world without pushing your car past 0 on the battery. I wish they had provided a lower mileage estimate or another 10% beyond the 352 they quote. But it’s important to know that.
4. FSD (non-beta or pre V10) is Only Okay
Tesla recently launched a new subscription to its Full-Self Driving package for $200 a month. I decided I would try that on our trip to see how it performed. It’s important to note that the FSD version I had access to was pre V10. It did not include city streets and was an enhanced version of Autopilot on the highway.
The not so good parts of the version we had access to included:
- Phantom breaking on overpasses (this also happens on regular Autopilot)
- Phantom breaking for signs it thinks are traffic lights or emergency vehicles
- Not changing lanes to avoid construction barrels. There were a few close calls with this, and something that needs to be fixed!
- Not adapting to merging traffic from on-ramps
- Splitting the difference on merging traffic lanes or wide lanes causing strange swerves to re-center when the lanes fully merge.
- Not changing lanes soon enough for off-ramps
- The camera is blocked disengagements of the system at night
- Auto-high beams were going on and off too often and blinding oncoming traffic. My Audi and Hyundai did a much better job with this feature. Many people flashed me for having the high beams on.
- Constantly pulling on the steering wheel to keep FSD engaged even though my hands were on the wheel and I was giving minor corrections. Tesla should use the camera system more for this and allow for longer times between tugs on the wheel.
What I liked
- I really love the auto lane change feature. This is the only feature I wish I had with Autopilot. The car automatically changing lanes and being able to see everything around you to do it is incredible. Although, I did leave it in the setting where I had to confirm all changes. I do wish there were a way to trigger a lane change when I wanted it to happen, though. Sometimes I wanted to go back to the right lane or change lanes earlier, but I had to disengage the system to do that.
I wish the lane-changing / highway FSD feature was something a user could subscribe to or purchase separately from the City Streets FSD. I don’t care about that feature, and lane changing is not worth the $200 a month subscription. I think I will have the new V10 version for the trip home, and I’ll write about the differences between the two when I get back.
5. Electric Cars Can Be Great Road Trippers
While the trip did take about an extra 1.5–3 hours each day compared to our gas vehicle, it was super comfortable and a good experience overall. Of course, stopping every 2.5 hours is perfect, and our Model 3 made that work without issue.
We also saved a ton of money over a gas car. The total was $142.43. That same journey last year cost over $300 in our Santa Fe.
Here are our stops:
That’s a wrap on Part 1. I’ll add another post for Part 2 when we get home. We plan to take a different route through Denver and Las Vegas over four days instead of three on the way back.
Total Miles towards 500,000: 6693
As always, feel free to ask questions or add comments!