2013 Tesla Model S: Charging at an RV Park
October 17, 2013
Our 2013 Tesla Model S can do many things other EVs can't, and you're looking at one of them. Here it's plugged in to the 240V shore power receptacle at an RV park in a space with full hookups. It's made to do this, which is another sign that Tesla is thinking way outside the box that defines other electric vehicles and their limited capabilities.
The Tesla's basic charge cord, the one that comes in the trunk, isn't just for 120V home outlets and dire emergencies. It's built to work with 200~240V, too, and the familiar three-prong end can be detached and swapped out for a hefty NEMA 14-50 four-prong plug that's included in the bag. This setup gives you access to potential charge sites at RV parks and campgrounds all across the country.
You could even have an electrician install a 240V, 50-amp NEMA 14-50 receptacle in your garage instead of paying a grand or more for an SAE-compliant Level 2 charge station. The Tesla's basic charge cord can easily be your only means of charging, and in fact it's significantly faster than nearly all Level 2 home charging units.
NEMA 14-50 receptacles are not 100-percent universal at all RV park spaces, but they are very common. Large Class A motorhomes depend on them, but spaces devoted to smaller single-axle camp trailers may offer something else. Call ahead if you're planning a cross-country trip. iPhone apps such as Plug Share have a NEMA 14-50 filter, but a lot of RV Parks haven't bothered to get themselves listed, such as the one we're at now.
It gets better. The Model S charges 33 percent faster on a NEMA 14-50 receptacle with its own cord than it will at an SAE level 2 station. That's because the "50" stands for 50 amps, the capacity of the circuit the receptacle is connected to. Electrical codes demand a 20-percent safety margin, so the draw through a NEMA 14-50 is limited to 40 amps, as shown on this Tesla iPhone app screenshot.
Meanwhile, 99 percent of SAE Level 2 stations are hooked up to 40-amp service, so they can only supply 30 to 32 amps, depending on the specific model.
And so our Model S is presently charging outdoors in an RV space at a rate of 24 to 25 miles per hour. The fancy-pants Chargepoint Level 2 universal charge station we have back at HQ for all the other EVs on the market can only manage 18 miles per hour. That's your 33 percent faster right there.
This is far from Supercharger performance, but a NEMA 14-50 hookup can easily refill an empty Tesla in an overnight stay. Bring a tent and you can hopscotch across the country from campground to campground or make a side trip off the Supercharger network. Staying with friends or relatives? Perhaps there's an RV park nearby. Or maybe you can find a hybrid hotel that offers rooms in front and RV spots with hookups in back.
The Palm Canyon Resort near my friend's house in remote Borrego Springs, California is just such a place. The Supercharger network is nowhere in sight, but with NEMA 14-50 charging at the hotel I can still venture down there and pay them a visit in our Model S.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 10,421 miles