Chickening Out - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Chickening Out

August 15, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

The Monterey Bay Historics weekend is fast approaching and I've been on the fence on what car to take. Scott's already called the SLS AMG which would, obviously, be my first pick. It's a great drive and the SLS is perfect for those roads. Most everything else we have will hold all of my luggage, get more than 11 mpg and just be too easy.

"What about the Tesla?" I thought.

The drive isn't terribly long; 300 miles or so. But it's full of hills, traffic and relatively quick highways. There's just no way I'd ever get the claimed 265-mile range on this drive. 200 if I'm lucky. 180 seems more reasonable.

But that's not much of a problem either. There are Superchargers in Buellton, Atascadero and, close to Monterey, Gilroy. It takes some planning (As you can see by the clutter on my desk and the 95 intertube tabs all with maps. The whiteboard maths on my partition are not shown.), but getting there isn't a problem.

What is a problem is getting back to Gilroy. The drive from Gilroy to my hotel — which does not have an EV charger beyond a simple wall plug — is about 50 miles and over the weekend I'll have a good deal of driving to do. And then there's the fact that the Tesla loses a bit of range just for hanging out parked. We've seen 20 miles go by overnight.

So let's estimate 100 miles back and forth to the Supercharger, 80 miles of heavy-traffic during the four days I'll be gone and then, to be safe, 20 miles of depleted range per night (80 more miles total). That's 260 if I've done my math right which only gives me a buffer of 5 miles based on ideal conditions.

I've never gotten close to ideal conditions or 265 miles of range.

I took our Tesla for a quick test the other day. I did some similar highway driving as I'd be doing over the big weekend, I did some similar city driving and I did a bunch of searching around for parking spots like I'll certainly be doing up in Monterey. The result? I drove 47.8 miles and lost 95 miles of EV range. That is well, well beyond my 5-mile buffer zone.

This trip would be doable if my hotel had a way to charge our Tesla that didn't involve unplugging a toaster. It doesn't. They have two 110v plugs and are expecting multiple Teslas and promised to "rotate the cars through the chargers as often as is necessary. Considering a drained Model S takes like 3 days to fill up, and that there will be at least a few others, I'm not expecting much plug time.

So I'm chickening out. I'm going to find something much more boring to take that offers much better range and refueling possibilities. I'll take the Tesla sometime when I have more flexibility, or when I stay somewhere with an EV outlet.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor @ 7,722 miles


  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    Bring your own 220v generator and charge it that way. You would be the first to try it and to write the article. Do it, it'll be awesome. This one should work:

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    1. My Leaf's regenerative braking is inoperative if the battery is full. I normally charge to 80%, but on the few occasions I've charged to 100% I found the miles evaporated quickly due to no regen. 2. I'd like to hear Tesla explain the overnight losses on their batteries. This shouldn't happen; my Leaf doesn't do it. 3. I don't blame you for 'chickening out'. I wouldn't even call it that; it's really just careful planning. Running out of juice would be a shameful experience. 4. It's telling that you consider such long drives in an EV. With my Leaf, I just charge it at home every night; public chargers aren't even a consideration since I can't venture very far anyway. 5. Enjoy your trip with whatever vehicle you take. Too bad it can't be the S.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    Take the Miata!

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    I wouldn't say you are chickening out, you are simply being rational. I have a Model S and would NEVER take it on a road trip, supercharger network or not. It is fantastic for day trips, but it is just too much of a hassle to try to plan an extended trip around an EV when you also have a wife and kids to think about. That was a primary reason I hang onto my S550. Besides, as much fun as the Tesla is, it can't hold a candle to my old Benz for long-distance comfort.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Tesla did have vampire drain on the Model S - overnight losses of charge. The remedied it in an earlier release but there were some issues so they reverted back. Typical drain was 8mi or so per night. Firmware 5.0 was released yesterday and initial reports are that vampire drain is now less than 1km per night. Quite a difference from 20 miles. Also, map orientation is not always up now, the WiFi hotspot is enabled, etc. One of the beauties of having a vehicle provide new features via software updates. I completely understand your anxiety over this trip and probably would do the same thing as you.

  • drcomputer drcomputer Posts:

    Today, most people would complain if they went to a hotel that didn't offer WiFi connectivity. This is what is going to soon happen with electric car charging. As a Model S (and Roadster) owner I now make my hotel selection (if I am driving) on how accommodating the hotel is for my car. If they don't have a charging station or convenient access to at least a 110v plug, then I choose another hotel that does. Yes, only owning electric cars does take a few extra minutes to plan a driving trip but it is so worth it to never have to buy gas again.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    The wild-west aspect to all this is the claimed 265-mile range. From what various Edmunds staffers have found out, reliable road-trip range is 180 to 200 miles, not 265. Regardless of the regenerative brakes, stop-and-go driving range is looking like maybe 60% of that, or 108 to 130 miles. How is this OK with owners, or with the EPA? As much fault as people find with EPA mpg estimates for ICE vehicles, they at least have three different profiles they publish - city, highway and combined, and they are at least fairly realistic. And ICE vehicle range is fairly unaffected by HVAC and accessory use, and ambient temps, while EVs are proportionally more affected by those factors. There is already a statistical probability shortfall with EVs - on a road trip in my ICE, theoretically, I will be able to refuel when I need to, wherever I'm going - and that's probably true in reality also. Theoretically, I will be able to refuel in a timeframe that is reasonable to me, when I arrive at the facility - and again, that's probably true in reality (maybe there's one guy ahead of me at the pump - big deal - that's 5 extra minutes). Theoretically, I will get 31 mpg - and that's probably what I will actually get. With the Tesla, the gap between theory and reality with regard to refueling availability is huge - it all depends upon the direction you're headed. The gap between theory and reality in charging time is huge - you think you can recharge in an hour, but there's a guy ahead of you at the SC. So now that's an extra what...hour? Even if you have a free charger, if there's another car at the adjoining one, the charge rate for you both is cut in half. If you're talking a slower charger, forget it - if it's occupied, the theory/reality disparity is off the scale. And now with the car itself, the gap between theory (265 mile range) and reality is huge. When those tolerances all stack up, that's a...problem. And Tesla added to it - if there were another luxury EV out there claiming 200 mile range, then claiming 265 might make sense, but to me this was an unforced marketing error and just compounds the unpredictability of the whole experience.

  • davidugly davidugly Posts:

    Our tesla Model S Gets pretty much the rated range as advertised. We drive from SF to LA to Vegas all the time now (for free). We drive between 60 to 75 mph on freeways. So happy we ditched our gas cars for Tesla. Honestly you won't even need a p85 for great range, I have a 60 model and did the SF to LA trip with zero range anxiety. I drive around Los Angeles pretty much all day every day and always come home with more than half my power remaining (which charges back to "full" in one hour at home or in 10 minutes at the supercharger near our house. (Which is free)

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    I make four trips a year up to Northern California to visit family. We go to Vegas a few times a year but always fly. Outside of that, it's driving around LA/Orange County. We'll usually do 80 miles maximum per day. We can still do the Northern California drive but our task is easier because we have the SuperChargers nicely spaced out along the I5 and my parents have a 240v plug in the garage and I'll be able to charge there at 30mph. I'm the perfect customer for a Model S and understand that. Maybe people do a lot more cross-country driving than I do but if it's only a couple times a year just take the ICE and enjoy your Model S the other 360 days of the year.

  • spdracerut_ spdracerut_ Posts:

    @fordson, your mileage will vary. Same deal between ICE and electric. I have a CT200h and average 45mpg. A friend of mine has the same car and only gets 38mpg. My father has a Leaf which I've driven quite a bit and range is completely dependent on dri

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    I'm surprised that Tesla isn't setting up some sort of temporary charging stations at the races. It would be good marketing for them, and clearly there is a need.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    @spdracerut: Edmunds car, driven conservatively, showed anywhere from 80% to just under 90% of its initial range estimate, and this was after 3/4 of battery capacity had been used - so it was revising downward (and would continue to) all the while (MTE d

  • We just did a round trip from SF to Orange County. Used the superchargers and had no problems. Was actually really really nice.

  • omarsultan omarsultan Posts:

    So I do a regular 220 mile loop from Sacramento to San Jose in an S85 going 65-70, up and down hills (Altamont Pass, Sunol Grade, etc), AC on, with the Bay Area stop and go traffic and get pretty close to rated range. I can go the round trip on a single charge with about 40-50 miles of range left by the time I get back home. I have to admit, the first time I did this trip, I had a bit of angst, but once you get a couple of long trips under your belt, you get a feel for things and trip planning gets less angst-y. In terms of your trip, the 20 miles/night vampire losses seem a little high--I think most owners report something in the order of 6-8 miles per night and the recently released firmware upgrade apparently addresses that (I have not gotten it yet, so cannot offer an first hand experience). With the old firmware, that would put your Gilroy-Monterey loop closer to 212 miles. To me that is a no-brainer safety margin, but everyone has there own comfort level. It might also have been worthwhile using something like Plugshare to find one of the L2 chargers in the area. I get about 17mi of added range per hour at a public EV charger, so if you plugged in over, say, lunch, it would bring you effective distance under 200 miles. Just somethings to consider for next time. Regards, Omar

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    @spdracerut: Actually, any accessory (steering, AC, radio, headlights) on a car uses a set amount of power (whatever they are rated at), regardless of the car's fuel efficiency. The thing is that small changes in fuel use on a high efficiency result in a

  • christople christople Posts:

    What weekend is it? I'll be out in Monterrey next month

  • kevininsd kevininsd Posts:

    @gslippy. Your leaf has a passive battery management system. That's why you don't see vampire loss. Tesla uses an active battery management system with a liquid to maintain a specific temperature. This system is complex and obviously part of why there is

  • henryt2 henryt2 Posts:

    I have a Tesla, and with a P85, unless you are spending the day doing 0-60 in 4 secs runs, you'll get at least 220 even with reasonable highways speeds and some hills. 200 would be a worst case scenario. 265 is fully achievable with city driving and/or highway under 65, but who buys a P85 for that? However, Tesla has acknowledged that it "underreports" the remaining charge when you drain the battery. At 0 miles, you should still have approximately 17 miles left. But this is like driving with the needle below empty (not recommended). I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of reporting 265 to start, and then taking off more miles than stated in order to maintain a reserve. However, if you were to run it to empty like the EPA does rather than monitor the reading (again, not recommended) you'd get your 220-265. Basically, this is still not a good car to take on road trips unless your road trip conveniently happens to go past superchargers. Even then, it would take the spontaneity out of your trip. There's also the possibility of a lineup at the supercharger (as yet not a problem, but more and more Teslas on the road). Consequently, unless I was taking a leisurely trip which passes near superchargers AND would allow me to double back in case I wandered OR I absolutely expected to stay on course the whole trip AND I didn't have young children who might be a problem in case of an hour or more wait at a supercharge, I would take another car for a road trip. However, that's a few times a year. The rest of the 360 days of the year, I'm absolutely certain I have the best automobile on the road today by a long margin. And, for me, that's worth sacrificing the few road trips I miss.

  • henryt2 henryt2 Posts:

    @fordson1, you obviously have a bug up your *@# about EV cars. The Model S gets pretty close to 265 in city driving. Stop and go is easy, it's the highway that eats up range. I can't imagine a Model S NOT getting 240 miles in the city unless every stop an

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    henry12, you obviously have a need to insult people who don't - or even just may not - agree with you. My issue is that range does not seem (according to Edmunds' experience with the car) to be as high as the mfg claims it to be. You and other owners say that is not the case. Also I see that Tesla is not anxious to point out that charge rates at the Superchargers are entirely dependent upon whether or not another car is at the adjoining charging station - that's a pretty big deal. As per road trips, your points are mine exactly - you made the same points I did, addressing the same aspects of convenience, infrastructure, charge time, backups at charging facilities, etc. I guess I could take your statements about being absolutely certain you have the best car on the road, that is in another league from ICEs entirely, as evidence that you have a bug up your [non-permissible content removed] about ICEs...but the only value that would have would be to insult a person I don't even know.

  • teslamsp teslamsp Posts:

    @fordson1, the issue @henryt2 and others have with your post is that you make downright false statements. Here's a quote from your post: " From what various Edmunds staffers have found out, reliable road-trip range is 180 to 200 miles, not 265. Rega

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Those range claims for city driving are exactly what Edmunds is making. I'm not inventing it. Yes, I read what owners are saying, but I also read what Edmunds is saying. If I accurately quote what they said, how am I making a false statement? There are I think 3 separate Edmunds staffers who all reported similar highway range, and 2 separate staffers who reported similar city range. I am not cherry-picking anything - this is the Edmunds site. Yes, I have seen what other owners have said...and I'm not saying they're lying. So you want me to quote what everyone has said here?

  • teslamsp teslamsp Posts:

    @fordson1 All I can say is that claiming an 85kWh Model S will only get "108 to 130 miles" is ridiculous under pretty much any driving conditions. I assume your data point for that is some extrapolation of Scott's very early post about the ran

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