Electric Holiday Road Trip - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Electric Holiday Road Trip

January 13, 2014

2013 Tesla Model S

Twice a year my family heads north to Oregon to visit my parents on the spectacular yet remote southern Oregon coast. Each time we take a different car from the long-term fleet, and this time it was the 2103 Tesla Model S sedan.

We couldn't have done this in August because the Tesla Supercharger network hadn't yet been finished north of Sacramento, California. Our long-term 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe was drafted instead.

By November Tesla had added Superchargers all the way north to Canada. Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh beat me to trial-run honors by traveling to Corvallis, Oregon during the Thanksgiving break.

But I was still curious. Would the Tesla Model S and its battery charging requirement significantly alter our usual trip timing, Supercharger network notwithstanding?

There was only one way to find out, but my wife and daughters were not terribly excited about being roped into this experiment. Would I regret this decision after subjecting them to unwanted extra travel time? Would it take forever? Would I never hear the end of it?

It must be said that my wife and daughters are not fans of the banzai run. For starters, they don't like rising from bed well before sunrise and lifting off at zero-dark-thirty. And there isn't a seat made that my wife is happy in for 15 hours straight. She likes to stop, get out and walk around now and again. And given the choice she'd rather eat her meals while stationary, preferably in a restaurant booth.

For my part, I tend to get antsy about getting there, but I'm less of an iron-butt than I used to be. So I'm OK with the idea of overnighting somewhere along the way. After all, it's an 890-mile trip via the most direct route.

2013 Tesla Model S

Still, we took a 650-mile chunk out of the trip on the first day, traveling from Santa Ana (Point B) to Mt. Shasta (Point K) and winding up a bit farther north than we usually get on the initial push. Our journey began at a civilized 7:45 a.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m. Along the way we took our food and bathroom breaks at Tesla Supercharger locations, though the reality of free refills at our chosen eateries led to a couple of extra potty-only rest stops in between.

2013 Tesla Model S

We left our home in Santa Ana with a full battery. The initial 115 miles saw us traverse the L.A. basin and climb over Tejon pass into California's great central valley. The Tejon Ranch supercharger (Point C) stands at the base of the pass on the far side, and we arrived with 117 miles remaining. We stopped for 20 minutes to stretch, use the washroom and walk around while the Model S took on another 61 miles of electricity. Our new driving range of 178 miles was more than enough to cover the middling 116-mile gap to the next Supercharger.

2013 Tesla Model S

The range meter was down to 41 miles when we wheeled into the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant parking lot (Point D), whereupon we plugged in and went inside for an unhurried sit-down lunch while the battery charged more completely. The next run was to be the longest of the trip, but the new Vacaville Supercharger was still only 198 miles away. Our P85 Tesla's large 85kWh battery made it unnecessary to wait until the bitter end, so we paid the bill when we were done eating and left when we felt like it. We were there about an hour and we left with 245 miles in the tank.

2013 Tesla Model S

About three hours later we rolled into Vacaville (Point M) with 24 miles left. We plugged in for 35 minutes, but 25 minutes would have been enough. This was the first of the new 120 kW Superchargers we'd encountered. Tejon and Harris had been slower 90 kW units. But this was also an outlet mall. We needed a Christmas present for my mom and my wife saw this purse at the Fossil store. You know how it goes. We exited the lot with 176 miles on board and 113 miles to the next station.

2013 Tesla Model S

It was time for dinnertime when we arrived in Corning (Point L) with 29 miles to spare. Here we ate another sit-down meal while the battery charged more fully. Our overnight stop at Mt. Shasta was only 108 miles up the road, but the elevation gain was going to be significant and I wanted to make sure we had some margin. We were there about an hour, and we left with 228 miles of range. In hindsight 35 minutes would have been enough charge time because this was another new 120 kW station.

2013 Tesla Model S

Mt. Shasta's Supercharger is located in the parking lot of the Tree House, a really nice place to stop for the night. We arrived at 9:30 p.m. with 68 miles left over and plugged in knowing the Model S would be absolutely full by the time we left the next morning. In reality it was full before my head hit the pillow.

2013 Tesla Model S

Next day we slept in, knowing we only had 239 miles to Grandma's house ahead of us. The first 118 miles took us over the Siskiyou summit and into Grant's Pass, Oregon (Point J), where we arrived at our final Supercharger stop with 107 miles left. We lingered longer than necessary as we posed for silly pictures in front of the nearby Caveman statue and chatted with curious patrons coming out of the Black Bear Diner, in whose parking lot this Supercharger is located. After 30 minutes we finally departed with 221 miles in hand, much more than we'd need to cover the 123 miles between us and our final destination.

2013 Tesla Model S

We arrived at my folks' place (Point I) in the early afternoon, about an hour or sooner than we usually make our appearance.

It had been a relaxing and stress-free trip, and it hadn't cost us a dime in electricity. I doubt our choice of the Model S added as much as an hour to our usual travel time. Day one's figure is closer to 40 minutes. Day two wasn't affected much at all, 10 minutes, tops.

Much of our downtime would have happened no matter what car we drove. We would have stopped to eat. We would have stopped to stretch. The difference here is the location and certainty of those stops is known by all parties in advance.

It turns out this has a calming effect on the proceedings. The conflict between those that want to press on and those that want to take a break now vanishes completely. Supercharger travel in a Tesla has a go-with-the-flow quality to it.

Also, eating and pumping gas are two separate operations in a normal car. In a Tesla these happen simultaneously. You don't stop to refuel so much as you drive to a place to eat that happens to have a means to fill up. The car is plugged in and charging before the passengers have even collected their things and gotten themselves out of the car.

Get into the rhythm of the thing and the pattern of stops and charging is thoroughly manageable. Here's how that rhythm played out for us.

Day 1: Drive two hours, potty break/stretch/short charge.
Drive two hours, lunch/long charge.
Drive three hours, potty break/stretch/shopping/medium charge.
Drive two hours, dinner/long charge.
Drive two hours, overnight stop/full recharge

Total distance: 650 miles
Total Time: 13 hours 45 minutes
Stationary time: 3 hours 15 minutes (meals, bathroom, shopping, charging)
Drive time: 10 hours 30 minutes

Day 2: Drive two hours, potty break/stretch/short charge
Drive three hours, arrive at destination

Total distance: 240 miles
Total time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Stationary time: 30 minutes
Drive time: 5 hours

Before you ask, there's never a need to fill up 100%, so the question of "Yes, but how long does it take to fill a Tesla at a Supercharger?" is irrelevant. The better question is "How much time do we need to spend here to have enough to comfortably get to the next Supercharger?"

We don't yet have enough experience with Network travel to answer the second question accurately. In hindsight we could have trimmed 10 minutes or more off many of our stops. That said, on this trip the car was generally ready before we were, not the other way around.

Upon arrival we plugged into the NEMA 14-50 socket Dad has in his garage for his welder. We'd recharge there during our stay, waking up to a full battery every morning.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 16,067 miles


  • Nice journal entry. That first photo makes it look like the car has a flat.

  • Agreed. Nice update, Dan!

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Did you like all of the restaurants you were pretty much forced to eat at? Not trying to be smart or anything, but...there IS that aspect. In an ICE, you can stop when you want and eat where you want. When I travel, I spend a lot of time choosing where I'm going to stay and searching out good restaurants along the way, and taking impromptu detours when I feel like it, or when a side trip is recommended by a local. Much of the time, these great B&Bs and independent-owned restaurants and diners are not located along the superslab right where you would have to recharge in an EV. Doing a trip in a Tesla S sounds a lot like taking the packaged tour rather than striking out on your own - having all the stops laid out in advance has its benefits, but you're going to miss a lot of the local flavor.

  • jim_in_nj_ jim_in_nj_ Posts:

    Fordson1, "Not trying to be smart or anything" Aren't you usually complaining that you like to take your road trips with bladder-busting 4+ hour runs? Now that a real-world 650 mile road trip report with a Tesla states, "We arrived at my folks' place in the early afternoon, about an hour or sooner than we usually make our appearance", suddenly you want to drive 650 miles in a day while "searching out good restaraunts along the way and taking impromptu detours"? Seriously? I think you meant to say "I AM trying to be smart". Also, I note with the Supercharger build-out it looks like the Model S has blown your (and my) earlier estimates of only getting 15,000 miles in the year. With over a month to go, it's already over 16,000 miles. If you look at the last two months: November 15, 2013: 11,713 miles January 13, 2014: 16,067 miles That's 2177 miles per month, or a pace of 26,000 miles per year. If Edmunds does another road trip before the 1st Anniversary, they'll have over 18,000 miles in their first year, and that's with most of the year hobbled by an incomplete Supercharger network. And of course Dan ended the day with an extra $100 in his pocket by not having to buy gas (OK, I'm sure gas is paid for by Edmunds on these trips, but you get my point). Even if I spent $90,000 on a car, it's nice to have an extra couple of hundred dollars on a vacation.

  • vvk vvk Posts:

    Taking two days to go 650 miles would not be acceptable to me. Especially in the West, where everyone drives at least 90 mph and you can make that trip in 7 hours. I love traveling by car and cannot imagine having to stop like this every two-three hours. With our kids, we tend to leave right before bed time and they sleep for 10 hours straight. I find that covering as much distance as possible in these 10 hours is the key to a successful trip. We have made several 1500 mile trips in this mode and it is absolutely imperative that we cover 800-1000 miles in the first 10 hours. First time I have to stop to refuel my Passat is 600 miles from home. It is entirely possible that I would not have to refuel at all on a 650 mile trip like this.

  • jim_in_nj_ jim_in_nj_ Posts:

    vvk "Taking two days to go 650 miles would not be acceptable to me" Uh, perhaps you read a different article? He drove 890 miles in two days, and actually did it faster than a regular car. He drove 650 miles in one day, then 240 miles in 5 1/2 hours the next day.

  • opfreak opfreak Posts:

    this trip would drive me nuts. your day one trip averaged 46mph. anytime I cover any distance. I aim for averages over 70 in my gas burner. that's with stops for gas. If its a road trip I'm prepared ahead of time with snacks, and maybe sandwich's for lunch. your 13.5 hour trip would have roughly taken me 9.5, with a single stop for fuel. all this stopping being justifiable is just rationalizing a car not really suited for long distance travel.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Longer trips are possible in this car, but surely aren't convenient when you start relying on needing more than 2 short supercharger stops to get there as this post shows. For example, I can actually use this for my ~60 mile daily commute; and assuming that eventually the Windsor-Montreal corridor finally gets some love, I would need only 1 supercharger stop to get to Toronto- I can accept that as it would add about 1/2 hour to my trip (and the new Onroute stations actually makes stopovers bearable). But when you need to make 3 stops or more and require over 3 hours of rest time to make 650 miles (stretching your drive time to nearly 14 hours), there are some practicality issues- typically I would expect to make three 20 minute stops on such a drive (accounting for potty emergencies).

  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    "it is absolutely imperative that we cover 800-1000 miles in the first 10 hours." I'm sorry, but I call [non-permissible content removed]. There is no place in the US where you can average 100 mph for 10 hours straight.

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    I appreciate these logs of actual driving trips with details about location and timing of stops. They match my predictions-- 1) Yes, a Tesla can do long trips, 2) provided you're within the supercharger network, though 3) you've got to stop every 2-3 hours and 4) at their oases. But it's good to read narratives of real-world driving experience, including the frustration or lack thereof about the preselected stopping points. Thanks, Edmunds.

  • trnsl8r trnsl8r Posts:

    Nice article, but occupying a suprercharger stall overnight is poor form. Please don't do that. You even say that it was done charging before you went to bed.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    @jim_in_nj: I think you are making my points for me... Yes, I like 850-miles-per-day, bladder-busting, minimal-stops road trips, AND I like road trips where I take the blue highways, take my time, don't plan everything, take detours, etc. That's the po

  • mfennell mfennell Posts:

    Sorry, the CX-5 has so many miles *precisely* because of long road trips. Between mid-July and mid-Aug, Josh alone put 5000 miles on it. He took it to the Sierras in October, NorCal & the Sierras in Aug, Wyoming in July.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    @trnsl8r: agree. Read another way, "It was full before my head hit the pillow" means I was awake to move it.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Ah, Old Fordster still stirring the pot. Without you the comments section is as boring as watching an EV charge and for that I appreciate you. Remind me to never fly with you. I often take the LAX to Logan flight and always fly direct. With you I'd need to make six connections to avoid strict travel corridors like the SuperChargers force the Teslas to take. You can go LAX-SFO-LAS-SLC-ATL-BOS and see so many wonderful things. Anybody else would be stuck eating at either LAX or BOS. Not you, however, because you are in complete control of your side missions. A nice steak in Salt Lake City would sure be nice.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    Yes, superchargers do impose limits on where you can eat, but there are typically several choices. Tesla's supercharger homepage has links to each station that include maps and description of places to eat nearby.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    It is funny to read phrases like "We had x number of miles in the tank." Old idioms and slang will stick around long after they stopped being literally true. We still say we "rewind" a video if we play it in reverse, even though there is no tape being wound. I'm sure people will still call the peddle on the right the gas peddle even when they're driving an electric car. Their kids will ask them why its called that, and they'll get to go into old fogey mode and say "Well back in my day...". I think it will be fascinating to see how the way we talk about cars does or doesn't change.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    If they call it a peddle they have more issues than just using old idioms.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    One thing to remember: Most families have more than one car. Some have three. One would assume that is especially true here in the 100k price strata. That the Tesla Model S (or any short-range EV, for that matter) can't go everyplace in any circumstance isn't as huge an issue as people tend to make. You'd choose the Tahoe or F-150 over your Camry if you were towing a boat, right? You'd choose your Minivan over your Mini Cooper for a long road trip. Point is, the average family has more than one vehicle and they move among them as specific trip needs dictate. The Mini Cooper you commute to work in isn't a horrible vehicle because it can't take the wife and kids to the Grand Canyon. The F-150 wasn't a bad move because you'd rather take something more fuel efficient on a long trip where your boat isn't coming along. It's OK that the BMW M3 with the trick summer tires sits in the garage for three months while you drive your winter beater in the snow. The Tesla doesn't suck because it can't go everyplace at any pace. It may not be right for you, but that doesn't make it bad.

  • handbrake handbrake Posts:

    As a Tesla owner who just got back from a trip from San Francisco to a rental house in Mendocino and back, I will absolutely agree with anyone who says that a Tesla is not a good choice for long road trips. But you know what? 99.9% of the time I don't go on long road trips. I have a Ford F150 with a 36 gallon gas tank. That truck will get about 19 mpg on a mostly freeway trip. So 600 miles between fuel stops is very easy with the truck and it's a lot more comfortable than a Passat. And it goes off road a LOT better than a Passat would. For the 99.9% of the time that I'm not on long road trips, the Tesla is a great car. A long road trip is something that I just don't do more than once every few years, at most. 600 mile a day trips? That's why airplanes exist. The only time I drive on trips to distant places is to go hunting, and that's because I need my truck to get to the remote places in Wyoming or Idaho and it's a lot cheaper than flying and then renting a truck. I don't get why people try to argue against the Tesla because of the range issues. It'd be like arguing against a car with long range because it doesn't go off road very well. A Tesla is a car that works best in short to medium range trips. Those trips are the great majority of what most people drive. If you're one of the few people who drive long distances, don't get a Tesla. Yep, I said it...I won't mince words about that one. Likewise, if you're someone who likes to drive the Rubicon, don't by a Passat diesel.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Guys, never said the Tesla is a bad car. It's potentially a great car when they get some of the early bugs out of the way. I'm commenting on the Tesla's merits as a long-distance cruiser for the same reason everyone else here is (there's 20 comments now...) - because that's what this post is ABOUT, OK? Um, OK - ? Or is it only OK if I agree that the car's limitations are a GOOD thing? ;-)

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    @dunning - yeah, I had a long hard day yesterday, and apparently the spelling part of my brain was the first bit to call it quits. Rereading that post was embarrassing.

  • sharpend sharpend Posts:

    Geez, it's an electric car, people! Of course it's going to be more inconvenient than a gas car on a long trip. It's remarkable that it can be done at all. An electric car trip like this would have been pretty much impossible just a few years ago. Compare the gas car network to the electric car network, what is it like 99.9% vs .1%? Amazing that you can actually take a trip like this at all and not take that much extra time versus gas. Plus, you don't even have to pay for the electricity along the way. People take way too much for granted nowadays.

  • kt_boston kt_boston Posts:

    I've been reading these updates with great interest as i consider my next car purchase. In general I found them to be a valuable part of my research / decision making process. While I fully trust the times/distances and comparison to the author's 'Normal' for this Oregon trip. I can't help but compare the experience to my 'Normal'. For each of the last 16 or so years, we have driven from Greater Boston to Charleston, SC to visit family. this is generally a 2-day trip, but in the last 5 or 6 years we've been making it in a single day (Yes, that means starting at very early hour and passing South out of NYC by about 7:30-7:45 am). The route is a bit over 950 miles and takes us about 15 hours (Total elapsed Time).... That averages a bit over 60 miles per hour. When I look at Tesla's map of SuperCharger stations, I have no doubt that I could perform this trip in the Tesla. However, using the data provided in this article - I don't think we could do it in a single day. I calculate that the author managed a bit over 46 mph over their trip (elapsed time - same as I used). Using that value adds about 5.5 hours to the trip - Very reasonable if using a 2-day plan, I'm afraid not possible in our 1-day plan.

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