2013 Tesla Model S: Stuck on the Freeway
February 19, 2014
This was to be my first date with the 2013 Tesla Model S. I've admired this car from afar, and quite honestly, I'd been looking forward to some Tesla seat time since being hired at Edmunds.com. Finally, my chance had come. Just the two of us. Alone. It was destined to be a special night. Me, the Tesla, and the highway.
Well, I'm sure I'm not the first guy to have a dream date go sour.
The night started innocently enough. After a thorough intro to the car by Features Editor Mike Magrath, I hopped into the Tesla and made my way to Pacific Coast Highway. My plan was to drive it by the beach, then take a canyon drive over to the San Fernando Valley.
The initial drive was fun, but uneventful. Because of traffic, I wasn't really able to test the Model S's capabilities, but I got glimpses of what it could do while switching lanes on PCH. Magrath had said, "Two things to remember. This car is wide, like S Class wide. And it is fast. Crazy fast."
It sounded like a challenge. But I behaved myself. No need for the new guy to go and get into trouble.
When I got home, I parked the Model S and went upstairs. My teenage son saw the key fob (which looks like a car itself) and flipped. "Do you have the Tesla today?"
And then the pleas began: Can I have a ride? Please? I dangled the Model S as a way to get some dishes washed, and then we were off.
Twenty minutes later, I was back in the car with my son as copilot. Our plan was to go south on the 101 Freeway for one exit, turn around, and come back, a roundtrip of perhaps a mile. With little freeway traffic, it seemed like a great idea.
The initial drive was great. Both the kid and I had smiles the size of Fiats. The Tesla gave us smooth, powerful acceleration. Mike had suggested this could very well be the fastest car I'd ever driven, and he was spot on. Incredible ride.
The ride went incredibly bad on the way back.
While accelerating up the 101 north onramp, something happened. I'm not sure what as I'm not a tech guy. The best way to describe the feeling would be to compare it to a manual-transmission car stalling in first gear. The Tesla jerked violently forward, and then lost power.
The Tesla's massive display starting flashing messages: "12V Battery Power Low - Car May Shut Down Unexpectedly" and "Car Needs Service - Car May Shut Down Unexpectedly." The funny thing about it was that the car already had shut down unexpectedly. I had no power to accelerate and I couldn't move over to the shoulder. I simply had to coast to a stop on the onramp of a Los Angeles freeway, well after dark.
My son hit the hazard icon on the dash and we hopped out of the car. We've all seen videos of stalled cars on freeways getting plowed into by distracted drivers. We weren't hanging around for that.
I did get back in the car for a moment when the onramp was clear. I wanted to try again to restart the car to get it out of traffic. No dice. I got out, and we stayed well clear of the disabled Tesla after that.
I called a friend who lived nearby and asked him to take my kid home. No need for both of us to be stuck on the side of a freeway. He suggested we put the car in neutral and roll it over to the shoulder or down the onramp and onto the street. Great suggestions, but we couldn't get the car out of gear.
It's worth noting that between my friend and me, we have nearly two decades of car-sales experience. That doesn't make us experts in car technology, but we've both driven thousands of cars over the years. Chances are if we couldn't find a way to move the Tesla, the average driver wouldn't have been able to either.
We got Tesla roadside assistance on the phone, and learned that in 45 minutes or less a tow truck would arrive to get me off the road. About 30 minutes later, the truck arrived.
The timing couldn't have been better. While the tow truck was setting up to load the Tesla, whatever power source was keeping the hazard lights blinking failed.
If the tow truck didn't arrive at exactly when it did, the stalled Tesla would have been nearly invisible to traffic getting on the freeway.
The tow-truck driver took about 15 minutes to get the Tesla on the flatbed. He finished securing the car, and away it went, bound for the Tesla Santa Monica repair shop (which knows us well by now).
First dates don't always work out the way you plan. And although I still admire the Tesla, I think I'm going love it as I have since I started working at Edmunds.
Matt Jones, Senior Editor @ 18,828 miles