2017 Tesla Model 3: Monthly Update for April 2018
by Travis Langness, Staff Writer
Where Did We Drive It?
Where we drove our long-term 2017 Tesla Model 3 in April is a bit less relevant than what happened while we were driving it. We did local commuting and a few freeway journeys, sure, but everywhere we went the car was fraught with problems. Sixteen weeks into ownership, we've had so many issues with our Model 3 that we started a shared Google Doc to catalog various warning messages, necessary screen resets and general failures.
Forget that this is a "cutting-edge" EV with a cult following. That's irrelevant if Tesla wants to be anything more than a footnote in automotive history. Our Model 3 cost us $56,000, and by that standard alone, the ownership experience so far has been unacceptable. But this is no ordinary $56K car. We put down a $1,000 deposit to get on a two-year waiting list for this car and it's falling apart.
Early adopters who could spend six figures on a car such as the Model S might've given Tesla a bit of extra leeway. Maybe they figure it's a small price to pay for such a technologically advanced car. Maybe it's a sacrifice they're willing to make to avoid using fossil fuels and get free access to the carpool lane. This far into its run, though, and with a car intended for mass appeal, Tesla should have the bugs worked out. It clearly doesn't.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
We put down 1,120 miles in April, up a few miles from last month. That's a bit shorter than our monthly goal of around 1,700 miles so we'll have to plan a few Supercharger-fueled road trips to catch up. We plugged in at the Edmunds high-powered wall charger 12 times in April and used just one Supercharger station. Here's what that looks like in terms of energy consumption:
Current odometer: 5,257 miles
Average lifetime consumption: 31.7 kWh/100 miles (106.3 miles per gallon equivalent)
EPA consumption rating: 27 kWh/100 combined (126 mpge)
Best fill: 25.6 kWh/100 (131.5 mpge)
This is the second month in a row that our average kilowatt-hours used per 100 miles increased, but we're still doing better than the EPA combined estimate (the lower the energy use per 100 miles, the more efficient you've been driving). As a side note, Supercharger energy got more expensive this month. Tesla upped the price from 20 cents per kWh to 26 cents per kWh. That's more than some of our editors pay to charge the Tesla at home, but not outrageous. When you consider the cost of installing a Level 2 charger at home, Superchargers are still a relatively good deal.
Maintenance and Upkeep
Based on many issues we had early in the month, we took the Model 3 in for service. The most annoying of those issues was a repeated, uncontrollable increase in stereo volume, sometimes when we weren't even in the car. Basically, the stereo would suddenly go to full volume without explanation. This and other issues are cataloged from our notes below:
• Would not recognize keycard in or on the console and hence would not go into gear. It did, however, unlock the car. Workaround was to force quit the app and restart the app. Then it would allow the choice of Drive or Reverse.
• The backup camera screen did not appear when reversing.
• Nav screen going haywire: zooming, scrolling, pinching, pixelating all at once.
• Audio system turning on by itself at full volume.
• Audio display randomly moving up and down the screen without any command from a human.
• Audio system came on and went to full volume all by itself while the car was off, locked and unoccupied. I heard it from 100 yards away. "Who is that joker playing his stereo so loud I can hear it from here?" Oh, it's Elon. I turned it down, but it kept wavering up and down as I started driving, working against my repeated attempts to dial it down. Then it blasted all the way to maximum. My ears are still ringing two hours later. Fixed after reboot. Not sure about hearing damage.
• Audio page leaping up and down rapidly like the up-caret button to expand the source menu was being played with by a kid who ate too much candy. Concurrent with the volume problem above. Same reboot.
• Icons on the map screen flickering.
• The passenger vanity mirror fell off completely. Installed and held on only by double-sided tape. Reinstalled by pressing really hard on the mirror.
• The screen went completely dark on startup, no music or operation. Restarted the car. The screen worked; the backup camera did not.
After diagnosing the car's problems, we took the Model 3 to the service center mid-April. The service center replaced our center screen, updated our firmware, and sent us on our way. That trip to the service center also included a software update, which was meant to address some very specific problems we were having with the Autopilot system. For more on that update, check out this video. The entire process at the service center only took about three hours, so we waited and drove the car home the same day. The service was free and we haven't had the volume issue again, but there were several warnings in the following two weeks:
• The car will not shift into Drive or Reverse upon startup. "Vehicle Systems Are Powering Up. Shift Into D or R After Message Clears." Have to wait for it to power up. A loud click comes from the rear of the car as if a drive shaft is engaging and the message on the screen goes away.
• The car displays a new message: "Cannot Maintain Vehicle Power. Car May Stop Driving or Shut Down." No shutdowns yet, but keeping an eye out.
• With 170 miles of range, the car displays a "Regenerative Braking Limited" message. Plenty of available space to store regen power. Logged the issue, then reset the screen with a reboot. The message has not displayed since.
• While the car was parked, the passenger sun visor was left down and the mirror fell out. Pressed back into place. Hoping it won't fall out again.
Just to recap, this has all happened in the past four weeks, less than four full months into our yearlong test. We've already scheduled a third service visit for next month, and our collective patience with this car is wearing thin.
Days out of service: 0
"I was recently transporting a large record collection, along with a few boxes of CDs, and the Model 3 was the car I had for the job. I was impressed by the Model 3's storage ability relative to its size, with the space to fit four massive storage containers and several cases of CDs with space to spare. The weight on top of the rear seats, however, set off the seat sensor, telling me there was something in the back seat. It did this, on a constantly displaying basis, for over 100 miles. Seems to me like there should be some sort of secondary sensor that knows the seat is folded down before it warns me that the plastic totes aren't wearing their seat belts." — Travis Langness, staff writer
"Technology is supposed to make things easier, right? Right? That is so NOT the case with the Tesla Model 3. Simple things are hard to figure out at first glance. I've complained about this issue in our Model X before. I want to change the radio station. On the screen all I get are icons of the preset radio stations, some of them have the actual radio station dial numbers and others are just tiny thumbnails of bands (?). The station I'm currently listening to isn't even anywhere obvious on the display.
"Cut to me trying to get out of the car from the passenger side while parked in a dim garage. Where is the handle/button/lever to open the door? 'It's that dim LED light there,' said editor Jay Kavanagh from the driver's seat after having watched me feel blindly around on the passenger door. Ugh, why is everything so hard? I just wonder what it's like for those who actually own this car. It must get easier. It has to." —Caroline Pardilla, senior copy editor
"Weird glitch with the new screen on our Model 3. I was greeted with a blank screen in the morning. The car was on, but the screen was black. I put it in Drive and intended on going to work with the faulty screen. For kicks, I figured I'd give my Bluetooth audio a try, so I'd have something to listen to. This seemed to jumpstart the screen back to life. It functioned as intended for the rest of the weekend." — Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor
"Backseat comfort review from the two adult passengers riding in the Tesla Model 3: They said the car rode extremely rough over imperfections in the road and it was not comfortable at all. It quickly burst their 'Oh, look at this cool Tesla!' bubble." — Ron Montoya
"This car is a joy to drive on Angeles Crest Highway, and I don't say that lightly. Angeles Crest is a famously demanding road that winds up into the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. You need brakes, power and a taut, balanced chassis to do it right. The Model 3 has it all. Body roll is minimal, the brakes don't complain, the steering is gratifyingly precise, and there are gobs of instant torque on tap. Plus, the regenerative braking function means you use the actual brake pedal less often.
"It's a new kind of fun to lift off the throttle ahead of a corner and realize you've already scrubbed enough speed without even touching the pedal. After my drive, a friend of mine asked me how the Model 3 compares to the current BMW 3 Series, and I told him I'd rather have the Tesla. He laughed. I wasn't kidding." — Josh Sadlier, senior manager content strategy
"No matter how much time I spend in the Model 3, I am still not used to form-over-function door handles and interior door buttons. Every new passenger is confused about how to get into and out of the car. Even me, the driver, I have a hard time remembering how to get in from time to time. And even when I do remember, pushing in and then pulling out the door handles adds an extra step that I don't need. Why reinvent the wheel, Tesla? Make some normal door handles, Elon. Your customers will thank you." — Travis Langness