Thanksgiving is a time of year when many people travel. Visiting friends and family across the country. Is the Model 3 capable of being a great cross country travel vehicle?
I bought my Model 3 for several factors: performance, range, style, and features. A key factor in choosing the Model 3 over competitors was that it offered 150+ kW charging and 310 mile EPA range. However, when my wife asked if we should drive the Clarity PHEV or the Model 3 for a 2,000 trip I must admit I hesitated.
The Clarity would have no range concerns since it runs on gas as well as electric, and I had heard horror stories on how busy the superchargers can be over the holidays. It really gave me second thoughts at taking the 3, which didn’t last long as I wanted to try it on the road trip.
Since this was my first trip with an all electric vehicle I wanted to be prepared. The first step was to check the weather forecasts for where I was going and a couple places on my route. This was to check temperatures and wind directions/speeds. My favorite is the graphical 10 day forecast on https://www.wunderground.com/ (No affiliation).
After having the weather data, I planned my trip using the great site https://abetterrouteplanner.com/ (No affiliation). This tool allows you to plan routes for EVs, especially Tesla. It does an excellent job modeling the driving conditions for the car. Make sure to show settings and more settings and enter in some values such as the wind speed if it is a headwind, the expected temperature, and the percentages for charging and arriving at destinations. I also entered a reference speed of 107% which is flowing with traffic.
We packed the car and set out with the charge at about 90%. I used the car’s navigation system, but I found that it chooses questionable routes at times that might not be possible. Especially factoring in transient conditions like weather and wind speed. If the Tesla deviated from the directions from A Better Route Planner, I entered the next supercharger manually into the cars navigation.
In addition to the cars navigation, I used the web browser in the car to go to the site for A Better Route Planner and it will monitor your drive live and you can tweak the state of charge to match and make sure it stays up to date.
Charging went as expected, and on the 800+ mile trip to Georgia we took two days and stayed in a hotel offering free charging. Thankfully, their single charger was available and I was able to get 90% charge, enough to get to my supercharger I wanted to visit.
My final destination was in the Appalachian Mountains, so I stopped in Chattanooga for a nearly full charge to ensure I had enough round trip power to get back. This was slow, and ultimately unnecessary stop. The charger is located at the airport and was very busy with locals, mostly S/X cars, presumably using their free charging.
The total drive out was maybe 18 hours, but to be on the safe side I went on a longer route that had many more superchargers. If I thought I wouldn’t be able to skip a Supercharger I had the option to stop early to get enough range. I never had to do this, as A Better Route Planner was right on as long as I entered in information accurately.
The best route on Avenue of the Saints from Iowa to St Louis (highlighted on the map below) would save me at least 35 minutes of driving time, but lack of Superchargers means it isn’t practical in a Model 3, yet. It would involve charging to 100% and driving slower, quickly adding back time that would otherwise be saved.
Once at my Mom’s cabin I was able to drive at least a hundred miles locally during the week using only the 120 V outlet with extension cord (I know, checked it several times for heat buildup). I love that the Model 3 allows me to reach these remote areas.
On the return trip I charged 100% on the 120 V and made it all the way to the new 250 kW chargers in Nashville. I had planned to stop in Mt Vernon, IL overnight, but the weather was supposed to deteriorate on Sunday and decided instead to drive through. This allowed me to take the slightly faster route as the 176 miles between Springfield, IL and Davenport, IA would be too much of a stretch on Sunday with the headwind.
The return drive took a total of 16 hours including all stops. Charging was combined with food or bathroom breaks so little time was wasted, but it still managed to add 1.5 hours vs what it would take for gas. In part, this is due to the charger placement, where they are 5 or 10 minutes out of the way. With gas I always stop at stations immediately off the exits to avoid 10 minute detours.
I never had to wait for charging, but I think it is regional. People in CA had many issues this Thanksgiving, where very large chargers were backed up with dozens of cars waiting to charge. Thankfully, I didn’t see that at all. The chargers were all busy, typically around 30 to 50% capacity, but they can move cars quickly. My longest charge was maybe 45 minutes, most were to 70% or so and were 15 to 30 minutes.
Now that I have over 3,000 highway miles on the car, in mostly cooler weather, I have to admit that I am disappointed in the range of the Model 3 Long Range AWD. I am lucky to get 200 miles on a 100% charge. Admittedly this is driving 75 to 78 mph and in cool weather (down to 30 or 40 F, but still requires some heat). This is much less (20%) than the estimates provided by Teslike of 240 mile range at 80 mph for what the advertised range should be based on options. For those interested, I was getting around 300 to 340 watt hours/mile for most of the trip.
I am glad of my decision to go with the Long Range model in the cold Midwest, as that range above will suffer even more when temperatures drop to the single digit highs as they do several weeks of the year and I don’t think the SR+ would have worked as well for this trip. Not to mention, the AWD is really nice in the snow, although RWD will be fine with snow tires.
I am not going to lie. An EV with an EPA rated range of 450 miles would go a long way for making road trips more practical in all weather conditions. Otherwise, we need about 10x as many Supercharger stations for better coverage along various routes to ensure quick travel with 5% to 60% charging. As it is, it often isn’t practical or it is too risky to run down the car to 5% charge for fastest charging. I found on my trip the car was often starting with 20 to 30% charge, which starts to taper (reduce charge rate) after only a few minutes.
On my trip I used two types of Superchargers. They both look nearly identical, but perform differently. These are the Version 2 and Version 3 superchargers. The Version 2 are at most of your highway locations. They charge up to 150 kW and split power between two cars. The Version 3 chargers go up to 250 kW peak (very briefly) and do not split power. Example of the brand new 250 kW chargers on Thompson Ln in Nashville.
You can check the max charging power of the station through the Tesla interface by clicking on the Supercharger icon on the map and it will bring up a pop up with the number and availability of the stalls and the max charging rate.
If you arrive at a Version 2 Supercharger, try to skip parking spots between cars unless no others are available. This will avoid power splitting with the car next to you. The units are all numbered like 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc. The chargers with the same number share power, 1A splits with 1B. However, given how the charge rate drops, it won’t matter too much unless you both arrive at the same time.
I only had technical difficulties with one charger in Mt Vernon, IL. It looked like a small black plastic ring around a pin had become lodged in the charger preventing it from connecting all the way to my car. I moved to the next spot and it was fine.
Supercharging is a viable option to drive a Tesla EV across the country or over long distances. Gas will be faster, but if you aren’t driving across the country every day, it probably doesn’t matter.
The overall costs were less than gas, but the charge by kWh spots are far more expensive than the pay by the minute locations. In Iowa, Kentucky, and Tennessee were very cheap, mostly $0.12 to $0.22 per minute vs $0.26+tax in Illinois, more than gas. The per minute locations worked out to less than $0.10/kWh or less. See my return trip below.
The drive to GA was free as I had remaining credits, but the drive back was about $37 in supercharging fees and about $9.00 worth of starting electricity, for a total of about $46.00. My Clarity PHEV would have been roughly $50.00 for the same, but varies a bit on gas prices. The Clarity is very efficient, so most gas vehicles would be more expensive.
Overall, Supercharging doesn’t consistently save money vs gas, but it definitely allows a Tesla EV to travel long distances quickly. An individual might do better or worse on gas depending on their individual situation.
The car made the trip, and did it well. It was an absolute joy driving the Tesla long distances. I only lost cell data coverage (streaming music) a couple times in more rural areas. I had coverage even in remote mountains where my Mom lives.
The car has ample passing power and cruises effortlessly at speed. It has a bit of road and wind noise, but much better than most of my previous cars, but not up to true luxury car level of noise isolation. The important part is it wasn’t a distraction to me.
The car will be great for infrequent long distance trips, and expect it to add 10 or 15% to the travel time vs gas. This is tolerable to most people that don’t travel frequently. If I was driving 800 miles a day multiple days of the month I would get a hybrid. Given that I do it maybe do 2 or 3 round trips of less than 2000 miles per year, it doesn’t really make any difference to me.
I feel the Model 3 was a great buy for how I use the car. It comfortably holds 4 for long distance, slightly less comfortable with 5, but as long as they are smaller it isn’t bad. It has a lot of storage space and is overall a great car.
Autopilot was amazing. I hardly intervened with the steering in over 1600 miles, and this was huge for reducing fatigue. I constantly watched the road and environment, but not having to hold my arms up steering the entire way was a huge strain relief for my arms. I can’t wait until they allow hands free operation, which I suspect is very close for certain situations, like Interstate driving.
If you are on the fence, don’t wait. It is a wonderful car. Make sure to use someone’s referral code so both get bonus Supercharging miles, it is win-win. Mine is: https://ts.la/eric35018
The photos in this post are copyright 2019 Eric Tastad, all rights reserved.