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Published on January 19th, 2016 | by Kyle Field


An Epic Tesla Road Trip (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

January 19th, 2016 by  


Upon rolling out of the Tesla Dealership… er… Service Center in Columbus, Ohio, a few things hit me right off the bat: The new-car feeling, realizing that this was my car. The realization that now I really was pretty much on the other side of the country and actually had to drive back across the ~3,700 kilometers at around 33 hours of driving. The fact that I only had one room booked between Ohio and Vegas … and what the heck, I just bought a Tesla!?!

I wanted to take off like a bat of hell and drive 120 miles an hour down the road, tearing up the asphalt… but I’ve been there and done that and tickets (and accidents!) are expensive no matter what state you’re in. So I calmed myself down, took a sip of the coffee CJ had so generously hooked me up with, set the cruise control for 65, and pointed the wheels to the west.

The next day, after a few hours of rest, several stops at Superchargers, hundreds of miles, and too many cups of coffee, I had a good feel for the car and how it worked on long road trips. While the car generally met my expectations, a few things stuck out to me about the car that I hadn’t expected.


Supercharging in Columbia, MO

Automagic Unlocking

Locking the car, for one. The Model S automagically locks (it’s an optional setting) when the driver walks away with the key fob. At first, I would nervously look out at the car from the gas station, coffee shop, or lunch stop to confirm that the handles were in, lights were off, and all that. After several stops, I realized that it just works. Put it in park, get out, walk away, and you’re good. It’s awesome. No parking brake, no locking or unlocking the car… easy.

Power at Your Fingertips

The power of the car is also amazing. With a single-motor, non-performance version of the Model S, I was not expecting amazing performance, but it blows me away. I used to have a ’97 Pontiac Trans Am, which I had done some work on, so I’m familiar with performance cars, but the smooth, torquey power of the Model S is a different beast altogether, and a lot more fun in my opinion.

Going 30 but want to go 65? Done. Going 65 and want to pass the smoggy diesel pickup in front of you? No problem. It’s something I’m still working on dampening, as it just begs to go faster than most laws allow. My favorite is pounding the pedal while cruising at around 20–30 miles per hour. It jumps like nothing else… okay, except may be a P90D with Ludicrous Mode :D.


Supercharging in Colorado


I will go into more detail about Supercharging in a separate article, but suffice it to say that it blows the competition away. Triple the speed of the next fastest charger, predictable, built into the navigation, and easy to use. It’s great. I loved being able to punch in whatever destination I wanted, however far away, with the confidence that the car would navigate to the nearest charger automatically.

Most of the Superchargers were located at hotels, gas stations (of all places!), shopping plazas, and otherwise near facilities that could occupy 30 minutes of a day, which was nice. A few stops required a bit more creativity to answer the calls of nature or get a bite of food. I found the ability of the car to keep the heating on while charging to be a great feature that I took advantage of extensively on my journey.


My favorite Supercharger — at a BP gas station in Effington, IL

Indecisive Navigation

One glitch that I noticed in the navigation is that, after topping up at a Supercharger then heading down the highway, the navigation would occasionally try to route me back to the charger I had just left (after charging for the amount of time it told me to charge for).

This even happened a few times after I was 20 minutes down the road like it suddenly realized I needed more capacity to make the next charger. It did not make sense to me, as I typically had 50–80 miles of “spare” range above and beyond what was required to get to the next charger. It was not a deal breaker and I was able to manually navigate through it by turning off charging stop recommendations, but it seems like a bug in the logic that could be corrected.

Navigation Range Estimation

Along similar lines, the navigation is conservative, but with caveats. First — it is conservative as it tries to ensure that you have WAY more charge than needed to get to the next destination. If I’m going 65 miles to the next charger, it wants me to have at least 110 miles of range to move on.supercharging

The caveat to the estimated range is that external factors like elevation gains, climate controls (heating/cooling), driving speeds, and outside weather can (and did!) have large impacts on range. It was not clear if the navigation was actively taking those factors into account — or at least for the static, predictable factors — but it seems like it could more accurately describe why it wants more charge at certain times.

On my trip, I drove over the Rocky Mountains (very steep, cold mountains in the Western United States), drove in sub-zero temperatures, and as a result, used the cabin heating frequently. I was aware of the impacts these would have, but an unfamiliar driver, not realizing the interrelationships between these factors could easily end up stranded in their Tesla. These factors are also present in gasmobiles, but with gas stations on every corner and most freeway exits, it is less of an issue. Growing pains…

The video below details some of my jumbled learnings from the road. I was happy to find that the speedometer display was the right angle to capture this specific angle with my phone, making it easy to record videos and video chat with my kids while out on the road. Technology is amazing.

All images and videos by Kyle Field

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link: http://ts.la/kyle623

  • omar

    I like road trip, nice challenges

  • neroden

    As someone who has owned a model S for 3 years… the Nav system is really, really dumb. Google Maps on the 17″ screen is great, but the turn-by-turn nav is so bad I generally leave it off.

    • Steven Day

      Has it gotten better with recent updates at all?

  • Ramon A. Cardona

    Quite an adventure. Did you have to buy the car in Columbus, OH? In any case, Tesla hit the fourmula correctly as to range, performance and rate of charge. That explains the sales success. Enjoy!

  • vensonata

    1.25 gallons of water at 200 degrees holds 1000 btu of energy. (300 watt hours) The heat release is 200 degrees down to 100 degrees. That is equivalent to a .5 kwh $180 battery with a limited lifespan. The water weighs 10 lbs. If you want a full kwh of heat for those cold winter drives, 4 gallons will do. That is .5 cubic feet. A nice little stainless steel jug with 4 gallons of water at 200 degrees, unlimited cycle life, never wears out, weighs 32 lbs. Remove from car in good weather. Can take it into the office to heat up.

    • Dragon

      That’s a pretty cool idea but 150F is hot enough to burn with a few seconds contact and I would worry 200F could melt parts of the car it touched (212F is boiling). It would take a bit of engineering to rig a way to carry it and secure it in the car in a stable location and with insulation against melting anything it came in contact with.

  • Maloo

    your story raises a few questions i have. first, where i live is usually below freezing and im wondering what sort of heating the tesla uses. generally it takes about 15 minutes to warm my car up to a comfortable temperature and heat the mirrors and windows to remove ice. roughly how long does it take to warm the car up from say 5 degrees F to 72 degrees F and what sort of effect does that have on range? at my age and medical conditions i need to be comfortable, and driving while dressed like nanook of the north is not comfortable. which brings me to my other question, the only charger of any kind that i have seen was at a hotel and it was at the furthest point from the hotel entrance, due to my medical conditions i use handicapped parking and wondering if this sort of thing is common.

    • neroden

      I can answer all your questions.

      It takes about 30 seconds, maybe 1 minute, to warm the Tesla Model S to a comfortable temperature. When it is 0 F outside. I *LOVE* this. The primary heating is a heat pump, the secondary heating is electric resistive heating (which only kicks in at very cold temperatures where the heat pump stops working).

      It takes much longer to de-ice the car. You actually should go outside with the scraper and scrape some of it off, because the heating is uneven: most of it melts fast, but the upper corners of the windshield won’t “self-clean” for 10 minutes or more. This is probably still quicker than your gas car. I don’t have the heated mirrors so I have to wipe the mirrors off by hand; I don’t know how the newer heated mirrors work.

      (This is less of a problem for everyday use because I’m usually parked in a garage.)

      In very very cold weather, you get about 70% of the car’s rated distance. That is the worst case scenario for range. I’ve done this on a road trip.

      Some effort is being made to install chargers some distance from the hotel entrances so that they don’t get blocked by jerks in gas cars (which seems to happen whenever the charging spots are close to the entrance). My fiancee is handicapped, so we generally pull up to the front to drop her off and then I take the car to the charger and walk back.

      • Maloo

        thanks for the info. my car only gets driven once every couple of weeks for my doctor visits which is a round trip of 240 miles. after a few weeks of sitting in frigid weather the car can sometimes look like an ice cube. looks like i am out of luck at the moment as far as range goes.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Well, since your car would be plugged in (I assume) while parked you could remotely trigger the heating system and have it toasty before you open the door.

          Then you would need, at most, a L2 charger somewhere between your house and doctor so you could pick up a few more miles if the cold weather was cutting into your range.

          You might want to check the Tesla Supercharger site to see if there might be a Supercharger you could use.


          • Maloo

            thanks, there is two parking garages around here and perhaps i could ask the owner about installing a charger, but it seems on the map the only charger is about an hour drive from my doctors office and about 2.5 hours drive my starting point. with no stops along the way i usually have about 20-30 minutes spare depending on traffic to unload and park to catch the last ferry back to the island where i live.
            just wondering too, how is the handling and traction on icy or unplowed snow covered roads? do you get much wheel slippage on acceleration in the snow?
            makes me think of those self driving cars how they would probably pull over and cry with the roads we have around here lol. again, thank you very much for all your info.

          • neroden

            I live in Ithaca, NY. I took a road trip to Michigan during an ice storm in January. Pure snowbelt. The traction is pretty damn good on icy and snow-covered roads. And I have the rear-wheel-drive version; the all-wheel-drive is supposed to be a lot better.

        • neroden

          Oh yeah, you NEED to be able to plug the car in at home. The Tesla Model S draws power while it’s sitting still to prevent the battery from freezing (the battery doesn’t like freezing). You do NOT want to leave it for two weeks without plugging in. If you can’t plug it in at home, don’t get the car.

          If you can get an electric stove/RV outlet (“NEMA 14-50”) installed near your parking space, then it becomes possible to buy the car. The Model S comes with an adapter for this and it’s much cheaper to install than a fancy “electric vehicle charging station”

          • Dragon

            A standard 120V outlet should be more than adequate to keep it charged and warm enough if only driven every two weeks, but the NEMA 14-30 or 14-50 outlet is better for pre-heating the battery. -13C is supposed to be the magic temperature where battery damage can occur and I don’t think the car bothers to keep it much warmer than that when not in use.

            Turning on the cabin heat remotely will heat the battery up towards a more optimal running temperature which means you won’t lose as much range as if you let the car heat the battery after you left. Heating the battery does take 6kw whereas a 120V outlet only provides 1.4kw so you’ll still be using a significant amount of battery. If you install a NEMA 14-30 outlet, the 24A it provides will give you 5.76kw, almost enough for pre-heating without using battery. A 14-50 outlet will give you 40A or 9.6kw, far more than enough for pre-heating.

  • tmac1

    This is your first warning
    Cease and desist!! 😉

    I need no more encouragement to become even more obsessed with Tesla

    Seriously what a blast !!!!!!!
    The Superchergers sound great
    Getting 5 -7 miles of range on the volt after a lunch stop is laughable in comparison
    Glad you are enjoying the new to you car!!!

    I think our Canadian friends would chuckle about 32 F being cold though
    Even here in balmy Maine we were out in 5 degree weather today . Of course once it gets that cold it does not matter much as it is just survival mode !!

    • Kyle Field

      Hahahaha 🙂 I feel you man! I went from a Leaf to the Model S so I know just how good I have it 🙂

      For what it’s worth, it was as cold as 2 degrees F in Colorado Springs…which is the coldest I’ve ever experienced. I really enjoy Maine…such a great state in my experience.

  • hybridbear

    Does your car have autopilot? That would make the trip a lot easier too.

    Edit: I watched the video now & heard you say 2013, so now I know that you don’t have AP. I would not get a Tesla without AP or the cold weather pkg.

    • Kyle Field

      🙂 I would have loved to have AP BUT it was literally $25,000 more for a used car with it because I would have had to buy newer, with an extra package. It doesn’t get cold in California (not real cold at least) so that isn’t an issue for us. Also, AP continues to evolve so this is my stop-gap car which will get me through until we can afford a fully autonomous car in 7-10 years.

  • Otis11

    I don’t need this car! I don’t need this car. I don’t need this car… This is a really cool car… I bet I could… Maybe… If I just…

    Kyle! Seriously!

    … Ok.

    So did you precondition the car at supercharger? (Warm it up a bit warmer than you want it so that it kept the heat and didn’t have to pull from the battery?) How long did it last? Did it noticeably extend the range?

    Does it have an option to automatically do this? (And warm the battery, seats, steering wheel, anything else while plugged in?)

    • Kyle Field

      I did precondition the car at charging stops and there is an option to do exactly this. I didn’t notice any impact on range and don’t know that I would have with so many other big factors hitting my range (freezing temps hitting the battery, climate control on, high speeds…).

      Just for you, I’ll try to keep these coming at a steady pace 🙂 But in all seriousness…that was the plan 😀

      • Otis11

        … officially making a new car fund in my budget… We’ll see what the girlfriend has to say about that…

        (Might do a piece about all the advantages a Tesla has for non-techies, non-car enthusiasts in there somewhere? Take it on a camping trip? Put all the equipment in the frunk so that the dog can go in the back and be part of the family but give everyone a bunch of space… begs the question – could 4 people and 3 large-ish dogs fit in here? – not a real use case but could fill a hypothetical to help my case…)

        As an Electrical Engineer I’ve been following them since I became aware of what they were trying back in 2007… amazing to watch the journey… but I also relegated myself to joining their ranks as a customer when the model 3 came out (or maybe a bit after – wait for a used one – have to do a price analysis on cost of gas vs price drop of a new car).

        • Kyle Field

          Sorry, it’s nothing personal 🙂 I made a big effort to get this thing to fit in our budget and my wife still gives it mean looks so I know how that can go…but she loves that we can make it down to her parents house, drive around Los Angeles and back on one charge 🙂

          I’ll keep an eye on those ideas as I really do want to get into as many scenarios and topics about the Model S as possible…that’s the point 🙂

        • You better hurry and get one before your girlfriend becomes your wife. Then, negotiations will become a bit more difficult 😉 My wife loves Tesla but unfortunately she is in a career transition and we have 3 kids about to start college soon so current plan is CPO model 3 or model S in 2020 or so.

          • Otis11

            Hahaha… true.

            I have some numbers to run…

          • neroden

            THREE kids about to start college… ouch. That’s something like 2 Teslas per year in costs.

        • neroden

          You could definitely fit 4 people and 2 large dogs. Not so sure about 3 large dogs.

          You couldn’t fit all the camping equipment in the frunk (some of the equipment is probably too *long* for the shape of the frunk) but you could fit most of it in the frunk, and put the tents in the back, and still fit the dogs. The capacity is huge.

          My favorite thing about the car is that the heat comes on within less than 1 minute of starting. In the snowbelt, this is awesomely better than any gasoline car. And of course the car is fully charged every morning.

  • Awesome and congrats Kyle! Glad to hear the density of superchargers on such a long route seems to be plenty. Good luck in completing your “adventure” successfully. In my neck of the woods, El Paso TX, I would be stranded on an island without being able to drive out, as the supercharger network won’t cover West Tx until sometime this year.

    • Kyle Field

      You don’t need superchargers. Teslas come with adapters for J1772 (normal level 2 charging which can top you off around town and on long road trips overnight. It’s not ideal but it’s definitely enough to get you out of the El Paso charging desert.

      Check out Plugshare.com to see where they are and figure out routes off the island 🙂 One night charging on the road (leave after work, drive for 2 hours and spend the night somewhere) and you could make it to Albequerque or Tuscon where you have access to a supercharger highway. Boom, done 🙂

      Check it out:

      • Plugshare does capture a few more charging opportunities than Chargepoint but often what you are looking at are outlets that are available for you to charge. I would need to carry a portable LV2 EVSE to hoop up to an RV outlet for example or plug in to a homeowner’s outlet at LV1. It would be quite the adventure 🙂 . I’m content with the Volt for now and Budget wise I’m looking to go CPO Model 3 or S in 2020.

        • neroden

          A new model S ships with the adapter for the standard “50 amp” RV outlet — standard. And the adapter for 110 volts. As well as the J1772 adapter. The weirder outlet adapters (dryer outlet, for example) are available for $45 each. (Though I think the welding-outlet adapter is no longer made and prices for it are going up.)

  • Marion Meads

    Ha ha! I don’t want to dress up Eskimo style to keep warm to prolong the range of a Tesla during the coldest time of the year. Am not that fanatic.

    • Kyle Field

      It wasn’t freezing and made it easier when getting in and out of the car to just stay in the same clothes. 25 hours of back to back road time demands certain efficiencies 🙂

      • Marion Meads

        I wouldn’t be comfy in those clothes, especially for 24 hours. My God!

        • JeffJL

          Not sure if Kyle would be comfy in a dress. 🙂

          I could be wrong though. Not that there would be anything wrong with Kyle in a dress. In fact now I think of it perhaps Kyle should do the next review in a dress.

          • Kyle Field

            Dude…I’ve done a fashion show in a dress before… but maybe that’s not something I should be admitting here 😀

            But I did. It was for a business seminar I went to and we owned it. We won the week long business challenge and won the presentation / talent show 😀

  • Zorba

    Thanks, it’s good to read a personal perspective like this.

  • dRanger

    Thanks for Part II, Kyle. The elevation changes used to be a major issue when determining range in the Tesla but the improved navigation system has changed all that. I normally see the navigator predictions hit the actual distance within a couple miles now, even with big elevation changes. I would really hesitate to ignore its suggestions on an unfamiliar section of road – there is usually method to its madness. In the latest update, the navigator tells you how much time you will save taking alternate routes – great!

    • Dragon

      Yeah, from what Tesla has stated, the latest navigation even takes into account wind speed effects on range. I bet that’s why the car sometimes recommended going back to the charger it just left – its estimated range requirements may have increased as updated wind or temperature predictions were taken into account.

      • dRanger

        Actually, the navigator sometimes recommended going back because of a bug that Tesla acknowledged and fixed in the last update. I never had the problem but I heard it happened.

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