By Stephen J. Veneruso
It’s summertime! That means it’s time to load up the Griswold-mobile for the great American pilgrimage to Wally World. But it’s a long way down the holiday road. Can you make it in a Tesla Model 3?
Sure, the Tesla Model 3 is expected to have an optional larger battery pack. But Rusty Griswold needs braces and the college fund seems to have a zero missing from the balance. So, the cost-conscious question is, can you drive 1,000+ miles in the base Model 3?
And nearly as importantly, what would a 1,000 mile trek really be like in a base Model 3?
Although there aren’t any Tesla Model 3s in consumer hands, and won’t be for another 16 months or so, fear not, answers are at hand!
The base-model Tesla 3 is expected to have a range of “at least 215 miles” (346 km) per Elon Musk. A Tesla Model S with the base 60 kWh battery is rated at 205 miles. As such, it’s an excellent approximation assuming you fit your Tesla Model 3 with Tesla Supercharger capabilities.
The Test Mule
As luck would have it, I own that approximation (a 60 kWh Tesla S). With 54,000 miles on the odometer, it retains 98% of its factory-fresh rated range (now 201 miles).
Along for the real-world adventures were my lovely wife and two kids. Sure, there’s Aunt Edna and her dog Dinky, but there’s no need to go full Griswold for this test, folks.
Going the Distance
Including a side trip to Hilton Head on the way down, our June trip from Maryland to Florida down I-95 was just over 1,000 miles door to moose. The return trip was a nearly 900 mile cannonball from Cape Canaveral to Maryland.
This trip was the third exceeding 1,000 miles. We’ve also done more than a dozen 500+ mile road trips throughout the eastern USA in the Tesla Model S. Each drive was carefree and a true delight.
How is Road Tripping Different in an EV?
Trollish posts on the intertubes frequently lambast EVs for their inability to drive 1,000 miles with only the briefest of fuel stops. There is a kernel of truth to these claims. If you’re idea of a road trip must include stir crazy kids, eating all meals in the car, and passengers filling empty bottles en route (and risking indecent exposure charges), then yes, it’s different.
Road trips in an EV are simply more civilized.
In exchange for a bit of time, you’ll:
- Save a couple hundred dollars in gasoline.
- Enjoy bio breaks and get to stretch your legs every couple of hours.
- Eat at tables rather than the in the car.
- Meet some lovely people, including other Tesla drivers and the curious passersby.
- Have time to shop for forgotten vacation necessities along the way.
For parents, the benefits are even more pronounced. The regular pit stops allow just enough time for the kids to burn some of their puppy energy in the outdoors. Recess really does help, for classroom and in-car tranquility. And my personal favorite aspect of the Tesla as a parent is how quiet and smooth it is — beautiful sleep-inducing EV silence.
Tesla has done a fantastic job overall in the placement of Superchargers (see supercharge.info for an excellent interactive map). Most are in shopping areas (including many outlet malls) with several restaurant choices. Superchargers are typically spaced 60–130 miles apart, meaning it’s possible even with a base Tesla to skip a charging stop here and there.
In practice, what this meant for us was that on the way down we were never actually waiting for the car to charge. Seriously! It was a quick breakfast at the first stop, a bit of shopping for new beach shoes at the second, lunch at the third, and so on.
For the all-nighter cannonball home (which was by request of the well-vacationed and homesick munchkins), the final wee-hours stops allowed for quality time with my spouse, quick naps, and driver changes. Google maps says the trip should take 12.5 hours with no stops. We did it in 14 hours, not including an extra hour spent at a two-hour dinner at Clarks, a lovely restaurant at the Santee Supercharger (our car was fully charged more than an hour before we left).
Charge time varies depending on how “empty” your battery is. The emptier, the faster it charges. It’ll charge at a rate of 360 miles of charge per hour when empty, 220 when half full, and linearly on down as you approach capacity. The last 30 miles of charge takes as long as the first 170 miles (about 30 minutes for each).
What this means in practice is that to minimize total trip time it’s best to not “top off” at each stop.
Pro-Tip! With experience (and having done the math so you don’t have to), it’s clear that the ideal is to charge to about 170 miles of range in a 60 kWh model, drive the 120–130 miles to the next stop, and keep 40–50 miles in reserve (similar to the two gallon warning light in a car). This does three things:
- Keeps ample reserves so you don’t have to worry about range.
- Preserves battery life (fully charging and discharging frequently can reduce battery life).
- Greatly reduces charging times compared to topping off.
The above charging method will provide you with a consistent 30–40 minute pit stop, ideal for a quick bite or shopping and a bio break.
You can further reduce pit stop duration by shaving your reserve of course. But if you have Kramer’s compulsion to drive on “E,” abide the following words of range advice:
- Above all, range is speed dependent. Each additional 10 MPH costs ~15% range on the highway.
- Drafting doesn’t just work in NASCAR. Drafting a minivan or SUV in your Tesla at a safe distance adds ~15% range compared to driving solo at the same speed (verified on multiple runs in Florida).
- Motor coaches and horse trailers add an eye popping 20–24% at highway speeds. Following the latter also adds subtle notes evocative of the rodeo.
- Check the weather before you leave the charger. A heavy thunderstorm will reduce range, the percentage depending on the extent and duration of the deluge.
- Don’t draft tractor-trailer trucks if you like your windshield. They’re liable to drift into the rumble strips inducing a Millennium Falcon-in-the-asteroid-belt experience.
Note that the energy costs/savings noted above are true for gasmobiles as well, because physics.
Tesla is expected to offer a larger battery option on the Model 3. Is it worth the extra cost?
The simple answer is that it depends. The larger battery options on the Model S provide greater range, quicker acceleration, and longer battery life. Given that the liquid-cooled Tesla Model S batteries are proving exceptionally durable and battery costs are declining rapidly, I would discount the longer battery life justification.
A bigger battery provides quicker acceleration, but the value is entirely subjective. EVs, particularly Teslas, are wicked fast even in base model format and are able to out-launch almost anything that needs schooling in the next lane. But if you imagine you’ll frequently ask yourself, “Who wanna play with the Enforcer?” at lights next to million-dollar Ferraris and you aren’t sacrificing Rusty’s college fund to do so, go for it.
For road trips, the greater range option does allow for shorter pit stops (about 5 minutes less for a typical stop) and greater flexibility to skip chargers along the way. Depending on your income and/or the value you place on an hour of vacation time, it could take a lifetime of road trip vacations to recoup the cost.
Driving a Tesla Model 3 to Wally World is not only possible; it’ll be a comparatively carefree and relaxed experience. If you or your spouse is over-eager to get to your destination (guilty), scheduled charging stops are a boon to your passengers, as the ETA-vs-biology stress is stripped away.
Overall, Tesla and gasmobile door-to-door times are about the same for 500 mile trips with children. Add about an hour and a half more for the monster 1,000 mile variety, but note your passengers will be much better rested, fed, and amicable with the brief pit stops along the way.
About the Author: Stephen J. Veneruso is a technologist with experience in the energy, finance, and government sectors.
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