With our factory fresh Tesla Model 3 back from the body shop, and Memorial Day weekend upon us, it was time for my family’s first real road trip in our new electric car. As first-time EV owners, how would we handle the trip? Would range anxiety kick in? Would we get stranded by the side of the road, out of juice? Or would things be more or less comparable to driving an ICE car … only better? Read on to find out.
Head For the Mountains
My parents have a summer cabin up in the Adirondack Mountains, about 270 miles away from our home in New York City. Technically, with a full charge and 310 miles of range on the Model 3, we could have made it all the way up there without stopping to charge. But I wanted to check out our options for charging along the way. So, using the handy-dandy navigation built into the Model 3, I chose the Albany Supercharger as a way-point on the trip: about halfway to our destination and a good place to load up on electrons. But with it being a holiday weekend, we first had to deal with the hordes of New Yorkers fleeing the city for the great wide open spaces of upstate NY and Connecticut.
I’m not a big fan of stop-and-go traffic (who is?), but with the high-quality sound system and built-in 4G Internet with Slacker and TuneIn radio options on the Model 3, we at least had some great-sounding music to entertain us. Our previous car lacked any internet radio options or Bluetooth connectivity. It didn’t even have an aux input or USB port. Playing music on that system meant inserting something called a “cassette tape” or a “Compact Disc” into a slot (look it up, kids). Or, my personal favorite: the cassette adapter plugged into my phone’s headphone jack. Not something any self-respecting tech journalist would be proud of. So as far as music and connectivity goes, things were definitely looking up with the Model 3.
Engaging AutoPilot by pressing down on the right-hand stalk two times (four times for more cowbell) took a bit of the stress out. With Autopilot, the car kept itself in our lane automatically and maintained a safe distance from the cars around us at all times. Using Autopilot does take some getting used to, however. You have to hold the wheel firmly, but not so firmly that you prevent the car from steering itself. I think my touch on the wheel was a bit too light, so the car kept warning me to put my hands on the wheel. Eventually, it decided that I was not paying enough attention and it warned me that it was shutting off autosteer and would no longer engage that part of Autopilot for the remainder of the trip (or at least until I pulled over, stopped, and restarted the car). But until Autopilot gave me that time-out, we were marveling at its ability to maintain our speed, distance from other vehicles, and placement in the lane. A quick, but firm, tap on the turn signal stalk told the car to change lanes so we could pass (or be passed by) other vehicles. And with a recent software update, I could also adjust my follow distance and speed using the controls on the steering wheel — you no longer have to make these adjustments on the touchscreen. In all, our first extended experience with Autopilot was quite positive.
And when I disengaged Autopilot, the car’s instant acceleration, good visibility, and tight responsive handling made driving a real pleasure. I’ve never enjoyed highway on-ramps and stoplights so much. On our drive, we encountered two more Teslas in the wild, both blue (like ours), but Model S, not Model 3. We’re still working on the “Tesla nod” — our version is more of a “honk and wave enthusiastically at the strangers in the other car.” Happily, they didn’t seem to mind.
The Colonie Center Mall, one of two Supercharger stations in Albany, has a pretty nice food court and a wide selection of shops. Only two of the six bays were in use when we got there, so we were able to plug in and head to the mall for dinner. 45 minutes later, we returned to a fully charged car. Total cost for supercharging? $12.00 at a rate of 24 cents per kWh. So, that’s about 6 cents per mile in energy costs for approximately 200 miles of driving. In comparison, it would have cost about $23 in gas (at $2.99/gallon) to travel the same distance in our Toyota Highlander Hybrid, averaging about 26 MPG.
For the remainder of the trip north, I engaged Autopilot most of the way. The traffic lightened up significantly the further north we travelled and the well-marked lanes and gradual curves of Interstate 87 presented no challenge for the system. Once we left the interstate for the non-divided highway through the Adirondacks, I continued to test the Autopilot functionality, but kept a much closer eye on things. On a non-divided highway, Tesla limits your speed to no more than 5 MPH above the posted speed limit. At most times, the car managed the winding roads admirably, though some of the steeper curves felt a bit fast. Tesla does adjust the speed of its traffic-aware cruise control any time the legal speed limit changes, but it doesn’t acknowledge “advisory speed limits” — those yellow speed limit signs that suggest a speed that is lower than the legal speed limit. You see these quite a bit on smaller roads with steep curves. So there were a few times when I disengaged the system or manually lowered the speed using the steering wheel controls. Could the Model 3 have taken a 30 MPH (recommended) curve at 60 MPH? With its low center of gravity and tight handling, I’m sure it could have. But it may have been a bit unsettling for the passengers.
We made it up to the cabin with over 100 miles of range left, which I thought would be plenty for the weekend, but that’s where things got a little dodgy. EV owners soon realize that you need solid charging options at your home base, and at any regular destination. In the dead center of the Adirondack Park, there really aren’t a lot of good options for EV charging. The nearest Supercharger is over 70 miles away in Queensbury, NY, and I couldn’t initially find any Level 2 charging stations in the vicinity either. I had thought I would just plug into a standard 120V outlet at the cabin and get back 3-4 miles of charge per hour. But the 70-year old “rustic” wiring of the cabin begged to differ.
Trouble in Paradise?
When I plugged in the Tesla UMC (Universal Mobile Connector) to an available outlet, the TESLA logo on the charger lit up green (green is good!), but then when I plugged the UMC into the car’s charging port, the logo went out and only the “T” lit up a cautionary red (red is not good). No matter which outlet I tried, the results were the same: the car would not take a charge. I tried multiple extension cords, including a beefy 12-gauge cable that we use to power our electric chainsaw. But no joy. I know the Tesla UMC itself is fine, as is the extension cord.
A friendly local restaurant owner allowed us to plug in during dinner and we got back enough range to drive back to the cabin. But something about the cabin power or wiring was not kosher. And with a planned trip to Lake Placid that weekend — and no Tesla Superchargers nearby — we needed a Plan B. So my daughter and I hopped into the Model 3 Saturday night and drove about 70 miles to the Queensbury Supercharger (near Glens Falls, NY). In a little over an hour, we charged that battery from about 5% to the max: 314 miles.
And on the way back, I discovered a free Level 2 ChargePoint charger at the Adirondack Experience museum in Blue Mountain Lake. This gave us an additional 25 miles of range per hour and a big enough buffer that I felt confident making the trip to Lake Placid the next day.
The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, from a charging standpoint. Outlet shopping and Mexican food in Lake Placid; a leisurely drive through the gorgeous winding roads of the Adirondacks; errands around town — the usual stuff. On the way home, we stopped at the Queensbury Supercharger for lunch, for about 45 minutes, then again at the Clinton Corners Supercharger closer to home. Like the Albany Supercharger, the Queensbury station is in a mall parking lot, right near a Friendly’s, so we gorged on burgers and ice cream while the car soaked up its own “juice.” And the Clinton Corners Supercharger is located next to a Stewarts (upstate NY’s version of a 7-11), so there were restrooms and snacks — even picnic tables — at our disposal.
Overall, the trip was a success. The kids rode (and slept) comfortably in the back seat, enjoying the dual USB ports to keep their devices running. The cat stayed mostly in his carrier, but popped up front a couple of times to visit, meowing his approval of the smooth, quiet ride. My wife cranked her seat height up to the max so she’d have better road visibility and fiddled with the lumbar support and other seat controls to dial it in just perfectly for her comfort. And Autopilot made the drudgery of stop-and-go traffic, and the monotony of the endless dotted white lines, that much more palatable.
Home On the Range … Anxiety
In terms of charging, there are currently no fewer than 5 separate Tesla Superchargers stations along this particular 270-mile stretch. This minimized our need to stop for extended periods of charging or even to plan our route all that much. And these Superchargers are located not only on interstates, but conveniently close to secondary highways like the Taconic Parkway as well.
If you’re planning a long-distance trip, you can use the Tesla navigation tool to map your route (which has some pros and some cons), or you can use a third-party site like EVTripPlanner.com to do the same thing. In addition to Superchargers, both of these tools allow you to see Tesla destination chargers along the route. These are not as fast as Superchargers, but they can get you back a full charge overnight, so you might consider staying in hotels along the way that have destination chargers (but be sure to reserve these in advance through the hotel).
In addition to these tools, you might consider installing the ChargePoint and PlugShare apps to show you even more charging options. The ChargePoint app shows where you can find ChargePoint EV charging stations, some of which are free and some of which are paid. Also, the PlugShare app can be a lifesaver if you travel to even more remote areas where traditional EV charging options are limited. With PlugShare, you can see not only the various paid, public, and free charging stations, but you can also find private individual chargers of other PlugShare members who have opted to share their power with fellow EV owners.
Helpful Resources for EV Roadtrips:
¤ EVTripPlanner — a comprehensive website tool for planning trips in an EV.
¤ ChargePoint — download the app for iOs or Android.
¤ PlugShare — download the app for iOS or Android (charger map also available on website).
As we got further into the hinterlands, charging options became much fewer and further between. When I searched for Superchargers close to our location, I got a message saying that there were none, but that several new Supercharger stations were planned for the area. Apparently, they’re planning to install a Supercharger in Lake Placid next year, which would have saved us the trouble of that 140-mile round trip for Supercharging.
The inability to charge at my parents’ cabin wasn’t something I was counting on, but my plan had always been to upgrade the cabin to 100 amp or 150 amp service, put in a modern breaker box to replace the ancient fuse box, and install a NEMA 14/50 outlet to get a decent charge rate. The inability to do basic charging with the current power just hastened this plan along a bit.
The Bottom Line
Travelling long distances in a Tesla Model 3 is an immensely enjoyable experience. The ride comfort is great, Autopilot is superb, and entertainment options are plentiful. For trips over 275 miles, you’ll need to plot your route via Superchargers, but doing so isn’t particularly difficult. You do need to allocate a bit more travel time, as charging an EV does still take longer than filling up an ICE vehicle. But this will give you time to see some sights along the way. Also, be sure you’ll have adequate charging options available at your destination so your day trips won’t have to be curtailed or restricted.