By David Andrews
On November 1, 2021, my wife and I, both 76, left our Connecticut home in a Tesla Model Y headed for San Diego where we spend the winter each year. In June, the Long Range Y had replaced a Honda CRV that had made the cross-country trip three times before with no problems.
Our most pleasant surprise was that the Y provided more usable space than the CRV for the large number of suitcases and boxes we take along. I found it easier and more fun to drive. My wife preferred the softer suspension of the CRV.
Our plan was to take seven days getting to Phoenix, where we had rented a house for a Thanksgiving family gathering. Following that interlude, the 400 miles from Phoenix to San Diego took one day. We thus spent 8 days traveling 3,250 miles.
Charging is everyone’s big concern on long trips. For us, there were minor annoyances but never a serious problem. We have accounts for other charging services but ended up only using Tesla Superchargers over the course of the trip.
The Model Y Long Range has a nominal range of 320 miles. We knew our actual range would be less due to the weight of our luggage and the impact of traveling all day at highway speeds. During the trip, we averaged around 70% of the rated mileage. On a day with steady winds over 20 mph, our actual mileage was closer to 60% of the rating.
We set a goal of keeping the battery charge above 20% just to be safe. Based on that, we decided that 200 miles was the furthest we felt safe traveling between charges. There was only one occasion when Superchargers were far enough apart to make it necessary to get close to that distance.
The onboard trip planning software determines the ideal charging stops to make to your destination. It does not take into consideration when you might want to take breaks for food, bathrooms, or just to relax. The V11 software enhancements that Tesla made available in December now handle trip waypoints, a capability we could have made good use of on our trip.
Before leaving each day, we created our own list of all the Supercharger locations along the way using the iPhone map app and noted which ones had food options we liked. We then planned our own stops and used the Tesla app to estimate the charge percentage that would be left at our planned next stop.
The Tesla app did do a good job of adjusting itself to recent driving experience. It was able to accurately forecast what the battery charge percent would be when arriving at the next Supercharger. The trip planning app is thus adequate but still has lots of room for improvement, which we are hopeful will come over time.
We ended up stopping at 24 Superchargers in 9 states. It was never necessary to wait for a charger, but there were others waiting for our spot when we left 4 times. The total charging cost was $315 for 3,250 miles or slightly below 10 cents per actual mile driven. Gasoline for our CRV would have cost more than twice as much.
When navigating to a Supercharger, the software navigates to the parking lot where they are located. At that point, it can take a few minutes of wandering about to find exactly where they have been tucked away. They are most often in a remote corner of the lot. There are usually bathrooms near Superchargers, but the app does not tell you where. Finding one you can use can involve wandering around for a while, so if your need is urgent, we recommend finding a usable bathroom before hooking up to charge.
On a few occasions, we discovered through trial and error that not all of the charger ports were working. It would be nice if an indicator light was added to the stations. We found that the custom now seems to be to leave the cable off its hook if it is out of order. In one case, we slowly discovered that a number of new stations that looked fine were not yet operational. The December V11 software update now shows how many chargers are working at each location, but I am not sure if it indicates the specific ones that are inoperable.
A few of our stops were truly memorable. The best was in Shamrock Texas off Interstate 40. We wondered when pulling in why the charger location was further from the highway than usual and why it was behind a strange-looking building. It turned out to be a lovingly restored old Conoco gas station built in 1938 along the legendary Route 66. The site is so iconic that it was the inspiration for the garage depicted in Disney’s Cars animated movies. It included a wonderful replica of a diner from that era and a gift shop/museum filled with Route 66 memorabilia.
Before this trip, I had made limited use of Autopilot. On a cross-country trip, it proved to be invaluable by reducing the stress associated with driving hours at a time at highway speeds. The one problem we had with Autopilot was occasional phantom braking. The car appeared to misread rough spots in the pavement and slow down. It never happened with anyone right behind us, so it was more of an annoyance than a safety issue, but it was disconcerting each time it happened.
One of the best things about a Tesla is how it improves over time. Many of the issues that emerged during the trip have already been addressed in the V11 software release. Navigation waypoints now make longer trips easier to plan. The new blind spot camera capability makes changing lanes on highways much easier and safer than it was. V11 release notes indicate that phantom braking has been reduced. We have not had a chance to determine if it has been completely resolved, but it is good to see that progress has been made.
The Model Y itself is wonderful and its features cannot be beat. Tesla, however, does not yet do an ideal job of communicating with its customers. Software updates with valuable enhancements come regularly. The release notes that accompany them can be terse, and sometimes overly technical. Fortunately, there are a growing number of independent websites that do a good job of explaining enhancements, keeping us informed, and interpreting what the latest tweets from Elon Musk actually mean.
Our bottom line was that long road trips are not only possible but highly enjoyable in a Tesla. The need to charge every 150 to 200 miles for 30 minutes or more did add an hour or so each day to our travel time. For a retired couple not in a great hurry, the need to stop a little more often for longer than a gas fill-up would have taken made no difference.
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