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Image by Carolyn Fortuna / CleanTechnica


The First Long-Distance Road Trip In A New Tesla Model Y

The saga focused on choosing the best charging locations and deconstructing Autopilot messaging.

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Before I left on the long-distance road trip, I researched Tesla Superchargers along the route. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate (with apologies to Charles Dickens).

The idea was to drive from southeast Florida to the state’s northern border for a technology conference, with stops along the way to visit with friends. It was the first overnight jaunt with the 2-month old Tesla Model Y, and I already felt as if I had learned a lot about the new all-electric vehicle.

I had driven smoothly and readily to local shops, museums, and restaurants. I was confident finding various settings on the touchscreen. I loved the ease of the navigation system and charging in the condo carport. It was time to venture out beyond my insular comfort zone and head out on the road.

To prepare, I scanned online maps of charging stations in the general area I’d be staying. I noted several Tesla Superchargers along the route. After also seeing an EV Charging icon under its list of amenities, I contacted the Embassy Suites by Hilton where the conference was being held and was directed to the valet. That person explained that no account with ChargePoint or other vendors would be necessary, as the hotel had a dedicated charger for its guests.

I packed, elevated the Model Y charge level from the usual 80% to 92%, examined my Autopilot profile settings, and was ready to hit the road.

Angst with Autopilot

I had come to understand from owner testimonials that a real gift of having a Tesla was its Autopilot assistance features, which would be especially helpful on a long-distance road trip.

The Route 95 corridor is filled with all kinds of vehicles and drivers who travel at various speeds in similar lanes. Have you ever driven in the Caribbean? It’s a bit like that, a kind of let-me-drive-how-I-want-to-drive mentality. Autopilot seemed as if it would infuse a bit of smooth sequencing along these long and occasionally chaotic stretches of highway.

Autopilot was fine at first when no cars were jostling for position in front of me. However, when I came upon a slow car ahead, I needed to give the steering wheel a hardy yank left to move out of my current lane to the adjacent faster moving lane. As I did so, the Model Y emitted a kind of loud kind of Shriek! Thunk. Autopilot disengaged, and I was solely in charge of driving.

Must I always disengage Autopilot before moving to another lane? That seems an extra step to take at a time in which I’m negotiating a quickly changing series of traffic events. It also means that I need to thwack the right stalk twice again when I want to return to Autopilot — not very gentle.

Is Autopilot more suitable for driving situations in which few lane changes will occur?

Later, I tried Autopilot again. I was tooling along in the middle of 3 lanes, listening to a podcast, and feeling relaxed. The touchscreen flickered with the ghost shadow of a vehicle appearing in the left lane. Then another vehicle also appeared, this time in the right lane, and Autopilot did its Shriek! Thunk call and disengaged. I was fully in control of driving again.

I chose to use just cruise control a bit later, to decline lane centering for a while, when a lot of traffic around me was traveling at the relatively same speed. The cruise control displayed a periodic error message that said “will not stop and brake” (to paraphrase). Later, however, when coming upon a car in the same lane going at a slower speed, the car decelerated abruptly, triggering a flight response in me and probably catching a vehicle traveling behind me unawares. Did the former happen because I had hit the accelerator and exceeded the set speed? Did the latter occur because the vehicle was again traveling at the set speed?

What I Did Wrong Anticipating Charging Availability

I had set Navigate to direct me to my destination. I had seen on help menus that Superchargers would become evident on the Tesla touchscreen map through Lightning Bolt icons. As I drove, I kept waiting for all the Superchargers to display along exit ramps — I knew there were several to be had. I clicked the Settings Trip Planner to “Add Supercharger stops if necessary,” so I felt I was good to go.

After continuing on and not seeing any Superchargers appear on the Navigate map, I decided that the car would tell me when it thought I needed to find a Tesla Supercharger. I had somehow thought that the entire trip would be mapped out, charging by charging stage, but it is a computer on wheels, right? Shouldn’t all available Superchargers display along all Navigation routes? It must know, I rationalized. I wasn’t deterred.

The charge level was quite robust for the first couple hours of the trip — with the Model Y Long Range option, it seemed as if meandering along the Atlantic coast of Florida from nearly one end to the other wouldn’t be that arduous. Then, suddenly, the level started to fall precipitously, seeming to lessen more significantly as it dropped below the 50% mark. It lost charge more quickly at a 45% remaining balance than it did at the 70% mark. Hmm.

As the charge level fell, I started to scrutinize the Navigate map for hints of Superchargers. I also watched signs near exit ramps that indicate amenities like hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. Why doesn’t this signage include Tesla Superchargers too? Is Tesla too anti-advertising to want to pay the fees to feature its nearby banks of Superchargers? I mused.

I finally decided to use one of my favorite devices on the Model Y: the voice command. I pressed in the wheel on the right side of the steering wheel and said, “Show Superchargers.” Yowza! A whole list of Superchargers appeared, with several from which to choose along the parts of Rt. 95 that I was traveling. But, by that point, I was so close to my hotel destination, with the promise of an EV charger ready and waiting for me, that I decided to plod along ahead, even though the charge was dropping to nearly 20%.

I suspect you know what’s coming.

Upon arrival, the hotel valet nodded and assured me they knew both how to drive the Tesla and how to plug it in. Off I went with my luggage and checked into my room. A few minutes later, however, I checked the charging screen on my iPhone. “Parked” was all it said — nothing about charging.

Um, the valet conceded when I tracked them down, the plug needed a special adapter, and the engineer for the building couldn’t seem to locate it. The “EV Charging” that the hotel had proudly displayed on its website was no more than a 110 household plug. The adapters I carried didn’t fit. Even if I could plug it in there, it would take my entire stay to recharge the Model Y.

What I Did Right to Get Charged Up

Now knowing how to find available Superchargers through the audio command, I had the valet bring the car around, left the oceanfront area, and headed back 10 miles to the highway. Then, just as the charging level dropped to an ominous red 11% level, a Wawa appeared out of the night shopping center glare.

It took little more than a quick swing to the rear of the store, backing into the parking space, and retrieval of my Tesla charging cable. The car already knew how I would pay, of course, having registered my credit card with Tesla upon ordering the vehicle.

Within 5 minutes, the charge level had moved up to a very respectable level. It was filling up quickly and efficiently.

The green glow on the touchscreen was so warm and soothing. I felt as one with my Model Y and Tesla Supercharger. I will never forsake you again, I silently promised. I have learned my lesson. I will always use the Tesla Supercharger and build in time to charge on a longer road trip. I promise. Promise!

Final Thoughts

Clearly, this article is written from the point of view of a new owner who’s seeking some advice from more experienced Tesla drivers. I still think that driving a Tesla makes life easier. I also have lots of questions about the optimal way to use Autopilot. I want to hear best practices to set the Trip Planner to navigate to multiple Supercharger stops while on a several hundred mile trip.

I do ask you to remember Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development as you respond, however: humans only get to the next level of meaning and understanding when they are guided ahead slowly, methodically, and kindly by another human being.

So be noble while I’m being humble here, dear reader. Help me and others who are either new to Tesla or thinking about joining the Tesla family to get to that next level of Tesla meaning-making, okay?


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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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