Tesla is building and selling cars at a rate of over one million per year now, so there are a lot of people out there who will need to know a few things about their new Tesla (or other EV).
I took delivery of my first Nissan LEAF in February 2014, my second LEAF in March 2016, my third LEAF in May 2018, and my first Tesla on October 22, 2019. I’m trying to now pass on some things I’ve learned from driving four different electric vehicles over 8 years and going over 100,000 miles in them.
My current car, Roxanne, is a Tesla Model 3 with 65,225 miles on it, my brother and our best friends have Tesla Model S’s, and my daughter has a Tesla Model X. Therefore, I am most knowledgeable about the Nissan LEAF and Teslas and my advice here will be swayed by that.
What do I need to know?
What’s different about driving electric? The Tesla Model 3 and Model Y have a single 20” monitor that controls almost all of the functions of the car, but how do I operate the car? Which model and what options should I consider?
We’ll get into those topics. First, some reasons why you shouldn’t be worried about buying an electric vehicle.
1. Most people think that electric cars are much more inconvenient than gas cars. After all, there is a gas station on every corner and it only takes 5 minutes to fill up. Electric chargers are rare, and it takes at least an hour to charge.
Actually, if you have access to 220-volt electricity or a charger at home or work, an electric vehicle is much more convenient than a gas car for 250+ miles per day of local driving.
In principle: In the evening, you drive into your garage, carport, or driveway, take 10 seconds to plug in, and then the next morning, you have a full charge and take 10 seconds to unplug.
Compare that with a gas car. You probably have to make a couple of special trips per week to the gas station, put in your credit card, grab the smelly nozzle, put it in your car, and wait five minutes to fill. Then you return the smelly nozzle to the pump.
Every 3,000 miles you need to go to a Jiffy Lube and sit in their smelly waiting room for an hour while they change your oil.
Every year, you need to go to an inspection station and wait an hour in their smelly waiting room while they do an emissions check.
These three tasks are all eliminated with an electric vehicle, which makes it much more convenient.
2. Everyone knows that long distance trips in an electric car are inconvenient or even impossible because there aren’t enough charging stations and it takes an hour if you can find one, right? Right?
Wrong: Every 100 miles along all the major Interstate highways and on many other routes, Tesla has built Superchargers with 4 to 8 stalls. In California and other primary Tesla routes, you will find Superchargers with up to 40 and soon 100 stalls. By the time you have gone to the bathroom, walked the dog, and chatted with a fellow Tesla owner for a few minutes, you probably have more than enough charge to continue your journey. Usually, charging takes about 20 minutes. If you need a longer charge, you may want to grab some fast food before you charge or need to watch a bit of Octopus Teacher or Back to the Future II on Netflix on the big screen in the car for another 10 minutes.
My wife and I have done cross-country trips from Utah to Wisconsin, on to North Carolina, back to Utah, and on to California at the same 500 miles per day rate that we used to do with our gas cars … and with no worries.
However: At this point, charging any other brand of EV on long trips requires much more planning, and it will be that way in the US for at least a couple more years. Also, even the latest model LEAF continues to use the dying CHAdeMO charging standard and continues to have not-so-effective air cooling of the battery. So, don’t take delivery on a Nissan LEAF if you plan to do more than local driving.
How do you charge at home?
All Teslas and higher end LEAFs come with an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment). On one end of the cable is the plug that goes into your car, and on the other end is an interchangeable plug. The one that came with a Tesla until a recent policy change (which may end up being reversed) is a standard 110V plug, but for $40, you can buy a 220V NEMA 14-50 plug. Almost all RV parks have NEMA 14-50 outlets. If you have 220V service in your garage, you can have one installed for about $200. Northern Lights Electric installed one in my garage in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, for $130. An electrician in Saint George, Utah, installed one in our garage there for $250. It cost about $500 to have 220V service run to my garage in Lindon, Utah. I had a L2 charger installed there for another $700, which I needed for my first Nissan Leaf. The L2 charger is not necessary if you have an EVSE — you only need a NEMA 14-50 outlet.
L2 (Level 2) charging gives you about 28 miles of range in one hour. My Tesla has 310 miles of range, so, in principle, it would charge from dead empty to full in ~11 hours. However, I am rarely at dead empty and I normally only charge to 80%, so usually I am only charging from one to five hours. Note: If you want your battery to last as long as possible, don’t charge over 80% or let the charge go below 20%. This is easier to do if you have a bigger battery.
L1 (Level 1) charging only gives you about 4 miles of range per hour. However, if you drive less than 100 miles/day this works. We have friends who would need upgrade the electrical service to the whole house to get 220V service to the garage and they have gotten along fine with L1 charging. This works especially well since they have a second car. They also have a clothes dryer near the garage. They are able to use its 220V service or nearby Superchargers in special cases. Editor’s note: When not using free Tesla Supercharging or other free public chargers in our area, I use L1 charging. When you consider how much time you spend at home — sleeping, eating, watching TV, hanging out — you probably have much more time for easily charging the car than you realize, and that amount of charging probably adds far more miles than you use in daily driving.
What if you live in a condo or other place where you can’t install your own charger? We expect governments to pass regulations soon to make it easier to get charging stations installed at your parking place. With considerable effort, my brother was able to get 220V service for L2 charging in the garage of his condo in Madison, Wisconsin. If you have a L2 charger at work, that can also solve the problem. Additionally, there are many Superchargers in cities, and if you live near one you can fill up there just as you would with a gas station.
There’s much more to write, so a Part 2 on what new EV drivers should know about life with an EV is coming soon.
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