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My Tesla Model 3 in 8 inches of new snow. Brighton Ski Resort, Utah. December 26, 2021. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

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Winter Driving Adventures In My Tesla Model 3

You have probably been reading about the atmospheric river that has brought incredible rain, flooding and destruction to California this winter. That atmospheric river hasn’t stopped at California but has continued up to Utah. At higher elevations the precipitation falls as snow instead of rain. Our ski resorts have been inundated with the most massive snowfall we have seen in years. At midseason, the resorts have already received almost 500 inches of snow, which is the average for the whole winter. Snow is piled up to 20 ft high on the sides of the roads at Brighton. (See below.)

My Tesla Model 3 and 12 ft snow piles on the sides of the road. Brighton Ski Resort, Utah. January 30, 2023. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

You can see what happened to me last winter in the picture at top when we got 8” of new snow from the time I arrived at the ski resort where I teach at 7:00 a.m. until I was barely able to leave at 11:00 a.m. It happened to me again this year. I took my 12-year-old grandson up to see what night skiing was like a few weeks ago. The 4-wheel drive warning light was flashing as we entered the canyon, but I had no trouble driving up the road with my dual-motor Model 3. However, after skiing for 4 hours, my car was snowed in again. You can see what my Tesla Model 3 looked like at night a few weeks later after light snowfall:

Night at Brighton Ski Resort, Utah. January 25, 2023. Photo by Fritz Hasler

This time I grabbed a shovel from the ski school and 15 minutes later my grandson had cleared a path and I had dug out the wheels with my gloves, so we could make a run for it. On the second item of the control menu on my Tesla screen (the Pedals & Steering sub-menu), I activated the Slip-Start control at the bottom. A car loaded with 6 skiers pulled in just as we were ready to go, and they helped push us out of the parking spot. A guy started pushing on my open driver’s side window and directed me since I was driving backwards and couldn’t see where I was going. Finally, we started on the plowed road down the canyon.

I had almost no clue where the road ended and the huge piles of snow on each side began. It then occurred to me that with all the commotion of digging and pushing that we hadn’t cleaned the new fallen snow off the headlights for the second time. I stopped, my grandson wiped the headlights clean, and I could finally see the road. We started down the snow-covered canyon road at 25 mph with no cars in front of us. A half mile down the road, we came upon a car going ~5 mph. I tapped the brakes … nothing! … The road was so slippery that we had nearly zero traction. I was just barely able to get my car down to 5 mph without hitting the car in front of me. Now it was 5 mph for the next 5 miles. That was just slow enough to keep from losing control. As we got to lower elevations, the snow turned to rain and the road began to clear. The cars in front of us increased their speed and we were traveling at 30 mph by the time we got to the bottom of the canyon.

The next 20 miles on I-15 went uneventfully. We exited the freeway and drove the next 3 miles up the hill to our house. However, on the last 200 yards to our house, we heard a scraping noise under the car. I pulled into the driveway and my son took a look under the car. He grabbed some branch-clipping shears and clipped off a big piece of the fiber apron that protects the bottom of the car.

The Tesla Model 3 has 5.5″ clearance underneath. My 2019 Model 3 has a flimsy multipart fiberboard skid plate/undercarriage under the whole car. I have now on two occasions ripped off a piece of one of the undercarriage parts. The first time, I didn’t see 12″ of water in a flash flood and hit it at ~40 mph. It ripped off the rearmost part of the undercarriage board. Just now, I  was driving out of a ski resort parking lot in deep snow and ripped off a piece of the front part of the undercarriage. The replacement part is made out of plastic instead of fiberboard. However, it still doesn’t look very durable. Warning!: Avoid driving over water, snow, or rocks that might damage the undercarriage.

We had planned to make the 200-mile run to Southern Utah the next day, so the next morning I drove the 4 miles to our brand-new Pleasant Grove Tesla Service Center for an evaluation. They said it was no problem for our road trip but to come in again in a couple of weeks to replace the under-apron.

I was surprised to learn that Tesla had scheduled a mobile service technician to come to my house to make the repair even though the distance from my house to the Tesla Pleasant Grove Service Center is only 4 miles. The technician arrived right on time in his Model S with the rear seat removed to make space for all his equipment (See below.)

Tesla mobile repair technician with his Model S. January 26, 2023. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

A short time later, he had my car jacked up, the rest of the fiber under-apron had been removed, and he was about to install a new plastic apron to replace it. (See below.) Unfortunately, there were some stripped threads that made it impossible to securely fasten the new apron. A separate service center appointment would be needed to complete the repair.

Tesla mobile repair technician jacking up my car and holding the new under-apron. January 26, 2023. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Two days ago (last Saturday), I got up at 5:00 a.m. to get a jump on the traffic going the 18 miles up the canyon to Brighton. However, I made four mistakes. 1) I knew that I only had 2/32” tread on my rear tires and had procrastinated getting new tires. 2) I failed to check the snow forecast. 3) I failed to keep a snow shovel in my trunk. 4) With 50 years of winter driving experience with two-wheel drive cars in Wisconsin, Colorado, Maryland, and Utah, I overestimated the traction of my dual-motor Model 3 with little tread on the tires on steep sections of the canyon. I made it 14 miles up the canyon before I slid off the side of the road in 4” of fresh snow that had not been plowed recently.

Brighton received 17 “of snow overnight, but the snow report was not available at the time I made the trip. I hitchhiked the last 4 miles to Brighton, borrowed a shovel, and hitched back to my car. Fortunately, a policeman in a big 4-wheel-drive police truck with huge snow tires was waiting to help me. We dug out my car, he hooked up a strap to the receiver on the back of my car (for my bike rack, etc.), and he pulled my car out of the snow to a big plowed driveway across the road, also changing the direction of my car to downhill.

I was soon on my way driving safely back down the canyon. I stopped for a drink and made an appointment for new tire installation near my home 20 miles south on I-15. I was 4 miles from my intended exit when, to my horror, my car reported low pressure in my left rear tire. The pressure quickly dropped from 20 psi to 10 psi to 5 psi to 0 psi and I was still 1.5 miles from the next exit. I dropped my speed and somehow managed to make it to the exit and to a tire store only ¼ mile from the exit. I now have 4 new all-season tires with excellent snow tread. When there is snow in the canyon, cars are required to have 4-wheel drive or chains. Conservative drivers will also have dedicated snow tires. Some even have studded tires. I will make do as I have for the last 18 years with all-season tires, but if there is a big snowfall forecast, I will avoid the canyon in my Tesla. I will also avoid driving in deep snow in the parking lot, as I don’t want to strip the under-apron off my car yet again.

Note: When I brought my car to the Tesla service center a few weeks ago to have a squeaky suspension system bushing replaced, I was allotted $100/day of Uber credits for the two days it took to make the repairs. This time I was told that Tesla doesn’t give Uber credits when a car is out of warranty. Go figure!

 
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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

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