Tesla Model 3: 6,700 Miles In

Since my last post about my Tesla Model 3 experiences, I’ve driven it another 2,700 miles and have taken two long trips. Here are new things that I’ve learned.

Losing Charge Overnight

We drove to Manhattan and stayed for two weeks. Yes, I know that it is crazy to take a car into Manhattan, but we needed to transport a bunch of stuff and people, including bringing our newborn granddaughter home from the hospital. Stupid as bringing a car to Manhattan was, we learned some things.

We charged the car at the 47th Street supercharger upon arriving in Manhattan, planning to not have to charge during our stay in Manhattan. (The supercharger is in a commercial parking garage, which charges for an hour of parking, plus you still pay the supercharger fees.)

Plummeting Charge

The manual says that the car will lose about 1% of charge daily when unused, which was fine for our stay. We were surprised when we took the car out of the garage and it was down 4 or 5% per day. A quick check of the mileage ruled out any joyrides by the garage attendants.

So much for charging when we entered Manhattan and then not having to bother about it. I tried turning off Sentry Mode from the app, but it only helped a little. Partway through our stay I had to go back to the supercharger. Not good.

This was also concerning because we often leave a car at the airport while we’re gone for a few weeks.

Testing at Home

When we returned home, I left the car unplugged for several nights in my garage to test the battery drain. Surprise: no problem.

The Culprit

So, I set up an appointment at the Tesla Service Center. They tested the battery and said it was fine. They also looked at the car’s logs for our time in Manhattan and suggested that the culprit was the new Summon feature. Huh?

Summon was delivered as an update a few weeks before our trip. I tried it out and decided it was a nice parlor trick but not good enough to be genuinely useful. I demonstrated it to some out-of-town visitors and they were suitably wowed. And, to be slightly cynical, perhaps it was enough to let Tesla recognize some revenue for delivering “self driving”.

But what did this have to do with my battery drain? Turns out that Summon has a Standby mode, where it leaves the car ready to respond quickly to a summon. The service center tech suggested I turn standby off. He also suggested that I turn sentry mode off from the car not the app.

So, why didn’t my test at home show battery drain? By default, both Standby mode for Summon and Sentry Mode are off at your home location.

Please, Tesla

Problem solved. But I sure wish that when Tesla introduces a new feature that affects important but unrelated aspects of the car‘s behavior it makes that very clear. Would have saved me a lot of time and a little angst.

Taking a Long Day Trip

For reasons I won’t bore you with, my wife and I needed to drive from Chapel Hill, NC to St. Petersburg, FL in a day, stay overnight, pick up some stuff early the next morning, then drive to Atlanta for Christmas-eve dinner and Christmas day with relatives, then return to Chapel Hill the next day.

Google Maps says that the trip to St. Petersburg takes 10.5 hours. So, we figured that a trip in a gasoline-fueled car would take maybe 13 hours with traffic, rest breaks, and food stops. We knew it would take longer in the Tesla, so we set out from Chapel Hill at 6 am with the car charged to 100%.

Slow Down!

The trip planner had us making our first charging stop at Santee, SC, arriving at the supercharger with single-digit charge percentage. It was disconcerting when the car started warning that if we drove over 65 mph we would not reach the supercharger.

We manually replanned to make an earlier charging stop at Florence, SC to avoid the annoyance of driving below the speed limit on a busy road.

Waiting in Line

Our next charging stop was at the Savannah, GA supercharger, which is in the airport parking garage. Two of the supercharger stalls were broken and the rest were all occupied, including one where the charging was complete.

Got to meet some friendly Tesla drivers, which was great. But it was an hour before we got a stall.

The “line” was informal and there were actually two of them in different lanes. Everyone was friendly, but we did need to have some discussion about who had arrived first. There was an attendant — not clear if he worked for the garage or for Tesla — who helped organize the line. He told me that the evening before there were 13 cars waiting to charge. Not good!

This was our first experience having to wait to charge.

Eating

There’s no avoiding the extra time it takes to charge. One of the most effective ways to reduce overall travel time is to eat while charging. Bringing food in the car, or getting takeout somewhere near the charger, or having a restaurant choice in walking distance of the charger lets you overlap eating and charging. On a long trip, this can make a big difference.

But it takes planning. The information to do this planning is available, but not conveniently. This could be improved.

Please, Tesla

Of course, Tesla needs to make sure that all stalls are working and to rapidly expand the supercharger network as the Tesla Model 3 becomes popular.

Tesla could also take some shorter-term steps that would help:

  1. Have an automated check in process when arriving at fully-utilized superchargers that sequences the waiting cars and directs drivers to an available stall when it is that car’s turn.
  2. Propose adjustments to the charging plan based on current and historical usage patterns at particular superchargers to avoid sending more cars to already overloaded superchargers. This could be done much like the nav system does to go around traffic jams.
  3. Provide full information in the nav system about food possibilities at all superchargers.
  4. Allow more user input to the nav system when developing the plan:
    • Set a minimum charge level with which we’re comfortable (e.g, I want to charge before I get below 10%);
    • Set a minimum charge level at the destination (e.g., I know I need to drive first thing in the morning and want at least 30% charge);
    • Manually specify a charger to include in the plan because there’s a good place to eat nearby and the time will be appropriate.
  5. Support trip planning on the phone app. This would make it easier to plan ahead.

We Made It!

We arrived St. Petersburg at 11 pm. It would be a long day regardless, but a few better planning tools would have helped us a lot.

The Bottom Line

I love driving the Tesla Model 3. For the altruistic environmental impact reasons I discussed in my first post, I’m willing to put up with somewhat longer trips. But I’d also like to see Tesla take some further steps to minimize the inconvenience of taking long trips in an EV.