I needed to drive to Houston from Austin and back the other day and thought—why not make my life more difficult and drive an electric car for the road trip. Having to go to Houston is painful enough…let me make it worse.
So I found a Tesla on Turo, one of my favorite sites ever, where I can find all kinds of cool cars to drive when I feel like taking perfectly valuable dollars and throwing them away. When I told the owner of the Tesla that I was planning on driving his car over 400 miles roundtrip in one day, he said: “Are you crazy? Go find another car.”
No, luckily he didn’t say that. As a matter of fact, he was quite accommodating and gave me some good tips on how to handle a trip like this in a Tesla. Obviously, when it comes to driving this many miles in one day in a Tesla, it takes some planning. It’s not like you can charge a Tesla anywhere, so you have to make sure that your route includes charging stations.
My best bet would be to use the Tesla superchargers since normal chargers located around the city would take many many hours to recharge the Tesla. I could potentially use other faster chargers, but I didn’t want to bother getting certified in “99 ways you can charge your battery-operated-human-transporter” and do a whole bunch of research.
That being said, I was curious about finding out just how long a regular “slow” charger would take to charge the Tesla so I could get an idea of what I was dealing with. I downloaded the Chargepoint app and immediately found out how hard it is to find these chargers.
At first glance, you might think that the app pinpoints the exact location of the charger but once you get to the general vicinity, you quickly realize that it’s a trick. The green pointy bubbles don’t mean anything because you’ll be driving around in circles to find the actual charging station, or in my case, go from one bubble to the next. The chargers are tough to find because they are usually located in a dark corner of a parking garage where someone is waiting to rob you as soon as you step out of your car.
The irony of this whole thing is that by the time you find the charger, you only end up putting the miles back in the battery that you wasted driving around looking for one. After about an hour of using one of those chargers, I only got 10 miles out of it.
This wasn’t going to work. If I had any hope to making it to Houston and back to Austin on the same day, I had no choice but to supercharge.
Heading out to Columbus, Texas
The hard thing about the P85 is that it’s impossible not to accelerate as much as possible—everywhere possible. There is so much effortless torque instantaneously generated that the rollercoaster effect can put a smile on the grumpiest of grumpy bastards. The downside to all this acceleration is, of course, the massive loss of battery power. Because I got carried away with my electric power enjoyment the previous night, I was only left with 130 miles on the battery and had to get to Columbus which was 90 miles away.
As I embarked on the trip, I ran into another problem. With gasoline-powered cars, highway driving is great; you get improved gas mileage and the car drives better. With the Tesla however, keeping up with traffic on an 80 mph toll road meant that the battery had to work extra hard to spin the electric motors and so it was draining much faster than I expected.
And after mile after mile of freeway driving, the Tesla dwindled down to a capacity of only 50 miles with Columbus still 30 miles away. I was starting to get worried. It might seem like I had plenty of cushion, but in rural Texas, where the probability of finding a charger in a three-stoplight town was about as likely as a Galaxy Note 7 not blowing up in your face, I couldn’t take any chances.
I had to find that supercharger in Columbus, because if not, I would be…oh what’s the word…that’s right…f#*(&!.
Watching the battery power drop, I lowered my speed to 55 mph, braking at every opportune moment—even if there was a barely perceptible downward slope. Anything I could do to hold onto every bit of charge. Gigantic semis, grandmas in Cadillacs, Corollas towing boats—they all passed me.
20, 19, 18…miles were disappearing before my eyes quicker and quicker.
Finally, with only 15 miles to spare, I arrived at Columbus and found the supercharger located behind a motel. There was almost nothing in that town except for six superchargers. I plugged in the Tesla, entered the empty lobby of the Comfort Inn and hung out with a couple of heavily used, worn out couches, presumably used mostly by Telsa owners.
I waited around for 30 minutes while the Tesla went from a range of 15 miles to 190 miles. Charging the first 80% is quick, but it’s that last 20% to get you to full charge that takes another hour. But I didn’t need a full charge. I needed just enough to get to the Houston supercharger.
Once I got to Houston, did what I needed to do, I headed up north another 20 miles to find the next supercharger. This time it was at a nice Tesla dealer, where I hung out, again, with some nicer couches for another 30 minutes before driving back to Columbus.
I think you’re seeing that a road trip in a Tesla is really about going from one charging station to the next and waiting. Forget about that job interview you can’t miss, making it to a concert by 8 pm, or going to emergency room to find out if you tore a muscle doing a burpee. All that must wait because your utmost priority is to find that charging station.
And you have to know exactly where it’s located because you might not have the luxury to look around for one. Relaxing in a Tesla when you’re in the middle of nowhere is not possible because you’ll always be worried about running out of juice. It’s like when you’re down to the last 1% on your phone and you don’t know if you’re going to be able to finish that Facebook comment on someone’s picture of their newly purchased silverware—imagine that stress multiplied by 1000.
Also, you have to cross your fingers and hope that nothing unexpected happens. On the way back to Austin from Columbus, I thought I’d have plenty of charge left, but I encountered tons of traffic, roadblocks and detours. It took me an hour longer than expected to get back into town and by the time I dropped off the car to the owner, I was, once again, running out of battery.
I was kind of relieved at dropping off the Tesla because there’s too much mental agony and stress involved in trying to keep the battery charged. Taking a Tesla on a road trip isn’t worth it, although, I think the Tesla would be a fantastic daily driver around town and here’s why.
First, you have so much torque available that getting out of a sticky situation is really easy. Need to get around someone who’s about to ram into you? No problem. Just floor it and get around them in seconds. Stuck behind someone going at 30 when you really want to go 60 with the rest of the traffic? No problem. Floor the pedal and go. Angry at the driver in front of you? No problem. Depress the accelerator all the way, pull up next to them immediately, and carry out your preferred offensive gesture.
Similarly, if you need to stop quickly just lift your foot off the accelerator. The automated regenerative braking makes sure that you slow down right away which makes stop-and-go traffic a breeze. Why unnecessarily exert yourself by pivoting on the heel of your tired foot going back and forth between the accelerator and the brake? Allow it to rest in peace while the Tesla does all the work. Or use Autopilot.
Lastly, there is no gas to pay for. Charging is largely free and if you don’t mind plugging in your Tesla every night somewhere, it’s nice to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in gas each month. It slightly eases the burden of paying $1500 a month for that really expensive Model S.
As great as Teslas are, we just don’t have the infrastructure in place yet to make driving electric vehicles easy. Humans love convenience and until electric vehicles are as easy to own and operate as a combustion engine vehicle, mass adoption won’t take place. But it could happen some day. Who knows. In the meantime, we will all just keep contributing to global warming because it’s easier.