Posted on December 03, 2019 by Matt Pressman
Above: The Big Dipper and the Model 3 (Instagram: @aPowerTrip)
If anyone has heard me talk about this epic road trip in-person, or seen @aPowerTrip, my Instagram account, you would think I couldn’t possibly have anything bad to say about the Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, no car is perfect and there's definitely room for improvement. Admittedly, some are first world problems, some are just quirks that take some getting used to — there's a lot to love with the Model 3 (as evidenced in Part 1). But like any bout of true love, there's bound to be a few quibbles and challenges along the way.
Day-to-day driving around your city will most likely be fine, but the reality of driving this car around the country without satellite connectivity creates some issues. The wi-fi connection to the car is very inconsistent. We lost the signal A LOT - leaving us with no streaming music and more importantly - no "live" GPS. Losing that connection in the middle of Nowhere, Montana while driving with 20% battery - not sure if we’d make it to a charger - is NOT fun.
In this particular case, the GPS went out with NO WARNING - the entire center screen actually shut down while driving and rebooted with no destination. It had NO connection so it couldn’t route us anywhere or even show us our surroundings on the map. My phone had no connection (T-Mobile is the worst) and we had no paper maps either. I guess it's just part of the adventure of going all digital on a long road trip.
Above: Joshua Tree, CA (Instagram: @aPowerTrip)
One tip: If you're going on a countrywide road trip in the Model 3 and are really concerned about this - get a cellular hotspot or alternative Satellite GPS to be sure to stay connected.
The roof is beautiful to view from the inside (and outside). But, if you're in this car for any length of time while the sun heats up the glass, realize that the car heats up too. There were actually times I couldn’t touch the inside of the glass because of the heat. For the first month of the trip - even in cooler temperatures - the sun would cook the glass and force me to crank the AC to fight off the heat pulsing down from it.
It can be a bit like sitting under a giant magnifying glass. I bought a sunshade for the roof that I installed for the second half of the trip and it definitely helped. This is a must-have accessory if you're doing any kind of long term day travel in the Model 3. The sunshade solved the issue easily enough, but I need to note - EVERY Tesla ‘expert’ assured me repeatedly that this would not be an issue at all. Trust me - if you're on a long road trip, it can be.
Anyone who has approached the Model S or Model X knows that the door handles are very slick. They slide out when you unlock the car making it very easy to simply pull open the car door. On the Model 3, it's a bit different. You'll need to (somewhat awkwardly) push your thumb into one end and loop your fingers around the other to pull the handle to, in turn, open the door. It's not a huge problem, but it is clunky and a lot less convenient than most door handles on a ‘normal’ car.
Above: Cafe Dumonde in New Orleans (Instagram: @aPowerTrip)
That said, Model 3's door handles do LOOK amazing. However, when you are getting in and out of the car as frequently as I was on this trip it became very frustrating. Often, with hands full of camera gear, dog leash, bags, etc... there was no easy way to open the door or access my phone in order to unlock it. I often had to put something down to free up my hand to poke and pull the door handle effectively.
If the handles were more like the Model S or Model X, I could have easily pulled the door open with an available finger. I understand Tesla was saving some money here and wanted a cool design, but as good as these handles look - in my experience, they're not user-friendly long term.
In addition, the phone app doesn’t always AUTO unlock the car. This was inconsistent over the entire trip. Even with full reception on the phone, I would approach the car and the doors wouldn't unlock. I’d pull at the handle a few times, reposition my body to make sure the phone was close enough, and still nothing. If I discovered the phone was disconnected from the network I would then put my stuff down, fish out my wallet, pull out the key card, tap it on the side of the car and then - open the door. By the end of the summer I was missing my old key fob. [Note: Tesla offers a Model 3 key fob now and it might be worth buying one if you find this to be an issue.]
Another tip: more often than not, I activate the app on the phone and remotely unlock the doors as I approach the car to avoid the ‘auto-unlock’ not working.
There's an odd design flaw with the dashboard and the front door windows. In bright sunlight - 90% of our summer drive - there's a visible reflection of the wood panel on the driver and passenger window that crosses right over the side mirrors. A quick glance into your side mirrors can be frustrating when your eye immediately focuses on the wood panel reflection and NOT the traffic. I noticed this in the Model 3 I test drove, which had a white interior. I didn’t think the darker interior would be as bad - and it isn’t - but this remains an odd design flaw worth noting. My father - who's a HUGE car buff - found this to be his number one complaint about the Model 3 after driving it for an hour. Outside of that he loved the car.
Above: Houston Freeway (Instagram: @aPowerTrip)
With all of Model 3's high-tech features, I was puzzled by how funky the frunk's hood closes. You have to place two hands on the hood near the logo and push really hard. Yes, you can do this with one hand, but I was told that you can easily bend or dent the hood doing this. Is this a big deal? No, not at all. But it doesn’t feel right on such a high-end car. And accessing items from the frunk [I actually found the frunk pretty handy for storage purposes as noted in Part 1] as often as I needed to can become a little bit cumbersome.
I wish they allowed the user to reset the view on the GPS as needed. Often I was having to type in various destinations to figure out where we were going and determine if we had enough miles to get there. After entering a destination and looking at the ‘big picture’ view on the map - the Navigation would auto default back to a close up of the ‘arrow’ view. I’d have to ‘pinch’ back out only to watch it default and zoom back again. This got frustrating since I was consistently having to use the navigation to add up miles and daily routes [Note: this has improved since the most recent software update]. At times, I ended up using Google maps (on my phone) as a backup. There is an option in the upper right to switch to different GPS views - I just wish they could deactivate the auto default.
Would I still buy the car and take the trip? HELL YES. I love the car. I loved the trip and I plan on traveling more this fall. We traveled 20,000 miles in 100 days and only spent $174.50 to stay charged! It would have easily cost over $1,500 dollars in gas to travel that distance plus oil changes and maintenance. My Model 3 only needed two tire rotations and a gallon of windshield fluid.
Above: A Supercharger in Tennessee (Instagram: @aPowerTrip)
If you have any questions about my experience with the Model 3 or advice regarding the above - please reach out via @aPowerTrip on Instagram. And if you are buying or leasing a Tesla please use my referral code: Jonathan96658 to earn free miles for us both!
Written by: Jonathan David Harris aka @aPowerTrip; Editor's Note: @aPowerTrip follows the author and his dog, Indy, as they travel in his Model 3 across the USA. Harris was determined to stay off the main freeways and explore the country gas-free using Tesla's Superchargers, Destination Charging and plugging into outlets at parks and hotels across the country. Check out JDH's video for more.