Exclusive Interview: How 2 guys crossed Canada in 3 days in a Tesla Model 3
Trevor Page and Ian Pavelko are two luminaries of the Tesla community. Trevor runs the popular Tesla Owners Online forum, along with a companion YouTube channel and Twitter feed. Ian is a co-host of the Tesla Owners Online podcast. He's also Director of Technical Services at Fastco Canada — known by many within the Model 3 community for the sleek Fast EV01+ wheels.
Above: Ian Pavelko and Trevor Page (Source: Ian Pavelko)
When I recently spoke with Trevor and Ian, there was plenty to talk about—the many things they’ve done to spread the word about electric vehicles, Trevor’s passionate love for his Performance Model 3, his excitement about the Cybertruck (interestingly, he said some of the same things about Tesla’s electric pickup that I heard from Tesla roadtrip guru Steve Sasman). But what I really wanted to hear about was the historic trip that Trevor and Ian had taken (before COVID-19).
The Fast EV Lightning Run was a 3,810-mile coast-to-coast odyssey across Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Tesla recently lit up a string of new Superchargers along the Trans-Canada Highway, making it more convenient than ever to traverse the sprawling country in a Tesla, and Trevor and Ian were keen to give the network a thorough test.
The two Teslanauts drove a Performance Model 3 across Canada in 73 hours and 27 minutes, including charging stops. An impressive time, and surely the best ever, but setting a speed record was a secondary goal. The main point was to demonstrate the viability of EVs on long road trips, and to show that they can handle cold weather. “We proved you can drive long distances in the cold, and that charging doesn’t take that long,” said Trevor.
Above: Trevor shows the map of Superchargers across Canada (Source: Ian Pavelko)
The two took turns driving, and stopped only to charge the battery. How comfortable was the snoozing? Did they stretch out in the back? No, Trevor told me they each slept right in the passenger seat (with earplugs and an eye mask to block out distractions). “The car seat actually reclines quite far back,” said Trevor. “It almost touches the rear set, so it’s almost like a bed. That was my biggest worry, being able to sleep in the car, and it turns out that was not an issue at all.”
Was there a lot of snow and ice? Not by Canadian standards. One place it “got a little dicey” was the Coquihalla Highway, a high mountain pass in British Columbia that’s notorious for icy accidents (signs warn drivers to watch out for sudden changes in weather, and there’s a whole TV show about wintertime rescues on this stretch), but Trevor and Ian made it through without incident. They also ran into some snow on a stretch near Lake Superior where the highway is only two lanes.
They hit pretty much every Supercharger along the route, stopping every two hours or so, for a total of 40 charging stops. They only skipped two: one that was out of service, and another that was located in an inconvenient, high-traffic area of downtown Ottawa.
Above: Charging up (Source: Ian Pavelko)
They did this for two reasons. One of their main themes was demonstrating the convenience of charging on a long road trip. Also, it turns out that making more frequent, shorter charging stops is more efficient, and results in less time spent charging overall.
Tesla activated the Trans-Canada charging route in December. Before this, Superchargers were already plentiful near both coasts, but sparse in the prairie provinces. Many of the new sites (about 25 out of the 40 that our adventurers visited) include Tesla’s new V3 chargers, which can deliver charging rates of up to 250 kW.
“Because those chargers are positioned about 150 km apart, you can hopscotch between them at a low state of charge,” said Trevor. “If you pull in with your [state of charge] at 10% or less, those new V3 chargers charge incredibly fast.” Trevor and Ian tried to hit each Supercharger at a low state of charge, so they could charge more quickly. “There’s a law of diminishing returns—when you charge past about 50%, it slows down considerably. So, if you hit each one of those chargers, you’re spending a short time at each one—we calculated that we spent an average of about 18 minutes at each charger.”
Above: Charging at another Supercharger in the snow (Source: Ian Pavelko)
Any charging problems? “The car performed magnificently—we had zero problems with the car,” said Trevor. “The only problems we encountered were human error. At one of the charging stops, I charged for too little time, so we had to slow down. Don’t forget, on certain stretches it was very cold.” The average temperature on the trip was 14 degrees F, and it hit 4 below zero in a couple of spots. “That was part of the point, to do this in the cold, because one of the often-repeated tropes is that electric vehicles are not good in the cold,” said Trevor. “So, what better thing to do than the ultimate road trip—3,800 miles in the middle of winter.”
As your Florida-based correspondent learned on a recent trip to Colorado, traveling in wintertime does present some special challenges. I asked Trevor if he had any helpful cold-weather tips. I was surprised to find that he didn’t have much in the way of juicy tips, because Teslas generally perform very well in cold weather. One thing to be aware of is that Tesla’s built-in navigation does not take temperature into account. Low temperatures reduce range, perhaps as much as 25-30%, according to Trevor, so you need to charge up a little more than the nav system says you do. “When you’re in the cold, it pays to spend an extra 5 minutes at the charger. If the car says to spend 10 minutes, take 15. I expect in the future Tesla will incorporate temperature into their range calculation algorithm.”
Of course, range depends on many factors, and on this trip, Trevor and Ian probably lost a bit by being more heavily laden than usual, as they wanted to be prepared for anything. “We carried a full-size spare, a tire repair kit and a hydraulic jack.” For those who want a really precise range-calculation tool, Trevor recommends www.ABetterRoutePlanner.com, “a wonderful web site where you can put in your route, your car type and extra things like temperature, and what extra weight you’re carrying. We punched in all our stuff, and it said 72 hours. We would have met that goal if not for some human error. We did it in 73.5, but all things considered, it was remarkably accurate.”
Above: More snow (Source: Ian Pavelko)
Ian reiterated that they had no technical problems on the trip, but he told me about an odd technical glitch that they encountered (actually on the way home from the Lightning Run). Ian had driven across Canada twice, and also all the way down to Florida for the recent EVs and Tea event. “Over the span of about 5 weeks, I had done about 12,000 miles, and Supercharged about 100 times,” he told me. “I got a huge amount of questions about what that had done to the battery. The battery itself is in excellent shape. I got it scanned twice: when I was in service in Calgary, and then again on the way home.
“The one peril of frequent Supercharging is that it will start to mess with the BMS [battery management system]. And the community is already aware of this—people have complained about it. If you’re doing lots of short trips, and only using up to 20% of the battery, and constantly recharging it—if it’s living in this little zone in the middle—the voltages tend to get out of whack from cell to cell, and from module to module, and the BMS can no longer accurately interpret how much charge is remaining.
“We got a crazy example of that on the way home. The car performed beautifully on the trip, and we had no issues, but on the drive home, on a very hilly section, we had about 11% of the battery left, and we had only about 11 miles to go to the Supercharger, and for me, having 10% SOC at that point is cake. We’ve got Autopilot on, and the car’s climbing the hill at 70 mph or so, and suddenly it’s like 69…68…67. I had this sinking feeling, because you know when the car starts to pull power, you’re down to the bottom of the battery. I’ve run the battery down to zero before, and only then does it start behaving like that. I was still showing 9% on the screen, and the car was pulling power—that was really alarming.”
Above: Driving at night (Source: Ian Pavelko)
Fortunately Ian and Trevor have a very wide network of contacts among the Tesla community. They picked up the phone and spoke to a Tesla service rep and a top battery expert, both of whom advised them to back off their speed immediately. They trundled along at 45 mph to the Supercharger. “When we got there, we had about 8% of battery capacity still showing, but the car was topping out at 30 mph.” The Tesla rep suggested that the large number of partial charges they had done had confused the BMS. When he got home, Ian “ran the battery down to 5%, left it there for a few hours, charged to 100%, left it there for a few hours, did the same thing the next day, and now it’s back to its old self, working perfectly.”
All these frequent small charges didn’t cause any harm to the battery, but it caused the BMS to get confused. “I’ve done lots of trips where I did 20 or 25 Supercharges, but more the usual pattern of charging from 20% to 70% or so,” Ian explained. “But when you do a crazy run like we did, that’s what throws it out of whack, but it’s easily reset” just by following the procedure above.
How much did they use Autopilot? “Probably between 50 and 60 percent of the time.” To folks who are used to traveling on 4-lane highways all the time, that may not seem like much. However, on the Trans-Canada highway, long stretches are undivided double-lane roads, and “in these conditions, Autopilot is limited to 5 or 10 mph over the posted limit, so we manually steered,” said Ian “But that wasn’t really a problem, because, especially in BC and Northern Ontario, the road is very windy—you’re winding around lakes and through mountains, and as an enthusiast, I actually really love driving the car, so that wasn’t a bug, it was a feature to me. And the parts that are the least interesting, on the prairies, it’s four-lane, although there are crossings, so you have to be very careful. In a few spots where the lane markings were gone, it was sketchy but for the most part, Autopilot performed admirably.”
Above: Trevor and Ian (Source: Ian Pavelko)
Trevor and Ian’s main mission on this trip was to spread the word about Tesla and EVs, and they succeeded beyond their expectations. Everywhere they stopped, people flocked around the car asking questions, and they got the chance to educate a number of people about electric vehicles. “It is an education process, and that’s very much one of the reasons we decided to do this—to establish something that people can refer to,” said Trevor. “When somebody gives you wrong information [for example, implying that such a long trip wouldn’t be practical in an EV], you can say, ‘No! These two guys actually did it.’”
“We get the same questions over and over,” said Trevor. “It’s about educating the public that this can really replace your gasoline car. That’s one of the reasons we did two videos. One is a time-lapse video, start to finish—there’s the proof. The other is a blog-style video that gives our thoughts as we went along.”
The two were also touched by the “amazing community of Tesla and EV owners,” some of whom went to great lengths to help them out. “Any time we got near an urban center, people from the Tesla community came out of the woodwork to cheer us on,” Ian told me. “People came out to meet us with food, with coffee. I was blown away. I expected a little of that, but nothing like what we got. It was really heart-warming.”
Above: The Tesla community came out in droves to support Trevor and Ian (Source: Ian Pavelko)
“During the trip, it was just two guys driving along, listening to music and going for a drive,” said Trevor. “But by the end, it was like, this is way bigger than we thought it was going to be. People were calling us, asking us for quotes…it wasn’t really about us, it was about setting a standard, setting a record, so to speak. And if somebody wants to go back and beat our record, go for it! I know for a fact that we could beat 73 hours in the summer months, no question.”
Any plans for the future? “Ian and I are already discussing making this an annual event, though it may take a different form—we’d like more people to be able to participate, in different kinds of cars, in different locations. Stay tuned.”