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Tips and tricks for road trips in a Tesla
Posted on April 15, 2019 by Charles Morris
We do love Tesla Electric Road Trip stories, especially when they’re spiced with practical charging tips. A recent addition to the genre, from Brad Templeton, posted on Forbes, goes beyond the usual travel log of sights seen and charging difficulties overcome. Templeton’s account of a weeklong trip from San Francisco to the southern California desert to enjoy the spectacular springtime poppy bloom includes some interesting insights about how driving electric changes the overall traveling experience.
Above: Taking your Tesla out for a road trip (Image: Ventricular)
An electric road trip would hardly be possible without Tesla’s network of Superchargers, which can recharge a battery to half-full in less than 30 minutes, or to 80% in about 45. Templeton notes that “the range anxiety which vanishes in urban driving with a large-battery car returns to you on rural road trips. You will certainly never see a trip report from a gasoline car owner that spends half its time talking about the hunt for suitable gas stations, or how the availability of gas changed their plans.”
Templeton finds that depending on Superchargers has its drawbacks. For one thing, it can limit your dining choices to what’s available near Supercharger stations - usually generic chain restaurants. That’s a sacrifice for a traveler who likes to sample the local cuisine. This problem can be mitigated by taking out food from an interesting restaurant and eating it at the nearest Supercharger station, or by simply using Supercharger stops for something other than meals - watching videos, reading or shopping (many chargers are located near shopping malls).
It may sound strange, but in a way, the most efficient use of time may be to stop more often and charge to just over 50 percent. That’s because Superchargers charge at full power only when the battery is below half-full (it’s also better for the battery to keep the state of charge between 20 and 70 percent). “If you stop more often and only fill up to say 60-70%, you will spend less time charging,” Templeton writes. “However, the time needed to divert to and from the charging station and get a stall may counter that.”
It’s also important to consider how busy a particular station is. “Truly full stations might have a line of unknown length (though this is rare at rural stations.) Half-full stations are ideal, since charger stalls come in pairs that share power, and you get the fastest charging only if you get an unpaired stall, or are at least the first of a pair to arrive.”
Above: Supercharging in a Tesla (Youtube: Tesla)
Another surprising conclusion is that Tesla’s new V3 Superchargers won’t help the situation as much as you might expect, because they only speed up the first part of your charging. “The fastest approach would be to use [V3 Superchargers] for ‘time optimal’ supercharging, where you only recharge from 10% to 60%, which might take as little as ten minutes, plus the time to get to and from the Supercharger and park,” says Templeton. However, “as counterintuitive as it seems, if you coordinate your eating/shopping correctly, shortening the supercharge offers minor to zero value! It adds value only when you want to avoid the meal or shopping trip at the Supercharger, and prefer to just take it as downtime from your road trip.”
If you insist on comparing electric cars to legacy vehicles, the former are bound to come up wanting in the context of a road trip, as they need to be “refueled” more often, and it takes longer. As Templeton explains in part two of his article, this is the wrong attitude. “Treating Superchargers as sucky gas stations with really slow filling is the path to having a vehicle you do not enjoy.” He takes a more Zen-like view: “Think of it [not] as a slow-filling car, but [as] one that fills while you do the necessities of life: sleep, eat or use the toilet. A car that charges while you sleep takes zero time, and nothing, not even gasoline, can beat that.”
While it’s sometimes necessary to stop at a Supercharger, “destination charging” while you sleep is actually superior, says Templeton. You can dine wherever you want, you don’t lose the miles between the Supercharger and your hotel, and slower charging is better for your battery health. “When it works, [destination charging] is low-hassle, just like charging at home, the way it should be.”
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to shop for hotels with charging. It’s still considered something of an exotic amenity, and some establishments that do offer charging don’t advertise it. The Plugshare web page has an “amenity” setting that lets you find chargers that are at or near hotels (unfortunately the mobile app currently doesn’t offer this feature). The Chargepoint app is another valuable tool for the electric road warrior. While the best bet for finding Tesla-specific "destination chargers" may be on Tesla's website, the search functionality remains a bit limited.
Above: A look at hotel destination charging from Tesla (Image: Bulgari Hotel)
Even when you find a hotel with charging, there may be bumps in the road. Few if any hotels have more than a few spaces, so in EV-heavy regions, you can’t count on getting a slot. However, in most areas the chargers are lightly used, and some hotels will reserve one for you. Templeton notes, as others have, that the bigger problem is being ICEd out of a charging spot by a gas-burner.
Even if you can’t get access to a Level 2 charger at your hotel, there are a couple of tricks that can save the day. There will often be a Supercharger or some other public charger within a mile or two. “Go there and take Uber/Lyft/taxi or even a hotel shuttle back,” Templeton advises. You could also bring along a small folding scooter or bicycle, and use it to get to and from a nearby charging site. And of course, every savvy road-tripper travels with charging adapters and a nice long extension cord. Most hotels will have an outdoor 120-volt plug that can add enough miles to get you back on the road. RV parks are another valuable resource - almost all have 50-amp service, which you can use for Level 2 charging with the right adapter.===