– Ben Martens

Electric Vehicles

Comparing Road Trip Experiences

For this Tesla Tuesday, I’m going to talk about taking a road trip that wasn’t in a Tesla!

Back in June we took a ~2500-mile road trip to Moab, UT in our Model Y and I did a full writeup about the experience. Recently, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up driving to northeast Montana, and given the complete lack of charging infrastructure in that area, we took our F150 on the ~2000-mile trip. We spent two days getting out there and two days coming back. This was a rare opportunity to take two multi-day road trips in very different vehicles. So how did the F150 fare after our experience with the Model Y?

If you’re not familiar with northeast Montana, you should know that it’s extremely difficult to get to. An Oxford University study listed Glasgow, MT (our destination) as the hardest city in the United States and they have proudly adopted the “official middle of nowhere” slogan. Glasgow has a population of 3300 people making it the 23rd largest municipality in Montana. The closest city with at least that population is Lewiston, MT 200 miles away. The interstate doesn’t go anywhere near Glasgow. About half of the trip is on two lane highways. The train is a viable way to get from Seattle to Glasgow, but given the rules about Amtrak having to cede right of way to freight trains, your 20-30 hour scheduled train ride might be doubled. When an electric vehicle did venture into Montana away from the interstate, it ended up on the front page of the local paper. Thankfully we still have one foot in the world of internal combustion engines and the truck makes a great road trip vehicle.

Pros of driving the truck on a long road trip:

  • Gas stations are everywhere. While there are long stretches of road with no gas on this route, it was easy to find one whenever we needed it.
  • We could drive over 400 miles without refueling. This meant we had the option for more bathroom-only stops at rest areas. While the Model Y has a theoretical range of ~330 miles, I rarely planned anything more than 200 between charges given the relative lack of charging infrastructure.
  • There was tons of room to carry our all our gear. We even threw a full size cooler in the back to keep snacks and lunches cool. We ate breakfast and lunch in the car on all our travel days which sped up the trip and saved us money.
  • There is more room in the cab for us to have things like pillows and snacks.
  • When we drove the Tesla to Moab, I would plan on getting to the midway stopping point hotel with a low battery and then while Tyla and Elijah swam in the pool, I’d go out to charge again. One night with the truck I did go out to fill up the tank but that was much faster than putting a big charge on the battery.
  • It’s nice stopping at travel plazas where we can wash the windows, use the bathroom, and get some snacks all in the same spot.
  • It was nice to blend in when we were in northeast Montana. A Tesla would have stuck out like I was Elton John in a sequin jacket.

Cons of driving the truck on a long road trip:

  • Gas is expensive! Montana has significantly cheaper gas than Washington, but we still spent over $400 on gas alone. We averaged 19.8mpg on the way out and 19.1mpg on the way back due to a major headwind for the first ~5 hours of our trip. If we could have used chargers on the way, we would have only paid around $150 in charging fees.
  • You’ll never believe this, but I had to manually steer the truck! What nonsense is this? Joking aside, I did miss the autopilot features of the Tesla.
  • The Model Y is AWD and the truck is RWD. It does have four wheel drive but I don’t think it would be a good idea to leave that on for hours on the highway at high speeds. The AWD system gives me a lot more confidence especially on windy, wet roads.
  • While the truck does have Android Auto, it means that I have to leave my phone plugged in to the car all the time. Sometimes when everyone else is sleeping or listening to their own thing, I like to pop in one headphone and listen to a podcast. I can’t do that without disconnecting Android Auto which means we don’t get traffic alerts and nobody else can listen to music. In the Tesla, the default maps are great and we have Spotify built into the car.
  • The truck doesn’t have automatic climate control so I kept having to futz with the temperature controls.

But how about our travel speed? Did we get there faster since we didn’t have to stop to charge? I kept a detailed log on the way out so I could analyze things. Our average overall trip speed with the Tesla was almost identical to the truck with the truck being a few mph faster on our return trip. We made a total of 5 stops (plus our overnight stop) that averaged about 9 minutes each. The distance between the stops is about the same as if we had needed to charge, but we saved time by not having to charge. Most charging stops are 10-20 minutes so some of the stops were ~10 minutes faster than they would have been in an electric car. Your results may vary depending on how much of an iron bladder your occupants have.

So which vehicle will we take on the next trip? The Tesla. It’s not much of a contest. Nothing on the “pro” list for the truck is worth the extra price of gas, and the Tesla has those other items in its favor too. The only sticking point is, like the Montana trip, if charging will be hard. Situations like that are already rare, and they will be decreasing more over the next 5-10 years as the US standardizes on the Tesla charging connector and more charging stations get built both for fast charging and for overnight charging.

I live in a bubble of the highest per-capita EV ownership in the country. This trip was a good reminder of the huge amount of land that the EV infrastructure needs to cover and the diversity of people that it needs to win over. All of that will take time, so for now I’m sticking by my general statement that an EV can save a lot of people money today, but I’d be hesitant to recommend one to a single car family in most cases.

Are EV Batteries Bad For The Environment?

EV batteries are made up of many lithium-ion cells. Lithium is light and it can store a lot of energy which is a great combination for an electric car. However, extracting lithium from the ground requires a lot of water, energy, and chemicals and a lot of the world’s lithium is found in places that are already very dry. There are additional chemicals like cobalt, nickel, manganese, and aluminum which have their own problems including human rights issues.

So these batteries are full of nasty materials. Aren’t we just trading one fossil fuel (oil) for these other limited resources? The difference is that when you burn gas, it’s gone. When you use up an EV battery, there’s still a future for it.

First, EV batteries might not be suitable for the high demands of an electric car anymore, but they might be plenty for a lower drain application such as providing backup power for your house.

Second, EV batteries are incredibly recyclable. Estimates vary but around 95% of the material in an EV battery (and in any lithium battery from your cell phone, power tools, etc.) can be reclaimed through recycling. Recycling also releases fewer greenhouse gases than mining new minerals.

The current challenge is that recycling is expensive, but today the raw materials are abundant, and mining can roughly keep up with the demand, but the economics will change in the future as materials are harder to find, the demand for new batteries increases, and more EV batteries are nearing the ends of their lives. Additionally, some of the recent economic incentives for US battery production can be applied to EV battery recycling as well.

So yes, EV batteries are bad for the environment, but we should be able to keep reusing the materials that are being mined. And just because this process is messy doesn’t mean it’s worse than what is happening with gasoline today. The process of extracting oil, refining it, and burning gas is plenty nasty but comparing the two is beyond the scope of this post.

If you want to see this in action, check out this short YouTube video walkthrough of a battery recycling plant in Arizona, or check out the links below it for more reading materials:

Tesla Range

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We recently put 2500 miles on our Tesla Model Y and the road trip was a great experience. However, there was one stretch where I had some range anxiety for the first time. We left Twin Falls, ID with 82% charge which should have been enough to get us into Meridian, ID with 25% remaining. However, as we set out, our range was decreasing rapidly, and I was predicting that we’d get there with around 10-15% remaining. That’s still plenty of buffer, but it was disconcerting. I say this not to scare anyone off of EV’s but to make sure I’m not all roses and butterflies when I talk about driving one. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what happened, but I suspect a combination of the following based on the minute-by-minute data that was logged from the car.

  • It was HOT. Temperatures were between 99 and 104 on that stretch of the trip. HVAC can consume quite a bit of battery when it’s that hot.
  • The speed limit was 80mph and I had the cruise set at 85mph. More on speed’s impact on efficiency later.
  • We were driving into a headwind.
  • Traffic was heavy-ish so there was a lot of slowing down and speeding up.

I expect the car’s estimation to take all these things into account, but something was definitely off. About 5 miles out from the supercharger in Boise, we spotted a Tesla with lights flashing going about 60mph trying to conserve energy and I assume they hit the same issue but didn’t notice it soon enough. My guess is that our trips were flagged by the engineers at Tesla and hopefully our experience will help improve their estimation models.

For my part, I decided early on to back off my speed and set the cruise at 78mph. This felt about as slow as I could go without being an annoying rock in the stream. That quickly helped to stabilize the estimate. Click on the link below to see all the charts from this stretch of the trip.

We made it with no trouble, but it was the first time that I had thought about what would happen if we didn’t make it. Some stretches of these roads also had signs about “no gas for X miles” but it’s easier to bring a gas can to your car than it is to bring your car to a charger.

I do think it’s interesting how much easier it is to calculate the exact impact of driving at different speeds and heats. When we cruise at 85mph, we were using 360-380 watts per mile but when we cruise at 65 it’s more like 250-270 watts per mile. That’s a ~40% increase in energy usage for an extra 20mph. This same thing happens in a gas-powered car too, but with a bigger tank and less data, you don’t always notice it as easily.

While TeslaMate does show me average efficiency by temperature, it doesn’t have a dashboard for efficiency by speed. It’s tricky to calculate because of all the various factors at play (temperature, elevation, traffic impact, driving style, etc), but if we take a naive approach and look at average efficiency in kWh based on average speed in mph for an entire trip segment, it looks like the chart below. Take this with a grain of salt because as I mentioned, this is a very rough estimate. I would expect an exponentially increasing line. Below about 35mph, there’s not a lot of data since I only used trips of at least 20 miles and I don’t often drive that far that slowly.

With a gas car, your efficiency peaks around 45mph and at slow speeds, you waste a lot of extra energy, but with an electric car, you can go almost as slow as you want and keep using less energy. However, at high speeds, they act similarly: drag increases with the square of speed. Driving a car with a very low coefficient of drag does help, you’re still bound by the laws of physics.

Estimating Road Trips

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

My big post about our long road trip covered a lot of data, but later, I wondered about our average speed including all the stops. When I planned long trips with the family, I would shoot for 60mph including stops. On my motorcycle, I planned 50mph because I would stop a lot more often. Even with some silly stops where we knew we were being very inefficient just to take things slower, our 2000+ mile road trip averaged out to 58.1mph. So for our family, driving an EV gets us there just as fast as driving a gas car. Your mileage may vary depending on the size and strength of your bladders!

EV Charging Network

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Over the last few weeks, a flood of car makers and charging networks have stated that they will adopt the NACS charging connector, otherwise known as the Tesla connector. Previously there were two main standards for fast charging: NACS and CCS. There were also a flood of slower chargers.

Having all the automakers in North America adopt the NACS connector means that Tesla will proceed with opening their supercharging network to all electric vehicles as they’ve done in other parts of the globe. That’s great for non-Tesla owners as the Tesla supercharger network is in a different league compared to other networks. It’s extremely rare to pull up to any Tesla charger and find it working. Conversely, it’s rare to pull up to something like Electrify America and find all the chargers working. We just completed a 2500-mile road trip in our Model Y, and while I was confident in the Tesla network, I don’t know that I would have even attempted it with a non-Tesla purely because of the lack of reliability in non-Tesla charging networks.

Having all the networks use the same plug is great, but it doesn’t mean that the other networks are going to be any more reliable. That needs to be a major focus for them in the coming years. The infrastructure needs to be rock solid for people to trust it. They need to not only adopt the charging standard, but the reliability standard that Tesla has set.

As a Tesla owner, I want to see the industry grow and build standards, but it’s a bit of a bummer to have “muggles” at my supercharger. Part of the reason I paid a premium for a Tesla is specifically because of the fantastic charging network. Now it’s more likely that I’ll pull up to a station with no empty chargers. That should be a temporary problem, and with a single standard, we should start to see more people getting creative with their charging stations. I look forward to the day when I can pull into a standard travel plaza on my road trip and charge my car while I use the restroom, get some food, and clean my windshield.

1100 Miles in a Tesla

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Up until our trip to Moab, we had never done a trip that required multiple charges away from home, but we sure put that behind us with this trip. Our total drive was around 2500 miles there and back. The video at the end of this post covers the drive to Moab.

There are a few things that I didn’t cover in the video:

  • Supercharging is almost irrelevant for daily life. I wrote this whole post and made a video about this because we’ve gone 20,000 miles in our car, and we’ve only used a supercharger a few times. Charging like this is a novel experience for us! I often hear people say, “Oh I can’t get an electric car because there are no chargers around me.” The chargers near you don’t matter. You’ll probably never use a charger within 100 miles of your house because you constantly have a charged car when you wake up (assuming you can charge where you park.) The only time you need a good charger network is if you decide to take your EV on a long road trip, and even then, if you have two cars, you could just drive your gas car. So the “what’s it like to charge an EV?” question is something I thought a lot about before I got the car, and now I hardly think about it at all. My car is always charged and it requires about 5 seconds to plug it in when I get home. It only comes into play when we’re taking a long road trip.
  • Charing at a supercharger is extremely easy. When we stopped to charge, the car was charging before my family even got out of the car. I’d park, hop out, grab the charger, and plug it in. There’s no fumbling with a credit card or an app. The charger communicates with the car and automatically charges the credit card associated with the car. The car knows how far it needs to charge before you’re ready for the next leg of your trip or you can manually set your own limit.
  • Very little of the planning that I show in the video is something a normal Tesla driver would do. You could easily complete this trip while being completely oblivious of all the optimizations that I made. When you punch in your destination, the car tells you where to stop and how long to charge at each stop. It will give you many warnings if you try to leave the charger too soon or if something changes en-route and you’re unlikely to make it. This short video from Tesla explains how that works:

I had a data logger recording every datapoint from our car every few seconds and I took some video during each leg of the trip. I put it all together into a video about the trip along with my thoughts about whether I’d do it the same way again. Enjoy!

Tesla Charging Curve

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We are back from a 2500-mile road trip with our Model Y. I was collecting data from the whole trip, and I have a couple more posts coming to detail the experience, but while I work on that, I want to start by devoting an entire post to explaining the charging curve of a Tesla.

The key point here is that when you are supercharging, the speed of your charging depends on how full your battery is. The battery can be charged much faster from 10% to 30% than from 70%-90%.

The above chart shows the curve for a 250kW charger. Most superchargers are 150kW max output, but newer ones are 250kW. (A few of them are 70kW but those are rare.) For a 150kW charger, imagine the same curve but it is capped at 150kW. So it’s slower at first, but by the time you hit ~40% charge, the two chargers give you the same speed (…usually. More on this later.)

Imagine you could fill your gas tank faster the emptier it was. You’d only want to put in as much gas as you needed to get to your next fueling stop. So whichever speed you’re using to charge, the key takeaway is that if you’re trying to spend the least amount of time possible at a charger, you want to start at around 10-15% and charge as little as you need to get to the next charger.

This becomes important if you’re trying to optimize the charging stops on a long road trip. There’s a tradeoff between getting enough juice to skip over a charging stop and the slower charging speeds you that give you that extra juice. Thankfully, you don’t have to think about this as most EV trip planners (including the one built into Teslas) take this into account automatically.

Here’s a chart from all the supercharges we’ve done on our Model Y:

Click to open that in a new tab. You should see three basic curves. The top one is 250kW chargers, the second one is 150kW chargers, and the bottom one is from one use of a 70kW charger, but mostly it’s from lower output at a 150kW charger. This is because the older 150kW superchargers are paired. When you pull up to a charger, the stalls are labeled 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc. If you are sharing an A/B with another car, you split the 150kW. As a supercharger gets busier, this means it takes longer to charge causing longer waits to for people to get a stall. Obviously this isn’t ideal so the newer 250kW chargers are all isolated. No matter how busy the charger is, you’ll get the full firehose of electrons shooting into your car.

If this sounds complicated, I assure you that you can happily drive an EV without knowing any of this. In fact, it’s obvious that a lot of Tesla owners are clueless to the differences between chargers and the pairing of the 150kW chargers. I love this stuff and I want to be as efficient as possible so I geek out with all this data. And if you think this was geeky, wait until I detail how I planned our trip in a future post!

More Power!

A common soundbite against electric vehicles is that our nation’s power grid is already falling over, and we’ll need massive amounts more power to charge electric cars. A common retort is that we already have enough power or that the decrease in power hungry oil refinement will offset the change. As is usually the case, reality is somewhere in the middle.

If everyone switched over to an electric vehicle today, we’d need about a 25% increase in power production. That’s a lot, but it’s not going to happen overnight or even this decade. This article from the New York Times dives into the topic with a good overview and then there’s even more backing data in a reports from University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Power companies have been planning for this for a while and they have a demand curve to work with as consumers switch over when they’re ready. It’s an issue that needs to be carefully planned for and there will be bumps in the road, but it’s not a non-starter for electric vehicles. It will also be interesting to see what kind of benefits we get from the grid of the future when huge numbers of cars are able to feed power back into the grid as needed.

Fitting a Model Y in a Garage

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Our garage has a separate garage door for each bay of the garage. It makes for a narrow entrance (95″) and our garage isn’t very deep either (233″). As we were thinking about ordering a Model Y, I wasn’t sure how well it would fit inside.

Our 2013 Ford Escape was 178″ long and 82″ wide with the mirrors extended. There were no automatic side mirrors on it so they were always extended. That car fit fine in the garage and with careful parking, we were able to walk in front of the car and still open the rear hatch even when the garage door was closed. It was tight but it wasn’t bad.

The 2022 Tesla Model Y is 187″ long and 84″ wide with the mirrors extended or 76″ wide with the mirrors folded. So it was 9″ longer and a couple inches wider in a space that was already tight with our Escape. I wasn’t quite sure how we’d be able to get the rear hatch open, but it all worked out for two reasons:

  1. The automatic mirror folding works really well. When we get close to home, the mirrors automatically fold in and stay folded in until we’re backed out of the garage.
  2. We park the car with about 22″ in front and 22″ behind. That leaves plenty of room to open the rear trunk because the pivot point is so much further forward than it was in the Escape. The Model Y rear hatch only needs about 10″ of extra space behind the car to open.

This is probably pretty boring if you’re not in the market for one of this specific car, but hopefully it will help someone else out there who was trying to make the same guesses that we were when we ordered.

Tesla Jack Stands

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

There isn’t much maintenance on an electric vehicle. The manual basically says to put some windshield washer fluid in every once in a while and check the brakes, but even the brakes are hardly ever used since regen braking takes care of most of it. You do still need to rotate tires though, and while I could take it in to a shop or have Tesla come to my house (for $50) to do it, I don’t mind doing this at home.

Jacking up an EV isn’t always the same as a traditional car because things look a lot different under the car. If you look under a Tesla, you’ll see the giant flat area of the battery. There are four jack total points which is fine, but how do you put a jack stand under there? Enter the RennStand jack stands. These jack stands are an arch shape with removable legs. You jack up the car with the cross piece between the jack and the car. Once the car is lifted high enough, you insert the legs into the cross piece and remove the jack. Voila!

RennStand sells various adapters for all different cars so hopefully this is something that will be useful on a lot of my cars in the future… because they aren’t cheap. I bought mine from Teslarati. I bought two but for rotating the tires it turns out that I only need one. Both wheels on one side of our Model Y are lifted off the ground even when resting on a single jack stand.

The jack in the picture is the Arcan XL3000 Heavy Duty All Steel 3.0 Ton Jack. It works well but it took a very long time to get it to hold pressure when I initially unboxed it. There are steps in the manual that amount to raising and lowering it a bunch of times to work any air bubbles out of the system. I had to do it so many times that I almost gave up and returned it.

Is this overkill? Absolutely. I’m not crawling under the car so I could let it rest on the jack while I make the swap, or I could let a tire shop swap my tires. But I do like the convenience of doing it myself at home whenever it fits into my schedule. Plus, I’m also sticking with the recommended 6000-mile rotation schedule so that would be a lot of appointments to schedule. I’ve heard that EV tires don’t last as long, but I don’t know how much of that is due to additional car weight versus people driving them harder because they’re fast. I want to do it by the book for our first set and see if the tire life seems reasonable. If it goes fine, then I’ll be a little lazier on the tire rotations like I have been with our other vehicles.