– Ben Martens


First EV Savings Milestone

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m pulling in a lot of car stats with TeslaMate. I’m also using the GasBuddy API to record the prices at the six gas stations closest to my house. This lets me calculate how much I would be spending on gas if I drove the exact same distances at the same time. I assume that I would fill up every day which isn’t accurate, but over time, it should be nearly spot on.

I take all that gas price data and compare it against the cost for every charge I’ve put into the car. Most of the charging is done at home (92%), but if I’m on the road, I have all those prices as well too.

So if I compare my actual charging costs versus the estimate gas prices for the same driving pattern, we have saved our first $1000! Despite the high entry price, we bought this car because I believe it will be cheaper than if we bought another Escape. Using my conservative estimates and the lower gas prices from last summer, I expected to save $1000 every ~8000 miles, but we hit the first $1000 of savings at 5800 miles.

Digging into those charging costs at home a bit more, here’s a chart for our electric usage for the last 11 years:

You can see where we got the new car at the end of the chart, and our monthly usage can vary quite a bit based on how much we drive. Do you see that spike back in January 2014? That winter we tried running a space heater in one room. I cut that off quickly after monitoring how much power it used. The space heater wasn’t cheaper than just turning up the furnace a bit more. So if you’re nervous about the additional cost of charging an EV at home, look around your house at those space heaters. If you have one or two of them running, that’s roughly the same as charging an EV (caveat caveat caveat but they can be in the same ballpark.)

Gas savings alone won’t make this car cheaper. I’m also counting on lower total service bills (no oil changes, less moving parts to fail, etc) and a higher resale value. We won’t know how all that plays out for many years, but it’s fun to see it working out better than planned so far!

Mountainous Tesla Trips

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We took the Tesla on our trip to the Sunrise Visitor Center at Mt. Rainier (200 miles round trip). Before the trip, I had used to check how the charging would work out. I’ve done a bit of work on that site to tweak the settings to pretty accurately match our real-world behavior and it said that if I left home with 90% charge, we’d hit the visitor center with 45% and we’d get back home with a comfortable 24%. I didn’t think much more about it

When we got in our car to leave, I punched the route into the car and it said that I would get to Sunrise with only 28% charge but then we’d get home with 10%. I knew that we had to gain a lot of elevation going up to 6400 feet at the visitor center, but those numbers seemed wild and since I’ve had experience with those estimates being pretty far off in the mountains, I was a bit nervous. But we went for it anyway.

My battery concerns were further fanned by ~30mph headwinds once we reached Enumclaw. That sucks energy too, but how much? The car was still confident that we’d make it back home fine, and I knew there were enough superchargers along the way to use as a fallback if needed. In the end,

Sure enough, the climb up to the visitor center did take a lot of battery, but not nearly as much as the car had originally estimated. We arrived with 44% battery remaining, only 1% off from what had estimated! I guess if the Tesla estimate had to be off, I would prefer for it to be pessimistic like this, but that’s so far off that it feels unhelpful. (Note that the trip shown in the image is only the distance from Enumclaw to Sunrise because we had a bathroom stop.)

The green line is actual usage and the gray line is estimated usage.

I’ll have a separate post about the hike, but after the hike, we headed back down the mountain. In a normal car, the best you can hope for is that your car smartly uses engine braking to generate enough power to run the AC, radio, lights, etc and you use no gas when you go down the mountain. In an EV, the story is even better. Not only is it running all of those things for free, but it’s also storing up all the extra energy that it doesn’t need right away. On the 16 miles down from Sunrise back to Hwy 410, we charged back up to 47%. We then proceeded to use that extra energy to drive an additional ~30 miles before we were back at 43% charge. So yes, we used more battery going up the mountain, but then we drove for 50 miles from the top for free!

This shows how much energy was consumed driving up and then coming down.

At the end of the day, we averaged 227 Wh/mi for the trip. We average 250-265 on a normal long trip so I don’t know if the lower usage on this was due to something with the mountain, changing winds, or the fact that most of the roads on this route were 50mph speed limits instead of 60-70 on the highway.

I’m continuing to learn more about what to expect from the car, and each time we do a trip like this, it makes me more and more comfortable exploring the limits of our range.

First Tesla Road Trip

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We recently took our first overnight road trip with our Model Y. We’ve gotten very used to daily driving/charging routines and never worry about running out of battery, but what would happen on a longer trip where we had at least one mandatory charging stop and a few nights away from home?

Our destination was about three hundred miles away, and while the Model Y has an estimated 330 miles of range, just like gas cars, you’re unlikely to hit that in real life. Plus, that would mean charging to 100% (not great for the battery) and discharging to almost 0% (not great for the battery and then how would we get back home?) So there would be at least one stop for charging along the way.

Another factor to consider was that our destination was far off the beaten path. The closest slow Level 2 charger (fairly slow, similar to what we have at home) was about 30 minutes away and the closest supercharger was more like 45 minutes away. Couple that with some mountain driving and I estimated that we needed to leave the last supercharger with about 50% battery to make sure we could get there and back.

The online Tesla road trip planner isn’t that useful if you’re not going to have destination charging because it doesn’t let you specify how much charge you want to have left when you arrive or get insight into all your options for planning the route. I prefer to use On that site, I could tell it my real-world watts per hour average (265), how much charge I’d leave home with (90%) and how much I wanted to arrive with (40%). Then there are even more options for whether you’d like fewer (but longer) stops or more (but faster) stops. The Tesla batteries charge the fastest from about 15-40% so if you’re really optimizing for ~5 minute charging stops, it’s best to stay in that range, but obviously that means more stops along the way, so you have to balance it all out.

My family needs to stop for a lot of bathroom breaks. I plan one every 60-90 minutes and sometimes we’ll get lucky and stretch it out to 2 hours. On this trip, I planned one required charging stop that was right next to a Panera around lunch time. Then I had a couple optional stops before and after that where we could get some electrons while using the bathroom.

On the way down, we ended up doing that lunch stop and then one more stop at the last supercharger before heading off into the mountains. The charging worked out fine, my estimates were good, and we arrived with more battery than planned because our bathroom/food stops were slower than the chargers. In fact, when we stopped for lunch, I had to go out and move the car because it was done charging before our food was done being made!

There ended up being a 110v plug that was right next to where we parked, and while that’s a slow way to charge, we were there for a few days so it didn’t matter. I plugged the car in on the day before we left, and we rolled out with 85% charge. On the way back, we made just a single stop for charging and food. Since I charged up pretty far and it gets slower as you go, that one took longer (29 minutes to go from 28% to 84%) But by the time we got our food and used the bathroom, we only waited about an extra 10 minutes and it saved us from making any more stops. We needed a bit of extra juice on that charge because after we got home, we had to head straight to school for a meeting and a trip to/from school is about 14% of the battery.

When planning the road trip, I had been thinking about how much money we would save versus driving the truck. I get about 20.5mpg on a road trip in the truck and with gas averaging around $4.80 that would have been $140 in gas. I estimated that the same trip in the Tesla would be about $15 in electricity. That was a mistake because I forgot that superchargers are more expensive than charging at home. So overall, it was more like $40 in electricity. That’s still a big savings and the savings are even greater if you factor in maintenance costs.

The truck has so much room that it’s super easy to pack and easy to move around to get comfortable. We were nervous about having enough room in the car since we’re used to packing in the truck, but when we hit the road, we had tons of extra space. The frunk and the under-trunk storage suck up so much stuff! Even with a big cooler in the trunk, we were at about two-thirds capacity.

Having autopilot on the long drive was nice. I could go for long stretches of road without constantly monitoring my speed or making minor corrections to stay in my lane. Traffic was heavy the whole way so it was annoying to come off the autopilot (lane-keeping) feature every time I wanted to change lanes, but in the back of my mind, I knew I could have paid money to avoid that so it wasn’t too bad.

I spent a lot more time planning our route than I would have with the truck, but now that we’ve got the first big road trip under our belts, I think future ones will be easier. It’s nice to know that the car is also watching our battery and if we ever did something dumb, it would scream at us and direct us to a charger. I think long road trips in the truck will be more annoying now without the benefit of Autopilot. It’s amazing how much less fatigued I felt after a long drive just from not having to spend the energy to stay in my lane. It doesn’t seem like much but it really adds up over the hours. And since the battery lasts a lot longer than our bladders, the charging stops weren’t much of a factor other than having to plan to stop at certain places.

I call this experiment a win and look forward to more road trips with our Model Y!

Rimetrix Laminar Black Wheels

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

When we were originally pricing out our car, we had planned to go for the upgraded 20″ black wheels because we liked the way they looked better. But when the price increased right before we ordered, we backed off that and went for the default 19″ regular wheels. In the end, I’m glad we did that because those 20″ wheels reduce the total vehicle range and give a slightly rougher ride, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

The Model Y 19″ wheels have a cover that snaps onto the actual rims and that cover improves range by about 7%, but since they are a cover, they’re replaceable. Rimetrix makes some aftermarket wheel covers for the Model Y (and the Model 3). They give the same aerodynamic performance and aesthetically pleasing black look while being significantly cheaper than the 20″ black rims.

The actual installation itself was very quick and I’m super happy with how it came out. Along the way, I also removed the two chrome Tesla badges and replaced the “dual motor” badge on the back with a blacked out version. There’s no chrome left on the car and now we have a car that is slightly different than the ocean of other Model Y’s driving around our area.

Identifying Tesla Models

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the current prices for the various models, but how do you tell them apart when you see one in the wild? It takes a little practice, but here are some identifying characteristics:

Tesla Model 3

If you don’t know, guess Model 3. Today, this is the most common Tesla on the road (but going forward the Y is expected to overtake it.) The 3 is the smallest of the four models. It’s a four door sedan and, like the Y, it has no main grill openings on the front aside from the opening on the very bottom of the bumper.

Tesla Model Y

The looks like a bigger version of the 3. In fact, they share ~70% of their parts. The Y doesn’t have any grill openings either. The Y is a bit taller (~7 inches) and is a “crossover” style. It has a full liftgate instead of a trunk. It’s easy to get these confused with the Model 3.

Tesla Model S

Like the 3, the S is a sedan, but this one looks a lot fancier. You can differentiate the S and X from the 3 and Y by the grill “opening” with the Tesla logo. The rear end of the newer S and the X models also have a chrome accent that runs between both tail lights. These models usually have an emblem in the lower left of the rear that says “Model S”.

Tesla Model X

The X is BIG. It’s a full size SUV, but like the S, it has a grill “opening” and the chrome accent between the tail lights. If you see it in a parking lot, you’ll notice the gull wing doors. The door handles for the front and rear doors are also centered along the line between the doors.

Charging Costs vs Gas Prices

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Before we did the car, I did a lot of research and math to compare a Model Y’s long term cost of ownership to the Ford Escape that we likely would have purchased instead. As part of that, I estimated that gas was going to average $3.50/gallon over the life of the car. That was about the average around us when I was doing the research and while I knew prices would go up a bit, I wanted to be very conservative (favoring the Escape over the Model Y.) Obviously the world has changed a lot since then and gas costs an average of $5.44 around us. How does that affect my calculations?

First let’s talk about how I’m collecting data. Finding “average gas prices” is a bit tricky. Most sites that you’ll find show averages for the state by month. That’s better than nothing, but our area is typically more expensive than other parts of the state, and we should be able to do better than monthly data. The GasBuddy website has daily updates on gas prices at a lot of gas stations. I wrote an app that checks the price for regular gas at the 6 closest gas stations to our house. I log that data to a database every day.

The next piece of the puzzle is figuring out how much gas I would have been buying at those processes. Obviously that’s a little tricky to get exactly right, but I’ve estimated it by looking at the total miles driven per day in our new car and assuming that I would just pay for that much gas each day. I get the daily mileage from the Tesla APIs and log that to the database as well. I’m left with a query that shows X miles driven for a given day when the gas price was $Y. I use the average MPG from our last Escape and do the math to estimate how much we would have paid for gas that day.

The Tesla API also gives me a record of every time I’ve charged the car. It tells me not just how much energy was added to the battery, but how much energy I pulled from the wall to account for a small amount of loss in the charging process. We have a tiered electricity cost based on total usage for the month so I assume that all the charging costs are in the highest tier.

When I was working out the math to see if an electric car would be cheaper, I had planned on saving $12.72 on gas per 100 miles. But that as planning at $3.50/gallon, so what does all the data show? After putting 2100 miles on the new car, I’m happy to report that we are saving $18.68 per 100 miles!

Tesla Prices

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Let’s talk about price, but first let’s set some context. Car prices are increasing rapidly in the entire market. The average car price in May 2022 was $47,148 and prices are up ~15% compared to just 12 months ago. It’s not a great time to be buying a car.

Teslas are obviously more expensive than the average car, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there about how expensive they are. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how they don’t have $100k to spend on a car so they can’t get a Tesla. Yikes.

Tesla makes four models: S, 3, X, and Y. (Yes, that was intentional. The “Model E” trademark was owned by Ford.)

Starting on the low end, we have the Model 3. It’s the cheapest way you can get into a Tesla at $46,990. The Model Y is a crossover version of the Model 3. They share a lot of parts and styling. The Model Y starts at $65,990. The Model S is a premium luxury/sports car. It starts at $104,990 but they also offer the Plaid trim for $135,990 which gets you 0-60 in under 2 seconds. The Model X is the most expensive one, and it’s the one with the fancy gullwing doors. It takes the speed and luxury of the Model S but also gives you room for 7. $120,990 or $138,990 for the Plaid trim.

Those prices have gone up… a lot. Two years ago, you could have bought a Model Y for almost $20,000 less than today. Tesla keeps raising the prices and people keep ordering them. The wait list is still 4-12 months long depending on what trim level you buy.

I’m usually the guy who gets into a line right as it stops growing, but this time we did much better and placed our order early in that price ramp. Frustratingly it did jump $2k as we waited an extra three days to take one more test drive before putting in our order, but still, I’m glad we got in when we did.

When you look at Tesla’s website, the pricing is a little tricky to figure out because the prices they show by default are the prices with “potential savings.” They’re guessing about fuel savings, tax credits, etc. And that’s where pricing gets so complicated. When you buy a gas car, you’re just getting started on your total cost of ownership. You still need to pay for things like gas and service. When you buy an electric vehicle, you’re sort of prepaying for a lot of that total cost of ownership. The initial purchase is higher, but the long term costs are lower since electricity is much cheaper than gas and there is very little maintenance or service required on an electric car. So yes, the prices are expensive (especially now) but to truly compare your total cost, you need to think about the full lifespan of your vehicle and see how that math works out for you.

I had spreadsheets galore when I was researching all this before our order and I was confident that we’d at least break even buying an electric car versus a comparable gas car, but I’m not stopping there. I’m keeping good records to see how that plays out. I recently set up a spreadsheet that looks at how much energy I used to charge the car every night and compares it to the average price of gas at the six stations closest to me so I can estimate what I would have paid to put an equivalent amount of gas into my car. So far we’ve saved $391 over the first 1500 miles.

A couple years ago, it seemed like we were hitting he point where electric vehicles were going to get popular and prices were going to come down. Well, they got popular, but now everything is getting more expensive so prices have gone way up. Thankfully the popularity of these cars is still increasing, but for them to truly take off, we need $20-30k more models to be available (and good.)

Tesla Model Y – One Month Review

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

“How do you like your new car?” A lot of people have asked me that question and as a thousand thoughts rush through my head, I try to come up with something quick that won’t overwhelm them. There’s the obvious “It’s nice not paying $5.60/gallon for gas,” but it doesn’t seem nice to rub their face in it, so I usually talk about how nice to not worry about it dripping oil or needing service beyond tire rotations and brake checks.

But here on the blog, let’s dive in a bit deeper and share more thoughts after about a month of ownership. Let’s start with the pros:

  • Cars lose a huge amount of their value as soon as you drive them off the lot, but Kelly Blue Book says that my car is currently worth $4000 more than I paid after taxes, and that’s just the trade-in value. So even if all the naysayers are right, I can change my mind and make money on the experiment.
  • We have the car set to a schedule so it automatically wakes up before we leave the house and warms or cools the interior to our preset temperature. It’s convenient, but it also helps save battery since it can do this while plugged in at home.
  • Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autopilot are awesome! We’ve never had a car with fancy cruise control before, so just being able to have the car speed up and slow down based on traffic in front of us is a treat. But then Autopilot takes it to another level by handling the steering for us too.
  • There’s no key for a Tesla. It’s paired to your phone so you just walk up, get in, and drive away. And when I walk up, it knows it is me and loads my profile which includes standard things like seat and mirror positions, but it also logs into my personal Spotify account, adjusts steering and throttle responsiveness the way I like it, applies my climate control preferences (including vent positions), and the list goes on and on.
  • The storage space is amazing! There’s a “frunk” in the front where we keep emergency supplies and stuff that isn’t accessed as often. The rear trunk has the space you’d normally expect from a small SUV but then you can lift up the floor and get lot more space. Elijah can fit down there with the lid closed!
  • The car has a permanent 4G cell connection. I’ve written before about how that allows me to collect a lot of live data through the API, but it also means nice features in the car. As you’d expect, the giant screen has live traffic in it, but it also streams music from Spotify or Slacker Radio. If you’re parked, you can watch Disney+, Netflix, YouTube, etc if you subscribe to those services. Some of those things require a $10/month Tesla fee to cover the extra bandwidth, but we were paying close to that much for Sirius XM in the last car and this is so much nicer that for now we’re going to pay it.

There are some things that feel different but aren’t pros or cons:

  • One pedal driving takes a while to get used to. When you lift off the accelerator, the car immediately starts to slow down through regenerative braking to recapture energy. If I let all the way off the accelerator, it slows down faster than I would normally decelerate, and it will come all the way to a stop. So that means on most trips, I never touch the brake. It was REALLY weird on the test drive and initially when we got the car. I wouldn’t say it’s second nature yet, but it’s getting there.
  • The entire roof is a window. Unfortunately, as a driver, I almost never notice this. It’s cool for Elijah though. One day we were driving to school, and I spotted a bald eagle flying at us. He couldn’t see it out the windshield, but he clearly saw it through the roof as we crossed paths.

And finally, there are some things in the “con” column:

  • A common complaint among Tesla owners is that Spotify locks up sometimes. I’ve experienced that too. The quick fix is to switch to another music option and then come back to Spotify and it works fine. It’s annoying when it happens.
  • I wish I could use the giant battery in my car to power my house or charge another car. Ford is making a big deal about how their F150 Lightning’s can do this and while it’s a feature that would hardly ever be used, I’d pay to have it just like I paid money to have a generator wired into my house.
  • Wiper controls are done via the screen so they aren’t as convenient as having them near the steering wheel. If you’re using cruise control or Autopilot, the wipers must be on Auto so the computer can make sure that the windshield cameras are clear. Most of the time that works ok, but sometimes it seems like the wipers go too fast. I prefer when they are going to slow because there is a “single wipe” button on the turn signal stalk.
  • There isn’t much visibility out the rear window. It’s enough, but it’s by far the least amount I’ve had on any vehicle I’ve owned.

Maybe I should have started the post with the cons so it ends in a happier state, but honestly, none of those “cons” were surprises to me. I found them all in my research before we ordered and none of them were showstoppers.

My overall review is “Two thumbs up. 5 stars. Would recommend.” I love this car! And as the gas prices continue to rise, it makes the price we paid even easier to stomach. When gas was $3.50/gallon, I calculated that we’d at least break even compared to buying another Escape. At $5.60/gallon that just makes it even more likely that this is going to save me money eventually, but I’ll keep you posted on that as we rack up some miles.

Tesla Road Trip Planning

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

I was hoping to write this post after going on our first overnight road trip, but that got canceled because COVID. (More on that later.) I had done a lot of planning and calculation prep work so I think I can still share some info.

Charging time is something I almost never think about in daily life, but it comes to the forefront on road trips. If you’re the type of person who can burn off a tank of gas without stopping, there’s no getting around it: an EV will add time to your trip. Maybe cutting your fuel costs by ~90% still makes it worth it, but it’s definitely going to change your planning.

For our family, I don’t expect charging to impact our total trip time because we rarely go more than two hours without stopping for a bathroom break. Our trip to Oregon was 3 hours and 50 minutes so I had a planned stop at the 2 hour mark where we would charge for 15 minutes and use the bathroom. There was a supercharger less than 2 miles from our rental house so I would have charged for about 15 minutes there when we arrived too. I doubt the exact plan would have held up and I would have stopped at other chargers as needed. I could have made it all the way down there in one charge and arrived with 17% battery, but being our first road trip, I wanted to see how it worked to combine the inevitable bathroom breaks with supercharger stops. Also, note that charging would be cheaper on the way back because I can roll into my house with a low battery state and charge for quite a bit less money than doing it at a supercharger station.

The Tesla road trip planner is ok, but if you’re a big planner, you’ll find it lacking. I prefer to use A Better Route Planner when I look at road trips. You can specify which types of chargers your happy to use, the efficiency you typically get in your own car, the amount of charge you plan to leave with, how much charge you want to arrive with, what amenities you want to have at a charging stop, and much more. You can even give the site/app access to your Tesla’s data and have it update your plan on the fly.

So yes, road tripping with an EV is different and will probably slow you down depending on your personal situation. Maybe the gas savings will make it worth it for you, or maybe you’ll still prefer to take your gas vehicle on longer trips. We certainly aren’t getting rid of our truck anytime soon and I’m sure we’ll use it for some road trips in the future too, but I’m also looking forward to our next overnight trip so we can try all this planning out in the real world!

TeslaMate Review

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday! The series kind of losing a bit of its luster when it’s the only set of posts happening on the blog right now, but let’s stick with it.

I’ve had a lot of fun reading data from the OBDII ports in our cars over the years, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Teslas have an API you can access to get tons of data. There are a variety of apps that can connect to the API and pull down data for you, but I chose TeslaMate specifically because it runs locally and I am in control of all my data. When you see how much data it collects, you can see why maybe it’s good to take a little extra precaution in who can access the data!

So just what do you get to see?

  • Drive and charging reports
  • Driving efficiency report
  • Consumption (net / gross)
  • Charge energy added vs energy used
  • Vampire drain
  • Projected 100% range (battery degradation)
  • Charging Stats
  • Drive Stats
  • History of installed updates
  • See when your car was online or asleep
  • Lifetime driving map
  • Visited addresses

You can check out the documentation link for a full set of screenshots but here are a couple:

Flipping through those dashboards should quickly give you the idea that there is a LOT of information being collected and it is collected multiple times per second! The data comes in live as the car is driving through the car’s built-in LTE connection and it is stored locally on my server in a database. If you want to see a demo the dashboards that sit on top of the data, check out the first ~14 minutes of this YouTube video.

Setup requires a bit of intermediate to advanced geekery. It runs in Docker containers, but there are some tutorials that walk through the config file manipulation and command line jobs to execute. It has been an interesting way to learn some additional technology. It’s my first time running my own Docker containers locally, my first time using Grafana, and my first time working with a PostreSQL database.

I set it up the first day we had it and I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of what it can do. For now I just like knowing that I’m collecting the data so that I can do more with it in the future.