Roadtrips can be one the best parts of EV ownership, but, to be honest, the first couple of long distance trips your Tesla might seem a little daunting, so this post will explore how to plan a successful trip. There is no substitute for “doing”, so I would suggest you get a couple of short trips under your belt before planning a cross-country trek. Start by planning a trip to a nearby Supercharger, then try a trip in the 2 hour range. This will get you used to charging, using the various tools described here and developing a feel for how your driving style compares to the models the planning tools use.
Will I Get There?
The main concerns new owners tend to have is around running out of charge before getting to their destination. The best way to reduce the odds of this happening is with data and planning–both before the trip and during the trip. For most of us, we travel repeatedly to the same locations, (work, grandma’s house, etc) and once you have successfully made the trip once, you can stop worrying about it. Over time, you will get an intuitive feel for destinations you can easily reach and the ones that might require some research.
The Tesla trip planner is very good and they have continually added features to it over the years, so, in reality, you can probably get away with jumping in the car, typing in a destination and just hitting the road, especially for trips of only a couple of hours.
That being said, it does not hurt to do a bit of homework to optimize the trip and lower anxiety levels. I am going to use the Tesla Trip Planner for my examples since everyone has that, but there are also a number of very good 3rd-party tools available, including EV Trip Planner for Tesla, A Better Route Planner, and the venerable EV Trip Planner. It’s worthwhile checking out the 3rd-party apps as they provide functionality and flexibility that the Tesla Trip Planner does not. You cannot simply use Apple Maps or Google Maps because they lack the range info for your car and don’t take into account things like changes in elevation that impact range. They have both started adding charging station info, perhaps they will continue to evolve as EV trip planning tools.
The first step in planning a trip is to get a general idea of the route and charging requirements. Tesla has done a great job with making this as simple as possible. The in-car trip planer will automatically plan the trip for you by simply typing a destination into the navigation. You can also do this from the comfort go your couch by using the web version of the trip planner (the only downside of the web tool is that it does not support older models).
This gives you a baseline for planning your trip–you’ll know if the trip is doable, how long it will take and how many charging stops it will take. From here, you can adjust plans:
- Be more aggressive or more conservative with your reserve battery and shorten or lengthen charging stops
- Detour of the chosen path and take a more scenic route–note that waypoints are currently not supported, so if you do this, you’ll have to break the planning into shorter segments
- Use non-Tesla charging infrastructure as it can shorten your trip or allow you to make trips you could not otherwise accomplish
If you find yourself doing the latter two often, if is definitely worth checking out the 3rd-party trip planning tools.
Other Sources of Planning Info
Have you bookmarked Plugshare yet? As part of your planning process, Plugshare is invaluable in finding non-Tesla chargers or chargers at or around your destination.
Lodging with Destination Charging
On multi-day trips, the “Find Us” map on the Tesla website is a great tool to find places to lodging (hotels, motels, AirBNB, etc) that will allow you to charge overnight.
Sometimes its helpful to get insight from local owners in an area you will be traveling. Here are three three ways to get connected with owners in other areas:
- Talk to members for the Tesla Owners Club in your region or the region you are visiting
- Post a message on one of the regional forums on the Tesla Motors Club site
Once you have created a trip plan, you need to make sure you are tracking to your plan during your trip. Luckily, you car gives you most of the information your need.
Tesla Energy App
Note: the look of the app will vary by model of car and version of software, but the info provided is the same as the examples shown below
The buiilt-in Tesla Energy App gives you most of the info you need to complete your trip with confidence.
For trip purposes, open up the app and go to the “Consumption” tab and set the app to “30 mile” and “Average Range.” The finely dotted line represents efficiency used to model the remaining rated range displayed on the dash. The thing you want to pay attention to is the coarsely dotted line which represents your average efficiency over the last 30 miles. As long as your average stays below the rated range line, you will have at least as much range as displayed on your dash. I tend to ignore the “Projected” box as it can vary widely and cause some unnecessary stress.
If you have a destination plugged into the navigation, you will also gain access to the “Trip” tab in the energy app. The Trip tab gives you a simple chart that shows the modeled decrease in charge from your current location to the destination or next charging stop. As you drive, the colored line will show actual usage and a grey line will continue to show the original projected usage. If the “actual” line tracks below the grey line, you are consuming the battery faster than expected. As the battery depletes the line will change colors using the same scheme as the battery icon on the dash: at 20% left it will turn yellow and at 10% left it will turn red. The line will turn black at the point the car believes you will run out of battery.
- The Tesla mobile app will provide a location-aware list of nearby Tesla Superchargers and Destination Chargers
- Some 3rd-party apps offer a mobile app so you can track how you are doing vs you plan
- Yes, one more plug for Plugshare to help you find chargers in a pinch
The biggest change when traveling long distance with an EV is that it does not always make sense to fill the tank. When driving a gasoline car, filling the tank at each stop is automatic; however, because of the “taper” when using Superchargers, it’s typically not an effective use of time to charge to 100% every time you stop. Because of the taper, it takes less time to fill the battery twice to 50% than it does to fill it to 100% once. Minimally you want to charge to have enough range to get your next stop plus a buffer for unexpected detours. Anything beyond that is usually wasted time, but there are times it makes sense to charge over 90%:
- You need the range to get to your next stop
- You will be stopping for a longer time anyway, so for a meal
For a trip, I would suggest the following as a template to start your planning:
- Start the trip at home with a 100% charge
- Mid-morning break: stop, stretch, grab snacks and charge just enough to get to your next stop (+ safety buffer)
- Lunch: stop for lunch and charge to 90%+
- Mid-afternoon break: stop, stretch, grab snacks and charge just enough to get to your next stop (+ safety buffer)
- Dinner: stop for dinner and charge to 90%+
- Late-evening break: stop, stretch, grab snacks and charge just enough to get to your next stop (+ safety buffer)
- Destination/Hotel: stop for night and charge to 100%
Some other thoughts on charging:
- As far as the safety buffer goes, I like to keep buffer of 15%-20% or 40-50 miles–again, use that as a starting point and adjust as your confidence grows
- If you do not have charging at or near your destination, at your last charging stop, make sure you add enough range to get to your destination and back to that charging spot plus cover any driving around you plan to do at the destination. In situations like this, any kind of charging at your destination, even 110V, is helpful.
Things that Impact Range
There are a number of environmental factors that can impact your range when you travel. They are less of a concern in daily driving but become more of a factor on long distance trips. The big three are speed, temperature and elevation:
For those of us born with lead feet, learning to drive a bit slower can be a challenge, but on longer trips it can pay off. The reason speed matters is that wind resistance grows as a square of velocity. If you look at the above chart, the “cost” of going 70 mph vs 80 mph is about 30 miles of range. Now does this mean you need to drive 65 mph everywhere? No, just that if you are going to go faster, you need to take that into account when you are planning your trip and your charging stops. Again, with a few trips under your belt you will start to get an intuitive feel for speed and range.
The other change in behavior is to look at total trip time vs traveling time. Sure going faster will get you to your next charger faster, but you are going to also spend more time charging once you get there. Owner consensus is that somewhere around 70mph gives you the best balance between driving speed and charging time.
One aspect many drivers do not consider is the impact driving into a headwind. Driving 60 mph into a 10 mph headwind is the same as driving 70 mph as far as the work the car is doing, so take that into account.
Changes in Elevation
Going uphill will gulp down range. As a general rule of thumb, you will lose about 6 miles of range of every 1,000 feet of elevation. The good news is that you will get 80%+ of that back on the way back down because of regeneration. Going to Lake Tahoe is always a fun trip, especially the first time, because your range plummets and even seasoned travelers will sweat a bit. However, on the way back, you’ll end up with almost the same range numbers as you started because it’s one long downhill coast.
Changes in Temperature
When temperatures start to drop below 40F, you will start to see loss of range. For planning purposes, start out assuming you will see a 30% loss of range–then adjust as your experience grows. While range loss in cold weather is inescapable, there are a couple of things you can do to lessen the impact of cold weather:
- Use the “Scheduled Departure” feature to make sure your battery is warm and the cabin heated from wall power instead of the car using the battery to to warm itself and the cabin once the trip begins
- When the car is plugged in, use the Tesla app to warm the cabin and defrost the windows–again the saves the car having to use battery once you start driving
- Use TACC or AP and/or Chill mode to limit frequent acceleration/deceleration
If the battery is cold, or it is getting cold because of rapid temperature drop (i.e. when the sun goes down), the battery heater will kick on and you’ll see a bug snowflake icon on the display. At the start of the day, it is best to avoid this by using the tips mentioned above. During a trip, the car will warn you that the car may need to turn on the heater, which can cause a drop in range.
Just for some context, all these factors also reduce the mileage of gasoline or diesel powered cars, its just more evident with your Tesla since it is throwing all this data at you.
What if I Run Low on Charge?
So, if you still think you are going to be short of range, there are a couple of things you can do to eke out a few extra miles (bring up the Energy app and the “Trip” tab to see how you are doing):
Slow Down Dropping your speed by 10mph can have a remarkable impact on range if you do it safely (i.e. don’t suddenly slow down I the fast lane). If you are on the freeway, getting off and taking surface roads can also be a helpful strategy as it allows you to go even slower and take advantage of regen braking.
Use TACC or Cruise Control Teslas are remarkably efficient when going at a steady speed–much of your range gets burned changing speed and using TACC or CC helps you maintain a steady speed and smooth out your acceleration and deceleration
Turn on Chill Mode This helps smooth out acceleration and deceleration to conserver battery
Follow Someone Following another vehicle (at a safe distance, don’t tailgate) will reduce wind resistance and increase range
Turn on Range Mode Note that among other things, Range Mode limits energy spent heating or cooling the cabin
Find a Charger Now is the time to fire up Plugshare and find nearby chargers and add a few miles of range back. Also look for RV parks in the area. The typical RV park 50A hookup will work with the UMC NEMA 14-50 adapter. Call the RV park ahead of time to make sure they have space and let them know that you just need to charge your car–often they will cut you a deal.
If you do run out of electricity, try and pull over in a safe spot and call Tesla Roadside Assistance. They will dispatch a flatbed tow truck to take you to the closest charger.