Road trips 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.
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. Luckily, there are a number of very good tools to help on this front. Why do you have to use special planning tools and not just use Apple Maps, Google Maps, etc to plan your trip? Two reasons:
The first step in planning a trip is to get a general idea of the route and charging requirements. There are 4 tools I can recommend:
The simplest approach is to simply plug your destination into the navigation in your vehicle. If will churn out a route and a list of recommended charging stops. The trip planner has the advantage of always being handy and it will make sure you get to your destination. For trips of a couple of hours, its probably all you need. The biggest issue with the trip planner is that on longer trips, it may not take the most optimal route and it does not have visibility to non-Tesla chargers. For example, for planning a trip to Bend, OR, there is about an hour difference in trip time between the route the Trip Planner picks and the route I take because, courtesy of PlugShare, I know there is a 80A L2 charger along the way, which saves me a detour to the Supercharger. Tesla has recently launched a web-based version of the in-car trip planner so, like the other tools listed here, you can explore travel scenarios from the comfort of your couch. It is not as sophisticated as the other tools listed here (for example, it does not support older models) but it is useful to get an initial idea of what a trip might look like.
EVTripPlanner.com is a much loved website that lets you do more fine-grained trip planning. It produces the same type of route and charging info as the Tesla Trip Planner, but with access to a few more knobs to customize the modeling. It also gives you some potentially useful statistics on total driving time and travel time. Because you can access the site form the comfort of your couch, its also a better tool to do some “what if”-ing with alternate routes and non-Tesla chargers.
EVTO is a new mobile app written by one of our very own club members. Being the newest kid on the block, it has a number of useful features, and, like, EV Trip Planner, is a great tool for running “what-if” scenarios. It is available for Apple iOS and Google Android platforms.
ABRP is another new trip planning tool. Its unique in that it lets you plan your trip at home and then follow-along in the car during your trip. It has a solid set of planning options and offers Android integration.
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.
After your first couple of trips, you really only need to go through this planning step for new destinations or if you are going at a different time of year where, say, the weather might be a factor. You only need to figure out how to get to Grandma’s house once.
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:
Once you have created a trip plan, you need to make sure you are tracking to your plan during your trip. All these planning tools make assumptions on how you will drive and you need to be able to track how you are actually doing. Luckily, you car gives you most of the information your need.
The built-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 range.
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 normal car, filling the tank at each stop is automatic; however, because of the “taper” when using Superchargers, its not an effective use of time to charge to 100% every time you stop. In reality, it takes less time to fill the battery twice to 50% than it does to fill it to 100% once (see the prior post on an explanation why). Minimally you want to charge to have enough range to get your next stop plus a buffer for unexpected detours. Anything beyond that is wasted time.
For a trip, I would suggest the following as a template to start your planning:
Some other thoughts on charging:
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.
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 be checking their numbers. However, on the way back, you’ll end up with almost the same range numbers as you started because its one long downhill coast.
When it's really cold outside (say sub 40F), assume you will see a 30% loss of range–again, a good place to start and adjust as your experience grows. The modeling tools above will take ambient temperature into account. While range loss in cold weather is inescapable, there are a couple of things you can do to lessen the impact of cold weather:
Aerodynamics: using a roof rack or trailer will reduce range
Wind: driving into a headwind will reduce range. Driving 60mph into a 20mph headwind generates the same wind resistance as driving 80mph on a clear day
Rapid Temperature Drops: a rapid temperature drop, especially in the spring and fall when the temps go from moderate to the 40s around sunset can cause the battery heater to kick on and result in a sudden unexpected drop in remaining 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.
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
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 your 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.