My first year with Model S

Chris Hedrick, November 11, 2016

One year ago today, I bought an electric car. Electric cars are coming for the masses, so I'd like to share a few thoughts about my first year of ownership in the event you're considering one for yourself.

I was excited about some aspects of a Model S (fast car, seating for seven, all-wheel-drive, huge screen, better for the environment) and nervous about others (range, charging, Autopilot, cold weather, snow, and battery life).

Charging at home

We drive the car every time we leave the house, regardless of where we’re going or how many people are joining. We’ve put more than 16,000 miles on it. With 300 miles of range, charging is a never an issue. In 16,000 miles, I only had to stop to charge six times, four of which were on the same trip. I always charge at home.

Range was a concern before I owned the car, but I found out that you just don't drive more than 300 miles per day very often.  At home, I charge when I sleep. I purchased and installed a 240V outlet for $150 in parts and two hours of my own labor. It charges at 30 miles of range per hour. You can buy something twice as fast for $500, but you don't need it.

Tesla recommends you charge your car every night. That means every morning your car is fully charged. Who has more range anxiety, someone who looks at their gas gauge every time they get in their car, or someone who never thinks about it because it's always full?  Eventually, the battery will wear down, just like a cell phone or laptop. Tesla claims to have put batteries through 500,000 miles empty-to-full charges and the batteries still retained more than 80% of their capacity. I will never get there, but if I do, the battery has an infinite mile warranty, so I sleep soundly.

Charging on the go

Two dozen times we took weekend trips that in total, were more than 300 miles. Rather than stopping, I generally plugged my car into whatever outlet my destination had. This usually meant a regular 120V household plug, but also meant a bus outlet (once) and an electric stove outlet (once). I also stayed at two hotels that offered electric vehicle charging (for free, of course). Again, none of these were necessary because there were always Tesla Superchargers on my route, but they allowed me to make a long trip without stopping often.
I learned a lot about Superchargers, despite only using them six times. Superchargers are really fast. With a charge rate of more than 400 miles per hour, most stops fell between 15-30 minutes. On long drives, it was just enough time to grab a bite to eat and stretch our legs, something we would have done anyway in a gas car. Superchargers are everywhere. I was surprised that not once was I unable to take a trip for lack of a place to charge. Not only that, but not once did I have to take a different route than I otherwise would have taken in a gas car. Tesla has done a great job putting Superchargers on primary travel routes, usually 100-200 miles apart, near restaurants and shopping centers.  They're built into the car's GPS (Google maps), and the car automatically routes you through them and even calculates charge time. No Supercharger? No problem. There are nearly 40,000 public charging stations in the U.S., many of which are free, but all of which are significantly slower than a Supercharger.  

Saving on gas

My monthly gasoline expense dropped by $150/month and my electric bill increased by $30/month, which means I saved about $1,500 this year. I also received a $7,500 tax credit (see: credit, not deduction). Even with those savings, however, Teslas are still expensive to buy. However, the cost of electric vehicles are dropping. I had an opportunity to visit Tesla's new "Gigafactory" this year, where they hope to achieve economies of scale by producing more lithium batteries than the rest of the world combined. If and when that happens in a few years, the costs will drop dramatically.

No service needed, is great service

Service was non-existent. My only service was, and forever will be, tire rotations. With no fluids and very few moving parts in the car, there's nothing to service.  There's no engine and no transmission. Electric cars have something called regenerative braking, which means that when you take your foot off the gas pedal, the car converts the kinetic energy of your forward motion to potential energy in the battery. Not only does this increase your range, but it also slows the car down, preventing you from needing to press your brake pedal, and therefore you'll never need brakes, or at least not for many hundreds of thousands of miles.

Tire rotations, like most services, are free. Tesla comes to your place or work, picks your car up and gives you a loaner.  Teslas have all-wheel-drive, but wanting to get the most out of my car, I purchased winter tires for the first time in my life. Not only did Tesla install them for free despite me purchasing them from a third party website, but they stored (and continue to store) my off-season tires, you guessed it, for free.

Snow driving with electric all-wheel drive 

Though we had a mild winter, the snow tires worked great, as did the all-wheel-drive. It's the best car I've ever driven in the snow, but I can't say if that's because of the snow tires or the AWD. Tesla claims that their cars have superior AWD because their cars have two separate motors (one on the front axle and one on the rear) rather than the mechanical linkage of traditional cars. The other benefit of no mechanical linkage is that there's no hump down the center of your floor. The middle seat is cool again.

The colder the weather, the less range you get. It's not linear, so you're pretty good down to freezing. I'd estimate you get 5% less range for every 10 degrees it drops below freezing.  There are a couple of reasons for this. First, batteries don't perform as well in severe cold (they drain faster). Second, heat in gas cars is essentially free. Once your engine warms up, simply pass air over it to warm up your cabin. With no engine, electric cars have electric heat, which consumes a lot of power. The upside is that your car can generate hot air as soon as you get in it, rather than waiting for your engine to warm up.  The other good news is that because Tesla places their Superchargers 100-200 miles apart, even zero-degree weather won't keep you from reaching your destination, although you may have to make an extra stop. 

Safe for seven 

Our family is growing. Safety, seating, and storage are important to us. Model S is designed to be the safest car on the road due to its low center of gravity and large crumple zone (with no engine). As Elon puts it, if you were to jump into a pool from a high place, you would want the pool to be as deep as possible, and not have rocks in it. We purchased the third-row seating option, which allows you to seat two additional children facing backwards. Because the seats face backwards and have a five-point harness, they’re the safest seats in the car and qualify as legal car seats for children. For peace of mind, Tesla double-reinforces the rear bumper when you select the third-row option. Our oldest daughter loves sitting in the back with her friends, and mom and dad love it too. With 63 cubit feet of cargo volume, Model S has more storage capacity than some SUVs.


Ludicrous speed

Probably the most well-documented part of a Tesla is its acceleration. My car isn't the fastest model (which has since gone on to be the fastest car in the world), but it's still the fastest car I and most of my passengers have ever been in. When a gas car has a stated horsepower, that occurs when the engine is redlining. Most people never achieve it and if they do, it's long after they hit the gas. Electric cars have instant power.  

The best part; Autopilot

Finally, Autopilot. It's everything Tesla claimed it would be. It's the best part of the car and I totally wasn't expecting it to be. Working as an engineer in the automotive industry, I've learned not to expect much from automakers. Every year is more of the same and innovation only happens when the government requires it (see: headlights, windshield wipers, rear view mirrors, seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, dynamic stability control, fuel economy, the list goes on). Now we have a true American car company (and the only one who doesn't currently owe the government any money) doing something special. Autopilot isn't perfect yet, but it's already more than twice as safe as a human driver. The future looks bright.

After one year of ownership, I can't say enough good things. It's not a perfect car, but it's the closest thing to it by an order of magnitude. Whether you order a Model S, X, or the upcoming mass-market Model 3, you won't be disappointed.

Want to learn more? Send Chris a message on Instagram.

Tags: Model S, Hong Kong, Customer Stories