What’s it like to go on a road trip across the United States in an electric vehicle? John and Patti White tells us about their 8,182 journey in a Tesla Model 3 Long Range.
By John and Patti White.
My wife and I enjoy road trips. We’ve driven in all 50 states. On our last big road trip in 2018, we left our home in San Marcos, California, drove to British Columbia, and turned east until we got to Nova Scotia. Then we wound our way south and west until we got home. That took 8 weeks in our Honda CRV. We decided that was a little too long.
In 2022, we had a specific list of people rather than places that we really wanted to see and we didn’t want to take 8 weeks. That meant we would spend a lot of time on boring/terrifying interstates which we usually avoid. Fortunately for me, my wife doesn’t mind doing most of the driving on freeways. We had just traded in our 2019 Model 3 Standard Range for a Long Range (358 mile) version with FSD (not Beta). So, we made a plan.
THE TRIP: I had recently made contact with two friends I hadn’t seen in over 50 years (I’m 75), one in Maryland and one in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. On the way, we decided to see old friends in Houston (with a side trip to see the new Tesla plant in Austin) and South Carolina. And on the way back, we’d see family in West Virginia and an old friend of my wife’s in Colorado. And we threw in a visit to Cape Hatteras just for us. Plotting it out we set a goal of no more than 28 days and it looked doable as long as we were willing to put in a lot of 500+ mile days between visits. In the end, we had 10 layover days and 15 drive-all-day days. We drove through 28 states.
THE CAR: We traded in our 2019 Model 3 for two main reasons: longer range and better sound insulation — the two most important features for road trips. But we also got a better sound system, faster computer (AMD chip), more efficient heating (octovalve!), all-wheel drive, faster acceleration, and — surprising to us — noticeably better handling. We didn’t think it could get better than what we had but it is SO sure-footed. It beautifully performed the whole trip with never a problem. The only maintenance was rotating the tires after we got back.
THE DRIVE: Typically, we’d make about 2 to 4 Supercharger stops on a 500-mile day. Our longest leg without stopping to charge was 199 miles. Obviously, we could have gone further, but why? We have grown to love the rhythm of a Tesla road trip, stopping every 2 or 3 hours to charge for 20–30 minutes, go for a walk, find a bathroom, get something to eat, switch drivers, and maybe watch YouTube or Netflix . We’re refreshed and ready for another 2 or 3 hours. We were on Autopilot (FSD, but not Beta) 95% of the time on the interstates. We are so much more relaxed when we don’t have to steer and we just have to be aware of who’s around us. The result was we were much more relaxed at the end of the day than in our ICE car days. Another advantage of shorter legs is that we never charged the car beyond 310 miles range, about 86%, and usually kept it to about 280 max. The battery charges faster and it’s healthier for the battery.
AUTOPILOT: The only Autopilot features we used were autosteer and automatic lane changes. People without FSD won’t have lane changing, which is a real convenience since you don’t have to take it out of Autopilot to change lanes. Still, autosteer is the most important feature by far. Of course, we’re constantly monitoring the situation, but it’s so much more relaxing when you don’t have to worry about staying in your lane or slowing down for the car in front. We often took it out of Autopilot, usually for brief periods. It’s so conservative! When traffic is thick and cars are cutting in and out, we often switched to manual to make a lane change more aggressively than Autopilot would. Also, I really wish it would move over more in the lane when a truck is close to the line beside us, but it seems to want to stay right in the center until it really has to move. We often took it out of Autopilot and moved over at those times. And phantom braking continues to be a problem once or twice a day. We got really good at responding immediately by pressing the accelerator.
SUPERCHARGING COSTS: We stopped at 62 Superchargers, spending $740.21. That works out to about $0.09/mile which is about half what I’d pay for gas in my ICE car. Charging at home, I pay $0.09/kW, which is just over $0.02/mile. The cheapest rate was $0.21/kW in Philadelphia, while several western states charged $0.40/kW. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia charge by the minute. I had heard of this but wasn’t aware of how I was being charged until later when I reviewed my charges in my Tesla account. It’s weird! For example, this is how Georgia charged me according to Tesla:
1 min @ $0.12/min
14 min @ $0.31/min
10 min @ $0.58/min
1 min @ $0.93/min
It’s weird because they charged me the least for the period I was using the most kW. It was a 250 kW charger and it will draw 4 kW/minute at first but after 15 minutes it’s only drawing 1–2 kW/minute.
SUPERCHARGING PROBLEMS: We only had to wait one time out of the 62 times we stopped at Superchargers, which I think is pretty incredible. And that time was in a small Louisiana town with eight 150 kW chargers. Four were temporarily out of commission, but Tesla was already there working on them. They told us what was going on, and within a few minutes they had a 5th one working for us. While we were charging, they got the others working. I was impressed because I’m sure this little town didn’t have Tesla people standing by. I wondered where they’d driven from. At one other place in South Carolina, 4 out of 8 charger weren’t working but the other 4 were fine and one was available. We notified Tesla.
SUPERCHARGING EXPERIENCES: The longest distance between Superchargers we saw was 140 miles. That was in West Texas. Finding a charger simply wasn’t an issue. The furthest we had to go off our route to reach one was about 2 miles, but they were usually within a few blocks of the freeway exit. All 62 locations had recommendations on the Tesla website for restrooms, so that was no problem at all. Many chargers were at Hilton Express, Holiday Inn Express, or Hampton Inn. That was fine except they don’t serve food. Our favorite chargers were at travel centers where they serve food and have nice restrooms. In the east, Sheetz and Wawa were both common locations for chargers and they have good food choices. Many were also at Targets, which have restrooms and good food to buy. All in all, we have good memories of our Supercharging times. On a 500-mile day, we typically spent an hour to an hour-and-a-half charging.
EFFICIENCY: In my opinion, the most important thing to understand in planning and executing a trip like this is efficiency — that is, miles-driven/charge-miles-used. For example, if your car shows 200 miles of range and you drive 80 miles, your car may now show 100 miles of range. So, your efficiency was 80%. You may get 100% efficiency if you’re driving quietly at 50 mph, but you certainly won’t on the interstate unless you have a tailwind. We drove mostly at 70–75 mph and our average efficiency for the trip was about 85% (most numbers here come from TeslaFi, an extremely useful app). On one 105-mile stretch in Utah with 30 mph headwinds, we only got 56% efficiency! I don’t like to worry about running out of charge, so I usually planned for the worst case and made sure I had twice as much range as the distance to the next charger, and then added more if I planned to skip that charger. On that Utah stretch, we had planned to skip the first charger and go to the next one 64 miles further away. But we routinely check the Energy Monitor, which gives an estimate of how much range you’ll have left when you reach your destination. So useful! We could see that the estimate was dropping each time we checked (due to the headwinds) and it became obvious it would be too risky to keep going. No problem. We had plenty of charge to reach the nearer one. I usually planned to have 40 or 50 miles charge when we arrived in case the Superchargers were out of order and we would have to search for somewhere to charge. Fortunately, that never happened. I’ve heard so many horror charging stories for non-Tesla EVs. I can’t imagine how different our experience might have been in another electric vehicle or whether it would even be possible to go as fast and far as we did.
We didn’t take this trip to prove anything. Our shorter road trips in the Standard Range car were great except for the need to charge more often. We had no doubt the trip was feasible and would be comfortable even with the somewhat rushed timeline. It was wonderful having the extra range so we never felt the need to charge close to 100%. If Tesla really does double the number of Superchargers in the next few years, it’s going to be ridiculously easy to take a trip like this.
- Longest leg: 199.49 miles.
- Superchargers: 62
- Cost to charge: $740.21
- Miles: 8,182
- Days: 25
- Trip efficiency: 81.77%
- Worst efficiency: 56.5% (59.42 actual miles, 105.13 rated miles, 20–30 mph headwinds).
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