Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022 Holiday road trip in a Tesla

When our winter flights to visit family in the US were cancelled, we decided to get our bags back from the airline and jump in the car for a last-minute winter road trip!

A friend suggested that we share our experience, as we're still in (relatively) early days of electric vehicle adoption. It's not bleeding edge any more, by any means, but many people wonder what a road trip in an EV can look like. More notes on this at the bottom, compared to our previous car, a 2016 Nissan Leaf. 

Our route was Squamish, BC > Portland, OR > Ashland, OR > Reno, NV > Park City, UT.

If you're curious whether there are enough chargers, here's the same map showing Tesla Superchargers; the network that we used:

And if you include hotels and other places with 'overnight' chargers, you get even more options:
So yeah, there's plenty of chargers for road trips these days. 

Here's our trip on Tesla's online trip planner (similar to the in-car navigation, but with less info available [in the car you can also access real-time charger availability, food & shopping nearby, etc.])

By timing our drives well, we were able to navigate around severe weather and didn't need to drive in any terribly snowy / icy conditions, thankfully.  While in Boise, we did contemplate driving straight west to Portland, and then north, as that would have kept us on the boring, but very-well-plowed primary highways, but it would have added a few hours and the weather was good enough to let us go direct.

Charging at home (on a dryer plug) costs us roughly 1/4th the cost of gas, but using Level 3 / Fast chargers / Superchargers is closer to 1/2 the cost of gas or a bit more. So it feels expensive, but honestly, is fine for the few road trips that we do each year.

We spent CA$427 (~US$315) at Tesla Superchargers, plus plugging in at 2 friends houses overnight (about $5 of charge each); so the total cost was about CA$440 (US$325).  With about 4300 km on the total trip (above map + some day trips), that comes out to about CAD$0.10 per km, or US$0.12 per mile.

Besides charging, the only other significant costs and maintenance costs we've had on our car in the past 2+ years is:

  • Insurance
  • Winter tires + chains
  • Fancy floor mats for mud/snow
  • Cabin air filter replacement
  • Wiper fluid: $3 on this trip, actually! Got a warning on the screen that it was low, just as I started wondering when it would ever run out, after 2 years in the PNW!

One other benefit of our road trip is that the environmental impact is much lower. Even with the high carbon footprint of the manufacture of electric vehicle and its battery, and even though we did some charging in coal-heavy parts of the country, the emissions from this trip are dwarfed by what they would have been using an airplane + gas rental car.  Look up "full lifecycle analysis" or "well to wheels" comparisons when researching whether EVs are a good fit for you. Here's a little article to get you started, showing that where we live, an EV is cleaner if you plan on driving your car more than 10,000 miles over the course of the car's life.

We definitely wouldn't have done this with our previous car, a 2016 Nissan Leaf, but now with our 2020 Tesla Model Y, we had plenty of storage space, range, and more importantly, plenty of high-quality chargers. We've found the Tesla charging network better in 4 main ways:

  • Chargers work all the time - as opposed to using our Leaf where we had near-constant issues with all of the charging networks, apps, RFID cards, QR codes, and plugs. With the Tesla stuff, you just walk up, grab the handle, and plug it in. It charges your card in the background. No logins, apps, RFID, QR, etc.

  • There are plenty of charging cords at each charge station - as opposed to our Leaf days, where we'd routinely / almost always have to wait behind a few cars to charge (meaning an extra hour of waiting).  Most Tesla chargers have 6+ plugs, and the car app will tell you how many are in use as you're driving there, or re-route you to another nearby charger as necessary / available.

  • Faster charging: All of the Tesla chargers we used were 150kW or 250kW, as opposed to our Leaf days where 50kW was the norm. This means most stops were 20 minutes, instead of 45 minutes.  I know some of the new Electrify America chargers are faster, but I have only heard horror stories about using them on road trips (see above first point, and watch some youtube).

  • Better locations of charging: Most (not all) Tesla chargers have 24/7 meals & conveniences nearby, where as most of our Leaf charging were at municipal chargers, etc. (boring and useless on a road trip).
I mention the above differences for 2 reasons:
  1. A result of all of these meant that we never got annoyed charging - there was always a good reason to stretch our legs every 2 hours.  It bears mentioning that we specifically opted for more short-duration charging stops, rather than fewer, longer stops. At almost every stop, the car was done charging before we were done our meal / activity. Our two kids under age 4 tolerated this road trip, likely in large part to breaking up the drive into roughly 2-hour driving chunks.

  2. Thankfully, Tesla is already opening up its charging network to other electric vehicles, so hopefully this positive experience will be more widely available to other EV users.