Model 3 Road Trip Thoughts

Just my thoughts on how my Model 3 did on a recent long road trip.

Details:

2018 Model 3 LR RWD. ~2,000 miles on I-40, I-44, I-70 over 6 driving days, 4-6 hours of driving per day. Hotels every night except for a 2 day stay with family in the middle. Wife drove separately in an ICE, one toddler in each car plus a dog in the ICE.

Overall Experience:

Great! By far the easiest cross-country road trip I’ve ever done. Autopilot is a massive help. Charging forced us to make more periodic stops which was honestly beneficial to everyone involved. After 2 years of ownership and only 6,000 miles on the car due to a short commute and no big trips, I hadn’t often experienced range anxiety. The first couple days of this trip it really kicked in. Watching the estimated battery percentage at destination vary so much freaked me out a bit. But every leg of the trip the battery percentage ended up higher at arrival than originally predicted despite it often dropping precipitously early into the leg, so I got over it pretty quick. I did still try to keep my SoC above 15% for peace of mind though, and spending an extra 5 or 10 minutes at each charger wasn’t a big deal.

Charging:

Most days we stopped to charge twice, and we managed to only need to use Tesla Superchargers (though we also plugged in to a standard wall outlet while staying with family). Total cost was $111, but one charging stop was free as I was driving through Texas. Most locations were decent, though a couple felt slightly sketchy. They were usually near a gas station which was convenient for us. All had restrooms accessible within a reasonable walk, and most had some semblance of restaurant close by. One interesting hiccup was that in one area my wife was filling with gas, I was charging and went to walk for food, but only drive-thrus were open due to COVID, so we had to wait for her to finish filling up to get food. Without a second vehicle we would’ve had to interrupt charging or pick food up after charging if we didn’t have the foresight to grab it on the way into the charger, so at least during COVID I’d suggest hitting the drive-thru beforehand so you can eat while you charge.

Lessons Learned:

If given the option to charge near an overnight stop either upon arrival or in morning when departing, shoot for at arrival. One night I had the fortune of having a 250kW supercharger near a hotel, but since I waited to charge until the morning the battery was cold and charged very slowly, even at low SoC.

Don’t count on destination chargers without calling ahead. Different hotels have different policies about parking, blocking chargers overnight, etc. I didn’t plan my overnight stops around destination chargers, partially for this reason and partially because our requirement for pet friendly hotels limited options a bunch already. However, at the one hotel I stayed at with chargers, they were down.

Charging from standard wall outlet…works. I did this at my family’s house and did end up with a full charge after leaving it plugged in for the 48 hours we were there, but just barely. It wasn’t crucial to my trip, but did help avoid an extra Supercharger stop that day.

At least in the West most Superchargers were near a Holiday Inn Express. I don’t know if this is a partnership or something or just coincidence, but it would’ve been handy to realize ahead of time for planning hotels. Then again I was also traveling with a dog, so I’m not sure if they would’ve been viable options or not.

Critique/suggestions:

I know trip planner is technically still in beta, but it really has a ways to go on usability. Ideally I could go into the app or the screen in the car, insert all my stops (and ideally identify overnight stops and such), then have it track me all the way through, telling me where to charge and how much. In its current iteration I had to manually insert the following day’s destination near the end of my current day of driving to figure out how much to charge at the current day’s last charging stop and whether I had to charge again near my overnight location. A baby step toward this would be the option to set a minimum charge at arrival so it adjusted your last charge time accordingly for if you have to continue driving in the morning or if you want to make sure you have enough range to drive around at your destination before charging again. Another issue with trip planner is it liked to tell me to stretch my range and “drive under x mph to reach your destination” even if there were Superchargers available on the route. Since there’s usually no signage to lead to Superchargers, using the mapping was the only way to make sure I hit it so a few times I had to manually map to the charger, then when I got there put in my next destination so it could recommend how long to charge. A setting to “prefer an extra charging stop over driving slow” would be ideal.

A lot of people here suggest using A Better Route Planner to combat some of the issues I listed with Trip Planner. I had used ABRP ahead of time a little to make sure all my legs were doable, and it gave me an idea of what chargers I’d stop at but trying to keep ABRP and the Tesla mapping on the same page was tricky. Additionally, using ABRP on mobile during the trip was kind of clunky and a little hard to manage, especially with 2 toddlers and therefore essentially no free time during our overnight stops to mess with it.

Mapping was generally good other than trip planner hiccups above. A few gripes though. I didn’t like that the map zoom level is coupled to how many directions steps are displayed in navigation. I wanted to be zoomed in on my current location to visualize the next few turns up close while also being able to see the next several directions in the list, but this combination wasn’t possible. Mostly this was slightly annoying, but it did contribute to me getting on the highway heading in the wrong direction once after charging (inadequate signage also lent itself to that). Not a huge deal, but could have been avoided if I could have set up the map zoom how I wanted. Another gripe that contributed to that incident is that verbal directions cues were suspended while on a phone call. This is kind of a lose-lose situation since it sucks to miss directions but it also could suck to have navigation talking over your phone call. Maybe having an option to toggle this one way or the other would be a good compromise. One weird issue was that one Supercharger that I manually entered wasn’t recognized at first when I searched for it; I had to look up the address and enter that. Then when I put the address in, it identified the location as a Supercharger! Just a little confusing glitch I guess. Final mapping gripe, and this should be a given—I couldn’t believe that this was an issue—arrival time should be displayed in destination’s time zone!!

“FSD” Autopilot, as I mentioned early on, was super useful. My critique here probably isn’t of much consequence since the rewrite will drastically change a lot of the functionality, but here are my thoughts anyway. I had a few weird phantom braking type incidents, but nothing crazy. I did turn off Navigate on Autopilot in a few areas. It often had a rough time trying to decide when to leave the passing lane vs. stay in to pass additional vehicles. It was pretty inconsistent in automatically moving over to pass slower traffic; a few times it let itself slow down by over 10 mph behind a car in the right lane even though there was no one in the left. It loved to start signaling my return to the right lane while the car (or more often truck) I was passing was still right next to me, then it would slide back over right in front of them. If I passed someone by 5+ mph it wasn’t an issue, but passing a semi by 1 or 2 mph then getting over right away put me dangerously close, in my opinion. The Tesla knows if it’s a semi truck it’s passing, so it should be able to account for giving them more room.

TL;DR: Roadtripping in the Model 3 was a great experience, much better than any ICE road trip I’ve done. It was super easy as is, but a few improvements to trip planning, mapping, and autopilot would improve it even more.

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