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First Model S Drive from Chapel Hill, NC to Arlington, VA (Lessons Learned)

Disclaimer: Before I begin recording my stream of consciousness, let me be very clear, I love this car. I'm totally impressed by the people at Tesla. And the problems I'm stumbling into are exciting to debate and solve.

Timeline and Relevant Car Details

  1. Reserved Model S: 2/21
  2. Finalized Model S: 3/4
  3. Took Delivery of Model S: 3/19 - Details:

    85 kWh Battery Pack, 19" Tires, Air Suspension, Single Charger, Premium Sound, Panoramic Sunroof, Tech Package

Taking Delivery in Raleigh, NC and The First Ugly Drive Home

The Awesome: I was returning to DC from a brief vacation on 3/19 and realized I might be able to just fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and grab my car that was being readied for a DC delivery and drive back to DC from NC. Being who I am, I decided to strike while the iron was hot, and sent off an e-mail to Bank of America, and Tesla, and told them I was going to be showing up hat-in-hand on the 19th. It turns out it's a quick 15 dollar cab ride to the Raleigh Service Center and I was greeted by a cold drink and lots of great conversation. Between Jamee (on the Delivery Service Team), Lauren (a Product Specialist in Palo Alto), Trevor (the Raleigh Service Manager), and Roberto (the uber Lender and best BoA employee of all time), somehow everything came together. I really want to emphasize how awesome these people were. Jamee was responding to my e-mails at near midnight the night before, the Tesla web team was busy trying to reconfigure things to let me pay correctly, and Trevor was busy charging and detailing my new car. The experience was nothing short of fantastic. Kudos all around from a guy that NEVER gives kudos to people selling me expensive things.

The Bad: After enjoying a great conversation with Trevor, meeting his wicked cute kid, and awesome wife, I hopped into the car and immediately started to notice problems. Let me give a quick list:

  • The 200 mm speaker on the passender door is very scratchy and almost sounds like a screw is rattling around
  • The driver-side front door requires a pretty strong slam to get the thing closed
  • The driver-side window doesn't correctly match up with the rubber insulation around it
  • The panoramic sunroof generates a lot of wind noise when the car is moving at a high speed
  • There are lots of exposed cloth fibers frayed around the panoramic sunroof
  • There's a weird bug where the rear-view camera will display above it's designated box on the screen and then never be able to move

None of this is the end of the world, but it's always nice for the next guy to know what's going on.

The Ugly: I grabbed the car with 230 miles of rated range on it. I drove the car to Chapel Hill to meet the girlfriend cutting my range back to ~190 miles. I decided to grab some pizza and leave the car charging (for free!) at the municipal charging station on 503 West Frankly Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. As expected (it's granola Chapel Hill!), there were three cars in place and I luckily grabbed the last of the four available spots. I plugged in and stumbled into my first surprise: the J1772 connector was only giving me 14 miles per hour. Compounding that, the charging station had some weird fault, and the charging stopped with only about 15 miles added to the car. At this point, it was starting to get late, and I had to leave. I set off on a journey requiring 270 miles of travel on I-85 (70 mph speed limit) and I-95 (again 65-70 mph speed limits).

I knew I'd have to stop in Richmond (and my little sister is a med student out there, so it would be convenient). I finally arrived at the Virginia Science Museum where I was paying 0.75 per hour to charge off of a J1772 adapter again at about 15-16 miles per hour. I showed up with 35 miles of remaining rated range, and I needed another ~90 to safely return to Arlington, VA to get into work. If this was any other place, I'd have been screwed. I needed to charge the car for ~6 hours to get back on the road. I was lucky. My little sister traded cars with me, and I drove up to Arlington at about 2 AM (with a brief 3 hour nap at a wendies, ugh). The whole thing was pretty disastorous. I made a lot of unreal assumptions (e.g., I could drive efficiently without climate control, I would get 31 miles per hour of charging using the J1772 chargers, I would easily find 14-50 charging options, etc.) and I kind of failed to be realistic about the math. Disaster. Oh well.

Lessons Learned: Lots of important things to remember if you're in my circumstance:

  1. When you take delivery before a long trip, ask the service center to give you a max charge.
  2. Get the Tesla App for your phone and monitor your car. I missed out on 30 miles of range because of the fault in Chapel Hill.
  3. The newbie model s owner will probably assume 31 miles per hour is what you get when you charge. Wrong. And the 30 Amp J1772 public charging station will not give you anything close to the theoretical maximum charge (e.g., 32 A*240 V (P=IV, remember) or 7.68 kW which should yield an ideal 27 miles per hour increase or an EPA rated range increase of 23 miles per hour). I actually called Tesla about this and they told me the average J1772 Level 2 station is yielding about a 14 mile per hour increase.
  4. If you're going to risk the drive, have backup options. Swapping the car with a family member worked conveniently for me.

I really don't know how to answer that. I charged initially at home, and my electricity costs about 9.5 cents a KWH, meaning I charged for about $8.00. The charging at the RV park was $5/hour, which means about $30. Charging on the Supercharger was free and in NJ was free, so on the way back the charges were about the same.

So that's about $38 for about 1100 miles round trip and a little driving in NJ. So that would be $0.034 a mile.

Sounds close to the average per mile. The freebies and billed sites offset.

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