When I first got my Model 3, I really did not know how range and charging would work, and I am a Tesla fanatic. I know 10x as much about Tesla and their cars as your normal Joe. People constantly tell me I should be a Tesla salesman, yet, I could not speak to or about real-world charging and real-world range because I had never done it. Conceptually, I thought I knew, but range anxiety existed anyway. Now I know about range and charging from experience. I have driven over 4,500 miles in one single road trip over highways, byways, interstates, dirt roads, goat paths, winding roads, high mountain passes, desert canyons, back country camping, big city traffic, you name it, I saw it, drove it, charged there, and now really know what the car can and cannot do.
I will tell you how it is done and if you should fear the dreaded ‘Range Anxiety’.
First, some terms to get your head around because they will be used throughout this article and as an Electric car owner, you will be forced to know them sooner or later.
Amp – an ampere is the unit for measuring electricity.
Volt – the basic unit that causes a current of one ampere to flow through a conductor having a resistance of one ohm.
Watt – the basic unit for electric power it is equal to one volt-ampere.
If we think of electricity as water flowing through a pipe it can help us understand amps, volts and watts. Amps would be the volume of water flowing through the pipe. The water pressure would be the voltage. Watts would be the power (volts x amps)
Standard outlets that you can use
110v outlet. For Tesla, we will refer to this as a NEMA 5-15 outlet. This is the 3 prong outlet you use every day in your house. This works at up to 15 amps. You can get much less, especially if you use an extension cord.
And this is what the car will show you while it is plugged in.
The time to charge to the level you have set. Daily use should be 70-90%. Only use 100% only right before you leave on a trip.
XXX kW. This how many Kilowatts (amps*watts) you are putting into the car. Wall outlets are generally between 1-5 (depends completely on the amps you get to the plug). 220v outlets are from 7-30 or more, again, depending on amps.
+XXX KWh. This is how many Kilowatts you have put in on this charge session. If you are getting charged for electricity, multiply this number by your rate and that is what it costs. In this example: 13 kWh * $.11/Kilowatt (our home rate) == $1.43. A typical charge of 30%-80% is 50 kWh. That would cost $5.50. Super Chargers cost about $.22/Kilowatt so to use them this charge rate would be $11.00.
110 V. This is the voltage that is currently going into the car.
12 A. This is the amperage that is currently going into the car.
220v outlet. We will refer to this as a NEMA 14-50 outlet. This is the specific plug type typically used for electric ovens and such. You may our may not have one of these in your house. This works at 50 amps.
There are other kinds of 220v outlets, but you would need some kind of special adapter. 1 common one is the NEMA TT-30 at 30 amps. You find these commonly in RV parks for RV plugs. Those won’t work for you out in the wild. Most RV parks provide both kinds.
Generally, you want to know about AMPS and VOLTAGE ( aka Kw) when evaluating a charging spot. Amps are very important as that defines how much electricity is available, and the voltage tells you have fast you can get it. This is sometimes talked about in Kilowatts (Kw) which is Amps * Volts. Sometimes it will be referred to as Miles/Hour and that is just another way of saying the rate of how much is being added to the battery without using electrical jargon.
Let’s get something out there right off the bat. The ‘charger’ for Model 3 cars is actually in the car. That’s what I said, you heard me. In the car. The connector (aka the charger by most people, but is really only a plug), is only the way the juice gets to the charger. It is a word that actually doesn’t mean much specifically but generally refers to the way you plug in and how juice gets into the battery. What you have when you connect to a plug is either AC or DC current. The battery stores DC current. So, if you plug into an AC outlet that must be inverted to DC current. If you plug into DC current then that can go straight thru. DC current is the most efficient and creates the least amount of heat and faster charge times. The ‘charger’ in the car takes care of all of this and regulates the voltage and amperage that the battery can take by communicating with the battery management system in the car to do what is best for the battery at any given time.
The Model 3 can have either a 32 Amp (regular) or 40 Amp (long range) charger. The Model 3 charger can accept up 350 volts. This is NOT true of other electric vehicles (yet). A very few of them can take 50 volts. Some have promised up to 800 volts, yet none of those exist as of yet.
You really do not have to worry about what you plug into with a Model 3. The charger/battery manager will either work it out or spit the dummy and refuse to take any electricity if you have done something you should not have. You can plug a Model 3 into any commercial ‘plug’ that you have a compatible dongle for. Only Tesla’s can use Tesla charge points.
These are really only a dedicated charge point you can have installed in your house directly to the fuse box. They will need at least a 50 amp fuse and the ability use all 50 amps (not much else in the box). The unit itself can take 72 amps, but can be used to charge 2 cars. Most house fuse boxes are rated at 100 amps total. With this unit you can charge at 32 or 40 amps and 240 volts. Fast.
They are just Home Chargers put on pole in front of a business or in a parking lot for your use. They are always free if you are allowed to use them. Everything else is the same.
These are the really fast DC chargers or ‘super’ chargers that Tesla provides all over the world. You can charge your car really, really fast with one of these and are how you travel from place to place with a Tesla.
When you super charge, the charge screen is a little different!
Here it tells you that you are SuperCharging. It also tells you how much time is remaining. This takes into account the variation to the rate that the battery mandates as it gets full. You can trust the time. In this example I will go from 61% to 90% in 10 minutes.
XX %. This the current battery storage.
XX kW. This is the amount of electricity currently available at this plug. This example shows 84 kW which is good, but you can get up to 140 kW at most SuperChargers.
XXX mi/hr. This is just a metric that lets you know how many miles (range) you can expect to get for 1 hours worth of charging. This really is just so you don’t have to do any math in your head and it is interesting. I have seen rates up to 1000 mi./hr. charging.
+xx kWh. Is how much electricity you have put into the battery in this charging session.
Current Session. This shows you how much you have spent on this charge. Mine shows nothing, cause I have free supercharging. Buy a Tesla and use my referral code and you will get some free SuperCharging too.
These are DC chargers and all the rest are AC chargers. They can go up to 120 kwh (amps * volts).
Commercial Charging Networks
There are some out there, but none of them charge fast. They are expensive to use. Most have 1 or 2 plugs in total. A lot of them don’t work at all. There are ‘plans’ for a lot more, but they don’t really exist yet. But in a pinch, they are an option. I have never, ever, been in that position nor do I think that I ever will.
You hear all the time about the range of your car. It will be the first thing anyone asks you. My car has a ‘range’ of 325 miles. But not really. On average, my car can go 325 miles, give or take. What your car really has is a battery that has X Kilowatts of power storage. Your car uses Y Watt hours/mile to move and this changes all the time. This is like your MPG. Your range is Battery Storage (kilowatts) / Watts per hour per mile. The storage amount is usually displayed as a percentage. You may have 50% battery charge say. That does not mean you can go 160 miles, but rather, with average conditions you probably can.
Your actual Watts hours/mile will vary. When driving on the highway between the sweet spot of 55-75 mph, I get about 200 Watt hours/mile . If I go 80+ mph that goes up to 220 Wh/mi. or so. Going up a steep hill I might get 300+. Going downhill you can actually have a negative number! The larger the number the worse your efficiency.
Here is a real life example from my road trip:
I have driven 56.8 miles so far since my last charge. I have 78% battery capacity left. My efficiency is 211Watt Hours/mile. Over this distance, I have made energy and used energy by going up and down hills. You can see that my ‘range’ has changed constantly. The outside temperature is 81 degrees. Based on the average value so far, the car says I can go another 416 miles giving me a total range at this point in the trip as 476 miles starting with a 90% charge. Does my car have a 476 mile range? No. Can I go 476 miles? Maybe! It depends on what is ahead of me! You will hear about things that affect your range like temperature, Air conditioning, Heaters, etc. and they do, but you don’t need to worry too much about that. I have found that it is only 1-5% in general difference anyway, if any, and because the car is doing the calculations for you based on how the car is performing, what does that matter? Answer is that it doesn’t.
An urban range example:
So what about just driving around town. On this day, I started with about 48% using a 110v plug only for charging. We drove into town on the highway in normal conditions. We went around town doing errands, shopping, etc. We then drove home in bumper to bumper traffic until we got near home. A very typical urban day of about 42 miles driving.
When we got home, we still had 39% charge and had a projected range of 139 miles remaining. Our efficiency was 184 Wh/mi. which is very good.
For the trip home, this is an example of how the car did versus what the car computer said it would do.
Our commute home was 16.5 miles and we used 5% battery to do it. Temperature at home was 81 degrees but it was hotter in the city. We live in the mountains, so this entire trip was uphill. Worst case scenario. In the morning, we will have about 60% charge from overnight 110v charging.
What really affects range?
- Wind. Having a strong tail wind will give you amazing range. Headwinds will shorten your range.
- Hills. Going up hills sucks juice. Going down makes juice. If you only go up and don’t come down, you could be screwed but that violates Newtons first law of Gravity. What goes up, must come down.
- Regenerative Braking. Set to the MAX and use it. Learn to drive using only the accelerator pedal and you will get huge returns.
- Aero Wheel Covers. Like the mag wheel look? Cool, you pay for them every mile you drive. Aeros gives you 10% more range in any condition.
- A clean car. These cars have amazingly low wind resistance. That is why they have funky door handles and no grill. When your car is covered in bugs and dirt, you are paying for that in miles. You think running the Air Con wastes battery? Wash the car regularly.
- Use Autopilot. No matter how good a driver you are, the car is better in most cases. It is smooth and efficient with no jack rabbit starts or stops, even throttle and regen all the time without thinking.
Do NOT worry about heat or Air Con unless your car is under 20% and you are a desperately long way away from civilization. It is a ‘range’ worry that is nothing to worry about.
You need to know all the above, to know your cars ‘range’. Shit, Einstein can’t do that math so that is why they attach a ‘range’ to your car, but normally, you just drive around town and watch your battery % and use experience to tell yourself “Oh, I am low on charge and I better be sure to charge sometime”. No panic or call to AAA, just an ‘Oh’ moment. And when you are under 20%, you don’t even need to do that, the car will and it will tell you the nearest place to do just that.
But if you are going somewhere, just let the car know where that is and it will help you out. If you want to eliminate ‘range anxiety’, then let the car help. Tell it where you are going.
Then check your trip calculator, and you will know exactly what charge you will have when you get there. And back if you need to. The car calculates everything, then you can just forget about it.
In this example, I will have 44% charge remaining when I get to my destination. This is a target of about 180 or so miles and using 50% of my battery giving me a ‘range’ on this trip of 360 miles. The car calculated all the factors for you! During the trip you may get a little better or worse, but no more than a percent or two. It is very accurate and is updated constantly while you drive. It is not uncommon to do better than it shows if you try even a little. You may do worse if conditions change over the route.
Ok, enough with terms! Lets talk driving electric cars.
With a 110v plug at home you get about 80 miles of charge overnight (8 hours). Now that is fine for most things you do and most driving. If your daily commute or whatever is more than that, then you may need to step up one level. And by more than that, I mean you have 320 miles of reserve, so if you drive 120 miles a day but get back 80 each night you are only losing 40 miles charge each day, you probably can make that work pretty easily. When you are on the road, doing a road trip, having this type of plug is a convenience since it adds enough overnight to basically get to any super charger, from anywhere. There are that many of them. I just assume now that if I have 30% (100 miles or so) of charge I can get to a Super charger from anywhere I may be.
With a 220v plug you can completely charge a Model 3 from 0-100% in 10 hours. 30% to 80% in about 4 hours. On the road these can be found in most every RV park or destination charger. I only use these if they are convenient to whatever I am doing. If you use this at home and it still is not enough, then you are driving for a living my friend. If I am driving out into the Wilderness, I may plan an RV park stay (or just a few hours) or find a destination charger just to splash and dash with this level charging. These are everywhere when you look for them.
Commercial chargers are so slow and so expensive as to be unusable in all but the most dire circumstances. This option is only better than a tow and just barely. I wont even use them if they are available in places I park. I would not recommend using them in any trip planning. At all.
Super Chargers are the bomb. You can go everywhere using super chargers. And I mean everywhere in the lower 47 States (North Dakota has 0). If you rock up with say 30% and are going about 150-250 miles before your next break (that is about 4 hours driving at 50 mph), you can charge to 80-90% (or less as the case may be) in about 30 minutes and make it with ease. You can push it and go from 100% to say 10% if you want to go about 300 miles. Super chargers are spaced about 100 miles (more or less) apart in any general direction. Just be sure to tell your Tesla that you are going to a charger before you get there! This lets the car know you are going to a charger and it preps the battery for optimal charging and can reduce your charge times up to 25%.
As an example of this: We met a couple in a SuperCharger (and you will meet interesting people at chargers), that told us this story. They were driving back from Amarillo TX to Denver CO (435 miles). This is a trip they do all the time in their ICE car. They always stop in Trinidad CO for gas and a rest as it is about the half way point, and frankly there is no other choice as this is the desert. This time they did the exact same trip in their Tesla. The Tesla was an SR+ that has a ‘260 mile range’. They were also travelling with friends who had a Chevy Bolt EV “Tesla Killer” that has a ‘238 mile range’. They both made it to Trinidad ok as that was within each car’s capability. The Bolt couple could only use the commercial charger in town and the Tesla couple used a SuperCharger. The Bolt had to stay overnight for a 12 hour charge to get enough juice to barely make it back and for ‘a lot of money’. Commercial chargers charge by the minute. The Tesla couple charged fully (for free) in 40 minutes and were gone and they arrived home with juice to spare. They did not even have to think about it. The Chevy barely made it with a high pucker factor. A one day trip verses a 2 or potential 3 day trip. Range anxiety exists, but not for Tesla owners and it is mostly independent of the cars advertised ‘range’.
So, the first rule of driving electric is to always leave home (or wherever) with a charge. Not necessarily a 100% charge, but a charge of 70% or more. Like using your phone. You don’t go out of the house with it at 10% battery, so don’t do that with your car either and you will be fine. You can fill it to 100% but don’t leave it at 100%. Only do that if you are going to drive right away. You only need as much electricity as is needed to get to the next charge point comfortably, otherwise you are just wasting time. Like your gas car, you don’t always have to have a full tank, and you don’t normally run it down to empty, but because you can, you should always start out with as much as you can within limits to have no impact on your lifestyle or trip planning.
Every day driving is mindless once you have your correct home plug situation covered. Really. Just plug in at night, like you do your phone, and that’s it really. If you drive more 300 miles in a normal day, you are a professional driver and need a professional setup. There is never any reason to have range anxiety in daily driving. This problem is a non-problem when you have a little experience with the car and some behavior modification in how you think about your car.
Road tripping is another level, and the most fun in a Model 3. You can use the Trip Planner feature built right into the car to go anywhere with absolute confidence. You simply enter your destination into the map and choose to navigate there. The car will figure out how much battery it will take to get there and back! And it is very, very accurate. It takes into consideration altitude changes, your car’s average use rate, and plots out a graph for the entire trip. It updates as you go to reflect actual conditions like temperature and wind and things like that. If you leave a little cushion, say 10% battery level, you never have to worry. Once you get a feel for it, you can cut that even closer. It may be that the car will say you can’t make it as it is simply too far for your current battery state. That’s ok. Perhaps there is a super charger along the way? Most likely there is and usually the app in the car will plot those into your course for you! If you are fine with the route and your remaining charge, then just go. Maybe you want to take a different route, perhaps more scenic or remote and there are no super chargers on that little dirt road or goat track. This is usually not a problem at all. Remember, Supers are always about 150-250 miles apart and you can almost always find a way. But sometimes, you want to go all out back and rural where Big Foot lives. This sticks, the woods, the hills, whatever. This will require that you step up your Search Fu and find some alternatives.
The second rule of electric car driving, is don’t leave the house without your charging cables in the car. The goal is to reduce range anxiety and you do this with experience and behavior. If you are leaving your house with your phone’s charger cable, then you need your car’s charger cable too. If you have it in the car, you are always capable of getting a charge from a friend, work, or any where there is a plug. You will know from experience when this may be needed. Going to the store to get milk, probably not. Going to Grandma’s over the hill and thru the woods? Maybe you should. You could just go to a super charger, sure, but why not just get the 30 or so miles back at Grandma’s and be done with it.
Don’t I have to wait to charge?
You hear this all the time too. How long does it take to charge? The answer is ZERO. *(this mostly only applies to Teslas, but not entirely) Here is why!
When you charge at home, no matter how long it is plugged in, you are not waiting for it. It happens overnight while you do other stuff, like sleep. You wake up to a full tank, everyday, by doing nothing more than plugging it in before you go in the house. It is like the fuel fairies came and gave you a present every night. You get to like it.
When you charge at an RV Park, it is usually only when you stay there (see my articles on sleeping in your Tesla). You just leave the next day with a full charge and no cost. You pay to stay, sure, but the juice is included. The time impact is exactly zero.
When you charge at a SuperCharger, it happens faster than you can say ‘Give me a Latte’. If you stop every 4 hours for a pee break, some Slim Jims and a coffee before getting back at it, your Tesla will be full before your coffee is made. Therefore, you did not wait for charging at all! Now, if you are one to never take a pee break when you get gas on a road trip, well, you are an alien or just weird.
If you charge at a Destination Charger (usually at a restaurant, hotel or some other attraction), it is usually because you went to that spot for a reason other than charging. You charge there because you can, not because you have to. It is just a cool benefit of driving EV. You go in, eat, recreate, stay, or whatever. You come back, you have more range. Any juice you get costs ZERO time and ZERO money.
If you charge at work, and many do, you just plug in in the company lot and leave with more than you arrived with. Cost is usually zero, time spent doing it. Zero.
If you have to go to a commercial charger, well, that is like going to a gas station. A really, really shitty gas station. One that you have to wait hours to fill up at. It is usually in an inconvenient spot, like a car dealership, or a Walmart parking lot. It usually has only 1 or 2 plugs that are not uncommonly broken. Did I say shitty? Yeah, that bad.
The difference with an EV (Tesla), is you don’t go to gas stations. Ever. Well not never, I need to clean my windshield from time to time. So, to try and equate in your mind the time it takes to fill a gas car and fuel an electric car, is Apples and Oranges. They are not the same. They happen differently, at different times, in different ways. It is a completely different driving lifestyle that involves no waiting. Charging just becomes a very small part of your daily life pattern, not a thing you have to go do, let alone wait for.
Finding charging options
Super chargers are easy. One click on the map and there they are. Destination chargers too and they can be very helpful. But then, there is the in the wild plug you might need to find from time to time. If you are going to a location with no charger, like a friend or families house, the 110v is usually enough to get back from anywhere. RV parks are easy to find as well. Just type into the map something like “RV Parks in (name here)” and you will be shown all kinds of parks. You can choose any of them to find out what it will take to get there. Assume that you will leave there with a full charge if they have ‘Full Hookups’ if you stay overnight or mostly full if you charge for a few hours. I would call them first to see what they have the right outlet or if they will let you just charge. Most will. The phone number for each is right there on the map by touching the pin. Knowing about and using these options greatly extend your comfort range when travelling. Just knowing they are options and can be just part of the trip makes range anxiety go away for all but the most extreme trips.
There are also some other ways to find plugs and plan routes using 3rd party apps. You can run these right in the car. Mark them as favorites in your web browser in the car, you will not regret it.
A Better Route Planner
This web app is really pretty good up until you get a very complicated list of points. You just add your stops you would like to do on your trip and press calculate. It will plot a route, show you all the charge stops, how much you need to charge to get the next place with enough to keep going. They do all the math. Handy.
This is about half way thru our big road trip using A Better Route Planner. We used it to track where we have been, because on our trip we did not know where we were going. We just winged it. You can run these apps right on the car’s computer web browser. How good is that!
This web app is basically a way to find plugs and what type of plugs by doing searches. These are user generated data and seems to be pretty accurate with all the places we have been. This includes 110, 220, RV Parks, Destination Chargers, Commercial chargers, and even super chargers. You configure what type of plug(s) you can use and it filters to only those. Again, handy.
Third Party Apps
They exist. You have to sign up to use. They are proprietary, so if you get the EvGo app, you see EvGo stations. If you get the Charge Point app, you see Charge point stations. I do not see the point. These will NOT alleviate your range anxiety. They may make it worse.