Aburt's Tesla FAQ
Tesla Misconceptions and FAQs People Ask Me
Ok, I admit it, I love my Teslas. (Plural, yeah. I thought my wife's Model 3 was so amazing I got a Model X for my car. Best cars I've ever driven.) But one thing Tesla isn't great at is marketing—getting people to know about their product—so I get a lot of basic questions from friends and such who don't know much about Teslas, or have misconceptions or questions. Usually the same misconceptions and questions, so I thought I'd answer them here.
- 1. Common first question—How do you like your Tesla?
Hey, did I mention I love it? So much so I got another? :)
They're unlike any other car (electric or other). They're like driving a floating ipad. They feel really smooth to drive, there's no shifting of gears, you just float quietly along at whatever speed you want.
And I mean instant speed—the fastest 0-60 times (as I write this) are for a Tesla. At about 2 seconds. 2 seconds! Ours don't have that option, so they're 0-60 in more like 4 seconds. But smooth—you are just suddenly going fast. You want to pass somebody? You're past them. In that regard they're all sports cars. Except it's not a "vrooom" kind of sports car—it's just a whisper and you're gone.
So quiet and smooth. I will say I didn't realize how much I'm used to hearing and feeling the noises and gears of an ICE (internal combustion engine) car to know what speed you're going—and how much I guess you'd call it stress it gave me, trying to get an ICE car to make the "right" noise/feeling for a given speed I wanted to go. With a Tesla I feel the same calmness whether I'm going 50 or 80. And, sometimes I don't even know if I'm going 50 or 80, except for some sense of the scenery going by; but while I feel more need to go a certain speed in an ICE car, I find I don't really care if I'm going slower in the Tesla. If you're going up a hill in an ICE car (and living on a mountain that's a regular thing), I feel my old 4runner struggle to accelerate and make the climbs, and sometimes it's like I'm yelling, C'mon, ol' Bessie, you can do it! Whereas a Tesla going uphill? You just go. As fast as you want. No noise, no different feeling, just Whooosh. Living at high altitude, where I often drive at 10,000 feet or above, where an ICE car (literally) sucks wind, especially uphill, you don't noticing a thing in a Tesla. Except that you easily pass the wheezing ICE cars. It feels like a part of you; you think the thought about going faster, and you are. It slows down the same way; you feel the desire to go a certain slower speed, let up on the accelerator, and it's now slower. Very organic, like the car is an extension of you. Like you're flying, sort of. Hard to explain. But very liberating. Very peaceful.
The use of tech in the car is amazing. It feels extremely futuristic. I haven't been in any other car that's felt like a Future Car. Yes, if you have trouble working a smartphone, this probably isn't for you. On the other hand, if you can operate a smart phone, you can drive a Tesla, don't worry. I love the big screen that does most of the display. All kinds of nice features if you want to use them. And they add more all the time. You get software updates every few weeks with new features. I was hoping for a feature that would automatically fold the mirrors and open the garage door when I drive up at home—bingo. One guy caught someone on the cameras who keyed his car (for no apparent reason, he had never seen them before), and they caught the person from the cameras. I love the automatic closing doors on the Model X when you get in. Sooo many cool features. More features listed below, so I'll shut up about the software for now; it's just really great.
Oh, since it's electric, you can run it in the garage. No fumes. Or if you're waiting in a parking lot—you can watch movies or whatever on the screen, using no gas (and virtually none of your miles of range).
I hate going to the gas station. Gas stations are gross—dirty pump handles, smelly gas while you wait, hands smelling after you leave, boring standing there, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, worrying about your credit card number getting stolen, listening to the annoying ads, antsy people waiting for your spot.... Don't miss that at all. Charging at home, the car's just always ready for me.
The Model X has great storage (as much as a Suburban), and the view out the front with the glass roof is just spectacular.
Since there's no engine, you get extra storage in the "front trunk" ("Frunk").
No, I don't usually gush that long when someone asks me in person; but this is text, so I get to give the long answer. :)
Ok, so, questions and misconceptions I get:
- 2. How far can you drive on a charge?
Each configuration is a little different, but both of ours have a range of about 325 miles on a charge. (And they're easy to charge at home, so they're usually close to full every day.) There's a thing with EVs (Electric Vehicles) called "range anxiety"—fear of not having enough charge to go where you want—and we don't have any. :)
Can you realistically drive long distances, cross county, without a lot of hassle or time wasted? Yup, see below:
- 3. Where can you charge them? Is it hard to keep it charged?
It's easy, lots of options here:
- You can charge them at home, either with...
- A regular 120V plug like you'd plug a lamp into (although that's pretty slow—adding 3-4 miles of range per hour of charging—I know a friend who does it and it works for him).
- A 220v plug like a dryer outlet (you'd have to have an electrician install it, might cost a few hundred dollars; depending on the size circuit you put it on you get charging rates like 20-30 miles of range per hour of charging—and yes, this costs money up front, but you'll probably break even quickly in saved fuel costs); or
- Install a Tesla home charger (costs a bit more, charges faster yet, like 20-40 miles of range per hour of charging, depending on the size of your electrical circuit breaker—if you needed 100mi of charge at the end of the day, it might need 2.5-5 hours to charge up overnight; although it's so easy to plug in you may find yourself just charging now and then when you feel the urge—it's not the same feeling as "uh oh, I have to stop at the gas station").
It's really nice to be able to charge at home, be full anytime, no need to muck with gross gas stations.
- Or you can charge them at charging stations all over the place, which come in two basic varieties:
- Tesla Superchargers: Thousands of these around the world, usually near major highways. They charge very fast, so depending how much charge you want you might spend 5-20 minutes. They are usually where you can walk to restaurants, coffee, shopping, bathrooms, etc., so for long road trips you may not add any time to your journey since you might want to stop anyway.
- Other EV charging stations: Lots of places put in chargers these days for electric cars: hotels, restaurants, malls and standalone stores, local governments, etc. Any place you can charge a garden variety EV you can charge your Tesla. Road trips aren't a problem.
- Sometimes parking lots at offices and such have ordinary 120V electrical outlets you could plug into while you're at work, etc.
There are lots of maps of where these are and route planners that help you find the optimal path for long trips.
In short, charging really isn't a problem for most people. It's good to think about in advance in case you have rare circumstances, but you probably shouldn't let charging issues stop you.
- 4. Doesn't charging take a long time?
Well, yes and no. Although it takes longer to charge from empty than filling a gas tank, charging at home typically doesn't waste any of your time waiting, since you would typically charge at night, or when you're doing other stuff. Since you can charge at home it's a different approach, so I don't feel any wasted time. In fact I feel more time saved.
Charging at a Supercharger or other charger at a mall/etc. can take longer than a gas fillup, but (a) there's usually stuff to do around there that you might want to do anyway, like grabbing a bite, shopping, bathroom break, stretch your legs, etc.; and (b) there's lots of stuff to do while sitting in the car (watch videos, surf the web, play built in games, etc.). Remember that stopping at the gas station takes time too (I think I timed it at 8-10 minutes for my nearly-empty 4runner), which may add up to more time than you spend charging at home.
Also, the charging speeds are getting faster. They have some new superchargers that add 1000 miles per hour, and this will just keep getting better.
In my case, I feel like I've spent much less overall time charging than I did filling up with gas.
- 5. How much does it cost you to charge?
Waaaay less than the cost of gas! Exactly how much less depends on how much you pay for electricity and for gas, of course, but here for my numbers it's five times less!—
According to my utility bill, I pay about 9.8¢/KWh* (kilo Watt hour). A full charge of, say, 75Kw (325 miles worth) would cost about $7.35, thus about 2¢ per mile (2.26¢). For gasoline, at 25MPG, and $3/gal, that's 12¢ per mile. So it's about 5X the cost per mile for gas than a Tesla!
Put another way, if you drove 10,000 miles a year, you would spend about $200 (Tesla) vs $1,200 (gas car) per year—and save $1,000 each year with a Tesla. (As I said above about the charger install cost at home, it's quickly recovered and then you're just saving money.) And if the price of gas goes up again, as seems likely considering it is a finite resource, the savings are even greater. (Utility electric rates are often regulated and not allowed to rise as fast, but even if both electricity and gasoline rose the same percent, the savings are still greater [by the same percent again]: if $200 of electricity goes up 10% to $220, and $1200 of gas goes up 10% to $1320, the difference is now $1100 instead of $1000.)
There's also the cost of Supercharging, if you use that. It's free for some purchases, which is cool, otherwise it varies by location. It costs more than doing it at home, but still much less than gas.
[* Actually I pay 1.5¢ more per KWh since I subscribe to a program called
whereby you get your power from wind. (Technically you're paying for their infrastructure to generate a certain amount of wind energy, but the net effect is that your energy is from wind.)]
There may also be off-peak rate plans you can use from your utility company.
- 6. Aren't the cars expensive to buy?
Well, you can get a Model 3 for around $37,000, which seems in the ballpark of a lot of cars—plus there's the federal and state tax credits for EVs, which can bring that cost down a lot (at the time we bought there were $12,500 in credits).
There are also used ones available.
- 7. Isn't the maintenance expensive?
No... in fact, there are vastly fewer parts, so there is much less to maintain. No engine (just a much simpler electric motor), no oil changes, no transmission, no radiator, etc. The only regular maintenance are simple things like washer fluid and air in the tires.
Even the brakes last much longer: The car uses a clever thing called "regenerative braking" to slow down most of the time—which charges the battery (by running the electric motor "backwards"), not by having the brake pads rubbing away. The brake pads only get wear if you brake harder than the regenerative braking can handle, which isn't that much. I hear that the tires do seem to wear faster than some other cars, because, you know, 0-60 in 4 seconds, so we'll see how that goes.
Really, overall, there isn't much maintenance. Lots of money saved.
- 8. But what about the cost of replacing the battery? Won't that cancel out all your other lack of maintenance?
Naw, I don't think that's an issue. The idea is that the battery will last longer than most people would ever own the car. Sure, eventually the battery will wear out, after an expected lifetime of hundreds of thousands of miles (heading toward
a million miles; and there's already one with 400,000 miles on it so far, so that's not unrealistic). The battery replacement cost is covered under warranty for 8 years or 100-150,000 miles. I don't know if any have yet failed, but, hypothetically, if it actually fails after the warranty and you still own the car, apparently it costs around $10,000, which would be in the ballpark of $1,000/year if it only lasted 10 years (say, 100,000 miles, which seems unlikely)—or $200 a year if it lasts 50 years (500,000 miles @ 10,000 miles/year, which appears more likely). Very low annualized cost, comparatively, considering how little other maintenance they need. Not something that will keep me up at night worrying about.
(There are potentially other mechanical things that could fail after your warranty, like automatic doors, so time will tell whether it's wise to get an extended warranty, sell it, or not worry about it. It is a complex device, and repairs out of warranty could possibly be expensive, but on the whole the lifetime repair costs appear less than for ICE cars.)
- 9. What if you run out of gas, er, juice? You can't hitchhike to a gas station, right?
So, in Colorado, AAA actually has a Tesla quick charge capability (a truck with a battery charger on it), or so they say. But in general, in most parts of the world, at present, yeah, if you run low on juice, you're going to have to find a charger, or some way to plug it in to a wall socket and wait a long while to charge enough miles to get to a faster charger—or get towed. If you let it get totally totally empty, my understanding is you can actually harm the battery, and you have to have it in for service. So, yeah, don't do that. Make sure you have enough electrons before you leave.
The charging network is improving all the time. It does (currently) take a little planning ahead to make sure you won't run out of juice, but then again, I hate running out of gas too and always tried to be sure I had a full enough tank. I guess it's as if you saw a few more "No Services for ___ Miles" signs, so you have in mind to fill up before getting too empty. (And if you use the navigation feature, it tells you how much charge you'll have; and for a long trip suggests where to charge up.)
Like I said, I hate running out of gas so it's not a problem for me, but if you're the type of driver who routinely runs out of gas, a Tesla might not be fore you. :)
I don't hear many horror stories about running out, so it doesn't seem to be a problem for most Tesla owners.
- 10. How is it in the snow and cold?
So far no problems (living in Denver), and it's the best-selling car in Norway, so that's gotta say something. The range does go down in the cold, but I really haven't heard about massive complaints from people that this is a serious problem.
- 11. Do you trust the self-driving feature?
Well, yes, and no, and, I don't care.... :) I don't use it that much, so it's not like that's the key feature of why you'd want to buy the car—it's extremely cool regardless of self-driving. That said, the self-driving can feel like a teen-aged driver sometimes, so you just take control away from it for a while. It may actually be totally fine when you feel it make a teenager move, and maybe it's just a lack of trust, but sometimes, yeah, it does something I'm unsure of, meaning I don't trust it, so I take control (hit the brakes, turn the wheel, etc.).
The statistics suggest it's very safe and trustworthy—there are very few documented accidents and fatalities from the self-driving. Vastly fewer than from regular human driving, apparently even on a per-mile-driven basis. So over time I may trust it more—and the software may get much better as well. (One thing to remember: The car keeps getting upgraded.)
There are several separate systems: There's a "Traffic Aware Cruise Control" (TACC) where the car keeps a speed you set, and slows down as the car in front of you slows down, at a distance you set. You're still steering, stopping for lights, etc. Then there's "Autosteer," where the car stays in lane in addition to keeping the speed. Then there are levels you pay extra for, called "Enhanced Auto Pilot" (EAP) and "Full Self Driving" (FSD) where the car follows the navigation route, changes lanes, turns onto streets, handle merges, honors stop signs and traffic lights, parks, and comes to you from a parking spot.
[Here's a chart someone did showing which features are in which package.]
The TACC seems fairly robust (though it has some teenage quirks, like sometimes gunning it if a slow driver in front of you moves out of your lane). The autopilot features are probably safer than I think they are, but sometimes you feel like maybe the car should do something different than it does. For example:
I had one case where there was a lane full of stopped traffic beside me (maybe a quarter mile worth of stopped cars), a long open lane ahead of me with no cars in it, on a 55mph stretch of highway (with a stop-light ahead—annoying highway, but it is what it is), and it's a sort of blind curve, where you can't see the stoplight ahead. So the Tesla on autosteer guns it to full speed around the blind curve, not understanding that some of those stopped cars next to it might suddenly dart in front of me (e.g., out of frustration at being in a stopped line of cars with a totally open lane next to them, or the "I can get ahead of a bunch of cars if I switch lanes" mentality; I think some of the cars in that lane were planning to get into the left turn lane at the light, so if one of them changed their mind about turning, that's another mental push for why they might suddenly decide to abandon that clogged lane and cut in front of my oncoming hunk of metal). In that situation I slow down to reduce the speed difference between me and the next lane. So, because the car wanted to blaze ahead whereas I thought there was a non-trivial possibility of an impatient driver making a rash move, I took over.
You're supposed to pay attention during autopilot anyway, so I don't know if I feel it's easier on me. I do feel sometimes I need to keep my foot hovering over the brake while the car is driving, and that gives me a cramp in my ankle, so sometimes I just take over to rest my foot. If there's nobody around on a straight road, I might rest my foot on the floor, figuring I won't need a fast reaction time to hit the brake, but that doesn't seem often.
So I think the self-driving is very cool, but I'm waiting a bit for it to prove itself (and keep improving).
As time goes on and it's clear that it's safer than me driving, I'll probably trust it more. I do feel that within a few years it will be very trustworthy and capable of doing all the driving while I relax (and not have to pay attention); but it isn't there yet.
The TACC/autosteer is free, and you have to pay for the remaining FSD features, so I don't know if it's worth the extra money. We only paid for FSD on one car, and when it was on sale for $2,000 (which includes a hardware upgrade, worth something in itself). So, YMMV.
Meanwhile, I don't care that much—the car is so fun to drive, even if it didn't have FSD I would still have bought the cars. (In fact, I did buy one without FSD, so there you go. When it becomes a reliable safe feature, I might pay to upgrade.)
- 12. Is it hard to get used to everything being on the screen in the Model 3?
Good question, since in the Model 3 there are no controls on the dashboard in front of the driver; it's all on the tablet-like screen attached to the middle of the dash. I would say it took me a few days to get used to looking to the right to see the speed, but no, it wasn't hard to get used to.
The Model X has a dash display in addition to the middle tablet screen, but I actually find I now prefer looking to the screen in the middle.
- 13. Don't Teslas still use fossil fuels like coal to generate the electricity, so they aren't completely green / are worse than gasoline?
Short answer: Waaaaay greener, like twelve times better (that means 92% less pollution); and you can get it to 100% renewable—zero pollution—if you want. (Long answer below.) I see this question usually in the context of climate change or renewable energy discussions, where the other person wants to make some kind of strident justification for their own continuing to use fossil fuels, where they try to argue EVs are worse than their gas cars, and all too often say something absurd and utterly false, like, "If your electrical source is coal, you'll be doing more harm than good." (Utterly false, see below. And FWIW, my personal editorial position: While I think it makes sense to wean society onto renewable, clean energy, just because it has a lot of benefits to society, I do realize that will take some time, so I'm not going to criticize anyone for driving a dead-dinosaur-powered car. But I bet they'd love a Tesla if they tried one.) :)
Long answer: I'm on 100% wind power via my utility company's (Xcel Energy) cool
program (highly recommended for those who aren't doing solar). I pay 1.5¢ per KWh more for wind-generated electricity.
Beyond that, for most people, Teslas are still resoundingly cleaner/greener:
The data show that an EV creates about 1/12th as much CO2 with the actual mix of energy sources to generate electricity than a gas car, per mile driven—and even 1/5th the greenhouse gases in the absolute worst case / unrealistic scenario of pure coal to generate electricity (which some folks seem to think is some kind of winning argument, but it doesn't hold water). If the electricity comes from nat.gas, that's even better (by half); and of course closer to zero with solar/wind/etc. Nationally, with the actual mix of coal/nat.gas/renewable, it's about 12X better overall (see math below). In other words, yeah, it's a lot better to drive an EV a mile even in the worst case from coal than it is on gasoline. (The cost per mile is also many times cheaper, as I noted in a question above.)
Here's the source info from the government:
says coal power generates about 205 lb of CO2 per million BTU, which works out to about 0.16 lb/mile for an EV like my Model 3.
gives data that the average car produces 404 grams/mile of CO2, or 0.89 lb/mile.
0.16 vs. 0.89 lb/mile is the key. An EV generates about 18% as much CO2 as a gas car in the absolute worst case of using pure coal to generate the electricity. Only gets better with other sources of electricity. Pure natural gas generated electricity clocks in at 0.09 lb/mile, so that's much better than coal, as expected, and thus 10 times better than gasoline powered cars.
I though it'd be interesting to do the math for Xcel's mix of sources in Colorado. They're 28% renewable, 39% coal, 33% nat.gas in Colorado per
https://www.xcelenergy.com/energy_portfolio/electricity/power_generation. That comes to an average for xcel of 0.093 lb CO2 per mile of an electric car, vs. that .89 lb/mi for gasoline, so in Colorado it's roughly a factor of 10 better to drive an EV than a gas car. Nationally, per the government's data at
the breakdown of source for electricity is 35% nat.gas, 27% coal, the rest nuclear/renewable that has no significant CO2 production. That works out to 0.076 lb of CO2 /mile for driving an EV, vs. that .89 for gasoline, or almost 12X better.
There is some small amount of extra carbon footprint in the battery manufacturing process, but it's
negligible in the grand scheme of things.
Pretty thoroughly puts to rest the idea that EVs are bad because the electricity burns coal/nat.gas etc. And (bringing it back to my original comment), of course it's close to 0.0 lb CO2/mile for an EV if someone uses Windsource/solar/etc. :)
Other factors to consider, a mini-FAQ:
- Shouldn't we clean up our power generation instead?
Yes, we also need to green up our energy generation and move away from coal/etc., absolutely, but that can and should happen in parallel with switching to EVs. Switching to EVs is one important step we can easily take now while improving our power generation systems, which takes much longer.
Not to mention, even if you cleaned up all the power generation, you'd still want to switch to EVs -- who wants all those yucky polluting gas cars on the road? In March-April 2020, during the early Covid hard lockdown, when hardly anyone was driving, I was astounded to see how clear the air got around here. That said something visibly tangible about pollution from ICE cars.
- Isn't mass transit / bicycles / working remotely the answer instead?
Mass-transit, bikes, and working remotely are also important, but not feasible in many cases, so they won't single-handedly solve the problems. For the cases where cars make sense, EVs are the way to go rather than ICE cars.
Putting it all together, EVs are a very important component in solving our carbon problem. Oh, and did I mention they're incredibly fun to drive? :)
- 14. How is the build quality of the car?
There are sometimes some issues here. Ours had no real quality issues. (Some very minor ones, same as any car. One paint swirl they buffed out at delivery, an interior cardboard trunk panel that wasn't glued down, and I've got a small side window wind whistle at low speed when it's cold outside that I plan to have fixed.) I do hear that sometimes they have factory problems, which hopefully they'll get fixed, because that would be a needless blemish on their otherwise amazing product.
- 15. How is the service?
I haven't had one in for service yet, though I did have a "mobile ranger" come out to fix the loose cardboard trunk panel, and the process was great. (That is, they come out to you.) I've heard stories of other people with some long waits for parts (since I guess they use most parts to build new cars), so hopefully I won't have to deal with that until they have more spare parts capacity. (They do provide either a loaner or Uber credits while it's in the shop.) Here's a
review of Tesla service, saying it's generally better than the competition.
- 16. Isn't Tesla on shaky financial ground? Isn't their stock over-valued?
Well, maybe, it's hard to say, really. I sometimes feel like Elon Musk is a cartoon character running in the air over the valley from one cliff to another, and it's all good so long as he doesn't look down. :) At this point he may be safely near the other side. He's weathered a lot of cash crunches, and doing well during this covid virus shutdown, so I'm less concerned right now than I was before. So apparently (as of this writing) are the people buying the stock, since it's made Tesla the most valuable car company on the planet. That's probably on the expectation of future Amazing Profits, which, who knows? The same thing was said of Amazon in the early days, and nobody says it now.
I do suspect that even if, worst case, they had to go through bankruptcy reorganization, they would still sell and service the cars, so from that standpoint I'm not worried.
- 17. Hasn't Elon Musk said and done some questionable things?
Yeah, he's quite the character! He's created some very cool things, cars, spacecraft, solar roofs, etc., and then he's said and done some questionable things... So I guess it's like questions about the private lives of artists, authors, scientists, etc., that it's fair to judge the art on its own merits, separately from the artist.
- 18. What don't you like about Teslas?
It's not 100% perfect, of course. I feel it's better than anything else out there, IMHO, but sure, there are things I would change.
I'm not a huge fan of the "falcon wing doors" on the Model X. They don't work well in tight spaces, my garage among them. On one side I have a wall, and a narrow garage door so I don't have any choice but to park close to the wall. In that location, the falcon door can only open about a foot wide, and not very high, so it's not feasible to get in to sit down, and I have to contort weirdly to put something in. So, I use the other side. I also worry about the sensors, praying they properly detect the garage door tracks above it; so far no accidents, but I do worry.
I hate the "yoke" steering wheel that is (as of this writing) on the Model S. I wouldn't buy a car with one of those, so I hope they don't migrate to the other models when I'm ready to get another car.
I'd like cooled seats in the summer...
I'd like it to work with Apple CarPlay...
I'd like more choice of paint colors...
Poor communication during the purchasing process (such as what's going on and when you'll get your car; then, at a last minute date they choose, they say you have 48 hours to pick it up or they'll give it to someone else—but you might be out of town, etc.).
Their process for buying a used Tesla (from Tesla) is atrocious. (It's all web based, you can't see any actual car in person before you pay for it. There's almost no communication, skimpy information about what you're buying almost sight unseen
[just some blurry photos] (no, not even photos now), you can't inspect or drive it before paying for it, nearly impossible to speak to a person about anything [at least, anyone who can actually help], their warranty doesn't cover all the issues you might find but that you aren't allowed to inspect for ahead of time, such as wear and tear, smells, fit and finish.) I consider it very risky and recommend against buying used from Tesla except for those who don't mind gambling large amounts of money. (Whereas buying a new vehicle you can inspect it, drive it seven days, inspect the outside and peek inside through the windows before you give them final payment, and refuse it. Not as good as it used to be. They'll fix warranty issues -- if it's something that's covered. Apparently if you document and notify them of any problems immediately at pickup they might fix them.)
- 19. Are they safe?
One of the safest cars out there, if not, indeed, the actual safest.
Google on something like "tesla safety rating".
- 20. Would you buy it/them again?
Absolutely. Best cars I've even driven.
- 21. Questions? Corrections?
Please let me know at www.aburt.com/contact.php
If you buy a Tesla and want some free supercharging miles, you can use my referral code:
Hope you've found this useful!