Electric car range anxiety

Last December, I needed to do a long drive across Southern Ontario to pick up my girlfriend. This was meant to be a 12 hour round trip by car covering roughly 1000km.

View of my route from Elora to Pembroke and back on Google Maps

My parents told me to rent a car, but I am a bit foolish so I decided to scheme with my Dad and figure out how to make the trip in his Tesla Model 3.

This was an interesting challenge because of all the limiting factors:

  • The car has a range of 490km
  • The car only performs at 50-70% capacity in winter.
  • The car charges faster when the battery is lower.
  • While I had all the time I needed to get there on Friday, I needed to be in Port Perry by 2pm on Saturday.
  • The route didn't follow the main highways, and there are fewer electric car chargers out on the back roads.
  • Charging times vary wildly. Here's a table of estimates my Dad sent me that I used a lot:

Here are charging times to add 100 km for various levels of charger:

10hr [Level 1 (110V) = 1.9 kW]
2hr, 40 min [Level 2 (240V, 30A) J1772 (most non-Tesla chargers) = 7.2 kW]
1hr, 40 min [Level 2 (240V, 48A) Tesla Wall Charger =  11.5 kW]
24 min [Level 3 (DC Fast Charging ChaDeMo) = 50 kW]
8 min [Level 3 (Tesla Supercharger V2) = 150 kW]

Because of the performance in winter, I planned to drive no more than 250km before charging the car, especially on back roads where there were fewer chargers. This let me break the trip down into these legs:

  • Drive 285km from Elora to Belleville
    • I expected to need a stop along the way, perhaps in Mississauga.
    • Charge to full at the Tesla supercharger in Belleville
  • Drive 225km from Belleville to Pembroke
    • Charge overnight from a 110V wall socket
  • Drive 251km from Pembroke to Peterborough
    • Charge at the ChaDeMo charger in Peterborough
  • Drive 62km to Port Perry
    • Enjoy dinner
  • Drive 180km to Elora

However, a number of factors surprised me:

  • I had much better performance on the 401 and 407 than I expected. I also didn't hit any traffic. This meant I didn't need to stop in Mississauga at all (I did, but quickly left since the battery was so close to full it was a very slow charge rate)
  • My lunch break in Belleville also went fine. After Belleville, though, I turned on to back roads and burned through a lot more charge than I expected.
    • Tesla drivers seemed to understand well that two cars could only get half charge from one of the super charger machines. Each car there was politely parked one per machine. Presumably the remaining spaces would have filled up if there had been more demand that day.
  • I hoped to get 20 hours of charging time in Pembroke, but because the wall socket was having issues, I ended up charging essentially 0km overnight. This meant I started the day with only a half charge, right before the longest back-road leg I had to do overall (Pembroke to Peterborough)
    • Because of this, I had to stop in Golden Lake, Ontario to use a Tesla wall charger at the Greystone resort there. However, I was worried about being late so I left a bit early.
    • As I got closer to Peterborough, I realized Bancroft was my last option to charge before entering an area that was mostly just the Kawartha provincial park. I decided to stop in Bancroft to charge, because they have a 48A Sun Country charger. I was glad I did this, but again, I was running late so didn't stay to see a full charge.
    • We finally made it to Peterborough, but I found the ChaDeMo charger there was occupied! I also learned that, even though there were two parking spaces next to the charger and two separate styles of cable, only one car could use the charger at a time.
    • At this point, because of the multiple stops and slow chargers I'd used, we were about 3 hours late for dinner. I had been expecting this possibility, because the circumstances of the drive were pretty bad, so it actually ended up working out OK. We just missed some socialization time.
  • Because I cut the charging in Peterborough short, I wasn't at a full tank for the final leg from Port Perry to Elora. However, it was easy to find a super charger on the way back because we were back on the main highway. We used Markham's Tesla super charger and made it home in good time.

I learned a lot from this trip, but my major takeaway, despite the title of the article, was that electric cars are ready for prime time. A friend of mine asked if this gave me range anxiety, but in reality it didn't. I did an impossibly long drive, across back roads with few chargers, in the dead of winter when performance was at its worst. And the worst consequence I had was being 3 hours late for dinner. If I'd gotten a flat tire in a gas car, the consquences would have been the same.

Every other car trip anyone will ever take will not suffer all of these setbacks simultaneously. And so this trip taught me that electric cars are now just as good as gas cars for reliability (and in other ways, such as their environmental impact, significantly better!).

Some other reflections:

  • Tesla has a NEMA 14-30 adapter, to let you plug into a dryer. I think this would have been a great investment, because then I could have plugged in to the dryer outlet at my girlfriend's parents' house in Pembroke. Not everyone has a Tesla wall charger or generator, but pretty much everyone has a dryer.
  • Speeding was bad for my range. There was a constant tension between the accelerator speed I was going and the charging speed of the charging stations available to me. I think with a few more trips like this I'd be able to strike a better balance.
  • Tesla's adaptive cruise control + ability to steer to keep you in the lane is a glorious feature that makes driving, especially in stop and go traffic, much more pleasant.
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