I am one of the MANY MANY games programmers who have somehow ended up driving a Tesla model S. I have had it just over a year and feel strangely motivated to talk honestly about my experience owning it and using it. Here is my exciting take on ‘owning an electric car for a year’. Grab some popcorn.

Beforehand:

Some background: This is the second ‘from new’ car I have ever bought. The previous one was a lexus hybrid. I had long lusted after a prius, until I sat in one, then drove one, and thought ‘yuck’, and ended up with the lexus instead. As a hybrid owner, I got used to the fact that there was an ‘on’ button rather than a key you turn, and that the car was an automatic (technically a continuously variable transmission), so no gear changes or gear stick. I loved my hybrid car.

When I had enough money saved up, I took the plunge and had a test drive in a Tesla model S, and pretty much ordered one the next day. Mine is an 85D with air-suspension and autopilot. In practice that means its just fucking fast, rather than *insanely* fast, and it does some self-driving tricks, and its comfortable.

How I got it:

I had to wait about 6 months for my car, because this is Tesla-mania time,. and there was a waiting list, plus I needed to get a home charger installed. this cost a pittance, and there was a small subsidy available anyway, I ended up paying about £100 I think. The charger is basically a box on the side of the house near where I park, with a black cable that I often (not every day) leave connected to the car. It takes most of a night to charge from empty, but as its often plugged in, its only ’empty’ if I’ve driven to London and back (about 180 miles). I tend to only plug mine in when its half empty or less.

How I use it:

I work from home (programmer, self-employed), so I don’t commute, so the car is for shopping trips, the odd pub lunch and so on. I have family in London (hence long trips), and I live in rural England, so we have to drive almost everywhere. The local area is narrow roads, people on horses, hardly any traffic, the odd dead badger. mobile phone signal sucks, road markings are rare. More on this later… So far I haven’t left the country in my Model S but may well do this year. Its almost always charged from home, with an occasional stop at a Tesla supercharger. Charging from these is free for me, so I tend to only use them. I have ‘cards’ for using some other charging networks but very rarely use them. I also have an exemption (£10/year to register) for the London congestion charge. This is nice, but hardly a dealbreaker for me, as I use it maybe 3 times a year.

Initial Impressions:

My initial impressions were ‘holy fuck this thing is fast’ and ‘oh my god it drives itself’ combined with ‘jesus this thing is wide’ and also ‘i cant believe i can drive this speed, this far, in an electric car’. I was also amazed at how much luggage space there is. We once had 4 of us go away for a week with a ridiculous amount of luggage, food and other nonsense (suitcases, a drone in a box, multiple hampers of food etc), and we still had spare room. its nuts. Obviously over time, you calm down and just get used to it. I haven’t opened the ‘frunk’ for months, and then, only to show someone whats in there (nothing).

Long Term:

I’ve done about 10,000 miles in mine, with an average watt-hour per mile of 353wh/m. That means, with domestic electricity at 12p/unit I pay roughly £0.04 per mile in fuel. Car insurance is also surprisingly low, it was lower than my lexus (which cost half as much) I suspect the insane survivability of crashes in the Tesla accounts for that. This all sounds like economic paradise (plus servicing is far less complex and urgent) until you factor in the one big problem with the Tesla model S.

its fucking wide.

I hate wide cars, because I suck at parking, and driving in general. I now have big annoying obvious scratches on both sides, and the bill for fixing them is likely £2k+. In other words, over a year I’ve probably spent £426 on ‘fuel’ about £350 on insurance, and about £2k on getting dents fixed. Bah. Basically the Tesla is as wide as a land rover, so if you are used to big cars, its not a big deal, but if you prefer small cars like me…it *is* a factor. Its actually the *only* real negative I have about the car. Basically when I go to a multi-storey car park, it feels like this:

Other Minor negatives:

Teslas service is…’not bad’. by any normal cars standards its good, but by lexus standards, its pretty poor. You have to compare apples with apples, and the model S is not a cheap car, so you expect a certain level of awesomeness on the service side. They don’t have that yet. My car has gone to a service center twice, once for a charging port door issue (they replaced the whole thing and its been fine ever since), and once to get a fix for a car handle motor failure. (The handle stopped sliding back in once the car was moving). I get the impression their service is improving, and early issues were basically due to being a bit swamped by rapid expansion. The only other issue is that some of the cool tech stuff requires a mobile signal, and I live somewhere with an awful mobile coverage, meaning occasionally a podcast cuts out, or voice recognition fails.

Other positives:

Not purely an electric car thing, but having a mobile app that a)locates your car in a car park and b)lets you pre-heat/chill the car is just SO awesome. Having a car with its own free spotify account with voice recognition is hilariously cool. Having a car that can drive itself on motorways is both weird, terrifying AND cool. Being able to ‘summon’ the car out of a tight space is cool…but pointless. Controlling everything from a touchscreen is weird at first, but very cool once you get used to it.

The *BIG* issues.

Range anxiety is not a thing. Not with a Tesla.  it just isn’t a thing. Superchargers are not everywhere, but they don’t have to be, I can drive to London and back without re-fuelling. I now actually feel sorry for non-electric drivers with all this bullshit of having to stop and ‘fill-up’ on their voyage at a petrol station. My house is my petrol station, its always open, and I don’t have to fumble around with wallets and pin numbers. If I lived in a flat, or a terraced house with no driveway, charging would be a major issue, but luckily I’m not in that position. Charging an electric car is trivial for anyone who has off-road parking. Don’t give the charging or the range a second thought if you buy an electric car, its a total non-issue.

The Tesla model S is catastrophically expensive to buy. Its not the solution for everyone. The Model 3 is going to be about £35k, so a LOT cheaper, yet still pricey. I strongly suspect that the 3 will effectively be a very slightly hobbled ‘S’. In other words…if you can wait, and don’t have to have a model S…then its probably worth waiting for a 3. I think the model 3 is going to be revolutionary, not in tech, but in terms of acceptance. Right now the only people buying long range electric cars are those who would otherwise buy an Aston Martin or a Jaguar. The minute it becomes an option for the BMW crowd you are going to see a lot of people picking them up.

TL:DR: Electric cars are fucking amazing. Mine is too wide.

11 Responses to “My first year with an all-electric car”

  1. Wodge says:

    Getting used to a wide car has been a thing for me this year, went from a Suzuki Alto (tiny) to not driving for 6 years (living in Switzerland, and have an amazing public transport system) to getting a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which is absolutely fucking massive. It feels like driving a ferry compared to the go kart that was my little Suzuki. I feel your pain…

  2. Muttley says:

    We replaced my wife’s ageing Toyota Corolla (she’d had it 14 years, and it was starting to fall apart) with a Nissan Leaf about 3 months ago and we couldn’t be happier with it.

    It doesn’t have the range of a Tesla, but it’s more than ample for the majority of day-to-day journeys and is pretty nippy, though we spend most of our time playing a game of “how little battery can you do this journey in”. They just need to add an online high-score table for that one now. ;)

    It also feels pretty weird and old-fashioned to have to go to a petrol station to fill up the other car now.

    • cliffski says:

      yup, after a while petrol stations just become convenient places to buy chocolate bars. Its truly insane that they are not all installing electric charging points to stay relevant long term.

  3. Chris Evans says:

    Good read Cliff, much appreciated.

    I doubt I will be able to afford a Tesla until they reach Fiesta level prices (or I earn BMW wages), but my current car is due for a renewal on my deal in two years so would seriously consider an electric car.

    On one condition – I had off-road parking and the ability to install a charging station. Until councils install charging stations on streets with terraced housing, there will always be a limit to those who will dive in, at least until 5 minute charging is common and free, or decently priced.

    It all makes me realise how far behind we are with this stuff. Every new house should, as standard, come with solar panels and a charging point. The longterm benefits of something like this would be amazing, would love to see some research, if there is any, on it.

    • cliffski says:

      yup charging points are the limiting factor, unless you commute somewhere to work and they have points installed there. I agree re:new housing. New houses should also have rainwater harvesting and fiber to the home as standard, but we are still building like its 1950.

      • Chris Evans says:

        Aha, charging points at work are a catch-22, at my place at least. Being pressed for parking spaces, they are reluctant to sacrifice normal spaces for a tiny number of potential electric cars. But if they had charging spots, then more colleagues would be inclined to buy electric.

        The housing situation in this country is a nightmare, such short sighted solutions.

  4. You are saying the range is ‘just fine’, because you are able to cover 180 miles (~220 km) in one shot.
    When reading ‘I now actually feel sorry for non-electric drivers with all this bullshit of having to stop and ‘fill-up’ on their voyage at a petrol station.’, I oscillated between wanting to laugh and starring amazed by that much self-persuasion…

    I do not have an electric car, I got a Diesel engine (boo!), rather big (booo!) and very, very old (booooo!), so I am clearly on the polluters side. Not that this my motive to keep this car…
    Anyhow, that means my engine is rather inefficient, and I still cover more than 3 times your range on a single tank.
    2016, this concept is not a new thing… but you still really cannot travel with those electric-hype gadgets some call cars. I would have hoped Tesla and their so-called revolutionary batteries, as they advertise them, had done something better.

    As a technological passionate, I also grew weary over the years about how systematic it is to make security the least of your concerns. The industry is just reflecting on that.
    And it seems lessons are not learned because today’s hype are IoT and overly-connected gadgets. As many, I dreamt of those quite some years ago, but I am now once again totally scared with yet another trend.
    Connected cars? Yeah, that’s cool. Until the day you’ll get it hijacked this way… or infected… or ‘ransomwared’… aso.
    You do not want your car accessible from a network; You just have not realized it yet.
    All things considered, I’d rather stick with cars I’d need to heat myself.

    However, and I’ll finish on that, I am following what is happening here. Mass-production might be a way to generalize the use of renewable energy. I hope there have been thoughts about batteries recycling, though…

    • cliffski says:

      I#d suggest you care that you can go more than 220 miles purely because you notice when you run out of fuel because…you have to stop.
      My car gets filled up while I’m asleep, automatically. I never have to stop to ‘refuel’ my car unless I travel > 220 miles in one day which frankly…I maybe do 2 or 3 times a year.

      You say its a gadget some call a car, I say its a car that is way cheaper to run, way quieter, way faster, and way more convenient than one that has to fill up with expensive liquid every week :D

      • I clearly see the benefit of just plugging-in your car at destination, no problem with that.

        However, for now, ‘destination’ means ‘home’ or ‘one of the few locations with compatible plugs/chatging systems available’.

        As for the range, you might see that as a gadget because you do not seem to travel for any distance more than 220 miles by car ever.
        But what if you need, even once? With your car, you can’t.
        And what if your destination is a random place in the countryside, with no equipment from big cities? Even for petrol stations, in those regions, you might be in for a small trip…

        Electric cars will be convenient when both the following criteria will be met:
        1°) Range (greatly) increased
        2°) Energy supply available relatively close

        For now they are inconvenient, and only available to those whose use of cars is compatible with them.
        And these 2 problems I quoted are far from being new actually…
        That is why, so far, the only viable options are hybrid cars which cover what is missing thanks to their petrol-powered mobile energy station (and at higher speed, the car itself being petrol-powered).

        Your use case is not much more than actually commuting. That has been a perfect use case of electric cars for a long time already, and I think the mindset in which they have been designed/tested/used.
        However, their limitations are the same since the very beginning of concept cars on the matter. And that date back a long while already. Too bad there is actually no ‘revolution’ despite promises… yet?

  5. Florent says:

    How much have you used / do you trust Autopilot ?
    Is it any good in a city or on countryside roads which as you said don’t always have clear markings ?

    • cliffski says:

      I trust it 99% on Motorways or big wide multi-lane A-roads. On country roads with no markings its pretty bad. Also in tight city streets with on-street parking its not so good. Thats Autopilot Hardware 1, then newer version is apparently tons better.