Cold weather and electric cars don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly. However, I still decided to take my Tesla Model 3 on the longest trip yet, up into the cold and potential snow, outside of the electric range in Vermont for some skiing. During the trip I learned a lot about the car, it’s limitations, and discovered that electric cars maybe aren’t as limited as it seems.
At 250 miles from my house, Vermont was just outside of the range of my standard range plus Tesla Model 3 that I’ve had for about six months now. I’d never yet gone beyond the full range of the car before, relying on banking enough charge to make either a round trip, or relying on chargers on the way when I knew they existed. Even with the 5000 miles of free supercharging I got with the car, I hadn’t yet used a single super charger.
Though I found several bed and breakfasts in Stratton that did have either Tesla destination chargers or other network EV chargers, the condo I ended up staying at did not, do I knew I’d need at least enough charge to get to a charge round trip from there. Though my route up was along a major highway with five super chargers along the way, the last 75 miles were on a rural state road without a single one. This meant having at least 150 miles of range when I left the highway to make it back.
On my way up, I made my first stop at a super charger ever. I couldn’t believe how fast it charged. With 20 chargers located in the parking lot of a mall in Albany, it was convenient as well. My charger at home charges around 25-30 miles per hour it’s plugged in. A good charger in a garage or public location might charge up to 40-50 miles per hour, though most I’ve found range from 20-30. The super charger topped out at over 500 miles per hour. Though, it doesn’t remain constant. Apparently due to battery chemistry, it’s possible to charge a less charged battery faster than a more full one, so going from 5% to 70 can take 30 minutes, but the remaining 30% might also take 30 minutes. Thankfully this wasn’t a problem as the mall had a gastropub where I could grab a flatbread and upstate NY IPA while waiting for the full charge.
Even better, with the Tesla app, I could watch the charging remotely while eating and even control it if I wanted. I ended up topping off at around 210 miles, figuring the extra buffer would be plenty in case of some extra battery usage due to hilly roads, navigating town, and some cold weather degradation. I didn’t count on the snow and how much extra I’d need to use the defroster and heat.
Having auto-steering on the car was a great help on the way up. Boring roads went by quickly with the car largely driving itself. I even got through an entire audiobook on the drive over the great standard high fidelity stereo system. The automatic high beams which shut off when another car is coming were also great for the stretches of road marked as moose crossings where cars kept passing by. I didn’t see any moose on the way, but I did make good time there.
After a day of serious skiing and shredding the mountain, and a frigid night of below freezing temperatures, I started to get anxious about the range. The Tesla is smart enough to run heat through the battery compartment of the car when it’s below freezing to ensure they don’t get damaged. However, this means that extra energy gets used and the range goes down. After two freezing days and nights, the car was quickly getting down to the minimum range I’d need to get back to the super charger.
I decided to head into town to top up the charge by 10-20 miles. I had seen two chargers at the town welcome center just down the road, so headed there first, only to find that the chargers were just being installed and weren’t yet operational. An employee at the welcome center told me that there was a charger down the road at a lodge. After I couldn’t find it there, I checked inside and was told that they had a regular outdoor electric outlet I could plug into. Thankfully the Tesla can charge from a regular outlet in a pinch, though I was only getting 1-2 miles per hour of charge. But on the plus side, I was able to leave the car there for a few hours while I had dinner.
It still wasn’t enough though, so the next night I drove it out of town to a spot I had seen on the way in with a sign for chargers in the parking lot shared between a diner and public park. These chargers were actually working, and I charged up while waiting in the car. After an hour with a slow charge, I realized that constantly running the heater for myself in the car and watching Netflix over LTE on the monitor inside was slowing down the charge, so I stopped and was able to get closer to 30 miles per hour. Unfortunately, on the way back, it began snowing heavily, so I ended up driving conservatively and used up more energy than anticipated with the defroster and heat blaring. On the positive side, the car performed admirably in the snow, especially for a rear wheel drive car I assumed would handle like a sled. Apparently the low center of gravity from the battery cells helps balance it in slippery conditions. I still didn’t see a moose.
This left me with just enough charge to head out of town and make the super charger without stopping again. Most of the hills went down on the way out of Vermont, so I ended up getting there with extra range thanks to the regenerative brakes which actually add energy back by running the motor backward when the car is braking. Even a little more snow and some slushy roads didn’t harm the range too much and I was able to get back to the mall and even do some shopping at Lululemon while the car charged back up enough to get home.
What I learned on this trip is that while range anxiety is typically overblown as a concern with an electric car, it can be real when in unfamiliar places and on the periphery of the charging network. There are plenty of places that have chargers all around the country in a pinch, but charging speed can vary wildly and sitting in a parking lot for hours for a charge isn’t viable. Instead, sticking around the super chargers and ideally finding a spot to rest for the night while charging can make a big difference. Had I either gone somewhere entirely along highways and never had to leave a charger behind by more than a few miles, or stayed overnight in one of the hotels with a charger, I probably wouldn’t have thought about the range once. This is precisely why I’ve never had to worry about the range once in my previous six months of having the car.
I also found that the Tesla Model 3 makes for a great ski trip car. With just one back seat folded, there is ample space for all my ski equipment including the skis, boots, poles, and helmet as well as three bags and some groceries I brought. I didn’t even have to open the sizable front trunk fr extra storage, but could have. With features like automatic headlights, wipers, remote operation of heating to get it defrosted and warmed up, and of course auto-pilot to help with the long drive, it was perfect for a long road trip. It even performed surprisingly well in the snow, even in about a half inch of slush covering the road.
All in all, it turned out to be a perfect car for my trip. While I did have to worry more about the range than expected and make allowances for it, the super charging was vastly more convenient than expected and really not an issue at all. The only inconvenience was scrambling for a top up while in the remote ski areas of Vermont, but better planning could have helped to prevent that. I was positively shocked by how fast and easy using the super chargers was, and now I’m much more likely to consider using the car for other road trips, especially ones where we can use major roads with more chargers and find a place to stay with a charger too. The challenges with owning an electric vehicle continue to be overblown and are even getting better as time passes with faster charging and more charging locations. I’ve got no regrets.