My Model S 50,000 Mile Service Record

Consumer Reports surveyed 1,400 Tesla owners and lowered their prediction of reliability from average down to worse-than-average.  Tesla stock has dropped on this news today.

Consumer Reports sites problems with display screen freezes, replacements of the cars’ electric motors and sunroof leaks.  Most early Tesla owners such as myself have experienced a number of problems, but newer Model S cars appear to have had less issues as Tesla has made the car more reliable.  Buying a brand new platform from a new car company with a below 5,000 VIN number, I knew I was an early adopter and expected some problems to crop up.

What Consumer Reports did not mention is that Tesla service is stellar.  They valet your car to your home or office with a loaner Model S (in most but not all cases).  Appointments are not always fast if the issue is not urgent, but they treat their customers universally well.  Part of the company culture is treating their customers with respect which is the opposite of most car companies.  I have only been inconvenienced once with this level of service in the 6 1/2 years driving Teslas.

During my 50,000 miles 2 1/2 year journey with the Model S, I have had a series of seven issues with my car all of which I have documented on this blog.

  1. Serious problems with tire alignment ruining tires
  2. Door handles that would not open
  3. Bluetooth issues connecting to the iphone
  4. Faulty tire pressure warning sensors
  5. Panoramic roof liner had exposed adhesive
  6. Roadster adapter cable failed completely
  7. 12 Volt battery replacement

My issues have been both serious and minor with some difficult to diagnose and fix.  I am hoping to report on the tires soon.  The door handle problems were with the first design of the handles, and new cars do not have these issues. I have not had my motor replaced due to any noise issues although I can hear it a tiny bit more than when I first bought the car. The drive unit is under warranty for a total of 8 years and infinite miles. I won’t think of replacing it unless the noise is a lot more than barely perceptible.

Can I say my car has been as reliable as average?  As much as I adore my car and Tesla, the true answer is no. I think even achieving an average or close to average rating is fabulous for a brand new car company.  I would not expect a great reliability from a new company doing something radically different in the first 10,000 cars they produce.

Ironically today my car is in for the service of the bluetooth.  I have had intermittent problems connecting to the phone along with the 17” screen telling me the bluetooth needs to be serviced.  I had to wait several weeks for an appointment, but I have a loaner in the driveway.  Unfortunately it is an older P85+ without autopilot.  I was hoping to test the autopilot and write my impressions here on this blog.  Even with these issues, Tesla employees are great to deal with and they make servicing the car painless.  I can’t imagine going back to dealing with an ICE as my daily driver.

My only question is should I buy the extended warranty?  I had gathered my list of service issues in an attempt to make that decision making writing this timely post easier.  I’d love to hear your thoughts if I should spend $4,000 to extend my warranty for another four years and 50,000 miles.  I do not expect to be driving as much as I have in the past.

Supercharger Abuse Notes

Elon Musk near the end of the Q&A section at the annual shareholder meeting accidentally created a bit of a PR challenge amongst current and future Model S owners.  The comment was as part of a response to a question on the battery swap program available near the Coalinga supercharger.

“So, free long distance forever is what the Superchargers are providing. There are few people who are like, quite aggressively using it for local Supercharging, and we also send them just a reminder note that it’s cool to do this occasionally but it’s meant to be a long distance thing.”  Elon Musk

Executives have always made confusing statements in front of people but now with video technology and the internet, these statements can cause more problems than before.

This small statement has lead to a ton of speculation on what Elon meant.  Few Model S owners are particularly worried that they will receive a note from Tesla, or that Tesla will begin to charge them for supercharging anytime soon.  The most interesting part of the discussion is what business model will happen down the road for more widespread EV adoption.

But here are a few of the many questions the confusing statement invited:

  1. What is supercharger etiquette?

Supercharging does have some etiquette guidelines.  The biggest error is leaving your car in a stall for a long time after the charging is complete.  Tesla’s web page states:

“How long can I park at a Supercharger?

We ask our customers to use courtesy while charging. Once your Model S has reached the range necessary to get to your next destination, please move your vehicle so other Model S owners can charge.”

With the Tesla app on the phone, you are notified when your car is charged.  In highly underused superchargers, at odd hours, or off-season, there is no rush to move your car.

2.  Exactly who are these supercharger abusers?

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

Busy Supercharger in San Juan Capistrano

No one yet has come forward admitted to having received a note from Tesla.  The speculation mill has mentioned taxi drivers using a supercharger near the Amsterdam airport.  The other speculation is around a supercharger in Southern California.  The San Juan Capistrano supercharger is near the coast and has been very busy.

3.  Is supercharging only for long distance travel?

Superchargers were primarily built for long distance travel.

“Superchargers are used for long distance travel, conveniently located along the most popular routes in North America, Europe and Asia. “

4.  What about superchargers in more urban areas?

Yes, there are many superchargers in large urban areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.  Tesla has also stated that they can be used for those without a garage or definitive parking space.

“..we’re putting Superchargers in cities, not just between cities. Amm, this is obviously important in places like, aaa…you know, Beijing, Shanghai, London, San Francisco, aaa…New York, aaa…where at times people may have a challenge with aaa…having a…a…a fixed parking space. I mean…so…so that’s maybe the wiring thing, it’s more like some of those people don’t have a definitive parking space. Amm, they might have street parking or something, you know.”  Elon Musk Q1 2014

There are also no definitive statements from Tesla that folks without garages cannot use superchargers for daily driving.  I myself have met 3 people who only supercharged for this reason.  One in a far flung ex-burb area in California and two in the San Francisco area.  None of these folks, myself or anyone else has heard that superchargers cannot be used for daily driving by any Tesla personnel before this statement by Elon.

5.  Can you save money by only supercharging?

Technically, you will save on your electricity bill.  But driving and sitting at a supercharger gets old fast and likely would pay less than a minimum wage; electricity is generally not that expensive, and much cheaper than an equivalent tank of gasoline.

6.  How much does it cost Tesla in energy for us to use their supercharger?

A reasonable average commercial flat rate for energy in California is $ 0.20 / kWh.  If a Model S is driven 100,000 miles at an average of 300 Wh / mile and only supercharged the cost to Tesla is $6,000.

100,000 miles * 300 Wh / mile * $0.2 / kWh * kWh / 1000 Wh  = $6,000

7.  What about other supercharger costs?

Tesla does not buy land for their superchargers.  They do however bring in the equipment and pay the construction and maintenance costs.

8.   Is Tesla tracking our every move?

Tesla can collect quite a lot of information about our traveling habits.  Their privacy policy does include this statement:

“Charging station information: We collect information regarding the charge rate and charging stations used by you (including outlets) in order to analyze which charging stations are being utilized, how long and efficient battery charges are, and where additional charging stations are needed.”

So yes, Tesla can know if you are charging at a residential location and at a local supercharger.

9.  Is supercharging using sustainable energy?

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Rocklin Superchargers With Solar Panels

Elon did announce that superchargers will be charged with solar panels where possible; unfortunately the solar panel additions have been very slow and only a handful of locations have them.  Elon also stated at the 2015 shareholder meeting that all the extra electricity the superchargers use will be bought from renewables.

10.  Does frequent supercharging hurt the battery?

Supercharging in general does not hurt the battery.  But I have heard but cannot verify from multiple sources including within Tesla that very frequent or only supercharging does have a small amount of increased battery degradation.

11.  What about Vehicle To Grid Charging (V2G)?

The idea behind V2G is to use the battery’s charge to add capacity to the grid during peak usage hours.  Theoretically in the future, a Model S owner could go to the supercharger fill up the battery for free and sell the electricity back to their power company.  In a sense, using a Model S with V2G could operate like a Powerwall to play grid arbitrage.  V2G technology is not available yet.

12.  Will supercharging have a cost sometime down the line?

I feel it is quite possible that supercharging will have a cost sometime down the line for the 3rd or 4th generation of vehicles.  With the Model S, supercharging was an option for the 60 kW version and not available for the handful of 40 kW versions that were sold.

13.  Is supercharging sustainable with more cars on the road?

With Model S and the upcoming Model X at a high price point, the typical owner has significant resources and likely will not try to save pennies by abusing superchargers.

The next generation car is targeted to cost $35,000.  This car will be aimed at a different demographic that may consider it worth their time to save $10 for a fill up.  But more importantly many of these owners will likely live in apartments or condominiums without dedicated parking spaces.

Perhaps a different supercharging cost will occur for generation 3.  A lot of different charging models could take affect for a different class of vehicles.  Perhaps other car companies could use the superchargers and would be included in a new pricing model.

14.  Has Tesla changed their message?

There has been some heated discussion if Tesla has changed their message.  The message that superchargers are free forever has now subtly been changed to free for long distance travel.  Exactly what their message is today is not completely clear.

15.  So exactly what is supercharger abuse?

No one exactly knows the answer to this question.  A handful of people do use supercharging regularly even though they have a way to charge at home.  Perhaps Tesla considers these folks “abusers” ?

Fortunately just a handful of Tesla owners feel it is their right to supercharge whenever and wherever they please.  One colorful blogger wants to use a close to home supercharger near his home in order to get back at his electric company by charging at the supercharger tied to the same electric company.  In every group of people, there will always exist a few who will try to maximize their advantages in a given system without much consideration for others.

Summary

The real question goes beyond the Model S, Model X, generation 3 and Tesla:

How do we facilitate wide EV adoption amongst drivers who do not have a dedicated place to park their car?

Perhaps Tesla’s statement should for the supercharger should be something like:

Charging at home is very convenient, inexpensive, and easy.  Superchargers are free forever for road trips.  If you have problems charing regularly at home or work, feel free to charge at a convenient supercharger,  but please be considerate of other drivers.

Move Forward / Back Up

Firmware 6.1 has a number of new features including the long awaited reverse camera guidelines.  Recently a lot of auto-pilot and driverless car features have been announced by Tesla and other companies.  A pure driverless car will be of interest for some segments of the market – perhaps someone with a tedious commute.  But many drivers will still want to actually drive their car and enjoy being on the road.  Technology and automation is often but not always an improvement to our world.

Reverse Camera Guidelines

When I first got the Model S, I really wanted these guidelines but after driving the car for almost two years, I have a strong sense of both the front and back space of the car and really feel no personal need for these guidelines nor the parking sensors.

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

Backing Up Towards Another Tesla With Reverse Camera Guidelines and a Dirty Screen

My parallel parking skills are not superb but this weakness is largely due to lack of practice as where I live I simply don’t parallel park frequently.  I have backed into so many supercharger stalls, I now feel very comfortable backing into parking spaces.

I now see both the reverse camera guidelines and parking sensors similar to training wheels on a child’s bike.  They are very helpful for a period of time or in unusual situations but at some point are not generally necessary.

Reverse In Parking Spaces

Recently a number of local municipalities are starting to design reverse in parking spaces.  The San Francisco Bay Area is getting more and more dense as we are experiencing another boom in Silicon Valley.  We have a lot more parking garages, compact parking spaces, bicyclists and pedestrians.  Back in parking spaces are safer because when you pull out of the spot you can see other cars, cyclists and pedestrians.  Also when loading items in your trunk, the trunk is near the sidewalk not oncoming vehicles.

The city of Fremont tested back-in angled parking five years ago.  Unfortunately the experiment failed miserably.  But five years ago there were not very many cars with backup cameras.  Fremont reported on the experiment:

“The typical driver backs up by looking out of their back window. Depending on the visibility, this can work when you are trying to fit between two cars, but it doesn’t work if there are no cars parked to guide you … so they ended up parking across the lines at all angles.”

With many newer cars having backup cameras, I think this will mitigate a lot of the challenges in backing into parking spaces.

Tesla Speed Assist

Tesla along with Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz can with both GPS speed limit data and front-end cameras that read the speed limit signs notify the driver of the current speed limit.  The newer Model S will soon be able to also warn the driver with a chime when they are driving over the limit or up to 10mph over the limit.

I was not particularly excited about this feature when first announced but recently a friend of mine got a speeding ticket for driving 70 in a 35.  She is not a reckless driver but owns a very cushy late model car and was driving on a country road where the speed limit is 55mph.  She passed through a town with a few hundred inhabitants and did not notice that the speed limit changed.  I can see the value of Tesla’s speed limit detector for situations like these.

Conclusion

Some technology improvements have really helped the world.  Others can be useful for only a period of time or have less value.  When choosing options I would consider both the short term and long term use of some of these features and also the monetary cost.

CA DMV Renewal

I am paying my first renewal fee for my California plates for my Model S.  The vehicle license fee is theoretically based upon the fair market value of the car.  The Tesla fee is $482 and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is $54.   The license fee is tax deductible if you itemize your deductions.

In contrast, the license fee for the Roadster was $1036 for its first renewal.  The exact calculation methods changed however in 2011.  California uses a fixed depreciation schedule based upon the initial sales price of the car as the car is considered personal property.

Neither car requires a smog check!  The smog checks are typically every other year.  The process is pretty painless but requires time to drive to a smog check station, wait for the check to be performed and a fee of about $45 in my area.

New Model Lineup

With the announcement of the all wheel drive D capability of the car, Tesla rearranged and simplified their offerings.  Prior to the big anouncement, the Model S was available in the following configurations:

60, 85, P85 and P85+

All of which I tested as service loaners. Just after the D announcement, Tesla offered various versions of the D, but now the options are simplified to the following four :

60, 85, 85D and P85D

The P85 and the P85+ are no longer available and also there is no all wheel drive version with the 60kWh battery.  The P85+ was no longer available immediately after the D was announced.  This decision was probably easy as the P85D is the top of the line performer as was the P85+.  The discontinuation of the P85 has caused a small uproar in the owner community.  Some consider their car less valuable than before.  But from a configuration standpoint, the P85 performance is not that much faster than the 85, and I did not care for the way the front of the car tilted up from a dead start.  I can’t wait to try a P85D loaner!

The table below lists the pricing of the four base models with the same options including the 19″ wheels.  The numbers are for a cash purchase in California including “Destination and Registration Doc Fees” and assuming the buyer qualifies and receives the $7,500 federal and $2,500 California tax credits.  For buyers in other states and countries, the final price may differ slightly but the variation of price between model to model will be the same.

Tesla Model Price and Feature Comparison Table Nov, 2014

Tesla Model Price and Feature Comparison Table Nov, 2014

I have also included the detail performance of each model.  Tesla is now using a range number for the car at 65mph instead of the EPA range.  Regardless, an easy estimate is approximately 2/3 of this value given spirited driving in all kinds of weather.

The interesting question on the table is it worth $24,600 for a car that is two seconds faster?

Discontinuing the 60D option was probably made after Tesla looked at the number of cars ordered.  The 60 is a good choice for folks who have more limited budgets and adding all wheel drive can tip the scale.

Green Car Reports recently stated that Californian’s buy 40% of all of the plug in vehicles in the United States.  Only in the Sierra Nevada mountains is all wheel drive necessary but many folks throughout California go there in the winter for skiing or snowboarding.  But I would suspect most of those buyers would be also choosing the 85 version in order to enable more long distance driving.

They also discontinued the brown and green colors.  I think I only saw a brown Model S once and few greens.  The green was almost black and very dark.  They also discontinued the Lacewood trim and a black roof on a non-black car, which I have never seen.  They also discontinued unlimited ranger service this year and now charge $100 per visit.

Condo Charging

A Tesla Charging in an Oregon Condominium Comples

A Tesla Charging in an Oregon Condominium Complex

Since I am a homeowner, I have given little thought to charging in either a rental unit or in a condominium complex.  I recently drove to Oregon and visited a friend who lives in a condo that was less than 10 years old.

Turns out one of the building residents recently got a Tesla.  Getting sufficient electricity in a home garage is typically not a challenge, but my friend’s neighbor faced a few challenges.

First the designated parking spot he purchased with the unit did not have any nearby electricity.  The building manager had intended to move in and drive an electric car so that spot uniquely had an empty tube for electricity.  Fortunately the building manager did not move in, he switched parking spots, and they hired an electrician. It was impossible to connect the parking spot’s electricity to his unit’s meter, so a 2nd meter in the building’s utility area was installed.

Another issue the neighbor faced was that the wiring for the garage was not rated for 70 amps and once his outlet was installed, his charge rate was quite adequate for an overnight charge but not at full capacity.  And modifying the overall garage electricity was not a simple or inexpensive task.

Each condominium will have its own challenges to add electric car charging.  Here in California we have a law, Civil Code 1353.9 that

“effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts the installation or use of an electric vehicle charging station in an owner’s designated parking space”.

In this Oregonian’s case all worked out fine and he is happily charging his Tesla in the parking garage.

For other condo owners and renters, the challenges can be steeper.  For an apartment renter, the situation could likely be more temporary and they are less interested in putting the dollars into any potential electric improvements.  For some renters there is often no power source anywhere nearby their designated spot.  In California many rental units have parking spots in detached garages or simple parking spots with a roof but no electricity.

CA Laws & Incentives

California is leading the way in the United States for incentivizing green power.  If you buy a model S, the federal government has a $7,500 tax credit.  California tops that off with a $2,500 check, which is independent of your taxes.  Several cities within California have similar incentives for electrical infrastructure.

Palo Alto recently is the first city to require new homes be built with pre-wiring for in-home vehicle chargers for all new housing construction.  The cost to the builder will be only around $200.  Retrofitting a charger can cost considerably more to bring 220 Volts into a garage.

Both Lancaster and Sebastapol now require all new homes to be built with solar panels.  Lancaster was the first city this year to pass this requirement.  Lancaster is the 30th largest city in California located north of Los Angeles and is actually in the mammoth Los Angeles county, which is large in both square miles (4,083) and population (around 10 million).  All newly built single-family homes in town on lots greater than 7,000 square feet  and rural lots greater than 100,000 square feet must have a solar system.  Since Lancaster is located at 2,350 feet at sea level and has sunshine at least 300 days per year, the location is great for solar production.  

Sebastapol is in Northern California north of San Francisco.  All new homes are required to include solar systems that offset at least 75% of the building’s total annual electric load.  If the location is not ideal for solar, the builder must pay a fee or look into other means of alternative energy.

Solar has been adopted quite widespread throughout the state.  California provides this data on a zipcode or county basis.  The top 3 counties of solar adoption in California per person include El Dorado and Placer counties, which are near Sacramento, and Sonoma county, which includes Sebastapol.

The following table covers 19 of the top solar producing counties in California through November 20, 2013.  The data covers 83% of the state as many of California counties have small populations in contrast to a few very large counties.  The largest Watt / person statistic is 41.4 in El Dorado County and only 7.3 in sunny Los Angeles County.

Solar Distribution by Watts / Person in California Counties

Solar Distribution by Watts / Person in California Counties