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For longtime readers you know my current daily driver is a 2015 Tesla Model S 90D.
It was by far the biggest amount of money I have dropped on a vehicle in my life (actually more expensive than all my previous vehicles combined).
So after 5 years of ownership and putting over 125k miles of driving on it (right now it is at 127k), would I do it all over again?
That would be a resounding yes.
I believe the trend for electrification of the automobile is only going to gain steam as word of mouth spreads about the joys of having an electric vehicle.
I figure there might be a few readers who are considering an electric vehicle for their next purchase and I thought I could share some pros and cons of owning an electric car.
On top of that I also will suggest options that may be worth the added cost.
Pros of An Electric Car.
Up Up And Away.
By now most of us have seen those reaction videos on YouTube catching unexpected passengers off guard with instant torque/acceleration.
Even my non performance model entertains my daughter and her friends whenever I demonstrate the capabilities of an electric vehicle.
If you have not experienced this phenomenon firsthand, the closest experience would be any of the “launched” rollercoaster types with linear induction motor technology or, several magnitudes less, an electric golf cart.
The power source of electric vehicles is of course the battery, or rather an array of smaller batteries that are arranged to form a larger battery pack.
These battery packs are incredibly heavy, with the 100KW battery pack (largest currently available) topping the scales at 625 kg (almost 1400 lbs).
One of the great design features that takes advantage of this weight is the placement of the battery pack, which lowers the center of gravity considerably.
The result of this lower center of gravity, along with the heavier weight (electric cars typically weigh far more than an equivalent gas car) makes an electric vehicle handle like it is on rails.
By removing the engine block from in front of the cabin (and instead placing the electric motors in close proximity to the axle(s)), the front crumple zone becomes far more effective.
This allows electric vehicle manufacturers, such as Tesla, to boast some of the best safety ratings achievable.
In wet weather conditions the extra weight of an electric vehicle has the additional benefit of reducing the potential for hydroplaning.
Almost maintenance free.
One of the great things about electric motors is that there is minimal wear and tear compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE).
Also the motors are an enclosed system and do not require oil changes like their gas counterparts.
When I first bought my car, Tesla recommended taking it to service every 12,500 miles (where they would do a battery coolant check and run diagnostics.
After real world data came in showing that this was overkill, Tesla now recommends coming in for a once over once every 2 years unless the car’s internal diagnostics encounter a problem.
No more trips to the gas station.
This by far is the greatest benefit of an electric car for me.
Every morning I wake up to a “full tank” and no longer have to schedule gas runs.
This is significant because I drive almost 90 miles round trip during the week (37 mile work commute plus the additional miles of directly dropping my daughter off at school in the morning).
My previous daily driver, the 2004 C320 Mercedes, required me to go to the gas station 2 times each week.
Not having to brave bad weather or the cold pumping gas this time of year is an added bonus.
On top of not having to pay for routine oil changes, etc, the benefit of an electric car is that electricity is far less expensive than gas.
My car has free supercharging from Tesla for the life of the vehicle, but to be honest I rarely use it.
My home electricity rate is fixed at 9 cents/kWh.
Based on my driving habits, I average about 327 watts of electricity per mile driven.
So for $1 I can drive almost 34 miles (my car has an equivalent miles per gallon (MPGe) rating of over 100 mpg).
Cons of An Electric Car.
Premium in price.
The cost of the battery pack is one of the biggest expenses in the manufacturing of an electric car.
However improvements in technology and efficiency have brought down the price considerably in recent years.
Elon Musk hopes that in the near future battery pack costs have been reduced so much that the cost of an electric vehicle will be on par with its gasoline counterpart.
Range anxiety, the phenomenon of feeling anxious about how much further you can drive before you find a way to charge the car, is a bit overblown in my opinion.
Most cars are equipped with fairly sophisticated range mapping software that allows you to see how much miles you are driving based on current driving habits as well as potential charging locales.
For my routine driving activities, I have no issues with being able to go where I need to go and have enough to get me home and start the charging process.
If I venture outside of my routine driving area, I typically put the destination in the GPS and immediately am told if I need to charge sometime during the trip or how much battery I would have coming back to the starting point.
More and more charging stations are also starting to pop up making it far easier to find a place to charge in a pinch.
On top of that, many hotels have destination charges that allow you to charge while you stay overnight as a guest.
Battery degradation/battery issues.
Just like your smartphone, with time a car battery loses its charging capability.
My 5 year old car, with almost 130k miles has probably lost 15-20 miles fully charged when compared to when I first bought it.
Something a lot of people do not consider is the effect climate has on electric cars, particularly winter.
Unlike ICE cars which can heat up the interior cabin quite efficiently purely from heat generated from the engine, an electric car does not have this luxury.
Maintaining a comfortable cabin temperature requires the use of electric-style heaters (either in the seats or in a general heat warmer) which therefore requires more electricity to be used.
In the summer months I typically average 290-315 kWh/mile.
When temperatures hit freezing, that value skyrockets to 380-420 kWh/mile.
Because of this higher electricity consumption your usable range diminishes drastically in the winter months.
I know Tesla has studied battery management extensively and there are recommended guidelines given to owners to optimize battery life (such as never charging more than 90% of battery capacity unless going on a road trip) but no matter what precautions are taken, expect to see some battery range loss as time passes.
Another issue with electric cars not seen with their gas counterparts is a phenomenon called “vampire drain.”
In an ICE car there is imperceptible loss of fuel even when the car has not been used in awhile.
The same situation does not apply for electric vehicles.
The battery slowly discharges with time when not in use.
This may result in 3-5 miles of range lost over the course of a day.
This is not a big issue with typical daily driving but can come in to play if you park the car and do not use it for a week or more (such as going on a trip and leaving it an airport).
Unless the car is being charged while you are away, expect to lose miles of range by the time you drive it next.
A heavier car and insane torque/acceleration capabilities can do a number on your tires.
I could easily get 50-60k miles on my tires on my previous daily driver.
I now am typically getting only 25k miles before I have to do a tire change.
To make matters worse, these tires are far more expensive than for my previous driver.
Although both were Michelin brands, the size of tires required for my Tesla as well as having the sound insulation foam option, makes a tire change a little over 2x the cost (about $1300).
There are some individuals who have mentioned that in their performance option Tesla, they only get 10-12k miles before the tires are worn out.
Time to “fill up.”
Although charging stations are popping up all over the place there is a long way to go for it be on par with the convenience of gas station locations.
For the Tesla supercharging network I may have to drive 5-10 miles (or more) out of the way on a road trip, which also incurs a time penalty compared to an ICE road trip.
On top of the added time to find an appropriate site for charging, once you get there it does not mean you are home free.
Unfortunately even with current supercharging networks, etc, it is impossible to “fill up” your vehicle as fast as an ICE vehicle.
There have been recent improvements with energy transfer, but it still takes around 15-20 minutes to add 150 miles or so of range.
To err is human and there are some scenarios where you can find yourself in a bind because of it with an electric car.
I hate to admit it but on more than one occasion I may have been distracted when I got home (it happened most recently during the midst of my burnout at work) and then forget to plug the car in.
I then realize this error the following morning when, with daughter in tow, I got into the car and found out I did not have enough range for the round trip.
It was therefore a bit of a mad rush to get my spare vehicle ready (the luxury garbage truck) to make the trip instead.
If my only household vehicle was electric and this happened, it would have had much more of a negative impact on the day for my daughter and me.
Tips For Electric Car Buying.
Battery, battery, battery.
In real estate it is mentioned that the most important thing is location, location, location.
For electric vehicles I feel the most important thing is its battery pack size, the heart of the vehicle.
This is where I highly suggest getting the largest battery pack that you can afford.
You may try and convince yourself that a smaller battery pack is sufficient for your daily needs based on the estimated mileage range provided by the manufacturer, but do not fool yourself.
First the estimated range provided is based on an ideal driving scenario.
For my vehicle, the mileage range is based on a 285 watts per mile driving style.
As mentioned above, my overall lifetime average is currently at 327 watts per mile.
Driving events such as hard acceleration (which is quite easy to do in an electric vehicle) or driving at or above freeway speeds dramatically increase your battery usage.
Colder climates and normal battery degradation, factors mentioned previously, continue to lower your usable range.
In addition that manufacturer’s provided range is based on a 100% battery charge which is not recommended for daily use (the maximum recommended for daily overnight charging is 90% of the battery pack).
Number of motors.
Although it is not as important an option as the battery size, if you can swing it financially, getting a dual motor (or even a tri-motor which is offered now by Tesla), is a very nice upgrade.
In my vehicle the dual motors are optimized so that there is an improvement in driving range (the larger motor is for the rear axle, a smaller motor for the front axle).
A dual motor makes the vehicle 4WD, which improves its handling in wet and snowy conditions.
P or no P.
Manufacturers typically offer high end performance options for their lineup and Tesla is no exception (they designate the souped up version with the “P” prefix.
I am not going to lie, driving a performance version when I took the initial test drive was mind blowing.
In 2015 the performance version at the time could go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds.
It was akin to going down the first hill of a large roller coaster, with greater than 1 g force experienced.
It was a great parlor trick for sure as both my mother and my daughter were pushed hard back into the seats when I pressed the pedal.
I ended up going with the standard non-performance version in the end for several reasons.
First there was a hefty premium to get to the performance model (I believe it was a $25-30k price increase).
Second, I realized that even the car I went with, with its 4.2 second 0-60 acceleration time, was nothing to scoff at.
Third, I knew there would be a hit to my insurance premium by having a supercar performance vehicle in my garage.
Fourth, I knew that there would be an extremely limited amount of real world applications where the additional power was needed.
It would mainly be used as a gimmick to impress unsuspecting fellow passengers.
For me that did not justify the added cost and ongoing expenses.
This can be a pricey option, especially if you opt for the full driving suite (in excess of $7500 option for Tesla).
My vehicle has the very first version of Tesla Autopilot (aka Autopilot 1.0) with only 1 forward facing camera.
Unfortunately with this configuration I will never be able to have fully autonomous driving.
Newer editions of Autopilot have faster computers, more cameras, and longer range ultrasound sensors that make autonomous driving a possibility in the future.
Even with my basic version, I absolutely love autopilot and highly recommend it if it is a possible option for your budget.
I have long stretches of freeway driving during my work commute and autopilot really does make it far more enjoyable.
With traffic reactive cruise control and autopilot the driver is just tasked with watching the road ahead for any issues (I am curious how fully autonomous vehicles are going to navigate road debris or potholes).
Driving is far less mentally taxing with autopilot, which really shines with stop and go freeway traffic.
I absolutely love my car even after all these years and miles.
The benefits of having an electric vehicle far outweigh any of the negatives mentioned and I would buy an electric vehicle for my next car in a heartbeat.
As technology continues to advance, most notably advances in battery technology, range anxiety should be eliminated entirely.
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