After over 20,000 miles on my 2021 Tesla Model Y Long Range, my 2-plus-year move from gas, or internal combustion engine (ICE), to electric has proved quite a trip.
For the most part, it's been a fun ride. But it could be even more fun if I had known better.
If you're thinking of making the same switch from ICE to EV, this post will help. While I wrote it based on my Model Y, much of what I mentioned here applies to all Tesla models and most EVs.
Let's start with driving.
Dong's note: I first published this post on September 29, 2021, and updated it on February 22, 2023, with additional information via first-hand experiences.
Driving: EV vs ICE
The first thing you'll note with an EV is the different levels of control you'd have on a car -- or the car has on itself -- and the efficiency.
ICE: One-way resource spending
In an ICE car, it's simple: you hit the gas pedal to bring the vehicle up to a certain speed, then use the brake to slow it down or put it to a stop.
If you make it go a bit too fast for the distance ahead, you'll need to hit the brakes a bit harder. And you can never make it go fast just enough for that next stop. Using the brakes is essential to driving, especially when going downhill.
So an ICE car means you have to pay in fuel or the cost of materials -- the wear and tear of the brakes -- for making it move, slowing it down, or stopping it. All the while, you get nothing back other than moving from A to B.
It's a one-way street in resource-spending.
EV: The single-pedal experience
With an EV, things are a bit different. Generally, the car slows down more acutely via "regenerative braking."
Ease the foot on the accelerator, and you'd immediately feel the de-acceleration -- the car captures the momentum to regenerate electricity.
As a result, you will not feel the usual rolling of an ICE. Instead, the car slows down at a greater level and comes to a complete stop at a much shorter distance -- sometimes intelligently so when approaching a stop sign or behind another car.
The concept of regenerative braking requires some getting used to. It's roughly similar to driving an ICE car in low gear, albeit smoother.
But after a while, you'll love it. And when you're accustomed to it, you won't need to use the brake much. It becomes "one-pedal driving."
And that's been my experience with my Model Y. Tesla claims that the car's brakes will last its entire life, and I have no reason to doubt that. On most trips, I don't use the brake -- there's just no need.
For the most part, the car's motors handle the acceleration, deacceleration, and stopping -- according to how I move my foot on the accelerator via various degrees and nuances. Over time, the car seemed to "learn" my driving habit and move around how I wanted it to.
The brake pedal still works, and I use it now and then in an emergency or out of habit.
Regenerative braking is why EVs generally have excellent mileage when driving around town or when you're stuck in traffic -- anytime you must stop and go often.
However, driving long distances is a different story -- more in the range section below.
Other little things to note with EVs
- There's no on/off or ignition: The car is always on -- you'd have trouble if the vehicle is turned off somehow.
- There's no shifting in drive: You have four positions: Park, Drive (going forward), Reverse (going backward), and Neutral.
- Immediate acceleration: You hit the accelerator, and the car will move immediately without any delay, and the acceleration is smooth since there's no gear-shifting.
- No engine noise: The car is very quiet from the perspective of those on the outside. There's no engine or exhaust noise, but all Teslas make a distinctive noise when backing up. On the inside, a Tesla (or any EV) is about as quiet (or noisy) as most modern ICE vehicles.
But there's more than regenerative braking in handling an EV.
Driving a Tesla: The “smart” experience
And there's more to the "control" notion in riding an EV.
Generally, electric vehicles are advanced "drive-by-wire" vehicles. Specifically, the car's usual controller -- the steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator pedal, etc. -- doesn't have physical connections to different parts of the vehicle.
Instead, they are sensors that carry the driver's inputs to a computer, which takes care of the actual movements and actions and gives you synthetic feedback.
For example, on my Model Y, the steering wheel would vibrate if I let the car stray out of a lane -- the shaking has nothing to do with the road's surface or the car's wheels.
The steering wheel also gives a little resistance when I change the lane without turning on the signal. (Doing this would bring the car out of Autopilot if engaged.)
This type of "control" works out well for the most part. You'd feel like the car is "smart," as in you let it know what you want to do, and it'd take care of business, often gracefully so. It's like you always have a friend helping out with the driving. And that's nice.
And all that is in the software, which can be re/programmed. Tesla has pushed out over-the-air software updates regularly with incremental improvements, mostly.
Driving a Tesla: The “too smart” experience
But the experience can be annoying, too.
For example, you wouldn't know if a tire's pressure is low or it's completely flat just by how the car feels -- you have to rely on the sensor.
What's more, sometimes, my Model Y shakes its steering wheel for seemingly no reason, likely because it doesn't perceive the lanes correctly. Also, the car is unhappy when I deliberately do a bit of lane-straddling on a curve.
And the car often gives warnings prematurely -- even with the latest update.
For example, I might get the dire "take control of the car immediately" warning just because the car in front of me suddenly turned, even when I was already holding the steering wheel. Or, when on the street, the car would slow down by itself for no apparent reason.
So the smart notion could feel like a back-seat driver getting involved arbitrarily.
There's a tricky balance between the good and bad of this "smart" driving that will take Tesla, or any car company, a long time to figure out. After all, autonomous driving is extremely complicated.
Tesla's service mode
On any Tesla, you need to put the car in a specific "service mode" before you can do simple stuff -- car wash mode, towing, windshield wiper servicing, .etc. -- for the car to behave accordingly.
For example, on models with Air Suspension, the car would think something is wrong with the road and adjust the suspension accordingly if you lift it without putting it in the service mode first.
By the way, you also need jack pads -- lifting a Tesla the way you do an ICE car with a jack might damage its battery.
Read the manual
So it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with your EV.
Check with the manual and give yourself some time to adjust. Driving an EV will differ from your existing gas car, and you'll run into issues keeping the ICE mindset.
And the differences are also acute when you're not driving, namely the charging, maintenance, and range management. All are entirely new compared to an ICE car.
EV charging deserves a post of its own -- take a read if you haven't. Or you can open the drawer below for some quick highlights!
Three levels of EV charging
EV Charging in brief
The tabs below contain brief info on the three current EV charging levels.
Level 1 EV Charging: 120V (up to ≈ 15A)
- Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
- To-car connectors: J1772, Tesla.
- Charging rate: 3 to 5 Miles Per Hour (≈ 1.5 kW).
- Applicability: Home or anywhere with a 120V wall socket.
Level 1 charging is the lowest and, in the US, generally means you plug the car directly into a 120V outlet using the car's default (often included) portable charger, technically called electric vehicle service equipment or EVSE.
There are also third-party portable chargers. While varying in design, costs, and possibly quality, all chargers will work with all EVs. It's just a matter of getting the right adapter when necessary.
These "chargers" are essentially power cords. The charging function is inside the EV.
Apart from the 120V socket, most level-1 chargers also work with 240V sockets to deliver faster Level-2 charging speed.
Until April 17, 2022, Tesla included the Mobile Connector with its cars. It's the company's default Level-1 Charger.
Level 2 EV Charging: Up to 240 V (up to ≈ 80A)
- Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
- To-car connectors: J1772, Tesla.
- Charging rate: Up to 80 Miles per Hour (≈ 20 kW).
- Applicability: Home or anywhere with a 240V wall socket or a charging station.
Level-2 charging is the fastest option you can install at home. It requires new wiring.
At the minimum, in the US, you'll need a separate breaker for a 240V outlet, similar to an oven or dryer. Most EVs' portable chargers work with 240V and 120V outlets via interchangeable to-wall adapters.
A charging station, such as the Tesla Wall Charger, requires new wiring. This type of charger must be wired directly into a 240V breaker and won't work with any socket.
Level 2 can deliver between 15A to 80A of electrical flow and give an EV up to 80 miles in an hour of charging through 60 miles/hour is common.
Level 3 EV Charging: At least 400 V
- Electricity: Direct current (DC).
- To-car connectors: Combined Charging System (CCS) and Tesla
- Charging rate: at least 3 miles per minute, up to over a thousand miles per hour.
- Applicability: Public charging station
Level 3 charging equals "gas stations" for EVs -- it's the fastest charging option.
For years, Tesla's Superchargers have been the most well-known Level-3 charging, with each charger capable of filling a Tesla's battery from 20% to 80% in 20 minutes, or as fast as 5 minutes, depending on its wattage, which ranges from 75 kW to 250 kW (and even higher.) The higher, the quicker the charging rate.
In the US, most, if not all, non-Tesla Level-3 charging stations use the CCS connector, which encompasses the J1772 connector.
Many non-Tesla DC chargers include a Tesla connector.
Level 3 charging uses direct current (DC) instead of alternating current (AC), like in the case of Levels 1 and 2. Each charger costs tens of thousands of dollars. That's not to mention the electricity cost.
Other than CCS, some Japanese cars also use a new connection called CHAdeMO for Level-3 charging. In the US, a CHAdeMO DC charger often includes a CCS and a Tesla connector.
With that, let's check out the maintenance.
Maintaining an EV
The maintenance has been nearly nothing for the past years on my Model Y. You can expect the same from any other Tesla, likely any other EV.
The only work I got done on the car was the rotation of the tires at 6000 miles.
I detailed part of that experience in this post on the car's tires, but the gist is I contacted Tesla via the app, and a friendly technician arrived a few days later on my driveway.
It was a straightforward, painless experience that cost $50 -- the payment was made via the app. Since then, I've gotten my own jack and done all subsequent rotations myself -- it's the same process as on any car.
Other than that, I only had to refill the windshield wiper fluid now and then. (I did bring the car to a Tesla service center at around 10K miles to have a checkup but was sent home almost immediately since no maintenance was necessary.)
Since the Model Y's arrived at the end of 2020, I've had to deal with three minor repairs -- all with the car's tires. I detailed the first in this post about driving without a donut -- it's a fun read.
The second nail was in my driveway. My boy found a box of nails and scattered them around the house.
And the third time, somebody tossed a bunch of roofing nails under a bunch of cars in the parking lots -- as I later found out via the Sentry records. I got three punctures in two tires at once. It was quite unfair.
By late 2022, all of my tires got hit with at least one nail. I managed to plug them all the way I did the first time, and the tires were fine. But in early 2033, I decided to get four new tires to stay on the safe side.
Other than those, I got a few curb rashes -- not the car's fault -- which didn't bother me for long.
Compared to my previous gas car, My Model Y has saved me from dealing with oil changes, brake checking, engine tuneup, .etc. It's been a much easier experience.
Extra: Tesla accidents and aftermath
Getting a Tesla repaired: Be prepared to wait
Like driving any car, your luck with a Tesla varies regarding getting into an accident. But dealing with the aftermath is generally the same: It's much more time-consuming than with an ICE car.
My buddy whose Model S crashed in November 2021 -- I mentioned the story in this post on driving automation -- wasn't fixed until August 2022. He was out of a car for 10 months.
In case you're curious about the incident, it was determined not to be the car's or the driver's fault, according to the police report.
The Model S was traveling around 70 MPH behind a truck at a reasonable distance. Suddenly, the truck veered out abruptly to avoid a vehicle stalling in the middle of the freeway. It was too late for the driver on the Model S to react.
The car's emergency brake did engage, which kept the driver and the passenger safe -- it impacted at slower than 30 mph. Still, the damage cost over $30,000.
My neighbor's Model Y got rear-ended with a few big dents on the liftgate. It took him over two months to get them repaired.
As it turned out, due to the pandemic, the broken supply chain, and probably some miscalculations on Tesla's part, it can take a long time -- months in most cases -- to get spare parts.
The owner of a local Tesla-certified repair shop told me it'd take them just "a week or two to repair a car, but we don't have parts. And things keep piling up!"
Hopefully, things will change as the supply chain gets back to normal. But for now, if you have an EV, especially a Tesla, you better not crash or scratch it.
There's no good time for that, but scheduling an appointment at a Tesla service center alone in the Bay Area takes weeks. That's the case even in early 2023. Keep that in mind before you hit that accelerator.
It's important to note that my experience with maintenance and repairs wasn't typical -- I hope it stays that way. I know a few who weren't so lucky -- the drawer above includes a few examples if you're interested.
However, my experience has been the same as everyone else's regarding the car's range.
EV: That range anxiety
Since the beginning of 2021, we've taken multiple road trips, putting thousands of highway miles on the Model Y. On one trip during early 2021 alone, we drove over 2500 miles.
And I learned a lot about the car's range.
The first thing is that the so-called range anxiety applies only to long-distance driving -- it doesn't exist if you drive around town, as mentioned above. Since the range-related worry exists only when compared to driving an ICE car, let's check out some specifics.
Before the Model Y, I drove a Honda Acura MDX 2004 -- to 250k miles before letting it go. I'll stack these two against each other.
There are three things involved in long-distance driving: the amount of energy on board, the efficiency, and how fast we can refill.
EV vs ICE: Energy storing
My MDX has a tank capacity of 18 gallons -- it's actually 19.2 gallons, but I never drove it all the way to empty -- and generally has the max EPA range, on a good day, of 400 miles (644 km).
My Model Y has a battery capacity of 75kWh and an EPA range of 324 miles. Here's the crucial part: 75 kWh of energy equals just 2.25 gallons of gas. Since I'd never drive the car to empty, I'd round down to 2 gallons.
So, regarding onboard energy, my MDX has nine times that of my Model Y. Gasoline has a significantly higher energy density than the current battery technology, pound per pound.
And that brings us to efficiency.
EV vs ICE: Energy spending and the Model Y’s real range
Let's speak in terms of gas to compare apples to apples.
The Model Y gets roughly 160 miles per gallon of gas per EPA estimates, while the MDX gets only 20 miles. So, my Model Y has much better efficiency than my MDX -- about eight times.
One thing is for sure: you won't get these numbers in real-life driving unless you drive by yourself, hauling nothing at around 60 miles or slower at all times. None of us do that, not on a freeway.
So on my MDX, I often got about 15 miles per gallon or 25 percent less in real-world efficiency. But considering the car has 18 gallons, I could still go as far as 300 miles on a full tank.
The Model Y also loses its efficiency progressively at higher speeds, but at a much more acute rate considering the amount of energy it can carry -- it has only two gallons of gas.
You're probably fine losing $250 when you have $1000, but losing $25 out of a $100 budget is painful. That's especially true when you must accomplish a similar goal with the funds.
So if I lose 25 percent, I'd get around 240 miles out of a full charge. And the faster you go, the more efficiency you'd lose. Indeed, if you cruise at 80 MPH on a Model Y, discount at least 30% from the car's EPA range.
On many trips, when legal, I set the cruising speed at 90 mph, the top available for my Model Y (before the Tesla Vision shenanigans). In this case, the car's range often ended up merely 170 miles out of 90% of the car's full charge.
EV vs ICE: Keeping you comfortable
No matter which car you drive, you'd probably need the AC. Both EVs and ICE vehicles use electricity cool the cabin.
However, when it comes to heating, while an ICE car can use excessive heat from its engine, the EV has to drain its battery for the task, including keeping its battery from freezing in super cold weather.
Driving in cold weather can reduce an EV's range significantly.
This is why you'll note that EVs, especially Teslas, have aerodynamic designs to reduce the drag caused by wind at high speeds. Considering the limited energy a battery can carry, they only have the efficiency to rely on.
So to be sure, I generally only counted on some 200 miles out of my Model Y's la-la-land 324-mile range, or 150 miles when charged at 80%.
Similarly, I never expected to drive more than 300 miles out of a tank with the MDX, and I never drove it for more than 200 miles without filling it up.
Though I could likely get farther than those most of the time, it's always better to underestimate the cars' range than the other way around.
But generally, in terms of range, an ICE car is, hands down, superior to any EV right now. And that's especially true when considering this last piece of the range anxiety puzzle: the refilling.
EV vs ICE: Energy refilling
Refilling an ICE car's tank is easy and takes less than 10 minutes, no matter what car you drive.
You can even bring a few jerry cans along if need be. And if you run out of gas out of now where somebody can bring gas to you.
On the other hand, EV charging can get complicated, and there's no extra power pack to carry along or quick refilling in the middle of the road. If you run out of juice, the only option is getting a tow.
For this reason, generally, Tesla is the best option if you like taking road trips, thanks to its extensive network of Level-3 Superchargers -- the company plans to open them to all EVs.
In most cases with Level-3 charging speeds, you only need to fill the car enough to get to the next Supercharger, plus some extra.
But even with super-charing, expect to spend 10 minutes to an hour each time you want to charge, depending on the available charging speed and how empty your battery is.
EV vs ICE: Real-world range summary table
The table below summarizes the true real-world ranges of my MDX 2004 vs my 2021 Tesla Model Y Long Range. Your mileage will vary, but you can use the numbers to get an idea of what you can expect from any EV.
|2004 Acura MDX||2021 Tesla Model Y Long Range|
|Curb Weight||4,451 lbs (2020 kg)||4,555 lbs (2070 kg)|
|Tank (Battery) Size||19.2 gals||75kWh|
(≈ 2.25 gals of gas)
|EPA Range||400 miles (644 km)||324 miles (521 km)|
|EPA Efficiency||≈ 20 miles per gal||≈ 4.3 miles per kWh|
(≈ 160 miles per gal)
|Tested Street Range |
(stop and go at or below 40 MPH, with gentle acceleration)
|≈ 200 miles||≈ 400 miles and even more|
|Tested Freeway Range|
(cruise speeds, single occupant)
|at or below 60 MPH: ≈ 400 miles or more;|
70-75 MPH: ≈ 300 miles;
at or above 80 MPH: ≈ 250 miles or less
|at or below 60 MPH: ≈ 400 miles or much more;|
70-75 MPH: ≈ 230 miles;
at or above 80 MPH: 180 miles or much less
|General Real-world Range|
(safe, conservative estimate)
| ≈ 13 miles per gal|
or 250 miles per full tank
(65% of EPA)
| ≈ 2.5 miles per kWh|
or 180 miles per full charge
(55% of EPA)
|Time to Refill|
(from almost empty to full)
|< 10 minutes|| ≈ 30 minutes to over an hour|
(at a Supercharger)
≈ 10 hours to three days
The gist is that you need to discount the estimate range greatly, no matter which you drive, EV or ICE.
But with an EV, trusting the always-incorrect range estimate has a much more severe consequence in long-distance driving. On the other hand, you'll be pleasantly surprised how long a charge lasts when driving around town.
EV range: The speed vs time balance
Considering the efficiency mentioned above, the rule with an EV is that the faster you go, the shorter distance you can travel with the amount of energy at hand and the longer you'll need to charge.
That said, pick the best balance of the speed you like and the time you need to spend on the road before reaching the final destination.
Also, the more often you get charged, the less time you'd need to spend at the charging station -- don't let the car get below 20% before charging it. If you keep the battery level between 20% and 80%, most of the time, you'll only need 5 minutes to charge.
An EV takes much longer to charge from empty to 20%, and from 80% to 100%, than from 20% to 80%. And you should never drive it until empty.
In my experience, 65-70 MPH is the best cruising speed on the Model Y, where I could get where I wanted with the least time spent on driving and charging.
This math doesn't apply if you drive for 200 miles or less, but that's the optimal speed for a trip requiring multiple charges. I've tried this on numerous 500-plus-mile legs that needed at least two charging stops, often three and sometimes four.
And, again, going more slowly will get you far, even more than the EPA estimate, it just takes longer to arrive. So, slow down if you think you might run out of juice sooner than expected.
Any Tesla can give you a relatively accurate real-time range estimate via the Energy section of its touchscreen. When traveling within the Supercharging network, there tends to be charging stations within less than 100 miles -- you don't need to worry much about the range.
But even when straying out of this network, I've always been able to get the car charged. There are third-party charging stations everywhere, and the possibility of plugging the vehicle into a house's outlet is real -- folks can be generous.
EV range: When the anxiety is no longer
My take is that the range anxiety will be no longer when an EV has a real-world range of some 500 miles, charges as fast as we fill a gas tank, or better yet, both.
And I have no doubt we'll get there -- the fast charging speed and the vastly improved battery capacity -- relatively soon. It's just a matter of time.
So far, humans have focused more on creating energy than storing it -- with EVs, that will change. Until then, the little range anxiety can be fun math. Just don't push it too hard!
Extra on owning a Tesla: Rumors vs reality
You might have heard a lot of stuff about a Tesla. Here are a few of the common items.
- A Tesla's paint is worse than those of a regular car: Completely inaccurate. They use the same paint. However, if you pay extra for non-standard paint color -- red, blue, black, etc. -- chances are the car has thinner paint than the standard color.
- A Tesla has a lot of rattles: Sort of. In my experience, they are caused by the seatbelt buckles tapping on the dry fake leather seats. To avoid this, tuck them away for clicking them in, even when there is no passenger.
- A Tesla interior looks cheap: This is subjective, but generally, a Tesla, except for the Plaid trim, is not supposed to be a luxury car. You pay for the tech and safety, not the bling.
- A Tesla's doors and panels tend to be misaligned: Totally true. My Model Y's front and back doors were more than a bit out of sync on arrival. I complained to Tesla via the app, and a technician arrived a few days later. He adjusted them to perfection with a wrench in less than 20 minutes. No charge.
- A Tesla's EPA range is exaggerated: Completely true, as mentioned above.
- Tesla drivers must deal with "unreasonable hatred": Sad but true. We've seen folks acting weird on the road, like trying to pass us aggressively on a single-lane road, honking at us for no reason, or, even worse, putting nails under my tires in the parking lot. Others I know have had even worst experiences, like getting their car vandalized for no reason.
- Tesla drivers are the worst: Totally an untrue stereotype. You're dealing with one, and I consider myself average.
- Tesla's Full Self-Drving makes the car drive by itself: Completely untrue. FSD, so far, has been a scam on the company's part.
- A Tesla requires special tires: Completely inaccurate. But the car's power and weight can be hard on them -- more in this post.
EVs are the way of the future. If you don't think so, that's likely because you haven't driven one. Personally, I will not buy another gas car. Period.
We've been with the internal combustion engine for over two centuries. While fossil-field-powered technology is not going anywhere, the EV era has begun earnestly. It's time for us to move on from the ICE age.
The move will require some getting used to, but you'll realize how it is a much "cleaner" driving experience.
Folks have been arguing about which is better for the environment, EVs vs ICE, and I feel that's beside the point. No matter what we do, we use materials from the Sun (or suns) anyway. It's just a matter of availability and efficiency.
If you drive an EV and use solar-powered charging stations like most Superchargers along the US freeways, you draw the energy directly from the Sun instead of using what has been here on Earth for millions, if not billions of years.
The former is more efficient in my book.
As battery and charging technologies evolve, soon, we'll be able to continually juice up the car as long as it's under the Sun. And that's one of many things you can't do with an ICE vehicle.
Ultimately, EV vs ICE is apple vs oranges. There's no comparison between the two.