Today, September 29, 2021, marked my 9-month anniversary of driving an electric vehicle (EV). After almost 10,000 miles, the move from gas — internal combustion engine (ICE), to be precise — 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 — beyond dealing with not having a “donut,” which itself can be quite an experience.
If you’re thinking of making the switch or has just gotten an EV, this post will help. While I wrote this based on my 2021 Model Y, much of what I mentioned here applies to other Tesla models and most EVs.
Lets’ start with the driving.
Dong’s note: I’m no EV/Auto expert, nor am I an electrician. This post is not a how-to or a review but just a guy’s real-life experience.
Driving an electric vehicle
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 is more like it — and the efficiency.
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 complete stop.
If you happen to 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 just fast enough for that next stop — using the brakes is an essential part of driving.
In short, you have to pay for making the car move, slowing it down, or stopping it, in fuel or the cost of materials (the wear and tear of the brakes), without getting anything more than moving from A to B in return.
So, driving an ICE car is always a one-way street in resource-spending.
Extra: EV basics
A couple of notes for those moving to an EV (from an ICE vehicle):
- There’s no on/off or ignition: The car is always on — you’d have trouble if the car is turned off somehow. You just get in and drive.
- On a Tesla, there’s no car key, the car knows who you are and unlock itself via your phone, a fob, or a key card. As you move away, it’ll lock.
- There’s no gear: You have four positions for the shifting: Park, Drive (going forward), Reserve (going backward), and Neutral.
- Immediate smooth acceleration: There’s no delay, you hit the accelerator and the car will move immediately and the acceleration is smooth since there’s no change in gears.
- No noise: The car is quiet, especially from the perspective of those outside. (The driver will still hear wind, and tires on a rough road). There’s no engine or exhaust noise.
Driving an EV: The single-pedal experience
With an EV, things are a bit different. That’s because, generally, the car slows down smartly via “regenerative braking.”
The moment you ease your foot or lift it off the accelerator, you’d immediately feel the de-acceleration. The car would use the momentum to generate electricity to put back in its battery.
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 you’re approaching a stop sign or behind another car.
(Tesla cars have the option for rolling to mimic ICE’s experience, but I’d recommend against it.)
The concept of regenerative braking requires getting used to at first — you might think the car is hitting the brake on its own — roughly similar to driving an ICE car in a low gear.
But in the long term, you’ll love it. And, over time, when you become good at it, you won’t need to use the brake much, if at all.
A lot of folks call this “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.
That’s because, on many trips, I don’t use the brake at all — there’s just no need.
For the most part, the car automatically holds itself, goes, and stops according to how I move my foot on the accelerator — there are various degrees and nuances. Over time, it feels like the car learns my driving habit and drives the way I’d like.
Sure, the brakes still work, and I use them now and then, mainly in an emergency or out of habit. But the majority of the time, the car’s motors handle the acceleration, deacceleration, and stopping, converting the excess inertia when applicable back into stored energy.
Regenerative braking is why EVs generally have excellent millage when driving around town or when you’re stuck in traffic — anytime you have to slow down or stop often.
Driving long distances is a different story, however. I’ll explain more in the range section below.
Driving a (Tesla) EV: The “smart” experience
And there’s more to the “control” notion. Generally, EVs 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 feedbacks.
For example, on my Model Y, the steering wheel would vibrate if I let the car stray out of a lane, even when the road is smooth — 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. (By the way, doing this would bring the car out of Autopilot.)
For the most part, this type of “control” works out well. You’d feel like the car is “smart” — you just let it know what you want to do, and it’d take care of that, gracefully so at times.
Or you feel like you have a friend who’s helping out with the driving at all times. That’s nice.
And all that be programmed to behave better over time — Tesla indeed pushes out software updates regularly with incremental improvements, mostly.
Driving a Tesla: The “too smart” experience
But it 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. The car is not happy when I deliberately do a bit of lane-straddling on a curve.
And the car often gives out warnings prematurely. My Model Y, for example, would give me the “take control of the car immediately” beeps just because the car in front of me made a sudden turn. (And I was indeed holding the steering wheel).
So the smart notion could at times feel like there’s a back-seat driver in the car. It’s a tricky balance and it will be a while before Tesla can figure this out.
Extra on Tesla: Be aware of the “service mode”
By the way, on any Tesla, you need to put the car in a specific “service mode” before you can do simple stuff like jacking it up (or cleaning the windshield wipers).
If you don’t, well, on models with Air Suspension, the car would “think” something is wrong with the road and adjust the suspension accordingly, which can cause problems. (By the way, you also need jack pads. Lifting a Tesla the way you do an ICE car might damage its battery.)
As a result, the job of going to a drive-through car wash can be complicated if you don’t know how to put the car in neutral or turn on the “car wash” mode.
The point is, read the manual and give yourself some time to adjust. Driving an EV can be different from your existing ICE experience. The differences vary between makes and models, but you can’t avoid them — we all come from the ICE mindset.
And then getting the “tank” filled is entirely a new thing.
Charging and EV
In preparation for my Model Y’s arrival, I had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to charge it at home — mostly because I didn’t know better.
Doing my search and listening to the advice of online EV “experts” — there are lots of them these days — I got quotes between $5,000 to $10,000 in wiring and breaker upgrades.
It’s “all about the amps,” they told me, and it seemed to make sense. After all, charging a car is like charging any gadget — you need to plug it in a socket that has enough power, measured in amperes (amps), and the more power, the faster the charging speed.
In the US, the standard 110V socket — the one you have around your home — can push out a maximum real-world rate of 15 amps, and a Tesla Wall Charger needs a 60 amps breaker at 240V to deliver the fastest home charging speed, which is 42 miles (68 km) per hour on the Model Y.
While all Tesla chargers output significantly fewer amps than their source circuit breaker for safety reasons — the Wall Charger, for example, outputs 48 amps from a 60 amps breaker — my existing exiting 50 amps for the entire garage sure isn’t enough. Or is it?
But before going into the detail of getting an EV charged at home, we need to understand the idea of using miles (or km) as the measurement for charging speed and battery capacity.
This unit is what that Tesla (and most other EV makers) uses. My Model Y, for example, has the EPA range of 324 miles in a full charge. That seems intuitive but can be inaccurate — at best, it’s an estimate.
(You have the option of using percentage — like on a smartphone — but that requires experience to figure out how far you can go on a charge.)
The general math of charging
Charging a battery is like filling a tank with water. The tank is the battery, and the water flow (pressure) is the incoming electricity determined by amps (and voltage).
Extra on electricity: Voltage vs Ampere vs Wattage
It’s easier to understand electricity (which is invisible) if you think of it as the flow of water through a pipe from one tank to another.
- Voltage (V): The force that pushes the electricity (water pressure.)
- Ampere (A): The size of the flow (the result of pipe size + pressure.)
- Wattage (W): The load or capacity (the size of the tanks at either end of the pipe.)
The higher the amperes and voltage, the faster electricity can move from one place to another (charging speed). The more wattage, the more power that’s stored, used, or delivered.
Here’s the relationship between these three:
V * A = W
So a 110V/15A outlet has a capacity of 110 * 15 = 1650W or 1.65kW.
You generally find wattage in two measurements:
- Kilowattage (kW): It’s the metric way to call 1000W. It generally indicates the rate of eletricity.
- Kilowatt-hour (kWh): The energy consumed, delivered, or accumulated over one hour. It indicates the amount of energy.
When the flow is constant, the rate at which water goes into the tank is the same. So, how long it takes to fill the tank depends on how large the tank is. After that, how long that full tank lasts depends on your usage — the efficiency.
The Tesla Model Y 2021’s “tank” has a capacity of 75kWh — more on its efficiency below.
When plugged into a 110V (15 amps) socket, the Model Y charging rate is about 5 miles per hour. But this rate is only true if we can indeed get 324 miles out of a full charge. (Hint: No, we can’t count on that!)
However, what is always true is the rate electricity flows into the battery, which, in this case, is 1.2kWh (give or take). This electric flow rate applies to all Tesla EVs that use the same battery technology. But on a Model S, this rate will translate into roughly 3 miles per hour — this model requires more energy to move.
You can increase this filling rate by using an outlet with higher amps (and voltage). So, to charge the car faster at home, you generally need a 240V socket to get the energy draw of higher than 15A.
Charging a (Tesla) EV
All EVs come with a charging port. All Teslas has one at the back of the car on the driver’s side.
It’s a Tesla-proprietary port that works with all Tesla Supercharger stations. Each Tesla includes a to-car adapter that allows you to charge the car at any non-Tesla charging station around the world.
For now, Tesla’s Supercharging network includes Tesla-only charging stations and is one of the main reasons I decided to get a Tesla. Two reasons.
First, it’s ubiquitous and super convenient to use. Drive the car to a charging station, plug the charging cord from the station into the car and you’re all set. You then can manage the charging (and payment) via the car’s touchscreen or the app.
(Again, you can also charge your Tesla at any none-Tesla charger, but the other way around is not possible yet. Chances are Tesla will open up its charging network to support other car brands. But in this case, the convenience notion sure wouldn’t apply.)
Secondly, a Supercharger station can charge a car fast. Starting at 70kW and can go as high as 250kW, a station can fill my Model Y’s battery from 20% to 80% in about 30 minutes or 5 minutes, respectively.
This 20/80 range is significant. That is when the car’s battery (or any battery for that matter) can perform at its optimum, meaning:
- You can charge it the fastest.
- It outputs energy the most efficiently.
- The battery itself can last the longest without degrading.
According to the manual, you should keep the battery within this range unless you drive a long distance. In other words, it’s generally not a good idea to keep the battery level below 20% or higher than 80% for an extended amount of time.
(And you never want to empty an EV’s battery — it needs the power to keep the subsystem alive.)
Tesla also has Destination Chargers as low as 15kW — they are similar to home chargers that top at around 60 miles per hour. Most non-Tesla charging stations charge at this rate, too.
For home charging, all EV comes with a portable “charger.” Tesla includes with its cars the Mobile Connector, which is just a glorified power adapter — the charger itself is inside the vehicle.
(This is the reason why you can always buy a third-party portable charger.)
Though much bigger, the Mobile Connector is similar to a laptop’s power adapter — it can handle power outlets from 110V to 240V and various amps outputs via different to-wall adapters — and comes included with a standard adapter head for the region.
In the US, that adapter head has the official name “NEMA 5-15,” which is the three-prong plug for any wall socket around your home. In this case, you can plug it right in, just like a phone, and it will charge the car at the rate of a few miles per hour, as mentioned above.
Using different adapter heads out of the bundle in the above picture, you can charge the car at faster rates, depending on the power output of the fitting socket.
In the US, the best option is the NEMA14-50 — a popular plug for electric ovens or dryers. With it, Mobile Connector works with a 240V outlet to draw up to 32 amps power to deliver the filling rate of around 7kWh. (For my Model Y, that’s 30 miles per hour.)
Note, though, that the actual amps the car’s charger draws depend on the real-time condition when you plug it in. For example, my Model Y might take somewhere between 7A to 12A out of a 110V (15A) outlet, and its charging speed varies from one location to another.
Users have control over this, by the way, meaning we can make the car to draw lower amps what it determines, via the Tesla app.
Extra on EV chargers: Portable vs Station
The wall charger is another option for home charging. It’s a charging station that you need to wire directly into a circuit breaker instead of using a wall socket, so it’s less flexible and requires a bit of wiring work.
In return, it can charge at a higher rate than a portable charger. A Tesla Wall Charger can output up to 48 amps of power, or 9.8kWh. (That’s 42 miles per hour on my Model Y.) A third-party charger can do the same, by the way — again, it’s all about the amps.
Compared with the 30 miles per hour max rate of the Mobile Connector, though, the Wall Charger seems a bit over-the-top. And it’s indeed so considering how we charge an EV in real-life.
(However, if you don’t have a garage, a charging station is the perfect fit if you intend to park your car on the street or driveway — you’d need to do some wiring work anyway.)
My charging setup
With that, I decided not to run new wiring for a wall charger. Instead, I had an electrician friend install a 40 amps NEMA 14-50 240V outlet and get a NEMA 14-50 adapter head for my Mobile Connector. All that the cost of some $600 and a nice bottle of wine.
By the way, make sure you get this done correctly. I’d recommend using a professional for the job. I did.
(I later got another Mobile Connector and mounted it in the garage as my home charging station and keep the original with the car.)
With this, I have the option of trickle charging (5 miles per hour) via a regular outlet or faster charging (30 miles per hour) via the 240v outlet. I hardly use the latter at all — the former is all I’d need.
Charging vs filling the gas tank
Again, we can’t help thinking of an EV with an ICE mindset initially, especially in filling the tank.
Specifically, with an ICE car, we always fill the tank at a gas station, and we don’t (want to) spend a lot of time there, so it’s great that we only need a few minutes to fill the tank. Then we drive home, and the car sits there in the garage or parked on the street, waiting for us.
On the other hand, with an EV, you can charge your car whenever you’re home or when it’s not driven. So, in most cases, fast charging is not necessary. We have got all night.
Sure, a fast charger will help, affording us more control in case of an emergency, like before an unexpected trip. (Or if you want to charge only during certain hours to avoid high electricity costs.) But we can always go to the Supercharger if need be.
That said, in the past nine months, I’ve used my 30-mile-per-hour charger only a couple of times, mainly to test it out. (It worked!)
The rest of the time, the regular wall socket is enough. Even when I need to drive, I can still get over 60 miles out of it in 24 hours, which is more than my daily driving needs. Some days, I don’t drive at all.
And generally, for any battery, slow charging speed is always better for its longevity. On this front, Tesla told me that the difference between home charging and Supercharging is negligible. But it never hurts to charge the car slowly.
So my routine is, when I get home, plug the car in and let it do its things. By the way, unless before a long trip, I set the max charge at 180 miles (that’s about 55% of the battery’s capacity.)
That range anxiety
Since the beginning of the year, we’ve taken multiple road trips, putting thousands of highway miles on the car.
Among other things, I figured the realistic range of my Model Y and experienced the so-called range anxiety, which applies only to long-distance driving — it doesn’t exist if you just drive around town.
And this range-related worry is only applicable when we compare an EV against an ICE vehicle. Let’s check out some specifics. Before the Model Y, I drove a Honda Acura MDX 2004 — (to 250k miles before letting it go, mind you!). So I’ll stack these two against each other.
There are three things involved in the range: 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 has an EPA range of 324 miles.
Here’s the crucial part: 75kWh of energy is equivalent to just 2.25 gallons of gas. Since I’d never drive the car to empty, I’d round down to 2 gallons.
So, in terms of onboard energy, my MDX has some 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 the efficiency.
EV vs ICE: Energy spending and the Model Y’s real range
The Model Y has much better efficiency than my MDX — about eight times.
Let’s speak in terms of gas to compare apple to apple. Per EPA estimates, the Model Y gets roughly 160 miles per gallon of gas, while the MDX gets only 20 miles.
One thing is for sure: you won’t get these numbers in real life unless you drive around 60 miles or slower at all times. None of us do that on a freeway.
So on my MDX, I often got about 15 miles per gallon or 25 percent less in terms of real-world efficiency. But considering the car has 18 gallons, I could still go as far as 270 miles on a full tank.
Similarly, 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.
(This is why you’ll note EVs tend to be very aerodynamic to reduce the drag caused by wind at high speeds.)
So if I lose 25 percent, I’d get as far as around 240 miles. Except I’ve always experienced higher losses.
Indeed, I generally lost about 30 percent or more if I cruised at 80 mph or faster. On many trips, when legal, I set the cruising speed at 90 mph, the top available for my Y, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing on my MDX. In this case, the car’s range sure was south of 240 miles.
Still, I don’t know my Model Y’s actual range — nobody does. That’s because you can’t just drive the car until its battery dies arbitrarily. And there’s no way you can time it to deplete perfectly at a charging station.
(Supposedly, you can still drive an EV for a reasonable distance when the battery gauge is empty. But you’re not supposed to deplete the car’s battery since that’s very bad for the vehicle.
Nor should you drive an ICE car till its tank is empty, either. Apart from being stuck on the road, you might get harmful sediment from the tank into the engine.)
So to be sure, I generally only counted on some 200 miles out of my Model Y’s la-la-land 324-mile range. Similarly, I never expected to drive more than 300 miles out of a tank with the MDX.
I knew I could likely get more than that most of the time, but it’s always good to underestimate the car’s range.
(Keep in mind that on our trips, either car carried a family of four, with luggage, plus a few plugged-in gadgets, AC/heating, and music, all put a heavier toll on the Model Y’s battery than on the MDX’s engine which produced a lot of excessive heat.)
But generally, in terms of range, an ICE car is clearly, hands down, superior to any EV right now. And that’s specifically true considering this last piece of the range anxiety puzzle:
EV vs ICE: Energy refilling
Refiling 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, refilling an EV can get complicated and might take hours. And generally, there’s no refilling in the middle of the road or extra power packs.
For this reason, if you like taking road trips, Tesla is the best option, thanks to its extensive network of Superchargers.
But even then, expect to spend between 10 minutes to an hour each time you want to charge, depending on the available charging speed and how empty your battery is.
(Generally, on a Tesla, you only need to fill the car enough to get to the next Supercharger, plus some extra.)
EV range: The traveling speed vs time blance
So 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 amount of time you need to spend on the road before getting to the final destination.
In my experience, 70mph 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.
It doesn’t matter if you have to drive for 200 miles or less, but that’s the optimal speed with a trip that requires multiple charges. I’ve tried this on numerous 600-plus-mile legs.
And, again, going more slowly will get you far, even more than the EPA estimate, but it will take longer to get there. So, if you think you might run out of juice sooner than expected, slow down.
(Any Tesla can give you a relatively accurate range estimate in real-time via the Energy section of its touchscreen.)
Generally, after some 200 miles, you want to take a good rest anyway. And for this reason, when traveling within the Supercharging network, I had no range anxiety at all.
So, I often picked the road where I could find Superchargers within 200 miles of one another. When we strayed off that beaten path, how to get charged sure was my biggest concern.
But we have always ended up figuring out a way to plug the car in, sometimes overnight out of somebody’s home — folks can be very generous.
EV range: When the anxiety will be no longer
Here’s the endgame: my take is that the range anxiety will be no longer when an EV has the real-world range of some 500 miles or when we can charge the car as fast as we fill a gas tank.
That’s because you sure can find a (fast) charging station within any 500-mile distance. Most importantly, after those many miles, you’d need a good night’s sleep before continuing, and you can charge all night.
And I have no doubt we’ll get there, the charging speed, the battery capacity, or both. Relatively soon. It’s just a matter of time. So far, we 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!
EVs are the way of the future. If you don’t think so, that’s likely because you haven’t driven one.
Keep in mind, we’ve been in the age of ICE for almost two centuries, and the technology is not going anywhere just yet — we still keep our trusty Subaru Outback for now.
But the era of EVs sure has now begun.
The move will require some getting used to, but you’ll realize how it is a much “cleaner” driving experience. There’s no gas smell, no oil change or leaks, no regular trips to the gas station. All you have to worry about are the windshield fluid and the tires.
But if you drive one now and think that you’re “better” because you’re more “environmentally conscientious,” — I’ve met quite a few with that unfortunate attitude. Well, that’s like you think you’re superior just because you don’t eat meat. The point is that’s beside the point (and debatable at best).
No matter what we do, we use what has come from the Sun (or suns) anyway.
One thing is for sure, if you drive an EV and have a solar roof, you draw the energy directly from the Sun instead of using what has been here within the Earth for millions of years. The former sure is more efficient and fresh, and therefore totally cool, in my book.
And no, I’m not a vegetarian.