Two plug-ins are better than just one.

What Do I Drive is a series where the editors and writers of InsideEVs share with readers the cars we personally drive. These are the cars we bought with our own money and drive in our daily lives. As such, we've got a lot to say about them.

First our driving habits and our driving circle: Our primary car sees 11,000 miles annually. Our normal daily commute is about 25 miles but with multiple days resulting in 45 miles. We drive about a dozen trips annually in excess of 100 miles and a 275 mile trip about four times annually. Our longest trip consists of a 700-mile trip every couple of years. 

We also require for our rental business 2,000–3,000 miles annually for hauling appliances and construction supplies. For the later, we use a 2008 Ford F150 as we wait for the dawn of the electric truck.

Our Electric Driving History - Enter The 2012 Chevy Volt

In 2011, we installed a 5kW solar array. I am a retired engineer with plenty of time on my hands, so I designed and installed my array cutting out the soft cost. 

By the end of 2011, we were ready to add to our solar array the necessary kWs to power our first EV. The 2011 choices really were between the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt EREV. Though we could have made the Leaf work as a commuter, the Volt better fit our driving habits described above. While we liked the roomy interior of the Leaf and the superior visibility, the Volt allowed us the freedom of driving primarily one car in our driving circle with the occasional use of a Ford F150 for hauling. Like most Volt owners, 97% of our trips were all-electric while the 3% consisted of long trips requiring 30% gas usage. 

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Of important note, was that in 2011 the only EV offering an eight-year 100,000-mile warranty was the Chevy Volt. Even the up and coming Tesla Model S was at the time offering only three years. While Tesla gets so much deserved credit for pushing the EV market, it was GM and California CAFÉ that forced the modern EV warranties. 

We are well into our eighth year of our MY2012 Chevy Volt and to the surprise of many fossil fuel sponsored sites, the Volt has not caught fire nor left us stranded with a dead battery. 

Pros

Handled 97% of our electric trips, stylish, and great execution for gen one PEV. The left steering stalk is equipped with a short double beep for pedestrian warning which I prefer to the constant sound legislated for future EVs.

Cons

Though plenty of driver legroom, there is inadequate rear-seat room for adults. The front pillars also offer less than stellar visibility.

Bring On The Tesla Model 3

So as stated earlier, we needed the transitional Volt until a true 200 mile BEV existed. So when the Tesla Model 3 was announced we made a reservation within 48 hours. After two years of waiting, we bought a Model 3 LR with FSD capable of 315 miles of range. The 240-mile SR+ version would have been sufficient, but in the summer of 2018 no such offering was available. For our driving habits, the Model 3 has been perfect in every way. Living in the southern climate we do not require all-wheel-drive. 

Cons

Service center locations. Though Tesla has overcome most of this with a mobile service fleet, location is currently an advantage for the dealership model.

Pros

You don’t need to schedule regular visits to your service center. In fact, some service issues can be handled with OTA software downloads which is a huge plus. 

OTA downloads

Here are a couple of notable enhancements and fixes that occurred in our first year of ownership.  We bought the Model 3 with 315 miles of range. One morning we awoke to a free upgrade to 325 miles. The car came with a 0-60 performance of 5 seconds. Tesla later made an OTA upgrade for a 5% increased performance. On another occasion, a download provided the ability to record the forward cameras to a USB while driving which has proven handy for many in the unfortunate event of an accident. Later, another download produced a full-blown security system using both cameras and sensors when activated.

Consumer Reports released findings stating that the braking distance of the Model 3 was inferior. Hardly before the ink dried on the report, Tesla downloaded the correction! For those with pets, a pet-friendly mode was added to monitor and control the temperature of the cabin while parked.  A plethora of infotainment options has been added over the same period. Please take a moment to try and conceive even one of these offered by any auto purchase in your past and with no additional charges. This is after only one year of ownership and-they-keep-coming. No automobile is future-proofed, but this approach by Tesla is like no other and an undisputed plus for the “pros” column.

Autopilot

As a standard feature, this is a big plus. When individuals say that they would not use that feature it is primarily given to their perception of reading a book or sleeping behind the wheel. I immediately ask them if they ever use cruise control. I further ask if they have ever driven on an interstate in the pouring rain where they could no longer see the lanes. With both hands firmly on the wheel, Autopilot has helped me navigate through such events. Ever had a near miss due to a blind spot?  Autopilot will assist with that too. How about navigating complex interchanges? All of these performed with both hands on the wheel makes for a safer drive by this suite of driver-assist tools that are standard to all online offerings.

Only the base model is void of this and can only be purchased after a Tesla individual gets the opportunity to explain the value of autopilot.

Supercharger network

In our first year of ownership, we have supercharged four times, primarily for adding 50-75 miles of range, for instances such as making a 340-mile daily round trip. The Tesla supercharging experience doesn’t require card readers or driver inputs. You simply plug in.

Here is what our first charging experience was like. First I have to describe that watching me eat when I am in a hurry is a horrific if not disturbing event.  On our first 300+ mile trip, we had the need to add 70 miles for our destination. The Tesla does all the work from telling you where to stop and how much charge you need.

So, we arrived at a Sheetz station where the Superchargers were located. My wife went in to use the restroom and grab a couple of sandwiches while as a newbie I sat and watched the battery icon grow before my eyes. With the remaining time after my wife returned with the sandwiches, it became a race to see who could finish first, my gorging of the sandwich, or the Model 3 completing its charge.  I lost, with indigestion my reward.

The point is that everyone’s driving requirements, habits, budget, and desires vary. Determining what EV best suits you may very well depend on taking a closer study of your required range and available chargers near you. For us, the Model 3 has only required four stops annually and all have been less than 20 minutes.

When I declared earlier that the 240-mile SR+ would suffice, basically the four trips would have cost roughly an additional hour spread in 10-20 additional minutes per trip where a planned meal would have easily displaced. The largest impact happens on trips over 500 miles as described below. I would highly recommend taking a careful look at one’s extended trips to determine if possibly a few planned meals per year would fit one’s lifestyle.

A great place to start is to view your driving circle as pictured above. The  https://supercharge.info/map is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of destinations you might have forgotten. If a Tesla is your choice, then such a map will help make you aware of their network near you. Setting a base point and activating a radius based on your required EV range helps visualize popular destinations.  For other EVs https://www.plugshare.com/  will help visualize the chargers in your area as well as the ability to plan your trip. 

Most modern EVs will provide trip planners as standard to their onboard navigation. Additional online apps such as https://abetterrouteplanner.com/ will let you fine-tune what to expect with your specific travels including extended stops for meals and multiple route choices. I find the supercharger info and route planner great accessories to Tesla’s standard tools and hopefully help the readers experiment with how an EV will work for them. 

We take a 700 mile trip to New York every couple of years to visit my brother which makes the 325 mile Model 3 LR worth the investment.  Our daughter lives 275 miles along the way which allows for an overnight visit for our first stop. The second leg is ten hours in driving miles with three additional 15-minute stops along the way. We typically drive 260 miles or five hours for the first leg of the journey.  That makes the first stop a lunch break taking more than 15-minutes allowing us the choice of charging to 100% with no additional stops or charging to 80% with just one more 15-minute break for the remaining trip. For us, the Tesla Model 3 truly has a practical solution to our long-distance travel. 

The stops are also breaks with the freedom to leave your vehicle. On top of that, we have gained back the weekly time standing in front of a gas pump entering our zip code and answering “No I don’t want a slurpy with that”!

You know what is more inconvenient and time-consuming than that? Take out your ICE service folder and calculate the time for scheduling that regular oil change or scheduling maintenance for timing belts, water pumps, catalytic converters, exhaust pipes, brake shoes, tune-ups, and all the other things that go with supporting an internal combustion engine. All make up for several charging stops in an EV. Furthermore, no matter your human hubris, a proper break between several hours of driving will make you a better driver on the shared highways.  

Conclusion

EVs have arrived. If you spend $50/week on gas, that equates to $200/month, $2,400/year, or $20,000 in fuel over the 8 year warranty period of the modern EV. The equivalent spent on electricity will vary based on gas and electric prices in your area and the miles driven. Using US national averages of 12 cents/kWh, and 13,486 miles, you can easily spend half or less on energy by driving electric. Many argue that $30,000 - $40,000 is still too much to pay for an EV. It sure looks much more appealing when you subtract $10,000 in fuel savings + the cost of maintenance. The economics of driving electric really start to work when you drive over 10,000 miles annually.

But there are also hidden costs that we selfishly refuse to quantify. What about the health benefits for all living creatures who currently suffer from breathing the particulate matter that result in the burning of fossil fuels? When will we start applying these medical costs to the savings? Or the cost of climate change?  These are real costs that are shared by all. Sure it is a commitment to spend the money upfront for an EV. But it is a commitment that is worth the making for you and those around you.