After close to 20,000 miles on my 2021 Tesla Model Y, my 23-month 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.
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.
Let’s start with driving.
Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 29, 2021, and updated it on January 31, 2023, with additional information. I’m no EV/Auto expert, nor am I an electrician. This post is not a how-to or a review but 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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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 — converting the excess inertia, when applicable, back into stored energy. 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.
Regenerative braking is why EVs generally have excellent mileage 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.
A couple of general notes for those moving to an EV
- There’s no on/off or ignition: The car is always on — you’d have trouble if the vehicle is turned off somehow. You just get in and drive.
- No car key: On a Tesla, there’s no car key — you can get a keyfob, but there’s no actual 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), Reverse (going backward), and Neutral.
- Immediate acceleration: There’s no delay, you hit the accelerator, and the car will move immediately, 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 going in reverse. On the inside, a Tesla is about as quiet (or noisy) as most modern ICE vehicles.
Driving a Tesla: 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 feedback.
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 if engaged.
This type of “control” works out well for the most part. 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, at times, gracefully so.
It’s 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 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 not happy when I deliberately do a bit of lane-straddling on a curve.
And the car often gives out warnings prematurely. For example, I might get the “take control of the car immediately” warning just because the car in front of me made a sudden turn, even when I was already indeed holding the steering wheel.
So the smart notion could 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.
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 might damage its battery.
The point is: Check with 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 the differences are also acute when you’re not driving, namely the maintenance and getting the “tank” filled. Both are entirely new compared to an ICE car.
Let’s check out the maintenance.
Maintaining an EV
I don’t know about other EVs, but the maintenance has been close to nothing for the past 13 months on my Model Y. You can expect the same from any other Tesla.
The only work I got done on the car was the rotation of the tires at 7000 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 done via the app.
After watching him, I planned to do the rotation myself the next time — it was the same process as on any other car.
Other than that, the only other thing I had to do was fill the windshield wiper fluid now and then.
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.
Getting a Tesla repaired: Be prepared to wait
As for getting the car repaired, that was a different story. I learned this from friends who weren’t as lucky.
In the past 13 months, I had to deal with two minor repairs for my Model Y. Both had to do with the car’s tires. I detailed the first in this long post about driving without a donut — it’s a fun read.
The second time, it was in my driveway. My boy found a box of nails somewhere and scattered them around the house. It was more of a failed parenting than car repair, but I could plug the second hole with no issue.
Other than those, my car did get a few curb rashes, but they didn’t bother me. On the other hand, had I needed any more serious repairs, things could have been much different.
My buddy whose Model S crashed back in November 2021 — I mentioned the story in this post on driving automation — has been in the shop since.
It’s estimated that it will take two or three more months before the repair is completed. “I’ll be lucky to get my car back by June, it seems,” he told me and added, “I miss my car.”
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 at around 70 MPH behind a truck at a reasonable distance. Suddenly, the truck veered out abruptly to avoid a vehicle stalling right 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 was estimated at over $30,000.
As it turned out, due to the pandemic, the broken supply chain, and probably some miscalculations on Tesla’s part, it now takes a long time — months in some cases — to get spare parts.
The owner of a local Tesla-certified repair shop told me that it’d take them just “a week or two at most to repair a car, but we just don’t have parts. And things keep piling up!”
And on December 10 last year, my neighbor’s Model Y got rear-ended with a few big dents on the liftgate. Only two weeks ago — that’s a month later — he could get his car in the shop. Now, he has to wait another two weeks for the repair to be complete.
So the minor repair will have caused him to be out of the car for more than a month.
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 it takes weeks to schedule an appointment at a Tesla service center alone in the Bay Area. Keep that in mind before you hit that accelerator.
That range anxiety
Since the beginning of 2021, we’ve taken multiple road trips, putting thousands of highway miles on the car.
Among other things, I figured out 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. So, 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 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.
Extra: Human and energy storing
Since the beginning of our species, making and spending energy have been our strong points. But we’re terrible at storing it.
Specifically, electricity is the main source of power for modern life, and, on a large scale, we generally have to use it as quickly as we produce it. Without a good way to keep it, we’ve always relied on fossil fuel as a reliable method to “store” electricity. But turning fossil fuel into electricity is hugely inefficient.
The move to EVs will likely steer us in the right direction regarding how to store electricity effectively and efficiently. That’s the hope, anyway.
And that brings us to 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 apples to apples. 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 — easily.
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 that Tesla EVs are aerodynamic to reduce the drag caused by wind at high speeds. Considering the limited amount of energy a battery can carry, they only have the efficiency to count on.
So if I lose 25 percent, I’d get as far as around 240 miles. Except I’ve always experienced higher losses on freeways.
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 completely. 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 until its tank is empty. 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, and I indeed never drove it for more than 200 miles on end without filling it up.
Though I could likely get farther than those most of the time, but it’s always better to underestimate the cars’ range than the other way around.
(Keep in mind that on our trips, either car carried a family of four, with luggage, plus a few plugged-in gadgets, AC/heating when applicable, and music, all put a heavier toll on the Model Y’s battery than on the MDX’s engine.)
But generally, in terms of range, an ICE car is clearly, hands down, superior to any EV right now. And that’s especially true when 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, EV charging can get complicated and 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.
Extra: EV Charging in brief
These tabs contain brief info on the three current EV charging levels.
Level 1 EV Charging: 120V (up to ≈ 15 A)
- Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
- Connectors: J1772, Tesla.
- Charging rate: 3 to 5 Miles Per Hour (≈ 1.5 kW).
- Applicability: Home or anywhere with a 120V wall socket.
Charging level 1 is the lowest and, in the US, generally means you plug the car directly into a 120V outlet.
Most EVs come with a portable charger for Level 1 sharing. But you can also get a third-party charger. The charger is simply a glorified power cable — the charging function is inside the car.
Until April 17, 2022, Tesla has 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 ≈ 80 A)
- Electricity: Alternating current (AC).
- 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 sharing is the fastest option you can install at home. It requires new wiring. At the minimum, in the US, you’ll need a new breaker for a 24V outlet.
If you want to get a charging station, such as the Tesla Wall Charger, new wiring is required. This type of charger must be wired directly into a 240V breaker and won’t work with any socket.
Level 2 can deliver between 15 A to 80 A of electrical flow and can give an EV up to 80 miles in an hour of charging — most of the time, 60 miles is the norm.
Level 3 EV Charging: At least 400 V
- Electricity: Direct current (DC).
- 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.
In the US, most, if not all, non-Tesla Level-3 charging stations use the CCS connector, which encompasses the J1772 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.
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.
In most cases, with a Tesla, you only need to fill the car enough to get to the next Supercharger, plus some extra.
EV range: The speed vs time balance
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.
This math doesn’t apply if you have to drive for 200 miles or less, but that’s the optimal speed for 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, 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.)
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 with Superchargers within 200 miles of one another. Straying out of that beaten path, how to get charged was indeed 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 no longer be
Here’s the endgame: my take is that the range anxiety will be no longer when an EV has a 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 fast charging speed, the vastly improved 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!
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 opt to pay extra for non-standard paint color — that’s 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 seat. 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 range is exaggerated: Totally true in most cases as mentioned in this post.
- Tesla drivers have to 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. To be clear, I’ve never even had the desire to key anyone’s car or put nails under their tires, and I drive quite conservatively most of the time. Go to a popular Supercharger and witness that for yourself. Just regular folks with the same body types (and parts). We’ve always had cordial conversations, or no conversation at all — very similar to a gas station in that regard.
- The Tesla Model Y is “critically flawed”: That’s literally the assessment of a supposedly “reputable” car reviewing website. It seemed the reviewer was mad because he had to lease the car instead of getting the normal press junket treatment. The review focused mostly on the driving automation feature and the Model Y in question had no RADAR. Go figure! In any case, the Model Y is still an excellent ride, even without “Autopilot” or “Full-Self-Driving” which are mostly hyped up, to begin with — more in this post.
- 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.
Remember that we’ve been in the ICE age for almost two centuries, and gas-powered technology is not going anywhere just yet. But the era of EVs sure has now begun earnestly.
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 changes or leaks, and no regular trips to the gas station.
Folks have been arguing about which is better for the environment, EVs vs ICE, and I feel that’s sort of beside the point. No matter what we do, we use what has come from the Sun (or suns) anyway. It’s just a matter of how fresh.
If you drive an EV and use solar-powered charging stations, which is the case of most Superchargers along the US freeways, you draw the energy directly from the Sun instead of using what has been here on the Earth for millions, if not billions of years.
The former is more efficient in my book and, therefore, totally cooler.
As battery and charging technologies evolve, soon, you’ll be able to charge the car as it runs or parks, as long as it’s under the Sun. And that’s just one of many things you can’t do with an ICE vehicle.
As time goes by, we’ll get to a point where there’s no comparison between the two.