Elon and Me

David Powell

IN MARCH, I DROVE off the Tesla lot in a new Model 3 with Ben Franklin’s quote in my head: “So convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

Elon Musk had just announced availability of lower cost versions of the Model 3. After eight years of waiting for a Tesla that would cost less than my first home, I had my new electric vehicle (EV) just three days after ordering. No deposit, almost no waiting.

Built in California, the car cost less than my wife’s Audi, I told myself. It was way cheaper than the Tesla Roadster or Model S I’d drooled over for years, I rationalized. It’ll get across the corporate campus much quicker, a time saver in my new job. Its styling is so slick, so un-EV, so gotta-have-it. Reasonable indeed.

Jonathan Clements’s sage advice—that, if your goal is greater happiness, buying experiences beats buying more stuff—made me pause before I hit submit on the Tesla online purchase form. Is this another thing I’ll regret spending hard-earned money on, or will it be years of commute therapy and fun driving experiences? How long will that last? I decided to find out.

Wifey and I buy cars rarely and drive them a long time. But a desire to vote with my wallet on electric vehicles changed that pattern. I’ve driven EVs since 2011, when I first got “Lucky,” the only car I’ve ever leased and one of the first Nissan LEAFs in Seattle. The battery in that car was too small for anything but commuting and it recharged slowly, but for me it was a game changer.

EVs are far simpler than their combustion engine cousins. With no engine, transmission or gas tank, they’re far cheaper to maintain. Forget about oil changes, transmissions which break and water pumps lasting half the life of the car. They’re also loads of fun to drive, with electric motors giving 100% torque when you tap the accelerator, and incredible cornering from a low center of gravity, thanks to heavy, ground level batteries.

I have three bits of advice if you’re new to EVs and are considering buying one:

1. Battery size is crucial. Skip frivolous options and use your budget to buy the biggest battery you can get. In Tesla’s Model 3, get the “long range” one. Range estimates for EVs are always optimistic. Real EV range is less than estimates in cold weather, when driving fast for long distances on the highway, or driving in hilly or mountainous areas. Manufacturers also recommend charging batteries to something less than 100% of a full charge, so you see less capacity loss over time.

2. Buy a 240-volt charger if you own your home. These devices will let you recharge way faster than a standard 120-volt outlet. They run about $500, plus the cost of an electrician, but it’s worth it. In a Model 3, the higher-voltage charger is the difference between adding 44 miles of range after spending an hour in the garage, rather than a mere five. Buy one from Tesla’s online shop or, if you’re getting another EV brand, from reliable makers like ClipperCreek.

3. Sign up for charging networks. Tesla has an extensive, proprietary national network for fast charging. There are other charging station networks across the country, including ChargePoint. These mainly use industry standard connectors. Tesla provides an adapter for the most common one. You’ll need to sign up for an account with these other charging networks before you can use them. Do it when you get the car, not when you find yourself somewhere in a low-battery pinch.

David Powell has written software or led engineering teams for 35 years. He enjoys work, vegan fine dining, cycling and travel with his spouse. His previous articles for HumbleDollar were Beefing Up Security and Playing Defense.

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