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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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Marshall Feldman
Marshall Feldman
2 years ago

Thanks. I’ve been mulling over buying an EV. But my 2006 Lexus RX, with only 135,000 reasonable miles, keeps happily motoring along.

David Powell
David Powell
2 years ago

My commute partner in the ’90s drove his old Datsun “to the moon” — over 240,000 miles. The good news is when you’re ready to put your old RX out to pasture, there will be so many great choices which are fun to drive and likely to give you equally long years of happy “commute therapy”.

Tom B
Tom B
2 years ago

For those not ready for an EV, but concerned about emissions, according to Terra Pass, which sells carbon credits, for a cost of $5 per month can offset emissions from a four cylinder Camry driven 13,000 miles per year.

Will
Will
9 months ago

You’ve had the car for a while. Buyer’s remorse? In love with it? wwff? The way I read Ben’s quote, one can rationalize anything. Do you feel you are in that boat now?

David Powell
David Powell
7 months ago
Reply to  Will

Hi Will. We love it, zero remorse, and have done several long trips in it since I wrote this. Tesla’s interstate Supercharger network and simple charging experience is exceptional. When operating expenses of my wife’s old mid-sized 9yo SUV increased, we decided to replace it with a Tesla Model Y.

The driving experience is still a real joy, and the car has *improved* since purchase thanks to new software features delivered via monthly updates over the internet. I’ve never owned a car I love more rather than less as it ages.

Rebel_Alliance
Rebel_Alliance
7 months ago

I’ve had mine for 2 1/2 years and I am still very much in love with “Dash”. I haven’t taken it on any long road trips but every driving experience is a joy. It’s the most expensive car I’ve bought. The last new car I bought was in 1995. Kids are out of college, we’re on track for retirement, so I finally bought something nice for myself. My vehicle is not contributing to fossil fuel pollution (solar panels came first and we purchase wind power).
I love, love, love my car! Once you get used to an EV, you’ll never want to go back! Hubby is waiting for an electric truck…

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