Like many electric vehicle owners, I have range anxiety. It rarely keeps me up at night, but it does occupy my thoughts before and during road trips like the one I just took from Silicon Valley to Yosemite Valley.
I drove a 5-year-old Tesla Model 3, which had a 264-mile range when I bought it, but now has only 232 miles, according to its display. That nearly 14% reduction in range is likely due to battery degradation, which is a factor in nearly all cars and devices that rely on rechargeable batteries, though some could be measurement error. The car’s range estimates are sometimes called “guestimates” because they are based on algorithms that are not 100% accurate.
But even though my current range is lower than when the car was new and about 100 miles lower than today’s long range Tesla models 3 and Y, it’s still on par or a bit higher than many new EVs being purchased today.
Of course, you can buy an EV with a lot more range than mine, but batteries make up a big part of the cost of EVs, and as a general rule, the more range you get, the more you’ll pay.
Just like gas mileage, EV range is an approximation and dependent on factors, including terrain and especially weather. EV batteries lose range in cold and very hot weather. Even though my car says it will go 232 miles, I never count on that and always leave myself wiggle room when planning a trip.
After driving nearly 50,000 miles in my mid-range Model 3, I’ve learned a few things about range and range anxiety based on lots of situations ranging from driving around the Bay Area to road trips to places on and off the beaten path.
Purely from an anxiety standpoint, I wish I had spent an extra $3,000 for the long-range version back in 2018, but based on my experience driving the Model 3, I don’t think the extra 60 miles or so would have made that much difference.
It’s important to mention that Tesla, unlike other carmakers, has its own extensive network of Superchargers that allow you to get from charger to charger well within the range of nearly any Tesla while on major highways. There are non-Tesla charging stations on big and small highways around the country, but they’re not always as fast as Tesla charging stations, and based on many reports of non-functioning chargers, not nearly as reliable. But the good news for owners of Ford, GM, Honda, Jaguar, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Polestar, Rivian and Volvo is that those companies have made deals with Tesla to use its network starting in 2024.
Once the Tesla network is open to other cars, assuming all goes as planned, owners of any Supercharger-compatible car should be able to enjoy road trips without too much worry.
When anxiety is real
But with or without Superchargers, range anxiety is real. For example, on my recent trip to Yosemite, I knew I could get there via any of the usual routes, but I wasn’t 100% I could get back, based on the presence or lack of available chargers in the park and the range of my battery. Yes, there are charging stations in Yosemite Village, but based on the charging standard used on my car, they can only pump enough electricity for 29 miles of driving for every hour of charging (cars with compatible systems can charge at a much higher rate just as Teslas can charge more quickly at Superchargers). But when I drove by those few chargers in the Village, they were all occupied, at least until late afternoon when I found a couple of open ones. Tesla Supercharging stations almost always have some available chargers or the wait is usually fairly short, though I worry that might change when they open up to other cars.
I solved my Yosemite range anxiety by going the southern route where there’s a Supercharger at the Tenya Lodge, a couple of miles south of the park entrance, then found an Airbnb near that charger. That gave me more than enough juice to tour the park, and after a recharge, drive back to the park and exit to the north without any range anxiety.
But to make it without anxiety did take planning, and that can be true with lots of trips to places that aren’t on or near major highways. Even a trip from the Bay Area to Mendocino could be a challenge, although there are third-party charging stations in and near the town, assuming they are available and working. I’m also nervous about driving to Death Valley, although, like Mendocino, it’s possible but dicey. On one trip, I resolved my anxiety by plugging into a friend’s 120-volt standard outlet, charging overnight to add a measly four miles of driving for every hour charging. On other trips, I’ve stayed at hotels or motels with a charging station, hoping it would be available when I needed it (so far, so good).
Based on my experience, once the Tesla network is open to other cars, most road trips should be pretty easy with any car with a range of 200 miles or more. But the next time I buy an EV, I will look for at least 300 miles of range or perhaps 400, just to relieve some anxiety when driving to remote locations.
Battery bigger than bladder
When it comes to local driving or trips to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle or just about anywhere on major highways, I have zero anxiety. Yes, I have to stop every two or three hours, but my bladder, my lower back muscles and my need for food or coffee, have far less capacity than my EV battery, so those stops are always welcome for biological reasons.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.