I decided I wanted to try two things for my birthday vacation:

  1. Renting a car from Turo.com
  2. Driving a Tesla on a long trip

I had seen the Turo app, and saw that you could rent just about any type of car on it, and I’ve been thinking about wanting to see how ready for prime time the Tesla really is.

 

A quick tour on Turo.com, and I was able to find a Tesla that would make the trip. I decided on a new Model X, since I figured that would let us get there, and haul a few family members around once we did.

The experience with Turo was good, I was able to find the car, set up the rental and communicate with the owner all well before my trip. I was excited about this. 

I made sure to go on the Tesla site, and run through their trip planner, which is actually pretty cool: it will give you a nice map of your trip, with the required charging along the way (and even how long you need to charge at each stop). Everything looked good, and there was even a charging station close to my destination (in the middle of the Trinity alps at Lewiston).

The first day of my trip arrived, and by then I realized my trip was going to be a bit more of a marathon than I had originally thought. First thing we had to coordinate a time to get the car, and drive about half an hour up before we could take off.

So we drove up to where the car was, where I was given a speed course on using the car. Still excited, I got behind the wheel and drove home to pack.

The first thing I noticed was that the rear view mirror was really small, which took some getting used to (meaning I had to rely a bit more on the side mirrors than I do in my truck).  The first safety feature I noticed was that as I merged onto the freeway, I neglected to signal, and the steering wheel gave me some feedback like I had hit some rumble strips, which was pretty cool. 

We got home and started packing up to go. My first clue should have been that the trunk didn’t open with the key fob as expected. So, I unlocked the car, and looked for a handle or button to open it. I noticed a small round depression that looked like a button, so I pressed it, only to have it fall inside the bumper. Turned out that it was one of the many sensors on the car. Later I figured out the only way I could open the trunk was using the giant touch screen inside the car. Annoyingly there was no way to get to the sensor to fix it, and it caused the car to beep and tell me that parking assist was not available every time we slowed down or stopped.

Anyway, once I got the trunk open, I loaded up our bags, and we hit the road. First day’s drive was to an AirBnB in Reno, with a few charging stops along the way. 

After we got out on the boring open highway, I tried to turn on the autopilot a couple of times. The indicator would go on, and then in a few seconds, the steering wheel would jerk, and then it would turn off. I never did figure out if it was something I was doing wrong, or if it was not working, so I gave up on that feature.

The cruise control on the other hand worked fine, I just found the car was following way too close when it would come up on slower traffic. Later I figured out that I could adjust it to leave more room, and once I did, I found I really loved the way it worked (especially in stop and go traffic). I literally didn’t have to do anything and the car would slow down when the cars in front (or sometimes to the side) would slow down.

We stopped and charged at Wendover, had a short break, and continued on our trip after an hour or so. A couple more stops and lots more driving we arrived at Lovelock Nevada for our final charge of the day. That’s where things got even more challenging.

I hooked us up for the charge, and went into the gas station that this charger was connected to, in order to use the facilities and get a drink. One thing I’d noticed earlier was that when I got out of the car, the car would lock and go into “Sentinel mode” (even if my wife was still sitting in the passenger seat). 

This time however, when I got back to the car, I hit the key fob to unlock it, and nothing happened. The big red eye for sentinel mode was on, but the doors refused to open. Only slightly stressed, I called the car’s owner and he said he’d try to open it remotely. 

Problem was that he couldn’t connect to it. So he had me set up my phone to mimic his home WiFi network for my personal hotspot (luckily I had a phone that had a hotspot). The car connected to my hotspot, and he was able to get me inside and start the car. He got Tesla support on the phone, and they tried a few things to see if they could get the key to work, but no go.

The owner tried to get Tesla to give me some workaround (like providing a temporary access to his account so I could use the car with the Tesla app). Unable to provide a workaround, he gave me his username and password, and I downloaded the Tesla app, which actually gave me access to all three of his Teslas.

So the new problem was that in order to drive the car, I had to either be somewhere that the car had LTE (which seemed to be few and far between), or I had to start up my hotspot, open the Tesla app, unlock the car, get in, then use the “keyless start” to drive it. 

The Tesla app, had controls to unlock the car, start it, and open the trunk. It didn’t have any way to open the doors, so except for getting into the trunk, I had to get into the car and use the touch screen to open any of the other doors.

So we got to our AirBnB way later than expected, and another minor annoyance, the Google Maps told us we were there, but as it turned out we were about a block from the house. I followed the instructions to text the AirBnB host, and we rang the doorbell. The excitement continued as I didn’t hear the bell ring, so I pressed it again, and it fell inside the frame. WTH, I broke the doorbell.

Anyway the room was very warm, and the host said she’d turn up the A/C. Eventually we nodded off and had a nice sleep. Woke up in the morning to a card apologizing for some confusion between the host’s son and his mother, with the cash we’d paid for the room (basically a refund). Naturally we wrote a note in return and left the money behind for them (I actually thought we’d inconvenienced them by getting there so late and breaking the doorbell).

We headed out in the morning and stopped in Reno to charge up and grab breakfast. The charger was outside a nice casino, so we had a very nice breakfast buffet, and the car charged up completely while we were eating. The app alerted me just before it was supposed to be fully charged, and by the time we got to the car it had a full charge (something like 270 miles).

So I typed in our destination, and I guess because it was fully charged, it had changed our route to go more directly to Weaverville. The first thing I noticed was that there were no charges along the way, and that the route said we’d be pretty low on charge by the time we got there (10% or so). 

A little scary, but since I knew there was a charging station near Weaverville, we just started off on our voyage. A couple hours into that drive, I needed to stop for a bio break, and I spotted a rest station. We stopped (without thinking about it, confident in the fact that we had the app and the hotspot).

Bio break done, got back to the car, and there was no cell signal. I couldn’t get any internet, so the hotspot would be useless. I also couldn’t call the car’s owner, or Tesla, or anybody else. It seemed we’d be relying on the kindness of strangers.

Just about then I got a single bar on my phone. I tried starting up my hotspot, but I was too far from the car for it to connect. I moved closer, and the cell signal went away. So I moved closer and tried again. It connected for a second, I got the app open, and it disconnected before I got the car unlocked.

Tried a few more times and finally I the car was unlocked, started and we were on our way. Stress alleviated, lesson learned: don’t stop anywhere that there is no internet. Gee, that ought to be fun since we’re going to the Trinity Alps which is notoriously dicey for cell signal.

At some point I did call the hotel in Douglas City to make sure they had WiFi and they verified they did. So we continued on our way, and by the time we got to Redding we had about 60 miles of charge left. That probably would have been fine to get up there, but with no guarantee of charging once we got there, we decided to find the nearest super-charger (which the car told us was in Corning). Started driving to Corning, and my wife said there really should be a charger in Redding, so she found one at a Best Western in Redding. We stopped there, but once we plugged in, we were only getting a couple of miles of charge an hour, so that wasn’t going to be so helpful.

So with just enough miles on the charger to get to Corning (the estimate said we’d get there with 3%), I called the owner again to make sure we’d actually get there. He advised me to drive slowly, and not use the A/C if possible. Luckily for us there was construction on the highway, so most of that trip was at 55 anyway.

We got to Corning and pulled into an empty slot, only to find a “out of order” sign on it. All of the working slots were full, and we had to wait about an hour before we got a spot. It told us an hour to charge, so we hung out at Starbucks for a bit. After the hour was up, it was up to 200 miles and said there was about 20 minutes left to charge. Since we knew we had 100 miles to drive up the hill, we waited for a full charge (which took another hour).

Back on the road, we started up the hill to our hotel in Douglas City. Just outside of Redding (far enough for there to be no cell signal), we get stopped by construction (a section of the road where they are piloting traffic one way at a time). 

We had a nice conversation with the gal holding the stop sign, the whole time watching the battery drain slowly and thinking that if I had to get out of the car, we’d be stuck again. Finally, we’re off up the hill, and we get to the hotel. We used up about half the charge, but the hotel has WiFi, and my phone has signal, so we’re good for the night. Figured we had enough charge to drive around a bit and still get back to Corning.

I get the hotel to set up an extension cord for me, and I leave it to charge (adding about 2 miles to the charge every hour), thinking that will add enough so we can drive around. Problem was that it only charged for an hour or two before stopping. After a few times of that and a couple of texts back and forth with the car’s owner, he tells me that we need to lower the amperage on the car, because it will try to draw more than the circuit can handle. So I do as he suggests, and after a couple of days of fiddling, it seems to charge without stopping.

But even with this, we’re driving back and forth to my Mom’s and the mileage is not enough for us to feel warm and fuzzy. So we decide to take a trip out to Lewiston to charge up.

Again with the Google Maps guiding us we end up in Lewiston on some little road where the chargers (and the old Lewiston hotel) are supposed to be. Only they’re not, and there’s no signal to look at the map on my phone, or to try and call the hotel. Since we had no way to find the place (and we would likely have been stuck if we stopped), we headed back to our hotel, having run through another 30 miles or so of charge for no reason. 

So for the rest of our stay in the Trinity Alps, we left the car plugged in to garner a few miles each night. We weren’t as mobile as we’d have liked, although it did all work out fine.

At some point I realized that I needed to verify the rest of the places we were staying had some sort way to control the car (WiFi and/or cell service), so I called our AirBnB (in Red Bluff) and Wilbur Hot Springs. The AirBnB said they had both, but Wilbur (being the primitive sanctuary) was in an area with no cell service and they didn’t have WiFi.

Wilbur was nice enough to cancel my reservations. It was disappointing because that was supposed to be other birthday treat to myself. On the plus side it meant we’d be able to spend a couple more days in the Bay Area to visit my brother and my wife’s father there.

So when we left Douglas City, we headed back down the hill with the navigation telling us we’d get to Corning with a few percent charge left. I think we made it with 5 or 6 miles left this time, and were able to pull right in and charge in a couple of hours again. 

The down side was that Corning was about twenty miles south of our AirBnB in Red Bluff, so once again we got there fairly late. There was cell and WiFi, so we were good again. The hosts were there and guided us to our room, which was upstairs and again very warm. They told us they’d run the whole house fan and turn up the A/C, so we went to dinner.

When we got back the room wasn’t quite as warm, although it was still uncomfortable. Eventually we slept, and then spent a couple of days with my niece and her family before heading to the Bay Area.

The drive to the Bay was fairly uneventful, charging went smoothly, mostly an hour at each stop. Then our route took us across the Bay Bridge, where I realized I had no cash. I couldn’t recall if they took credit cards (they don’t) so they handed me a paper to tell me how to pay the toll and not get a fine (if you set up an account and pay the toll, they wave the fine the first time). So I took care of that while we were at my father in law’s home.

After I got there, I went to another charging station in Daly City, which took me a bit to find. I got to the shopping center where the chargers were located, and didn’t see them or a sign to find them (this was pretty consistent, most of the charger locations were easy to spot, and had no signs guiding you to them, so it took some scouting). I asked at the tire place and they told me the chargers were at the top of the parking garage.

This charging location had 40 slots, so finding an open one wasn’t a problem. It did the same as I’d seen a few other places, the first few minutes it was charging very slowly, then the first hour it would charge at about 200 miles each hour, then it would drop off to 70 or less, so it took another two hours or so to get a full charge.

Anyway we had a nice visit with my father-in-law, and also got to go to lunch with my brother. After the lunch, I got a warning that one of the tires was low. Now the temperature had dropped, so I was pretty sure that was the cause, and just to be safe I decided to go back to the tire place to have them check it.

When I got to the tire place, it looked pretty dead, so I got out and before I took two steps, a young woman came up to me and told me the chargers were in the parking garage. I asked her if they could check my tires, and she told me that the tire store was closing permanently. I asked her where the closest place was I could have somebody check them, and she pointed me down the road to a gas station.

Went to the gas station and he told me they don’t do tires anymore, and waved me over to the air filling station. I asked him if there was a tire place nearby, and he pointed me to another one a mile or so away. This happened to be the same chain as the first tire store, so no idea why the young woman didn’t send me there in the first place. Anyway, they checked my tires, after which I went back to the charger and we headed home.

It was a pretty late start, and since I didn’t want to stop to get cash, I changed the map settings to avoid tolls. That took us home via the East Bay, and past our old home in Livermore. We stopped for dinner at Beebs (our old regular restaurant at the golf course), and after dinner drove past our old house. Got to see a few of the old wait staff that we knew from when we lived there, and catch up on a bunch of the weddings and state of the kids there.

Driving home, I had the car in cruise control most of the way, and was really digging that I didn’t have to keep hitting the brakes and going in and out of cruise. It would literally stop if traffic stopped, and then accelerate with traffic nicely.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, although it was after midnight by the time we finally got home. All in all it was quite the experience.

I really liked a lot of the features of the Tesla, and felt like most of the safety features made it a great car (I think I told somebody it was a bit like having Granny as a co-pilot, the car would do things like brake for people coming onto the freeway, and make it feel like there were rumble strips if I changed lanes without signaling).

I think if the charging had been a bit more consistently an hour or less, then that part would have not been as much of a pain. Also if the key fob hadn’t failed, I think the trip would have been much smoother.