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Driving a Tesla: Thoughts after 5 years

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In 2016, I was driving a nice European car. It was a regular car, nothing fancy. Then we got the idea with my brother that perhaps we could afford to buy a Tesla Model S together. This way, we’d each get to drive the car a few weeks per month.

We purchased a Tesla Model S 90D and got the car in January 2017. It has a 90kWh battery, which allowed for about 415 km (~257 miles) of range on a good day. It was gunmetal grey, and it was the most fun I’ve had driving a car.

Then, in 2018, we contemplated that perhaps the Tesla Model X would be nice to drive, so we sold the remaining cars we had, kept the Model S, and got the Model X.

Last Monday was the last day for me to own and drive these Tesla cars. I wanted to write a few thoughts on how those five years went.

Driving an electric car is great

I was lucky to get a third-party EV charging station in the garage where I park my car. Once a week, I would plug in the vehicle (Model S or Model X, depending on which one I drove on a given week) and charge the car to 90%. Sometimes to 100%. We don’t drive massively in my family, so one charge would usually last for 7-10 days for us. A warm garage helps.

Funnily enough, someone saw me in the garage with the Model S – years ago – and tipped off the local news. We ended up doing a short interview on my then-experience with the car.

This is me, showing how to charge the car. It felt futuristic back then.

Jussi Roine laittaa sähköauton latukseen
Photo by Antti Kolppo/YLE

Acceleration is simply fantastic. Both cars were speedy, and with four-wheel drive driving in the winter conditions was hilarious. I try to drive carefully, especially when I usually had between 3 to 5 kids in the car on their way home from soccer practice. That’s the beauty of the Model X – it has seven seats! At first, I wasn’t sure I’d need so many seats, but with three kids, plus one or two loaner kids on any given weekend, the seven seats were almost always in use.

What were the challenges when driving a Tesla?

Winter conditions were not usually a problem for the battery or range. Perhaps I’d get 430 km with one of the cars on a sunny day, and maybe 350 km during winter months. The problem was everything else – windshield wipers were the worst I’ve seen in any car. And I’ve driven a 1970 Volkswagen Kleinbus. Windows’ would fog far too quickly. Sometimes the front trunk (“frunk”) wouldn’t open because the locking mechanism froze. Small things, in the big picture, but still frustrating when you factor in the price of these cars.

Charging outside the SuperCharging network was a bit of a hassle. Each charging station required a new app, or a new tag, or a new something to allow you to charge. The local IKEA prominently installed two charging spots. They were so slow that I could charge about 8 km of range during my 90-minute visit to the store. At first, I thought I was showing a sign of support by utilizing these ad-hoc charging stations, but I just gave up on using them after a year.

The SuperCharging system is fabulous. It just works. Before you arrive, you can see free charging spots on the map. And there always is. You plug the car in, and that’s it. No tags, no apps, just charging. Sadly, these Tesla-owned charging points are few and far between. The closest one to me, living in Helsinki, is about 90 minutes away. Certain parts of the country do not have them. I’ve sat in a cold car for hours, charging it on the only station in the village after midnight to ensure our family can drive home the following day. You start thinking about your life choices at 2:30 am, cleaning email with your laptop, and drinking cold coffee from a disposable cup – and the charging still takes 95 minutes more!

The Model S is fast, sporty, and modern. It also isn’t well suited for a family with three kids. My youngest sits in a safety seat, so the two older kids are cramped in the back seat next to him. It’s more of a driver’s car, less so for the passengers. I couldn’t sit in the back seat myself, as I’d have to keep my head tilted to fit inside (I’m 192 cm/6ft3). Jokingly, a few people I interacted with regularly this year would often ask when they called me, “are you now inside that noisy Tesla?” as the background noise is so loud when taking calls.

The Model X is much easier to use with kids with the famous falcon doors. The falcon doors are super slow to open, so dropping someone quickly off in the traffic lights was not a good idea. It drives well, and it fits everyone nicely. I liked it a magnitude more than the Model S.

The interface on the main display on the car is so-so. The core things are navigation, Spotify, calls, and rear camera. Navigation is so poor, though. You couldn’t do waypoints for years (I think they’ve added that now recently). I would often use my phone and Google Maps instead. Spotify was very slow, even if I used my phone with a 5G connection as a hotspot for the car. Switching the Spotify account to another user was practically impossible. Radio was often choppy, and it had so many little UX quirks I just gave up on the radio altogether. As an example, I’d add five radio stations in favorites. One of them is stuck and doesn’t disappear if I unfavorite it. Then if I’d hop through each favorite station, it would rotate between just the first and second station, discarding the rest.

Perhaps all of these issues I’ve listed are something you might experience on any car. And that’s fine. I wouldn’t say it was somehow displeasure to drive either of the Teslas. I quite liked a lot about the cars. And I was not too fond of an equal amount of things in the vehicles. What frustrates me is that you end up paying quite a bit for the car, and you end up having more than you bargained for in the battery and much less with the interior and usability of the other aspects of the vehicle. It’s imbalanced.

Also, everything is made of plastic inside the cars. After a year of use, everything starts rattling.

Tesla only has one service point in Finland. It isn’t too far away, but still a healthy 25-30 minute drive. The service has been subpar, and I never looked forward to going there. Far too often, they’d ask you to wait for 90 minutes for the maintenance, only to find you in the waiting area after an hour to tell you they’ve run out of spare parts. “Can you come back tomorrow?”. Well, yeah, but it’s frustrating to burn hours like this. I’m glad I won’t be needing to visit their site in the coming years.

What next?

I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to live in the future. Countless people have stopped me in a parking hall or when I’ve pulled over to charge the car to ask about getting a Tesla. People who drive a Tesla in Finland wave at each other when in traffic. There is much to like about these cars. I didn’t bother factoring in the cost of charging vs. the price of petrol over the years. Admittedly, charging might have been cheaper.

When the five-year mark was approaching, I agreed with my brother he could keep them and maintain the cars from now on. The deal with Tesla is fantastic in the way that it gives you options to either “throw the keys over the marble counter,” purchase the contract out or sell the car to someone else. It remains to be seen what the result will be.

I visited the Audi dealership in September this year. I was interested to see the Audi Q8 (I guess it’s a hybrid model), as it has enough seats to fit the family and friends, and it would fit my budget. Sadly, delivery times are excessive – 14 to 18 months! So if I’d order one in September, I’d perhaps get it by Christmas 2022. Next, I walked into the Volvo dealership. Delivery times 2-3 months for the Volvo XC90 hybrid. Seven seats, also.

So, I’ll be driving a hybrid Volvo XC90 for a few years next. I’ll revisit the idea of an EV by 2024.

But why not get an EV from a different vendor? Perhaps the main reason is the lack of charging capabilities (akin to the Tesla SuperCharging network) and the lack of larger EVs that do not look like a minibus. I’ve also realized that driving a fully electric car isn’t the only aspect of owning and operating a car.