Trip report: Day 1 Factory tour then Napa; Day 2 drove 425 miles to So Cal

Trip report: Day 1 Factory tour then Napa; Day 2 drove 425 miles to So Cal

I apologize in advance but this is a long read. Once I started I couldn't stop adding more details.

I have never driven an electric vehicle (golf carts don't count do they?) so I was a little uncertain how it was all going to work. But from reading all of the awesome posts from this community I felt sure it would all work out. I did have a few hitches along the way but I figured that would be the case. And I believe very shortly some of these hitches will start to sort themselves out.

So on Thursday, 2/21 our factory tour was great. Due to my flight into SFO I arrived at the delivery center 45 minutes ahead of my 11 AM appointment. They were wonderful to squeeze me into my orientation so I didn't have to wait in the lobby killing time. I HIGHLY recommend this tour if you have a chance to do it. Very enlightening. (I.E. I learned that Tesla outsources the upholstery and seats to a third party. But that company is leasing space from Tesla in the factory to maximize efficiency, problem-solving, etc.) The tour lasted 90 minutes and it would have been fun to just stare at those robots for longer than allowed.

Thanks to all who contributed to the delivery checklist, it was very useful. I had no issues on my car but did get the due bill for the parcel shelf and carbon fiber spoiler like many others. We finished our orientation and were out by 1PM.

We drove to Napa for some wine tasting and it was a blast to put a case of wine in the frunk. I posted that pic on FB and it drew many likes! Immediately I noticed the attention this car receives. If you are in a hurry good luck getting out of the parking lot - haha! I learned to suggest that interested parties google it.

We then drove to the town of Martinez in the East Bay to spend the night with my uncle. I had pre-checked ahead and there are 4 free public charger stations in Martinez all operated by Chargepoint. We decided the Amtrak station would be the safest to leave the car overnight. After 20 minutes of attempting to start the process the Chargepoint rep decided that the station was broken. OK, off to Station #2 - oops, it's occupied by a hybrid. Off to station 3. While being followed by my uncle in his own car we drove around for 15 minutes in the dark over and over again to no avail. None of us could locate #3. By now it's been a long day and we are hungry. OK off to #4 - Nope! It's occupied by a hybrid. OK, what to do now? So we called chargepoint and they directed us to the next suburb over and the first station we came to was available and it worked!!! And it was free to charge as well. Whew! Finally we can go eat. This problem is my main concern as 20k Model S's and many other plug-ins are being delivered this year. The number of other cars on the road this year is increasing at a rate faster than charge stations are being installed - at least that's my opinion and my concern going forward.

I was slightly apprehensive about the car being vandalized but my uncle assured us the area is very safe. I kept checking my iphone app to monitor charging status. It was slower than I had expected it would be (my own ignorance as a rookie)It took about 12 hours to get me 220 more rated miles in range mode.

In the AM we left around 8:30 AM. We missed our goal of a 7:30 departure through our own actions. The goal was to get into LA ahead of rush hour traffic. So off on the highway for about a 180 mile drive to the Harris Ranch supercharger station. I had a full range charge of 270 rated miles. I wanted to make up time so I set the cruise to 83. I knew that the range would fall dramatically at that speed but I monitored it and adjusted as needed. I didn't think we would use as much juice as we did so we slowed down to 77 mph and our estimated range now was giving us a comfortable margin of about 20 miles to Harris Ranch. We also raised the cabin temp slightly. I was comfortable with the 20 mile margin because I knew I could make more adjustments if my buffer continued to deteriorate.

My biggest concern of the trip was that I knew there was only 1 charger at Harris Ranch and had heard the stories of people getting backed up and waiting hours to charge. I heard there would be more chargers at HR by March so I was secretly hoping they had been installed. I knew we were ahead of folks that were taking delivery and driving straight to LA but I was hoping no one else would be there. Got off the highway and could not find the station. Drove all over the East side of the freeway and could not find it. Now I'm getting nervous. Drove to the West side of the freeway and could not find it. Called Tesla Supercharger help desk and he guided us back over the freeway to the Shell gas station where the charger is located. As I was pulling into the driveway another Tesla pulled in a fraction of a second ahead of me. The driver spotted me and gunned it to the charger. She had been there before and knew where it was. She was looking out for other Tesla's as well. Ahhh, scarcity. I lost out and now my fears of hitting Friday traffic in LA were becoming a reality. There were no signs directing traffic to the Tesla station and it is extremely difficult to find because it is in a non-descript area. I was expecting to see the station that is pictured on the Supercharger web page so I didn't bother to check it's exact location. There is no solar panel, no large white frame, no signage. Well, I chalked up my frustration for not doing more proper planning. I could have put it in the nav or researched it ahead of time. My mistake for assuming it would be clearly marked and easy to spot. I believe this problem will be rectified at HR soon so future drivers investigate this.

The woman was very kind (she was in a good mood because she was a fraction of a second from waiting behind me.) She said she had 50 miles of rated range and was going 50 miles to Visalia. It was frustrating that she took up the whole hour for such a short drive. But that is her prerogative. Then we noticed another charger right next to the Tesla supercharger. It had directions for Tesla drivers so I assumed we got lucky and a 2nd unit had been installed by Tesla. Whew! Maybe we could beat rush hour traffic in LA.

We went and grabbed lunch at the much-hyped Harris Ranch restaurant. (we thought it was just ok - good for a rest stop I guess). I pulled out my phone to check my charge status and was very disappointed to see I was only getting 18 rated miles/hour. What? So I called Tesla and the rep tells me that in fact every Tesla charging station has 2 pigtails so that I should be charging properly. I explained that the charger I was plugged into looked different. He insisted he was correct so I walked away from my warm lunch and investigated the charger. Sure enough, the Tesla rep was wrong. There is only 1 pigtail at HR. I was plugged into a public station that they positioned next to the Tesla. Damn. Back to square 1. There seem to be MANY new reps when I call because I received many uncertain answers along with the wrong information. I know this will improve with time but it was frustrating that 3 of the 4 I spoke with did not have full and accurate information.

So when she left we had a nice conversation while walking to our cars and I took her spot. Surfed the internet, played with the car, etc. I initially thought I should get a full charge but when I recalled it was only about 120 miles to the next Supercharging station in Tejon Ranch I decided it was more efficient for us to do a partial charge at HR and do a full charge at TR. My logic being that the car charges slower when it has more juice in it. So we planned to arrive at TR with just a small amount of buffer of 30 miles. This realization saved us some time because we charged much faster from a near-empty battery. I also checked as to the location and was assured there were 6 spots at TR and it is clearly marked. Indeed we found it no problem.

Upon arriving at TR there was a gray S that had a manufacturers plate which drew my curiosity. It was a young driver and he explained he was a Tesla engineer driving a company car. He was working on the overflow battery for the charge station. Apparently they store excess electricity at the station. He was very friendly and took about 5 minutes to answer my questions. "In the conference call yesterday Elon indicated big Supercharger announcements later this year - any insight?" No. "Any idea where the next stations will be installed in CA?" No. Oh well, I figured he couldn't tell me even if he knew. Great guy.

I was charging and assumed everything was flowing just fine. Then I checked the charge status and to my surprise we were charging very slowly. What is happening now????? This was 30 minutes into the charge and now I'm frustrated again. Called Tesla, uninformed rep hemmed and hawed for a while then finally asked me what my amps were set to. 5. I didn't know what that meant but it didn't sound good. That was my problem. I needed to increase it to 40. (He insisted 80 but my car wouldn't go to 80 - I finally suggested I do not have a dual charger and he said "Oh".) Well, that fixed the problem but we wasted another 30 minutes. I have no idea how the max amps got switched to 5 from 40 in the short drive between Supercharger stations. It was obviously set correctly at HR. The rep had no idea either. I had not played with the settings at all. I just unplugged at HR, then plugged in at TR. Weird quirk I chalked it up to. Lesson learned: immediately check the charge status.

Concluded our charge and got into LA on a Friday at 5 PM so we knew we were going to have a very long commute to get home. We used it as an opportunity to watch the energy use in traffic and it is amazingly much better than out on the open road at speed.

All in all it was a long day and we hit some speedbumps but I expected that was a possibility. Tesla is still young and I was very green as well (no pun intended). Things will get better. My car is awesome and there is nothing wrong with it so far. I was concerned about bugs in a new car using new technology from a start-up but so far not 1 problem.

To summarize: I drove 600 miles in 2 days and all my charging was 100% free! And clean energy. It's so much fun to drive past a gas station and flip my finger at foreign oil! :)))))) Awesome experience.

kenliles | February 24, 2013

That's an excellent and detailed accounting. Looks like more chargers will be needed soon for those stations
I enjoyed reading your experience

portia | February 24, 2013

For people who have problem finding the superchargers, please plan ahead of time, look at for example, or on this forum, people who have been there described where the superchargers are so you don't have to drive in circles! There are photos of the superchargers at all locations, and directions which are helpful. Oh, maybe I should just recap them here for redundancy and easier searching?
I will start a thread with directions,

Mark2131@CA-US | February 24, 2013

The "Recargo" app also has a supercharger category which makes finding info about them quite easy.

You can see who's been there recently, if it's working, etc. Great app. A must have for anyone traveling outside their comfort zone.

JZ13 | February 24, 2013

BTW, 1 more pleasant treat of the trip. On the way to the car the next morning as it was out all night charging I checked my iphone app and it said my cabin was 53 degrees. We warmed it up to 70 prior to our arrival at the car! Awesome!

Brian H | February 25, 2013

Neither the 5 nor 40 should have anything to do with the SC. It bypasses the internal car chargers entirely. Perhaps you have to be set at max? Never heard of any amp setting having any relevance to Supercharging, though. I think you need to talk to "ownerhip/supercharging help" again.

JZ13 | February 25, 2013

Well that is interesting Brian. When I changed it from 5 to 40 and unplugged the charger and re-plugged it in that cured the problem. Who knows?

Brian H | February 25, 2013

Possibly the seating of the plug? A millimeter gap can cause such problems. The replugging, with gusto, may have been what did it.

hammy16 | February 26, 2013

JZ13 was fun to talk to, and very helpful. When I said I wasn't sure that the Nissan dealer in Visalia would be all that happy to see my big red Tesla in front of their dealership at their charger, he said they would be excited to see the car -- and they certainly were! Within a few minutes after we pulled in to the Nissan dealer (to make sure we would be welcome) there were at least 10-11 guys out there checking it out from all angles. They were very helpful, loved showing these two females how to use the charger, and all smiles. Thanks for the tip JZ13.

Visalia has no Tesla superchargers, only the one Chargepoint charger -- and Plugshare shows only 3 residences with EV chargers anywhere in any of the surrounding small towns. Knowing that we would need enough charge for 4 days in Visalia including all the running around to visit relatives in some of those small towns (it was our brother's 50th wedding anniversary celebration), we had to charge to maximum at Harris Ranch while we had lunch, so we could get through the weekend without having to come back out to Harris Ranch for a recharge.

We did have a Plan B -- finding a way to plug in to the 110v outlet at the motel where we were staying. Although they were very cooperative and helpful, it really was not an ideal situation because the heavy-duty extension cord I had brought with me would have been crossing foot-traffic areas between the outdoor outlet and the charge port. So, on to Plan C. We parked the car right outside my room -- only about 4 feet from the bathroom window -- and then ran the extension cord through the window to an outlet in the bathroom. Worked like a charm. Although that first night I did keep checking to make sure the noisy party next door was not doing anything to the car or the extension cord.

A note to Tesla and Google: The GPS thinks Harris Ranch is actually on I-5 going north, and thus directed us (driving on I-5 south) to continue past the Highway 198 turnoff (which is just a few hundred yards to the entrance to Harris Ranch) and go another 9 miles to Jayne Avenue, take the overpass and get back on to I-5 going north. Similarly, coming from Visalia out 198 toward I-5, the GPS directed us to get onto I-5 south, again go to Jayne Avenue and come back north on I-5. Since Harris Ranch is such an important Tesla stop, someone at Tesla should really let them know the entrance is on 198 rather than I-5, and save a lot of confusion!

Having learned in a prior Tesla adventure that my Tesla seems to calculate remaining mileage based on the immediate useage rate, I knew that I had to arrive at the bottom of the hill to my house with at least 20 miles left. (On the earlier adventure I had 12 miles left, but by the time I got to the top of the hill the Tesla thought it was out of power and shut down about 1/2 block from my driveway.) So we stopped at the Gilroy Outlet stores where there are 4 Tesla chargers. My husband the engineer (back at the home control station) gave me specific directions to find the chargers (he said near the Sony store, but a better description is near the In-n-Out Hamburger place). Specific directions for finding all the Tesla chargers would be very helpful for people who don't have a tekkie in the family who can find out all these things!

This is a really fun car!

JZ13 | February 26, 2013

@hammy16 - I'm glad the Nissan folks were so friendly. Many people are reporting similar positive attention at Chevy dealers too. I can see now why you needed a full charge. That is an interesting story as to how you charged at your hotel. I guess these are some of the trials and tribulations we face as pioneers. It was great meeting you!

hammy16 | February 26, 2013

The hotel charging with a heavy duty 50 foot extension cord through the bathroom window gave about 35 miles range extension in 11 hours in an overnight charge. With the 8 mile or so loss if it were unplugged over the same period the roughly 40 mile increase is not that bad. Nothing like having a 220 volt source but even the 110 volt charging could be helpful for a lot of folks..

Im the "techi" husband who was watching from afar using the Tesla app on a iPad.
Fun to remotely honk the horn when you see the driver side door being opened

archibaldcrane | February 26, 2013

40ish miles from a 110v over 11 hours is pretty great, especially with an extension cord. Must have some good wiring in that hotel bathroom - prepared for the fiercest of hair dryers lol.

Brian H | February 26, 2013

does "fun" equate to making your wife jump out of her shoes and then cuss a blue streak (which you would have to imagine or enjoy in the retelling)? ;) ;p :D