First Model S Drive from Chapel Hill, NC to Arlington, VA (Lessons Learned)

First Model S Drive from Chapel Hill, NC to Arlington, VA (Lessons Learned)

Disclaimer: Before I begin recording my stream of consciousness, let me be very clear, I love this car. I'm totally impressed by the people at Tesla. And the problems I'm stumbling into are exciting to debate and solve.
Timeline and Relevant Car Details

Reserved Model S: 2/21
Finalized Model S: 3/4
Took Delivery of Model S: 3/19 - Details:
85 kWh Battery Pack, 19" Tires, Air Suspension, Single Charger, Premium Sound, Panoramic Sunroof, Tech Package

Taking Delivery in Raleigh, NC and The First Ugly Drive Home
The Awesome: I was returning to DC from a brief vacation on 3/19 and realized I might be able to just fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and grab my car that was being readied for a DC delivery and drive back to DC from NC. Being who I am, I decided to strike while the iron was hot, and sent off an e-mail to Bank of America, and Tesla, and told them I was going to be showing up hat-in-hand on the 19th. It turns out it's a quick 15 dollar cab ride to the Raleigh Service Center and I was greeted by a cold drink and lots of great conversation. Between Jamee (on the Delivery Service Team), Lauren (a Product Specialist in Palo Alto), Trevor (the Raleigh Service Manager), and Roberto (the uber Lender and best BoA employee of all time), somehow everything came together. I really want to emphasize how awesome these people were. Jamee was responding to my e-mails at near midnight the night before, the Tesla web team was busy trying to reconfigure things to let me pay correctly, and Trevor was busy charging and detailing my new car. The experience was nothing short of fantastic. Kudos all around from a guy that NEVER gives kudos to people selling me expensive things.
The Bad: After enjoying a great conversation with Trevor, meeting his wicked cute kid, and awesome wife, I hopped into the car and immediately started to notice problems. Let me give a quick list:

The 200 mm speaker on the passender door is very scratchy and almost sounds like a screw is rattling around
The driver-side front door requires a pretty strong slam to get the thing closed
The driver-side window doesn't correctly match up with the rubber insulation around it
The panoramic sunroof generates a lot of wind noise when the car is moving at a high speed
There are lots of exposed cloth fibers frayed around the panoramic sunroof
There's a weird bug where the rear-view camera will display above it's designated box on the screen and then never be able to move

None of this is the end of the world, but it's always nice for the next guy to know what's going on.
The Ugly: I grabbed the car with 230 miles of rated range on it. I drove the car to Chapel Hill to meet the girlfriend cutting my range back to ~190 miles. I decided to grab some pizza and leave the car charging (for free!) at the municipal charging station on 503 West Frankly Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. As expected (it's granola Chapel Hill!), there were three cars in place and I luckily grabbed the last of the four available spots. I plugged in and stumbled into my first surprise: the J1772 connector was only giving me 14 miles per hour. Compounding that, the charging station had some weird fault, and the charging stopped with only about 15 miles added to the car. At this point, it was starting to get late, and I had to leave. I set off on a journey requiring 270 miles of travel on I-85 (70 mph speed limit) and I-95 (again 65-70 mph speed limits).
I knew I'd have to stop in Richmond (and my little sister is a med student out there, so it would be convenient). I finally arrived at the Virginia Science Museum where I was paying 0.75 per hour to charge off of a J1772 adapter again at about 15-16 miles per hour. I showed up with 35 miles of remaining rated range, and I needed another ~90 to safely return to Arlington, VA to get into work. If this was any other place, I'd have been screwed. I needed to charge the car for ~6 hours to get back on the road. I was lucky. My little sister traded cars with me, and I drove up to Arlington at about 2 AM (with a brief 3 hour nap at a wendies, ugh). The whole thing was pretty disastorous. I made a lot of unreal assumptions (e.g., I could drive efficiently without climate control, I would get 31 miles per hour of charging using the J1772 chargers, I would easily find 14-50 charging options, etc.) and I kind of failed to be realistic about the math. Disaster. Oh well.
Lessons Learned: Lots of important things to remember if you're in my circumstance:

When you take delivery before a long trip, ask the service center to give you a max charge.
Get the Tesla App for your phone and monitor your car. I missed out on 30 miles of range because of the fault in Chapel Hill.
The newbie model s owner will probably assume 31 miles per hour is what you get when you charge. Wrong. And the 30 Amp J1772 public charging station will not give you anything close to the theoretical maximum charge (e.g., 32 A*240 V (P=IV, remember) or 7.68 kW which should yield an ideal 27 miles per hour increase or an EPA rated range increase of 23 miles per hour). I actually called Tesla about this and they told me the average J1772 Level 2 station is yielding about a 14 mile per hour increase.
If you're going to risk the drive, have backup options. Swapping the car with a family member worked conveniently for me.

dbfish | March 21, 2013

Congrats on your new car, and that is an amazingly fast turnaround from reservation to delivery! Less than a month! It always helps to have a Plan B and Plan C, glad you got back and I'm sure your family member is loving the unexpected 'rental'!

Using PlugShare I found a nearby KOA RV Park (11322 Air Park Road, Ashland Virginia 23005), you could have charged at 50amps while you slept and gotten 90 miles added in 3 hours. Get the PlugShare, Recargo, and AllStays app's for your smartphone to look up RV parks with 50amp service.

sagebrushnw | March 21, 2013

Don't think he could have charged at 50 amps as he said that his car only had a single charger.

DanD | March 21, 2013

I guess the other thing to learn is to not jump into the deep end before learning to swim.

I had similar ideas of taking delivery in Freemont and driving back cross-country with a baby in the car. Boy would that have been stupid.

Instead, I'm going slow. I'm trying out different types of charging and different environments before taking a long trip. I even tested out a Supercharger by myself before taking the family on a trip that required using one (in Milford).

I would have made the same J1772 charging assumption mistake last year. But as you probably know my know there's a whole section on the Tesla web site about charging times. NEMA 14-50 is 31 MPH, J1772 @ 30 amp is 16 MPH.

I'm planning a trip from Trenton to the mountains of NC (by myself) to test stops along the way (I'm in a 60kWH though). I've spent a lot of time plotting out the optimum route and various Plan B options in case preferred charging options don't pan out. I think that's what road trips are going to take until the Supercharger stations are built out. 6 hours at the Virginia Science Museum just won't cut it.

The better answer for Richmond is either overnight at the Omni where they have a plug or one of the RV campsites in north of town or in Petersburg. does a good job of listing 50 amp campgrounds.

aliljet | March 21, 2013

As I was waiting in the car for the first 30 minutes in Richmond, I did begin to look up RV sites, but I didn't have an easy or guaranteed way of knowing where I could go. Having a few apps handy that will direct me to these 50 A chargers will be helpful. There are actually a few more lessons I've learned the hard way as well:

If you're going to be trying to take the S on long trips of any kind, having the dual chargers installed is incredibly valuable. When I was discussing this with the Tesla dealership, they told me this was not an option worth having if I wasn't going to install the HPWC. Truthfully, the thing that's constantly on my mind in this car is how long it's going to take to charge -- having the ability to take advantage of 50A vs 40A is actually quite nice (25% increase in charging). Unfortunately, this option is now quite expensive after the fact, but I have a feeling it's one of those things that I'm going to have to do if I'm putting lots of miles on the car.

There another thing that I was silly not to have realized: there are gobs of different outlets everywhere and they're not always accessible easily. The 14-50 and 5-15 connectors that you start with are rarely applicable (at least in my non-scientific study). The 10-30 is incredibly useful.

And if there's one more lesson worth pointing out, it's that people's outlets are far away from where their car may be sitting. The length of the cord for the UMC is rarely enough -- the extension cord is almost a requirement. In my case, it is. I then immediately start wondering about how many different kinds of pigtails I'll need to carry to be able to flexibly charge.

DanD | March 21, 2013

I don't see how the dual charger would have helped you either.

Here's the list of charger sites that I've collected

And finally, a list of hotels that an owner is compiling (this is no exhaustive)

DouglasR | March 21, 2013

Twin chargers will help in areas where there are power sources greater than 40 amps (NEMA 14-50 charges at 40 amps). Most of these higher amperage sources can be found on the west coast and all across southern Canada.

aliljet | March 21, 2013

It's really about the 14-50 options and then the potential for higher amperage options elsewhere. The single charger seems short sighted...

And thanks for the charger apps. I'm debating writing a quick tool that lets people catalog where they find 14-50 sockets -- that could be invaluable for people travelling around the region.

DouglasR | March 21, 2013

Just to be clear, the 50 amp hookups you see at most RV parks (NEMA 14-50) will charge your Model S at 40 amps (80%), and for those there will be no benefit from twin chargers. The benefit from twin chargers comes from 70 and 80 amp power sources, which are rare outside of the west coast and southern Canada.

However, I agree with aliljet that for some (me included), getting a single charger is short sighted. I added the second charger after delivery, which was considerably more expensive. But I'm in Seattle, where I can take advantage of the higher amperage networks.

aliljet | March 21, 2013

Yep, you're completely right. I'm restricted to 40 A by the UMC cable. If only I had a clever way of getting all the way from Arlington to Chapel Hill in one full charge.

Velo1 | March 21, 2013

Add to lessons learned: Avoid Chapel Hill.

Go Wolfpack!!

renadp | March 21, 2013

I live in the Pacific Northwest and just got my Model S (with twin chargers) on Saturday. :) Two questions: Which of the apps is the best source for finding 70-80 amp charging stations? Do you need a special connector to take advantage of those?

Brian H | March 21, 2013

An EE called Peter7, among other aliases, has his own "Multi-Input EVSE" which feeds from 2 14-50s at once, up to 80A.

My5bAby | March 21, 2013

All I can say is on the one hand I hear you. On the other hand the fact that you are posting on this site implies you have done some reading here. We did a trip from Wash DC to Miami round trip (back in Dec 2012) and detailed places to charge along the way. if you would have read it or the many other posts written by people who have traveled long distances you would have known exactly where to go, what to do and who would have been receptive.

Read and learn there is a lot of info here. There is no need to remake the wheel.

Congrats and best of luck !

aliljet | March 22, 2013

That's quite cool, actually. Is there a schematic detailing how he built his dual 14-50 to J1772 evse?

andykeller | March 22, 2013

A few people mentioned it above, but just to be clear, a 14-50 is on a circuit rated for 50A but will only supply 40A of power regardless of whether you have single or dual chargers. I have dual charges and a 14-50 in my garage and charge at 40A.

PaceyWhitter | March 22, 2013

And to be even more clear, any rated charge circuit will only provide 80% of the rated amount of charge. A HWPC is rated at 100A, it will give 80A. A chargepoint at 30A will only provide 24A (and usually is only at around 204V).

The rated amps are only able to be used for a short time. All car charging lowers the amperage to 80%

Brian H | March 22, 2013

Promised, but not yet provided. Many are asking and waiting.

DouglasR | March 22, 2013


There is no single app that will find the higher amperage charging sources. The best two sites are these, IMO:

The apps I use are these:

Open Charge

In the Pacific Northwest, there are several projects afoot to either install 70 amp J1772 stations or convert 70 amp Roadster stations to J1772, or to provide adapters that will permit you to charge a Model S with a Roadster station. You can learn about these by looking at the Washington forum on this site, and by signing up for the Northwest Tesla Owners Club (NTOC)on Google Groups. I believe you can find it at, but I think you have to register for Google Groups.

Finally, yes, you will need an adapter to use the Roadster stations (you also need one for the 70 amp J1772 stations, but those are provided by TM). However, the Roadster-to-S adapters are very hard to come by, and cost about $650. You can now order one at the Service Center, or you might be able to borrow one for a specific trip. You can also chip in to purchase one for use in Centralia. We are having a spring gathering on Sunday, April 7, where some of these issues will be discussed. You can find the invitation at NTOC and also at TMC (I don't have that link handy).

Brian H | March 22, 2013

I think only Roadster owners can get those adapters.

DouglasR | March 22, 2013

@Brian H

No, TM has changed its policy. They let me order one.

stimeygee | April 1, 2013

Sorry, I don't have the car yet and still figuring this out so pardon the newbie question:

The reason for having twin chargers if you're going to take long trips, is for the times you come across higher amperage J1772 stations, correct? (Higher than 40amp).

It's just one cable you're connecting, but the built in chargers allow you to charge at the higher amperage? (Ok that's a really stupid question, as obviously the car doesn't have two charging ports, so of course it's one cabe. But I just want to make sure I'm not missing something for lack of asking.)

DouglasR | April 1, 2013


The high amp J1772 stations plug into your car the same way the 30 amp stations do. There are not too many of those stations around, except all across southern Canada (check out Sun Country Highway, referenced in my post above). Also, twin chargers would allow you to take advantage of high amperage HPWCs, which you would find at most Tesla stores and service centers. Finally, twin chargers would let you take advantage of Roadster HPCs, which have been set up in many places, particularly in the west. For the Roadster HPCs, you need an adapter, which TM is very slowly making available.

hamer | April 15, 2013

I took delivery of my Tesla Model S last Monday, April 8, so I've been driving it a week. It is a great car; nothing is wrong, with the possible exception of difficulty getting the charging cable out of the charging socket when I'm done charging. This has been written about on several other threads, and I've tried several suggestions, but so far, although I have always eventually gotten it out, nothing seems to be a surefire way to do it.

Why I'm writing, though, is that I intend to drive the car from Chapel Hill NC to the New Jersey Shore within the next few days. So to some extent I'll duplicate Aliljet's trip. My intention is to start here with a full charge (possibly a standard and not range charge). There are RV Parks in Ashland and Fredricksburg, and I can recharge at them. It'll take 3-5 hours; it would be nice to have a Supercharger between Washington and Richmond.

I then ought to be able to make the Wilmington, Delaware Supercharger with ease, and I'll charge it. At that point my destination on the Jersey Shore is only about 110 miles away. When I'm there, I'll have to find a place to recharge the car. If worse comes to worse, it seems there are plenty of Level 2 chargers in the area; it'll just take 10-12 hours to charge it back up. Then, several days later, I will do the whole thing in reverse.

The key to this is knowing where RV Parks are and those that will let you charge. It would be nice if someone with a NEMA 14-50 connector and a 220 volt 50 amp circuit were on the way but on PlugShare and Recargo I haven't found one yet. But there are plenty of RV parks.

Saturday, as an experiment, I google-mapped the distance between my house and Replacements Limited (I knew where it was) which was 43 miles. I started out early Saturday morning and drove to I-40, and drove at 55 MPH on cruise control the whole way and back, so the only time off cruise control was relatively briefly at either end. My trip odometer said I'd gone 86 miles. When I subtracted the starting and ending mileage on my odometer, it said 86 miles. The miles since last charge was 86 miles. But the difference between the miles remaining when I started (240) and when I finished (161) was 79 miles. So I used apparently 79 miles of my charge to go 86 miles. Not bad. This gives me some confidence that if I drive at 55 miles per hour, I ought to be able to believe the number of miles the car tells me it has remaining.

I'll report back what happened.

Brian H | April 15, 2013

That disconnection difficulty might not be trivial. Your various "solutions" might in the end weaken or damage a connection, if it hasn't already happened. I'd get it resolved.

worst comes to worst

hamer | April 16, 2013

I called Tesla Support and they took my information and said they'd contact me about getting it looked into yesterday but no one has contacted me yet.

hamer | April 21, 2013

The wrap-up of my trip from Chapel Hill, NC to the NJ shore, in my two-week-old Tesla Model S.

This has been an interesting trip.

Chapel Hill to Ashland VA leg: I left Chapel Hill at 7:30 AM, Wednesday morning, with the car charged to 269 rated miles (all miles are rated miles). I wrote down the odometer reading and set a trip odometer to 0. It was about 10 miles to I-85 (switching to I-95 at Petersburg), and I put it on cruise control at 55 MPH and headed north. As I went, I kept track of readings on the trip odometer and on the miles charged as it declined. It appeared, consistent with my previous experience, that I was using perhaps 10% fewer miles of “charge” for every actual mile traveled.

I got to a KOA RV Park / Campground at about 11:30 AM, with 189 actual miles traveled, 106 miles left of charge, which produces 269-106=163 miles of charge used. So I used 163 miles of charge to go 189 miles. I then plugged into the 240 volt 50 amp standard RV NEMA 14-50 connection, and sat there for 5.5 hours charging. So that’s a big minus to long trips without a supercharger: a long time to charge. My GPS said that the Tesla Supercharger was 202 miles away, and I was pretty confident that at 55 MPH I would use about 10% less than 202 miles of charge to get there.

Ashland VA to Wilmington Delaware supercharger leg: I charged to 251 miles of charge, set the trip odometer to 0, and left about 5:30 or 6 (I should have logged the times but I didn’t so they are approximate). I went 55 MPH all the way except when I got within about 20-30 miles from Wilmington and it became clear I had lots of charge left, I sped up to 65-70.

I got to the Delaware Welcome Center about 10 PM, with about 67 miles of charge left, having traveled 207 miles. Thus, 251-67=184, so I used 184 of charge to go about 207 miles (mostly, unfortunately, at 55 MPH). It was not obvious where the Supercharger was. Tesla should be allowed to post signs leading to them. I pulled into the gas station / convenience store and asked the clerks, who replied that there were no Tesla Superchargers; that they’d been announced but not yet installed. So: considering good old Broder had used the supercharger, I figured they had to be somewhere, and I had 67 miles of charge remaining, so I drove around until I found them. There are 3 opposite the door to enter the building with rest rooms and restaurants on the southbound side, and 3 opposite the doors to enter the building on the northbound side. I backed the car into a space (marked “Electric Car Only) plugged in, locked the car, and went inside. Ate, visited the rest rooms, ate some dessert, and it took about an hour to charge it up to 250 miles of charge.

Delaware Welcome Center to Jersey Shore leg: I set the trip odometer to 0, wrote down the 250 miles of charge, and headed north. I knew I had to go only about 102 miles, so I did not hold it to 55 MPH, and mostly traveled at 60-65 depending on the road. (I-95 and I-295 have a lot of interchanges where you have to merge, exit, go up and down ramps to stay on the same road, so I couldn’t go 60-65 absolutely all the time.) I found that at speeds of 60-65, I was using more miles of charge than miles I was traveling, by about ten to twenty percent. So speed, even normal highway speed, eats the charge faster, and the miles remaining of charge is misleading.

I got to my hotel about 1 AM, so I’d been on the road for about 17.5 hours, including the 5.5 hours charging in Virginia, and 1 hour on the Supercharger, for about 11 hours of driving and 6.5 hours of charging. Normally, in an ICE, it would take me about 9.5 hours to make the same trip, driving at normal speeds and getting gas once. So the charging added 6.5 hours, and the slower driving at 55 MPH added another 1.5 hours to the trip. I’d traveled about 118 actual miles according to the trip odometer and used 250-104=136 miles of charge to go those 118 miles.

While in NJ: I was there to visit my mother. When I got to the continuing care community where she lives on Thursday, I stopped at the front desk and asked if they had a parking space with an electrical outlet close enough to charge my car. After some telephoning around, they said they did, behind the nursing home part of the complex. I went back there and a groundsperson showed me where the 110 volt 15 amp receptacle was. I plugged the car in, planning on leaving it there for a couple of days if necessary, and the guy and I started talking, and I said that it would charge a lot faster on a 240 volt circuit, and he said, ”Oh, we have a receptacle for that on the other side of the building.” So I plugged in there and left it to charge.

Stayed a couple of days.

Friday, when I went over I plugged the car in and over the course of the day charged it to about 264 rated miles. Did some running around and took it back to my hotel Friday night.

Jersey shore to Wilmington Del supercharger leg: I left at 6 AM with 214 miles of charge remaining. I set the trip odometer to 0 and left,

Got to the Delaware Welcome Center about 8:10 AM, with 118.3 miles used on the trip odometer, and 86 miles of charge left. So I went 118 miles on 214-86=128 charging miles used (I went faster than 55 MPH knowing I was going to get to a Supercharger in 102 miles.) Charged to 266 while eating breakfast. Took about an hour. Set the trip odometer to 0, left about 9:15, drove 55 MPH, and got to Ashland about 1:30 PM. Plugged into an RV receptacle and have been her ever since. It is now 6:50 PM, and I’ve got it charged to 197 miles.

Several times at the RV park here, and once or twice at the 240 volt 50 amp circuit at my mother’s complex, it just stopped charging. Here, the circuit breaker got quite hot and disengaged. I could reset it and charge again. Finally, about 15 minutes ago, it disengaged and I could not get the car to recognize any power out of it. So I switched to another RV slot and it is now charging. I checked the breaker out with the owner and it was fried. It appears that at RV parks and the receptacle at my mother’s complex, the drain may be slightly too much for the breaker to handle. I don’t have that trouble at home. When I charge at home, with a 50 Amp breaker in my box and a NEMA 14-50 connector it works just fine. But I’ve now been here since 1:30 PM, and it is now 6:50, so I’ll spend 5.5-6 hours charging.

That’s too much. This was mostly just an experiment to see if I could do it and what it would be like, and I’ve now found I don’t want to turn a 9.5 hour trip into an 18 hour trip with a combination of charging time and driving at 55 to ensure that the charge is adequate. I’m not regretting the car; I love it, but I know that until Tesla builds more Superchargers on the I-95 corridor, I’m not going to do it. And if this wasn’t an 85 kWh battery, it would be intolerable. So hopefully, Tesla will be true to their promise, and build more Superchargers down the East Coast. And they really need to be at most 150 miles apart so one doesn’t have to drive 55 MPH.

Ashland VA to Chapel Hill NC leg: Charged to 227 and left for home about 8:00 PM.

(Left about 45 minutes after the car was charged. A guy and his wife came from an RV in the next slot and asked about the car. After a couple of minutes of talking, he left and came back with a buddy. I started talking again and in a minute or two I had about 15 people gathered around while I showed them all the car. That all wound up taking an extra 45 minutes which is why I left at 8 PM. The trip home is 181 miles and I’m charged to 227).

Got home about 12:30 AM with 47 miles left. So I went 181 miles on about 227-47=180 miles of charge.

Summary: It was a learning experience, and I enjoyed it except for driving 55, and the total of about 15-16 hours of charging. A supercharger between Richmond and Washington would fix most of that charging time. A supercharger at the I-85 and I-95 intersection at Petersburg and another just south or just north of Washington would allow me to drive 65 or 70, and to never get below maybe 100 miles of charge for an insurance cushion. So I don't think I'm going to do it again until there are more superchargers (Tesla, are you listening?)

Remark: As I was typing this in, I got email from one of my cousins, who bought a Tesla Model S and got his about a month before I got mine. It died in traffic this afternoon. The Tesla 24 hour phone support could not get it started, and eventually said it was a battery management software issue. They sent out a tow truck (well, a flatbed), reserved him a rental car, and are going to take it to a Tesla service center. Glad it didn't happen to me while I was on my trip. Of course, any car can have problems.

shop | April 21, 2013

Interesting that the RV park AND the nursing home had issues with 40A continuous load. I wonder if other people charging at RV parks have found this too. I have had experience in my own home where I had a storage shed with an external load box - it hadn't been closed properly so over time, water got into it and started to fry the breakers.

hamer | April 22, 2013

That's entirely possible. Outdoor boxes (telephone, cable TV, etc.) often seem not to get closed properly.

Brian H | April 23, 2013

Very coherent and informative. Well done, and thanks.

Brian H | April 23, 2013

Do you have any estimate of the total charging costs, and total miles, and thus cost per mile?

hamer | April 23, 2013

I really don't know how to answer that. I charged initially at home, and my electricity costs about 9.5 cents a KWH, meaning I charged for about $8.00. The charging at the RV park was $5/hour, which means about $30. Charging on the Supercharger was free and in NJ was free, so on the way back the charges were about the same.

So that's about $38 for about 1100 miles round trip and a little driving in NJ. So that would be $0.034 a mile.

Brian H | April 23, 2013

Sounds close to the average per mile. The freebies and billed sites offset.