If you know anything about me, you know how much I hate cars. They pollute like crazy, take up a lot of space that could be used for better purposes, and cause a huge amount of human carnage, suffering, and death. You know that I say — despite parents having irrational fears of their child being kidnapped, poisoned, or electrocuted — that the most dangerous thing a parent can do is put their child into a car. You know that I complain that the government is beholden to car interests and is obsessed with growing car infrastructure, even in New York City where the population of car owners is dwarfed by that of non-car owners.
And yet, I bought a car.
Yuko and I decided to buy a car because we wanted to escape the city on weekends, mostly to visit her parents so they can see their gorgeous granddaughter, but also for an occasional day or weekend trips in the area. I wanted to be able to expose Isla to greener pastures — literally — outside of the city, while preserving as much social distancing as is reasonable. We aren’t alone in our thinking.
Making the decision on exactly what car to buy was a no brainer. First, I knew I only wanted to buy a totally electric car: climate change is real and, in this day and age, the technology exists to rival or surpass the internal combustion engine. I also knew that I wanted an electric car with a range that would allow us to use it not just as a daily driver, but for longer road trips as well. For example, my aunt and uncle live 114 miles away. It would be nice to do that round-trip on a single charge. Next, the car needs to be able to fit a bicycle internally and have rack options externally. Finally, I want the safest car I can possibly get, within reason. (The safest car to get is the most massive SUV possible, but this is impractical for a variety of reasons).
Those requirements narrowed down the field to exactly one car: a Tesla Model Y.
Tesla and its cars are already legendary and have a cult following. Tesla has done more to greenify car ownership than any other company and have inspired a huge amount of competition that will get the job done even faster. Tesla’s long range models all have north of 300 miles of range (according to the EPA estimates, anyway). Then, their cars consistently get great crash test ratings, principally owing to good engineering, a low center of mass due to the placement of the battery, and a large forward crumple zone as there is no internal combustion engine.
The “MY” (as forum-posters call it) satisfies the bicycle carrying requirements without breaking the bank compared to the Model X ($60k+ is already a lot of money to spend on a moving couch, $100k+ is out of the question.)
Another significant advantage for owning a Tesla vehicle is that they are currently the only cars on the road that get regular improvements well after the car is purchased and over-the-air. This is unheard of in the automotive industry. Even the software updates that did exist for other cars — which are very rare in the first place — would have to be installed at a service center using the ODBC port.
However, one downside of purchasing a Tesla is that by doing so, one is supporting Elon Musk. I’m not a huge fan of his personality, his ethos, and his flamboyant attitude. I think he’s a bad role model and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be his employee. That all said, he has accomplished an astounding amount and has consistently produced, in my opinion, some of the best products on the market.
The Purchasing Experience
One other allure of purchasing a Tesla is that I wouldn’t have to interact with any car salespeople. I’m a pretty strong introvert and I never learned how to haggle. In prior explorations of car buying, I had been prepared to pay someone a fee to represent me in the purchase process just so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the stress of the whole procedure.
Ordering online was as easy as a few button clicks from the comfort of my own home. No haggling, no pushy salespeople, no price shopping between dealerships. I didn’t even test drive a Model Y: I was confident enough based on my several rides as a passenger in other models that the MY would be more than good enough.
- August 18th: I placed my order when the website quoted a delivery estimate of 4-6 weeks.
- August 25th: A week later, I got a text message giving an update estimate of 2-4 weeks from then.
- September 3rd: I was assigned a VIN.
- September 4th: I was asked to select a delivery date between September 16th and 20th.
- September 13: I was informed that my car would arrive at the service center the next day and was asked to come in earlier, between September 15-17.
- September 17: Delivery day! Almost four weeks to the day.
I shopped around for insurance and found gabi.com to be a useful tool. Ultimately, the insurance agent at State Farm I have worked with for years and with whom I have all of my other insurance policies (including an existing non-owned auto policy), quoted a price that wasn’t unreasonable ($125/month), so I just went with that, out of simplicity.
NYC Monthly Parking
Then I had to find a place to store my giant piece of property that will mostly go unused.
Using the data from plugshare.com, which is an excellent resource for all EV owners, I made a spreadsheet with all of the garages within a reasonable walking distance from my apartment that have an EV charging station. I emailed and called all of the companies’ central offices to ask for a quote; one got back to me quickly (thank you Ayelet at GGMC!), others never returned my calls. I ended up walking to many of the garages the day before taking delivery and just asking to talk to the manager.
Unfortunately for our wallet, we live in the middle of literally the most expensive neighborhood to park in literally the most expensive city to park in all of the United States. It’s no secret that space is at a premium here in Midtown Manhattan. I initially received quotes ranging from $550 per month with no charging charge at the GGMC garage on East 44th Street up to a whopping $1000 per month from Icon at 330 E 39th St (The Tesla parking tax is real!).
Luckily, I stopped by an iPark in what turns out to be an excellent location: as far away from midtown as possible while still being super-convenient. They offered $450 with no charging fee. Done and done. I signed up on the spot.
These are the facts I would have liked to know before the delivery process started:
- All deliveries happen at the Brooklyn Service Center (SC), which is quite far away. I falsely assumed that the location in Manhattan does deliveries as well, but it is just a showroom.
- Pick up or else. While you get to choose a date for delivery, the car may arrive at the service center early. According to the Motor Vehicle Order Agreement you signed, you have only three days to take possession of it after it is available. If you don’t, it gets reassigned and you start the waiting process again, regardless of the date you chose originally.
- Opt-out of arbitration. The Motor Vehicle Order Agreement also specifies that you can opt-out of arbitration, but only in the 30 days after signing that contract. It’s probably worth doing.
- Bring a checklist and don’t skip anything. Quality control is
practically non-existent; there are tons of stories in various forums about
things that were wrong with the car at time of delivery, including an
instance of the entire sunroof flying
on the drive home. I used this
worked very well to find a couple of minor issues (minor, but shouldn’t
have existed in the first place), some of which were immediately remedied.
I didn’t test the mobile charging cable, though, because the car was
plugged into a Supercharger while I was inspecting it; lo and behold, the
mobile charging cable was partially defective and had to be replaced later.
- Point out all problems to your Tesla Advisor before taking ownership of the car.
- All owners do not have to be present at delivery. The people who are on the title but not present can grant you limited power of attorney to represent them. Tesla sent me literally this form so that my wife could grant me power of attorney; note that it must be signed in front of a notary and notarized.
Things I love
Lower carbon emissions. It’s nice to not directly contribute carbon to the atmosphere while still having the mobility that car ownership brings.
Transport accounted for 28% of global final energy demand and 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2014… The transport sector is the least diversified energy end-use sector; the sector consumed 65% of global oil final energy demand, with 92% of transport final energy demand consisting of oil products.
Human-instigated climate change is real. While the biggest impact in mitigating it requires a top-down shift in priorities (e.g. funding for green energy sources, phased elimination of fossil fuel use, agricultural practice changes, avoiding deforestation, etc), doing what we can on a personal level does help some and does raise awareness of the larger issues. A conversion to electric vehicles is a middle ground that allows us to eliminate an important source of carbon emissions, dependency on fossil fuels, and promote growth of non-carbon energy production.
Owning an EV is only a net good compared to owning an ICE and is strictly worse than not owning a car at all. There are still plenty of side effects of any car ownership: all of the infrastructure that supports EVs still consumes fossil fuels, from EV production through to service and road maintenance, and of course, when charging.
Crash safety: Tesla vehicles routinely get the top marks from the IIHS crash testing. This article breaks down exactly what design characteristics contribute to this high level of safety.
One-pedal driving. By default, the Tesla software heavily engages the regenerative braking system when pressure is removed from the accelerator pedal. This allows the driver to use a single pedal to control the forward velocity of the car. It feels like the slot cars I had as a kid that use a trigger to go around a track.
Software updates: As mentioned earlier, my car has already gotten better in the one month that I’ve owned it. Two software updates have rolled through that added new features and made bug fixes. Another huge one is coming that enables Autopilot in city environments.
The Supercharger network: In the NYC area, the Supercharger network is good enough that I mostly never have to worry about range: I could always drive to the nearest Supercharger. While a 0%-100% charge takes 75 minutes, it’s rare to need to do that; 150 miles of range can be had for 20 or 25 minutes. No other EV has as reliable a charging network that is as fast, ubiquitous, and whose presence is growing.
Having a ginormous map: When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was the massive National Geographic Atlas of the World on our bookshelf. I’d just flip through the pages and study the maps. Having a huge map in the car feels similar and totally beats navigating using a tiny phone screen.
The minimalist interior design: My mother-in-law recently leased a Mercedes Benz C63S AMG, which has 503 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds. (Why she needs all of that power is beyond me. Plus, the cost of all that power is a ridiculously bad 18 mpg city fuel economy.) The cockpit is complicated as all heck, with buttons, knobs, switches, touch interfaces, multiple screens and a huge range of configuration options. In contrast, the MY is ascetic: has almost no buttons, has no knobs or switches, and has exactly one touch interface that is the screen. (And it has a better 0-60 time).
Truly keyless entry. A lot of cars have what they call “keyless entry” by supplying you with an additional fob with a transponder inside. Tesla takes this a step further and makes your phone — which these days, everyone already carries all of the time obsessively anyway — your key. Not having to carry a separate object for the car is pleasant.
Car control from the phone: I used to think people who got remote starters installed in their car were silly. Now that I can control a whole range of functionality remotely, I totally get it. Being able to see how charged the car is or turn on valet mode from a distance has actually turned out to be pretty useful, especially since the car is several blocks away from my apartment.
The idea of going car camping: I’m excited to eventually make my daughter my backcountry camping partner. (We’ll see if this actually works out!) There are a few milestones along the way, though, and one of the introductory ones might be driving to a campsite and sleeping in the car. Tesla models can be plugged into a standard RV charging outlet and there is no internal combustion engine that needs to run to keep the air conditioning on. Plus, an Exped MegaMat Duo 10 sleeping pad fits almost perfectly in the back with the seats folded.
The built-in dashcam and video security system: These should be standard equipment on any car these days.
Minimal scheduled maintenance: No oil changes, no oil or fuel filter changes, no coolant replacement, etc. This is especially nice living in NYC where getting these things done is a real hassle. There are still a few things to do once in a while, though.
Mobile service: A repair technician will come to your car (for some types of repairs or diagnosis), often for free, without you having to do anything. This is superbly convenient.
Chill Mode. In any car, I like to drive in a way that maximizes comfort for my passengers and maximizes energy efficiency. Chill Mode reduces the otherwise crazy acceleration available and allows me to not have to worry about this so much. Yes, the MY’s 0-60 time is impressive by most standards, but I keep Chill Mode on all the time (though it would be nice to have a way to quickly toggle it!).
Valet Mode. Keeping the car in a valeted garage means that a bunch of people routinely drive it. Valet Mode keeps my favorite addresses hidden, reduces the top speed available, and prevents access to the glove compartment. This adds a little extra comfort in handing over the key to a stranger.
Things I dislike
Range anxiety: The stated range for the car when I purchased it was 316 miles. (It has since increased a few miles with a software update). When I charge to 90% of capacity, the stated range is 291 miles. But these numbers are based on perfect conditions of driving and do not take into account any external factors, like elevation changes or your driving style. So, it’s easy to become paranoid about available range as superchargers are still not as ubiquitous as gas stations.
The car does have a few features that make it somewhat hard to run out of battery, especially if you use the navigation system:
- It will display the estimated percentage of battery that will be left available upon reaching the destination, and how much battery will be left after a round trip. In my experience, this estimation has been very accurate.
- It will automatically reroute you to a Supercharger if it predicts that you will be unable to make it to the destination.
- It will warn you as you leave the range of all known Superchargers.
- It will suggest lowering your speed to specifically make it to the destination (which works because slower speeds are significantly more efficient; thanks inverse square law!)
- Even when not using the navigation system, the “Energy” tab displays the estimated available range, based on recent driving history.
Even knowing this, range anxiety can persist. It takes time and experience to trust all of these features.
Lack of safety features that are standard on every other car in MY’s class. The complete absence of blindspot warning and rear cross-traffic warning is inexcusable. As far as I can tell, it comes down to the fact that Tesla doesn’t want to pay royalties for patents. Elon Musk claims that a reconstructed birds-eye view is coming in a future software update.
Lack of regular cruise control: Enabling “Traffic-Adjusted Cruise Control” also enables automatic braking. Ordinarily, this sounds great, except for the presence of phantom braking. See the section about Autopilot below. Absence a perfectly working TACC, I just want a regular, old, “stay at this speed” cruise control.
Back seat passengers cannot control climate and heated seats: Since all of the controls are accessed via the touchscreen upfront, the rear passengers have to ask the forward passengers to manipulate the climate controls. If the rear passenger(s) have their phones enrolled via the Tesla app, they can turn on and off the heated seats and change the temperature, but they cannot control the rear vent.
Easy-to-curb rims: Most car manufacturers supply the car with tires that exceed the dimensions of the rim. This protects the rim against running into a curb, as the tire’s sidewall will come into contact with it first and provide feedback to the driver. Not so in Tesla vehicles, resulting in rims that are easily scratched.
Tesla communication: Getting in touch with a real human at Tesla is a challenge. This is in comparison to my previous car, where I could drive to the dealership in town and speak to the dealership owner and mechanics directly,
Lack of Android Auto: Modern Android Auto integration into cars where the manufacturers care about this is really great. Tesla went their own way and created their own human interface without rich phone integration. As it turns out, I rarely need to use my phone while I’m in the car (and never while in motion!) because the main console has everything I need and more.
The cult following and its opposite: Tesla is under the spotlight right now as it is pushing the entrenched automobile industry in a radically different direction. This has created two distinct camps in online message boards: those who are fanboys and will defend Tesla to a fault and those who just want to vent their discontent with Tesla. This gets annoying and distracting from productive conversations. A lot of these people don’t even own a Tesla.
The fragile frunk hood: Unlike the hood of a normal car, which is normally made out of robust steel to protect the internal combustion engine, the MY’s frunk (front trunk) hood is thin aluminum. This means it is very easy to dent the hood through normal operation. Tesla even has specific instructions in the manual as to how to close the frunk to try to avoid dents.
The huge number of gimmicks. Summon (which usually fails). Smart summon (which doesn’t have an actual purpose). Fart mode (no explanation needed). The fact that Tesla is hiring a whole team to produce games. All of this is wasted engineering effort that could be better spent elsewhere.
Autopilot deserves its own heading because I love/hate it. It is supremely useful in the narrow window of conditions it is good in and it has such a high amount of promise to improve. But, there are so many problems with it that I often don’t feel comfortable trusting it while my family is in the car.
There are some distinct classes of problems that we’ve experienced so far:
- Phantom braking. When traffic-aware cruise control (TACC) is engaged, the car sometimes senses an object that it needs to avoid by slamming on the brakes. This most often occurs just before overpasses or just as we reach the crest of a hill. We’ve been lucky that there were no cars behind us during these episodes.
- Swerving during lane expansions: Many on-ramps do not have a broken line to demarcate the travel lane from the on-ramp. In these cases, the car will swerve toward the on-ramp to center itself within the existing lane marking. This is pretty dangerous when there are cars merging into traffic; this basically prohibits using TACC in the right-most lane or requires manual intervention for each exit.
- False stop lights: Admittedly in beta, the car can sense and react to stop signs and traffic lights. Sadly, on multiple occasions, the car sensed a red light intended for the off-ramp of an exit and proceeded to brake for a stop in the middle of the highway.
- Navigate on Autopilot erratic behavior: When Navigate on Autopilot is engaged, the car should automatically perform a lane change into the exit lane and change lanes to maintain speed. This has gone wrong in a bunch of ways, from the benign (moving to the passing lane which would cause a missed exit) to the downright dangerous (in an exit where two new exit lanes suddenly appear, the car moved into the first exit lane, swerved into the second, only to abort that lane change and swerve back into the first).
I’ve been supremely attentive while Autopilot is active and can now anticipate when most of the above problems will happen. Even still, I don’t like scaring my family with unexpected or sudden movements, so I’ve significantly curtailed my use of Autopilot while they are in the car in heavy traffic or in construction zones.
Autopilot is really good for those long stretches of isolated highway where there is little traffic and where you are sitting in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. It does a good job of following the car in front of you and, if necessary, change lanes around slower-moving vehicles. It also does really well in stop-and-go traffic. In the short while that I’ve had the car, I can see how driving with Autopilot in this scenario allows the driver to feel much more relaxed during and after the trip: I definitely expend less energy in doing mundane lane and speed keeping.
So far, I have bought a few accessories for the car.
- Matte Screen Protector: The glossy screen attracts a lot of noticeable fingerprints and can have a significant amount of glare early or late in the day. This matte screen protector helps on both fronts.
- SanDisk 128GB Ultra Fit USB 3.1 Flash Drive: To enable sentry mode and the dashcam. There is a whole website that discusses at length exactly which storage device to buy for these functions, but it really overanalyzes the issues of wear and durability. It suggests purchasing an Endurance SD card, intended for continuous recording, in tandem with an USB SD card reader that can withstand hot and cold temperatures. Some people go as far as buying a huge SSD. In fact, there are exactly two flash drives mentioned in the car’s manual that are stated as working just swell; this is one of them.
- Emergency Kit: I believe in the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” I assembled and installed an emergency kit consisting of a first aid kit (FAK) and a break-down kit. The FAK which will likely be used for run-of-the-mill boo boos, but also includes tourniquets, chest seals, hemorrhage control items, a CPR mask and other such supplies. The break-down kit includes some LED flares, a tire pressure gauge, a mini compressor, some space blankets, a headlamp, and similar items.
- 14-50 Adapter: This adapter for a common receptacle type used to be standard issue in prior Tesla models and allows the car to be charged more quickly.
- TT-30 RV Adapter: I bought this in preparation for hooking up at an RV campsite. Sadly, I bought the cheap one off of Amazon, which I wouldn’t recommend. The right one is the TT-30 adapter from EVSE Adapters, which has temperature monitoring and proper communication to the car about amperage.
- 25' 12-gauge extension cord: For plugging into a household garage outlet while the car is outside. Be sure to get at least a 14-gauge cord, as most cords are not rated for continuous operation at 80% of the circuit maximum (about 12 amps). A 12-gauge extension cord buys some extra insurance. Remember: a warm cord is okay, but a hot cord is not.
- A generic game controller: for better control of the in-built games.
- Plugshare: The authority on locating all types of charging stations, free, paid, private alike. The app has a handy feature to be able to communicate to future visitors of a charger as to its condition. Be sure to download the app from each of the major charging providers in the US: EVgo, ChargePoint, and EV Connect.
- supercharger.info: The most up-to-date list of planned, built, and live Tesla superchargers.
- Tesla Motors Club forums: The best way to interact with other owners to get tips and ask questions.
- Sandy Munro’s teardown videos: This gentleman is a veteran of the automotive industry and runs a company that, among other things, provides competitive intelligence to goods producers about their own and their competitors’ products by tearing them down and analyzing their construction. This is a YouTube playlist of 42 videos where Sandy (and his hidden team) break apart a MY piece by piece and describe what they see. As someone who really likes taking things apart just to see how they are built, but who doesn’t really want to take apart their very expensive car, I consider this video series a goldmine.
- Untangle Club’s videos of how the cooling and heating systems work: An often-cited feature of the MY (and now recent Model 3s) is the use of the “Octovalve” and a heat pump to flexibly move heat from parts of the car that need cooling to parts of the car that need heating, reducing the use of the expensive resistant heating. These diagramatic videos were the best way to understand all the modes of this system; it is much more accessible than the relevant patent filing.
- Electrek’s Tesla coverage: Subscribing to their Tesla-specific RSS feed is a good way to stay on top of Tesla developments, in particular new software releases and any newly discovered defects.
- Auto Detailing Wiki: An amazingly thorough wiki on how to clean your car, from the folks over at /r/autodetailing.