How much does electricity cost on a 2,500 mile road trip in a Tesla?
Based on some personal experience, electricity use for a 2,500 mile road trip can cost zero dollars.
Image screenshot of our epic summer road trip. Image from A Better Route Planner.
This past April, my family ordered a new Tesla Model 3. Our particular configuration is a rear-wheel "Standard Range Plus", or RW SR+, with a range of up to 240 miles on a single charge. Some sixteen days after we ordered the vehicle online, I picked it up at the Dallas Service Center.
When we ordered the car, Tesla offered 5,000 free miles on its Supercharger network through its referral program. Since then, Tesla dropped the referral bonus to 1,000 miles, but is now offering unlimited Superhcarger miles for new Model S and Model X vehicles. Before ordering our vehicle, I spoke to a Tesla representative and he said that the company views unlimited Supercharging as a roughly $500/year benefit, at most. It makes sense that Tesla could run promotions on this feature, similar to what "traditional" car companies do with loyalty programs, low cost financing, or other gimmicky offerings.
Our road trip began due to a planned work trip to Chicago. I have a couple of children, of particular ages, particularly interested in dinosaurs. When they learned that the best T-Rex fossil is at the Field Museum in Chicago, and that I'd be heading to Chicago anyway, we checked out flights but figured that would be quite expensive for our family of four. We also have friends and family in Missouri and Illinois; good mid-way points to Chicago.
We plotted out places we wanted to stay on our way up to Chicago, and plugged locations into A Better Route Planner (ABRP). ABRP is a relatively easy-to-use planning website for any EV owner (not just Tesla), but it has some limitations, too. For instance, strong headwinds or tailwinds, a lead-foot, and getting lost are hard to predict, but they all affect driving range. But ABRP was good enough for us to guestimate where and when we would need to charge, and for how long. While ABRP was fair for planning, we did not use it while actually on the trip. Tesla's internal mapping program automatically identifies Supercharger locations and charge times to reach the next destination, in real-time using actual information.
On long-haul driving, most charging only required 15-30 minutes and we would stop roughly every two hours (120-140 miles). Tesla's Superchargers charge fastest when a battery is low, and charging slows down as the battery fills up. For example, you can get a 500 mile/hour charging rate for the first 15 minutes on a low battery and add about 120 miles of range. Effectively, that means you can drive for about 120 miles and recoup that amount with about 15 minutes of charging. But, if you're charging to 100% those last 10-20 miles may take 20 minutes. It's faster to charge up to just what you need, not all the way to 100%. Charging stops frequently coincided with restroom breaks, lunch stops, or shopping opportunities. On several occasions, charging was too fast: we had not yet completed a meal before the car was fully charged and needed to be moved before "idle" fees kicked in.
There were some moments of uncertainty. Because we were meeting up with friends and family, many of whom had not driven an electric vehicle, we were excited to take everyone out on test drives to show off all the bells and whistles in the Model 3. Some folks wanted to drive on the highways, test out the rapid acceleration, try out Autopilot, and play Beach Buggy Racing 2 while sitting in a parking lot. On several occasions, we prepared for that uncertainty by charging the car more than the car told us to. We were never required to charge to 100% (240 miles) on any of our trip, but we did so when an overnight option was available. We probably charged more than what we needed to, but being first-time EV owners, we were overly cautious.
It was surprising how much the wind affected the car's range. There was a strong southerly wind on the drive from Texas to Illinois, which noticeably improved our range. On the trip back home, that southerly wind noticeably affected our range negatively, but not to a serious extent.
We used the Supercharger network for most of our charging needs, but we also used 240 volt "dryer socket" charging when we stayed with family for a couple overnight charges. That overnight charging did cost money, but will likely be an perceivable amount on their next utility bills. We're fortunate and grateful to our family and friends that let us charge for free at their homes.
On one occasion, we used a Tesla Destination charger. Tesla's Destination Partner program provides a free 240 volt Tesla charger, and a free Clipper Creek J1772 "universal" Level 2 charger. Partners are usually hotels, retail shops or even libraries - places where folks are likely to park for a few hours. Charging at a Destination charger is free to the user, but certainly the electricity is paid for by the host-site. But again, it's likely a minute amount. For example, if we charged from 50% to 100% and added roughly 30 kilowatt hours, at an electric rate of roughly $0.10 per kilowatt hour, the cost to charge would be $3. That's $3 for roughly 120 miles of range, or a gasoline equivalent of roughly $0.75/gallon.
Perhaps the biggest shocker on the trip was that, while Chicago appears to have a significant number of charge stations, it appeared that most of them were located inside parking garages, which would have made parking and charging quite expensive and inconvenient. Instead of trying to figure out charging in the city, we Supercharged fully before we entered the city, and had plenty of range to get there and out.
We had one instance where we were a bit nervous. On our trip, we were west of Peoria, IL for a couple days and there are no Superchargers nearby, but there was a local Tesla Destination charger. We left the area with a full charge, heading to the St. Charles, Missouri Supercharger some 160 miles away. We were confident we could make it to St. Charles without a problem. But when we were heading down Highway 78 towards Bath, a friendly road construction worker informed us the road was closed, and that we'd need to drive some 20 miles out of our way to re-connect to the road.
Cue the nervousness.
But when we began doubling-back, the car re-routed us to stop off at the Springfield, Illinois Supercharger. It added additional miles on the trip, but because our new route used interstate highways, instead of state highways, we may have been re-routed based on speed, instead of range alone. In fact, we only needed to stop in Springfield for 15 minutes; however, we lingered because the Supercharger is in a Scheels parking lot. If you've never been to a Scheels, it's like a hyper-patriotic Bass Pro Shop with a county-fair flare. There's a freaking full-sized Ferris Wheel inside. Definitely worth the stop.
When adding up all the miles, we ended up driving some 2,500 miles for $0 in electricity costs. Yes, we relied on some friends' and family generosity. But, charging at a personal residence was more of a convenience, as opposed to a necessity, given that we were able to skip several Superchargers.
The persnickety reader may observe that we left Texas with our car fully charged, and that we charged again when we got home. However, in Texas, you get to choose your electric provider - so companies compete for your business, much like how telephone companies use to sell cellphone minutes. Our electric provider has a "free nights" plan, where electricity costs are zero from 9PM-9AM. When at home, we schedule the car to only charge when electricity is free.
We've driven the car about 7,500 miles, and have yet to pay for any electricity. It has basically replaced our gasoline vehicle, and I guestimate we've saved about $700 in gasoline costs already.
Here's a list of all the chargers we stopped at, roughly in order of when we stopped, and some brief notes about the trip/charger.
Start at Home in Texas
Ardmore, OK - 104 miles - For an early morning Supercharge, there's virtually nothing open
Oklahoma City, OK - 126 miles - Supercharge while having Braums for breakfast!
Catoosa, OK - 100 miles - Supercharge during restroom break at the Hard Rock Casino. Free soda!
Carthage, MO - 118 miles - Overnight with family, charge via personal 6-50 socket. Stop by the Carthage Visitors Bureau to pick up a Route 66 Passport.
Independence, MO - 134 miles - KC Science Museum (downtown) then Bass Pro Shops Supercharge for lunch
Columbia, MO - 120 miles - Overnight with family, no charging, Supercharger located at a hotel the next morning
St. Charles, MO - 100 miles - Supercharge during lunch and shopping
Springfield, IL - 109 miles - Supercharge, then head to church and then dinner
Normal, IL - 73 miles - Supercharge, then overnight at a hotel
Bollingbrook, IL - 108 miles - Supercharge while shopping at Meijer's
Chicago, IL - 30 miles - No charging, but lots of fun
Peru, IL - 100 miles - Supercharge during a Hy-vee pit stop
Canton, IL - 96 miles - Destination charge while exploring downtown Canton
Springfield, IL - 90 miles - Supercharge, and really experience Scheels
St. Charles, MO - 109 miles - Supercharge during lunch and shopping
Central MO - 45 miles - Overnight with family, charge via personal 14-50 socket
Rolla, MO - 70 miles - Supercharge and eat lunch in the car
Uranus, MO - Hilarious pit stop to get Route 66 Passport stamped
Springfield, MO - 112 miles - Supercharge at Macadoodles, 10% off all purchases, free wine/cheese tasting
Joplin, MO - 72 miles - Yes there's a Supercharger here, but we didn't use it. We charged with family again.
Catoosa, OK - 100 miles - Supercharge, and more free soda!
Oklahoma City, OK - 128 miles - Supercharge during lunch at BJ's
Catoosa, OK - 107 miles - Supercharge and enjoy some afternoon custard at Freddy's
Home, TX - 100 miles