Life With Tesla Model S: Owner's Report After 5,000 Miles

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

Enlarge Photo

It's now been more than five months and 5,000 miles since I took delivery of my 2013 Tesla Model S.

The four-year wait after I put down my deposit in 2009 created a huge burden of pent-up hopes and expectations.

With the initial glow of ownership now dulled by the daily routine of  real-world driving, how has the Model S stood up to those grand expectations?

Very well indeed. The car has basically changed my outlook toward driving.

ALSO SEE: Tesla Model S Vs Chevy Volt: Owner Compares Electric Cars

Getting behind the wheel used to be a chore I embraced reluctantly. I'd always been the type to car-pool and bundle errands to minimize driving time.

Although I've usually had fun cars that made the burden a bit less onerous--most recently, a Mazda CX-7 and a couple of Saab 900s--I've just never been the guy who volunteers to jump in the car to go get a loaf of bread.

Until now.

To my wife Lisa's utter bewilderment, in fact, I did exactly that last week.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan on delivery day, with owner David Noland

Enlarge Photo

All I can say is that driving becomes a whole new ballgame  when the fuel is free and the car takes your breath away every time you stomp on the gas pedal.

(About that free fuel: I have a hydroelectric generator on the creek that runs by my house in New York's Hudson Valley. It pumps out enough juice to run the house and two electric cars--so my Model S "fuel" is literally free, and carbon-free as well.)

Free fuel and green cred aside, what makes the Model S so extraordinary is simply driving it. The instantaneous, seamless, effortless, silent,  massive acceleration never fails to stir my soul.

On virtually every drive, I punch the throttle at least once, just to feel that rush. I'm addicted.

Not Perfect

The car's not perfect, of course.

In my view, the Model S has two major shortcomings and several minor annoyances. Tesla promises to fix most of them. We'll see.

Big Problem No. 1 is the inability to make long trips.

My car is the 60-kWh version, which has a practical range of about 200 miles. (The 85-kWh version can do about 250 miles, at a cost of $10,000 more.) On three or four occasions, I've been forced to drive my Chevy Volt for trips longer than that.

Tesla is promising a fix, of course. By this fall, eight new Supercharger quick-charging stations are supposed to open in the Northeast, including two along the New York State Thruway and one on the New Jersey Turnpike.

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

2013 Tesla Model S electric sport sedan [photo by owner David Noland]

Enlarge Photo

These will open up most of the Northeast, and allow me to visit friends--who are currently out of range--in upstate New York, Cape Cod, Maine, and Baltimore. The new Superchargers will turn my Model S into a practical long-distance traveling machine. But it isn't there yet.

There are now just two Superchargers within my range, in Darien and Milford, Connecticut.  Although I've had no reason to make a long trip in that direction, I've tried both of them out of curiosity. 

They work well: On both occasions I was able to plug in immediately and picked up about 75 miles range in 20 minutes. Had my battery charge been lower, I would have gained more range.

The Stubborn Vampire

Big Problem No. 2 is the Tesla's "vampire" thirst for kilowatts even when it's turned off and parked.

I've measured idle power losses of around 4.5 kilowatt-hours a day, for a total of about 750 kWh during the time that I've owned it.  That's almost half the electricity I've used to drive the car!

The 15,000-odd Model Ses now on the road collectively squander about 60 megawatt-hours of electricity a day. That's the equivalent of about 50,000 60-Watt light bulbs left on 24 hours a day for no reason--what a waste.

The Vanishing vampire Fix

Once more, Tesla keeps saying that a fix is coming--but in this case, the promised arrival date keeps getting farther away.

This spring, Elon Musk promised a 'sleep mode' software update by July that would slash vampire losses virtually to zero. That has not happened.

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Comments (34)
  1. I have the same model and I share your love of the pedal every day, but I was amused by your take on the supercharger network. That's a bit like saying Christmas sucks because its not here yet. I also admired your noble stand on vampire loads, even though all your power is free. I actually pay for my power and I'm having trouble getting worked up over that one, given the gas money I'm saving. I enjoy your updates though; keep 'em coming.

  2. Great writeup! and am shocked the "vampire" issue is still an issue. i heard about the fix coming out and assumed it to be resolved.

    either way, like my LEAF, the Tesla would spend very little time in the garage!

  3. Thanks for the real-live update and testimonial. I too trust that Elon will come through; he always has so far.

  4. @Dave,

    Thanks for the update, keep them coming. I love reading them.

  5. Dave
    Does your 325wh/mi lifetime average include the vampire loss?

  6. Of course not, otherwise this car would have an effective 200MPGe rating. For the (small) amount he has driven, this car used about 650 wh/mi. Which is quite a bit. I hope Tesla solves this problem, this is a massive amount of electricity, although it is mostly wasted off peak energy anyway.

  7. the vampire seems to average 200 watts/hr, which is either
    the draw from the main computer or some cooling pumps and
    the accessory bus.

    Now there are some 'idle' loads that are hard to avoid, even a 1970 model car, would pull some power for the clock or an alarm system.

    So lets say the problem is the pumps, part of it may be adjustable by where you park the car. If you park it in an insulated garage, it may stabilize temperature to an acceptable limit.

    Part of it may be by adjusting the battery conditioning measures. Tesla may figure out that the batteries don't need as much babying as they think, or over time, they may redesign the batteries to cool passively
    when they are charging at low rate or sitting.

    If it's all in the computer

  8. there would appear to be 2 approaches.

    1) Replace the computer components with low drain chips from mobile apps thinks like the STRONGARM or Dragonball

    2) see if they can wirein a hard shutdown line, and let owners choose to hard sleep the car, but accept a reboot process when they come back.

  9. now i want to qualify, i'm just speculating, i don't work there, or know much about the details, so, don't cite me as "Authority"

  10. Considering cars sit idle over 22 hours a day on average, unless the owner has solar (or hydro-power!) it wouldn't be mainly off peak hours wasted, unless I'm missing something. And please don't say "a brain" in answer to that. Been well aware of it, for decades now :)

  11. Very informative and objective article. I would elevate the Vampire loss to the number one issue as it affects every Model S. Perhaps if the automotive press would frequently highlight this somewhat negative aspect about the car, it would motivate Tesla to put a little more priority on the fix. Owner complaints don't seem to be having much of an impact.

  12. What I worry about is how well they'll ever be able to fix the vampire loss issue. Something like that needs to be designed into both the system architecture and the individual hardware components from the very beginning. An effective sleep mode isn't something that can be added on after the fact. I hope it isn't too late for Tesla to get this right for the Model S and not have to wait for their next generation design on such an important issue.

  13. I hope it isn't a Model Year 2014 fix, but a software update! I imagine them throwing in a cheap ARM processor to keep all the basic functions going on sleep, so you can still get in the car and connect to it wirelessly, otherwise I do not know how they can fix this. It is a hardware issue, the hardware has to be running to unlock the car and connect to it, so the ARM processor could do that. At least this is my understanding. Unless Tesla recalled all the cars on the road, I do not know how they could do this.

  14. Tesla added a "sleep mode" in a software update earlier this year. Some owners reported problems after that update that they attributed to the sleep mode so Tesla removed it in the next update. I am still running the V4.1 software in my ModS and have the sleep mode. The car runs fine and I only lose 2 miles of rated range per day versus the 8-12 reported by others. It can take up to a minute for all the functions of the touch screen to "wake up", but the car is drivable immediately. I view that as a small inconvenience compared to the energy wasting Vampire drain. The sleep mode can be turned off. I think the reported problems were more related to owner impatience with the "wake up" than real functional glitches.

  15. I don't own a Tesla yet, but, I would agree that most people are too impatient to wait for something to "wake" from sleep...which is just expect everything to be instantaneous is not only ludicrous, but bad for your health (stress). 1 minute to wait for your car's computer to wake is nothing in the course of a 24 hour day, plus, saving electricity? ugh.

    I'm too often surprised when people ask me about an issue with their iphone, I ask "when was the last time you gave it a power-cycle?", they can't solves 99% of phone issues, but they are too impatient to wait for it to go through it's paces...two minutes tops!? (less than 1 min to shutdown, about 1 min to startup again.)

  16. If the car has SSD for storage, which it probably does, then the computer would boot up instantly like a cell phone. But I think the car has to stay connected to 3G and the wireless signals so it can push the door handles out.

  17. Somehow I skipped over your comment… That is very interesting. I don't see what the issue is then. Maybe Tesla didn't use SSD? If Tesla put SSD in all their cars then sleep mode would turn off instantly. My MacBook Air will last a month on sleep mode and it comes on in 1-2 seconds. If Tesla puts this technology in their cars, it would solve that. This is really odd.

  18. I too own a 60 kWh and my average (since March 22nd = no real winter driving) is 190 kWh/km (304 /mi) which is better that EPA. I also fin that highway driving is super efficient and I can drive at 110km/h (69 mi/h) and get below EPA consumption with A/C on.

    I calculated my vampire consumption to be around 4 kWh per day. I'm very impressed by your energy production set up and which I could do the same. Frankly very cool to be self sufficient

  19. Hello, where did you get your hydro generator? My dad dammed up his stream and could really use a generator! It falls 2 feet, so it could generate enough to run the house with its volume. I calculated the max energy once, and the amount of water that went over it at its peak (heavy flooding) it could have theoretically powered the neighborhood, although it wouldn't have that much installed capacity, it would just run over from what I understand, it is a cool thing to know.

  20. Can't you simply shut down the car's computers totally to solve the vampire draw? How long does it take to boot up?

  21. Were I a 'S' owner, I'd do a bit of investigation of the vampire load (which amounts to nearly a constant 200W) using the fuse box to try and narrow down where the drain is coming from. The most likely culprit would be conditioning the battery - keeping it warm or cool - does the vampire load change with the weather? ie more load when it is really hot/cold? Seems odd that it is causing Tesla such a headache that they can't sort out a fix - even a less than ideal temporary one.

  22. Nice to see that the range you get in your normal driving is so close to the EPA. (I know that Tesla has higher numbers, but driving at 55mph, so understandable that EPA is different.)

    Only 5,000 miles in 5 months, lol? I'm a driver (enthusiast), and average about 20K miles/year, so, that seems quite a bit low. I wonder if the numbers (vamp draw and such) would improve with more miles driven per month?

    ...You seem a tad negative (in general), but, I think you're from the NE part of the country, so that's par for the course, but, I'm surprised you can't find some kind of charging stations until the superchargers are installed? ...the car does come with an J1772 adapter does it not? (If not, I'm sure I read that those are available.)

  23. Oh, I'm very excited also to see you have a micr-hydro power unit, I just read about those this spring, had no idea they were around and so efficient!! The only drawback is that most people don't live near a source of running water. (I used to live in Portland OR (may move back), which, main source of power is hydro (not micro)...a dammed river, but, just didn't know about micro-hydro until I took a free online renewable energy course via SEI). How long have you had your micro-hydro? Any issues?

  24. David, can you comment on why the Volt isn't suffering from any vampire draw? I just left it for three weeks and its battery was still fully charged.

  25. Because it has an "on/off" swtich.

    I think Tesla could have easily solved the problem with an "on/off" switch.

  26. The computers in the Model S have to be running so when you walk up to it, you can get in. It also has to remain connected to 3G (or at least attempt to). I think Tesla will end up putting in an Arm processor to solve this issue, the cheap, efficient, phone processor will be able to run the simple tasks like this, and I think it is already the same architecture for the computer hardware. Sadly I do not see an update fixing the issue, I only see a recall doing it, because it sounds like a hardware issue.

    Of course I do not know the whole story of the problem, only Tesla does, but this sounds like it is probably the issue.

  27. I just read someone above said they have sleep mode. This was the only logical explanation I could come up with, but it sounds like Tesla doesn't want the car to take 1 minute for the computers boot all the way up. They should at least provide the option. It doesn't make much sense for them to do that… 

  28. Tesla just released firmware 5.0 which is suppose to reduce vampire drain by 50%, can you test that?

    (There is also another update that will be by end of the year which will decrease it by 99% I hear)

  29. what was your range you were seeing in the winter time and is the vampire problem do to the battery coolant/heating or just use of electronics in the car?

  30. I am in the process of looking to buy an EV, right now there only the volt and the leaf available in midwest. So I have to research the cars and buy one on the cost and have it shipped here. So pardon my lack of knowledge as I am reassuring to know which is the best bet for me.
    What do others feel about buying the 60kw and the supercharger package add on vs the 85kw (non performance) model?

  31. Ya'll know that Tesla released an update last week that fixed the vampire problem, right?

  32. hello sr , could you explain more about the vampire draining all the baterry power. i did not understand that part. thanks for sucha great review

  33. To all you EV idiots: the reason why Tesla has struggle to solve the vampire loss is because their design is flawed, to lower cost, they use 18650, which means they have to use >7000 of them, on the other hand, every REAL auto company try to reduce the number of cells, there is a REASON why they do that! With more cells, it's harder to manage them so no one ages faster that other cells. Any earlier failure of some cells will decrease the overall performance/reliability of battery pack. In the case of Tesla, they allow a small discharge so they can balance the cells to ensure good life, that is WHY these cells discharge slowly, they will HAVE a harder time to solve this. I'm battery scientist!

  34. @Amy And very excited too!

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