Tesla Model 3 and the Maine Winter

When I purchased the Model 3 Standard Range Plus at the end of June it was to use it primarily for 3 seasons because I was aware of reported cold weather impacts on range and charging time.  In the winter, my wife and I would rely on our Subaru four-wheel drive vehicle almost exclusively. But plans change and we sold the four-wheel drive vehicle back to the dealer. For the time being we have our Model 3 as our only vehicle. So, what’s it like driving the Model 3 in the Maine winter?

We had an extended fall with mild temperatures well into November but now that we’re seeing temperatures as low as 7° F and many days around 30° F I thought I’d share a couple real life experiences backed up with some numbers.

When I received the car, it reported 249 miles range when fully charged.  This is an estimate based on the average/standard number of watt hours required to drive one mile times the amount of electricity stored in the battery when it’s charged to 100%.  This number is not adjusted for temperature or driving on slower secondary roads. The Tesla engineers certainly have much more refined calculations, but this is what you see at the top left of the screen when you have the battery display set to distance.

After about two months my full charge was only good for 237 average/standard miles which is exactly what Tesla says will happen so that’s no surprise. So, what happened when the cold weather hit?

I had a Tesla service appointment in Peabody, Massachusetts December 9th. I preheated the car with my home charger for comfort and to allow the battery to warm up before driving and started the drive with 99% charge. The appointment was early so I departed Freeport at 6:15 am and the temperature was 22° F (-6° C) and when I returned in the early afternoon the temperature was up to 34° F (1° C).

The round trip looks like this:

Total Distance in Miles201.2
Standard Miles Used283.57
Efficiency compared to standard70.95%
kWh Used60.52
Wh/Mile301
Average Temperature28.14° F

It’s recommended that you try to arrive at your destination with 20-30% battery in reserve to make sure you can pre-condition the battery for supercharging.

Given these trip numbers and the recommended reserve constraint I calculated my useable range for this drive in pretty cold weather:

Standard Miles at 100% charge237
Deduct cautious reserve – 30% at standard miles-71
Available Standard Miles166
Cold Temperature Miles available from full charge adjusted to 70.95% of standard118

We made a second trip a couple days later to deliver, at a social distance, Christmas packages to our son and daughter-in-law near Bar Harbor. Because there are no superchargers near Bar Harbor, we had to take I 95 and charge at Brewer both coming and going.  We stopped at the rest area in Hamden along the freeway both ways and stopped at a store in Ellsworth for a few minutes. The temperature was a bit warmer than the day I drove to the service center in Peabody.  We started with 100% charge. Here’s the summary of that trip:

Total Distance in Miles311..93
Standard Miles Used458.73
Efficiency compared to standard68%
kWh Used97.91
Wh/Mile314
Average Temperature37.26° F

Useable range for this drive:

Standard Miles at 100% charge237
Deduct cautious reserve – 30% of standard-71
Available Standard Miles166
Cold Temperature Miles available from full charge adjusted to 68% of standard113

On the first stop at the Brewer supercharger we were getting a yellow charge warning. As we approached home on our return trip we had the warning again.

To get to Bar Harbor and back home we needed to spend 1 hour 17 minutes charging (38 minutes on the way to Bar Harbor and 39 minutes on the way home) in addition to our drive time because even using preconditioning the charging takes longer at colder temperatures. We listened to an Audible book to pass the time. My wife has named the car Princess… I wonder why?

Given the Covid-19 pandemic and the attendant travel restrictions a cold weather range of 113 miles is probably OK this year.  The Model 3 gets us everywhere we need to go near home and up to say 50 miles away when there is no Supercharger nearby.  When temperatures get really cold, say -10° F (-23° C) we’ll have to see how it goes.

At this point I know that safely driving the Model 3 in the Maine winter requires some careful planning and conservative estimates to avoid getting stranded without power. I know to expect substantially decreased driving range. I think this can be extended to all current battery electric vehicles without regard to manufacturer. Winter weather is the elephant in the room and a technical opportunity to excel for those who like to fix problems.

Am I happy I own the Model 3? Yes! And I would recommend the car to anyone. It’s fun to drive and loaded with new technology. Additionally, I expect many years of service without adding to the CO2 load on the environment since much of our electricity is derived from solar panels.  Would I recommend the Model 3 to own as your only car year-round in Maine? No, I wouldn’t recommend any BEV to own as your only car for year-round in Maine.

The Model 3 battery degrades faster if you keep it charged to 100% so Tesla recommends you keep it charged to about 80% for daily use. If I go out on a cold day after warming up my car on the home charger and the car’s at 80% I have about 83 miles to go before I should be on a charger again. This is calculated, using rounded numbers, as follows: 237 standard miles x 80% charge – (30% of maximum standard miles) = 118 standard miles x 70% efficiency = 83 useable miles. If you don’t pre-warm the car and battery the range will further decrease and your regenerative braking is far less effective.

I’ve had a lot of questions about winter range so that’s why I wrote this post. To continue our personal commitment to clean vehicles we have a Toyota RAV4 prime on order which will bridge the gap during cold weather and long trips and still be a clean car for 90% or more of our driving.

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