My family and I took a lengthy EV road trip for the second year in a row. In order to visit relatives and friends and take in seven stunning states, my wife, our three children (ages 3, 7, and 17), and I climbed into a rental Model 3 and drove 2,661 miles across the Northeast. How little we spent on travel-related fuel astounded us. The electric fuel for the thousands of miles we drove didn’t even cost $100, while the rest of the gas-dependent world grimaces every time they fill up at the pump. HOW TO PLAN AN EV ROAD TRIP Last year, we traveled 2700 miles across the country in our own Model 3 to go from Portland to Ohio before returning via a picturesque 5,000-mile, 12-state route in the south. We searched for an EV to rent this year because we flew across the majority of the nation (on one of our more infrequent flights, which we later offset). Unfortunately, it is still difficult to do this. Nine months after making a major announcement about purchasing 100,000 Teslas, Hertz, for instance, only had the for rent in 25 cities vehicles available, and this number was even lower when we made our rental reservation. The peer-to-peer automobile sharing website Turo was the only place we could find to hire an EV.
We reserved Markus white Tesla Model 3 for our month-long road trip after searching the Columbus, Ohio, area and considering a dozen or more possibilities. We honestly didn’t think of renting anything else except a Tesla. We have owned a Model 3 for three years, and even though we are very interested in all new EVs from other automakers and the rapidly developing fast charging networks across the US (as well as our annoyance with Elon and his all-too-public shenanigans), we know from experience that the Tesla integrated charging network is far superior to anything else. With the exception of Tesla’s supercharger network, it’s still a crap shoot as to whether there will be enough chargers available or that the chargers will be functional when you arrive to refuel your vehicle. We previously owned a first-generation Nissan Leaf, and I’ve driven many other electric vehicles through my previous job at a nonprofit promoting electric transportation.
HOW MUCH WE PAID FOR THE TRAVEL These days, renting a car is pricey. It appears that renting a car for a month used to cost less than $500, but a quick look at a monthly rental car in Columbus, Ohio (where we picked up and returned our car) reveals that the least expensive gas car is now nearly $1,300.
But we were unable to rent a gas-powered vehicle. We’ve been proud EV owners since 2017, and after experiencing the silent, smooth, tailpipe-less alternative, it’s difficult to go back to loud engines and smoking tailpipes that are directly contributing to the climate problem.
We paid $2,000 for a 31-day rental of a Markus Model 3, or $64 per day. I’m not sure if that price is really indicative of the cost for a shorter summer EV road trip because we made our reservation several months in advance and benefited from a monthly price discount. (Aside: It’s comforting to know that by utilizing Turo, the majority of our rental payment goes to an enterprising individual as opposed to a big business.)
CHARGING We left from Columbus, Ohio, traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to see family, and then arrived in New York City for four days of car-free fun. From there, we went to Portland, Maine, where we spent a few days taking in the city’s natural splendor and beaches, visiting relatives and friends, and visiting one of the nation’s top state efficiency and heat pump programs (thank you, Andy Meyer and Efficiency Maine ). After that, we started another exhausting day of driving to visit friends in Syracuse, NY, Cleveland, OH, and ultimately back to Columbus to turn in the keys and head back home. Due to the four lengthy days of driving we experienced along this route—we averaged more than 400 miles per day—we were nearly always plugged in.
We visited 12 Tesla Superchargers on our summer road trip, so we never had to be concerned about a poor charging experience. We also loved that the car would organize our entire trip for us as Northwesterners traveling across the country, precisely determining which chargers we would need to stop at in Tesla’s extensive network and how much time we would need to spend at each one. This method gives Tesla a huge competitive edge over other automakers and makes EV road trips just as simple as ICE ones (and will continue to do so until charging stations are as common as gas stations and/or other manufacturers establish their own charging networks).
Contrarily, Tesla’s supercharging rates have increased significantly over the past few years, going from 24 cents per kWh in numerous locations two years ago to 45 cents or more at every station we stopped at on our trip.
Consumers face a serious risk as a result of this charging monopoly because Tesla, which controls 70% of the present EV market, appears to be able to arbitrarily hike costs. Since Tesla drivers need an adapter to charge at most other stations, there isn’t much competition to restrain this selfish, corporate urge.
The good news is that even when traveling by car, drivers won’t need to buy all of their fuel from Tesla. Tesla provided us with 206 kWh of electric fuel for the $95. We charged at Superchargers 12 times. However, we only consumed 517 kWh for the duration of the trip, which is equal to 14 gallons of gas, and 311 kWh, or 60% of our fuel, came from plugging into typical 110 volt outside outlets at the homes of our kind hosts.
Almost all of our overnight stops along the way, even a parking garage in New York City, had electrical outlets. The fact that electric fuelling options are widespread and only add a few dollars to the outlet owner’s monthly energy bill is a crucial lesson. On days with lengthy journeys, Tesla owners rely on the now-expensive (though unquestionably still worthwhile) Tesla Supercharger network for quick charging, but they can supplement this charging with just about any other outlet capable of slowly fueling their vehicles for a fifth of the price of gas.
In an effort to live up to its promise of a $35,000 EV, the Tesla that Markus rented for us had a limited range of only 215 miles. We weren’t sure how the shorter range model would perform on days with 400–500 miles of driving because our car at home has a 310-mile range. In the end, it worked out well and was almost as convenient as our longer-range vehicle. It might have needed three charging breaks instead of two on longer days, but stopping every 2-3 hours for 15-20 minutes is practically necessary while traveling with little children in any case.
We had a fantastic average of 194 watt-hours per mile throughout the journey, which is equivalent to about 160 mpg for ICE automobiles and reduced our need for charging. This is largely a result of our refined hypermiling techniques, in which we drive slowly and leave the windows open rather than cranking the air conditioning. Thus, each kWh is more effective. Additionally, my wife patiently puts up with me monitoring her driving efficiency around every 30 minutes. The pupil on this trip turned out to be the master, and she ultimately outperformed my average, which makes me happy to tell.
LAST STATS Overall, our extensive EV road trip was fantastic with great stops, sights, transportation, and times. We traveled 2,661 miles at a total cost of $95 in electric fuel. We would have spent $532 on gas and contributed to the climate catastrophe if we had leased a gas vehicle that got 25 mpg and had gas priced at $5 per gallon (the average price during our trip). Instead, we were able to save $437 on petrol during our journey, practically bringing the cost of the Tesla rental to parity with an ICE car road trip. We just paid $286 more to drive a Tesla for an entire month, which offers a better driving experience on so many levels.
Car rental class Month-long Fuel costs, rental fees, and overall costs $2000 Tesla Model 3 $95 $2095 cheapest ICE vehicle $1,277 $532 $1809 The 311 kWh we used at our hosts’ homes are not included in the aforementioned electric fueling expenditures. At 15 cents per kWh, this would increase their costs by an additional $47 without actually changing the point.
I’m hoping that our journey will demonstrate how cost-effective it is to rent, drive, and, if you haven’t already, purchase an electric vehicle in light of the current high cost of gasoline. Our costs were practically identical to renting any inexpensive old gas car, despite the restricted number of electric rental cars available and the extra cost of a deluxe Tesla. Imagine the near future, when there are many more electric vehicles on the road and countless charging stations. We have reached the promised land, where the most affordable solution is the one that preserves the cleanliness of our earth and skies.
I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Naomi Cole, my 15-year hypermiling life companion, for her fantastic edits and additions to this piece.
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