By on May 28, 2015

Tesla Model S

We’ve owned our 2013 P85 Tesla Model S since December, putting maybe 3,000 miles on it, so I thought TTAC readers would appreciate a long-term update.

Overall it’s still the grin-inducing ride that all owners like to be smug about. That said, there have been more than a few unusual experiences. To that end, I thought it would be useful to present this update as a series of individual stories, or vignettes, of the Tesla ownership experience.


The Fused Door Handle
My daughter is fascinated with the door handles pushing themselves in and out. She was standing there, leaning on it before I got to the car, and once the car detected my key fob, it tried really hard to push out the handle. The car handle won, but then it wouldn’t actually open the door nor would it retract again. Arrggh! A quick search via Google, the Interwebs told me to pull fuse #40. Sure enough, that reset everything back to normal again.

Pulling the fuses on a Tesla, on one of the very few days of the year I happened to be wearing a proper suit and tie, made me a bit nervous. The last thing I wanted was car grease on my nice pants. The only hard part of the operation was pulling the plastic cover (between the frunk and the windshield). After that, pull and push back the fuse and *poof*, problem solved. I did the work while sitting cross-legged in the nicely carpeted frunk. My nice wool dress pants were unscathed in the operation and now my daughter hopefully understands not to do that again.


Anti-Gymkhana Mode
I hate valets. When I go to restaurants or whatever that have mandatory valet, I’ll typically have a conversation like:

“Can I please park my own car?”

“But we’re a valet lot, sir.”

“Can I please park my own car?”

“Umm, okay.”

I’ve complained early and often that one of the big missing features from the Tesla was any sort of Valet Mode to restrict what valet nutjobs can do with the car. Finally, with the 6.2 software update, Tesla has responded. You select “valet mode” from the same drop-down menu where you might otherwise pick a driver. It asks for a four-digit pin and it’s locked in*. In addition to setting a max speed of 70 mph and limiting the power output to disable serious hoonage, valet mode also disables the frunk and glove box from opening and hides personal information (home address, etc.) from the nav system. It even disables the HomeLink garage door opener. Not bad.

Feature request: Teenager mode. Doesn’t need the privacy features, but does need the anti-hoonage. My daughter’s probably going to drive my Tesla one day, without this mode, and I don’t want her wrapping it around a telephone pole.

* Of course, being the paranoid sort, I initially put in “1234” to make sure it worked properly. Later on, when I wanted to change it to something non-trivial, it turns out that it’s a pain to change. You have to do the “oops, I forgot my PIN” dialog, which has you enter your username/password from the Tesla web site. Not that you’d know that without hunting around, once again, on the nets.

Unintended Drive-bys
I was driving home, around the corner from my house, and I came up behind a neighbor walking her dog in the middle of the street. I was crawling forward, waiting for her to notice me and get out of the way, but she didn’t hear the car. Eventually, she turned around and did a double-take. In hindsight, I guess I could have hit the horn, or maybe opened the windows and pumped up the jams, but the Tesla is just too damn quiet for these low-speed scenarios where there’s neither tire noise nor anything else coming from the Tesla. Something like this seems to happen about once a month.

You’ve probably heard that having some amount of car noise is about pedestrian safety. Much has been written about how it’s necessary for electric cars to make suitable noise to notify pedestrians and blind people. After watching Lieberman’s Tesla vs. Hellcat video, I’m firmly convinced that low-speed Teslas should be quietly playing The Girl From Ipanema. That conveys the chill vibe that says “it’s cool, but you know, I’d like to drive through, but hey, whatever.”

Tesla sunshade vanity mirrors

The ‘S’ Stands For Service
Tesla service is its own weird world. I called the local Houston shop and they said I had to call the national number. Because Texas. Really? Fine. After ten minutes on hold, I finally got to list my “concerns” (not “repair requests”, not “work orders” – no, they’re concerns). In this case, it’s fixing the cracked vanity mirror covers, fixing an annoying windshield wiper clicking noise (a well-known defect, err, concern), and installing the rear carbon fiber spoiler (ordered way back when the car was new in 2013 and only now finally arriving for me, the new owner). Fine – after a day, I get a call back from the local shop. Three weeks hence, they were to pick it up from my office, at no extra charge. They claimed the repairs would be done in a single day, but were giving me a loaner Tesla, just in case.

And indeed, they met me in the parking lot of my office around 9:30 a.m. and gave me a S85 (not as fast as my P85, but with the latest AutoPilot features my Model S lacks). Sadly, I still have my day job thing, so I didn’t have the time to give it a spin. I told the Tesla dude I was in meetings until 3 p.m. No problem, sir. They called around then and said they were on the way back with the car. I met them in the parking lot at 3:30 p.m. Everything fixed. Car washed, vacuumed, and charged. And while they had it, they did a bunch of courtesy things (tire pressure, fresh wipers, etc.). All covered under warranty, no charge.
Tesla lacks so many things that are seemingly obvious, like door map pockets, decent interior lighting, rear seat power ports, etc., but you let it slide because hey, I’m driving something special. Here’s the exception.

We park our Tesla in the garage, as one might, to charge it at night. My wife, for the Nth time, went out to the car to grab something she forgot to bring in, but the car’s locked. Arrrgghhh! You see, for me, my car keys are always in my pocket. Always. For my wife, they’re in her purse, which tends to stay on a counter or other flat surface when she’s inside, so she can’t get into the damn car without it. Feature request: if you can do geo-fencing for the suspension settings, then you should also be able to come up with geofencing options for when you’re at home, charging, in a locked garage. Then it’s safe to leave it unlocked.

(Good security ninjas will suggest that advanced bad guys can spoof GPS signals with cheap equipment, and could thusly trick your car into unlocking itself. Other security ninjas would point out that radio-based car keys are generally not robust against attackers with radios either. Anyway, there are lots of ways the car can know it’s in my house, such as the fact that it’s paired with my WiFi. Also, even if you leave the doors unlocked, you still don’t need to let somebody turn the car on and drive away. Principle of least privilege vs. psychological acceptability, baby. Saltzer and Shroeder know what’s up.)


(Free) Power To The People
Tesla recently announced their PowerWall home energy storage battery. I did a detailed writeup for a Houston-local buddy’s political blog, where I presented numbers from my rooftop solar system. Bottom line? If you want to go completely off-grid, you would need to radically super-size your solar system for cloudy/rainy/awful days, and you’d then be wasting all of that excess capacity on sunny days. On the other hand, if your electric utility would offer you variable-pricing, a storage battery would let you avoid paying the high dollars in hot afternoons, instead time-shifting your grid power draws to the evening when power is cheaper. Too bad, despite the 300+ different electrical plans available to me in Houston via Texas electricity deregulation, precisely none of them offer anything like this except for TXU’s “free nights” plan. I figure it’s a goner, since a battery storage system plus that plan equals totally free electricity. Yee haw, deregulation!

Speaking of electricity usage, I give you a preview of coming attractions. In my last Tesla piece, I mentioned how the previous owner of my car upgraded from a P85 to a P85D. After several months of driving it the same way he drove the P85, the net change in his mileage seems to be about 1%. Once he and I have had our respective cars for a year each, I’ll write up a longer discussion of electric car mileage. The long and the short of it, though, is that the mileage penalty for upping the RWD P85 to the AWD dual motor P85D is small enough to be negligible. No matter how you slice it, that’s an impressive feat.

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39 Comments on “Tesla Ownership Vignettes...”

  • avatar

    Thanks for the write up. I especially appreciate the details of ownership. Glad to see the experience in generally positive. I live in Chicago and Teslas are everywhere. There’s even a dealer? Tesla store? Anyway, right down the street from me. I see 4-6 a day on my short commute.

    Especially interested in the service piece. Something people rarely talk about except when it’s exceptional.

    Interesting on the battery charging. I am starting to see more and more businesses that offer charing stations to employees around where I live and one local community is discussing public EV parking spaces with chargers. It is a changing environment to be sure.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “The long and the short of it, though, is that the mileage penalty for upping the RWD P85 to the AWD dual motor P85D is small enough to be negligible. No matter how you slice it, that’s an impressive feat.”

    Makes sense. The major draw on electric car batteries is distance cruising. The higher peak power burst facilitated by the second motor is only used for a few seconds at a time, and you get some of it back through regen anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      I would imagine that adding regenerative braking to the front axle is the reason they’re able to add the weight of the second motor with no real efficiency loss.

  • avatar

    what the H is geofencing?

    I think I’d want a valet mode that wouldn’t let the car go over, say 20mph. If your car is being valet parked, what possible need would some valet have to drive 70???!

    Or can you adjust max speed however low you want?

    for my analysis of the ev and noise issue, click here:

    and go to the end of the article.

    Very interesting article (yours). Please keep us posted.

    • 0 avatar

      a way to tailor behaviors based on location. could be a gps-based speed limit warning, could be wifi-based door auto-lock, like the author is requesting, for ex:

      if (GPS signal is weak) and (WiFi is affiliated with home) then disable autolock

      while 70mph seems high for most valet situations, there’s probably a few places where parking is remote enough that you might need a bit of highway

      • 0 avatar

        However if GPS is signal is strong and home WiFi is available then do NOT allow doors to open because car is not in the garage.

        The Geofencing on my iPhone is really smart (or creepy depending on your point of view) – it knows my home and work locations and the timing of my commute, thus a quick glance before leaving the office shows an estimated arrival time at home after checking various sources for traffic reports along my route.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick T.

      It’s what the government is trying to force drone makers to install into their control firmware:

      “With all the attention surrounding the White House landing, DJI felt it had to take action. So last Thursday it pushed a “mandatory firmware update” for its Phantom 2 that would prevent the drone from flying in a 15.5 mile radius of the White House. So far it’s the only drone-maker installing what’s known as GPS geofencing

      The technique is not new to DJI. The company first added no-fly zones to its firmware in April of last year to deter newbie pilots from zipping into the restricted airspace over airports, where they might interfere with departing and arriving aircraft.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I hope the Model 3 incorporates all the ongoing, detail improvements being made to the Model S.

    The “something special” feeling will be a bit less when 3s are competing with cars like the Bolt from a more established mfr, who presumably has stuff like windshield wipers, vanity mirrors, and interior lighting figured out – not to mention door handles. Except for the fit of the exterior body panels, my 12 Leaf’s quality is as polished as any other first-rate modern car.

    (Let me clarify on the body panel thing – as a design engineer working in mfg, there are techniques used in CAD, mfg, and QC that make sure the shapes of, creases, rounds, and corners are propagated from one panel to the next. My Leaf doesn’t have this nailed, so even when new you could see different radii as the metal transitioned to plastic. Even after an accident repair, this feature persisted. It gives the appearance of an unfinished prototype if you look closely.)

    Dan – Does it bother you that your 13 Model S is already as outdated as last year’s laptop? Your car is great, but Tesla’s breathtaking updates seem to leave past buyers always wanting more. Maybe that’s their grand plan.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew exactly what I was getting into. The main differences between my ’13 and the current ’15 cars are AutoPilot and the available AWD system. That’s it. I get all the rest of the software updates. Admittedly, adaptive cruise control would be a nifty thing, but it’s something that I might use once a month, if even that. If and when they turn on the rest of the autonomy features… maybe I’ll be happy that my car doesn’t have them, since those sorts of features are a car thief’s greatest friend.

  • avatar
    Shinoda is my middle name

    A few weeks ago I drove by the University Park Mall here in South Bend (actually, Granger) Indiana and notices a five-stall charging station painted brilliant white and emblazoned with bright red TESLA script. (It may have been there longer, but it is the first time I’ve noticed it.) Cool that they would offer free charging, but the spaces are about 100 yards from the mall doors…not necessarily great in summer’s blazing heat or winters snowy chill. Still, it’s a neat draw. Having only seen about a half-dozen Tesla’s (Teslae?) in the area, well, most of them could simultaneously charge at that station….it seemed interesting that either Tesla or the mall would spring for the capital cost on that…

    • 0 avatar

      They’ve got something similar in the parking garage of the Houston Galleria — five spots where Teslas can charge themselves. The last time I was there, they were all full. I didn’t need the juice, but mostly they’re just well-positioned spaces.

      Side note: I was recently at the Houston airport and I noticed some Blink chargers in the parking garage. Both had giant trucks parked in front of them. EV enthusiasts would say that they’ve been “ICE’ed” (internal combustion engine’ed). The benefit of a Tesla, though, is that you generally don’t need these things, since you’ve got so much range.

  • avatar

    Any number of security experts will tell you – will tell women, specifically – that wherever you park your car (street, driveway, garage…), you need to lock it. And this is especially true if you tend to keep things of value (as is the case here) inside the car.

    I guess the way around that is since she is consciously heading to the car to get something, to remember to take the keys – she’s not just suddenly finding herself standing next to the car wanting something inside it.

    • 0 avatar

      This could also be fixed with the addition of a keypad like Ford’s SecuriCode. They’re on the door frame and they use capacitive sensing instead of physical buttons so they’re pretty unobtrusive.

  • avatar

    You can’t get into *any* locked car at home without the key, proximity-based or mechanical. So I don’t know why this gripe is worthy as a specific shortcoming of the Tesla.

    Otherwise, neat anecdotes.

    • 0 avatar

      The issue is that the car automatically locks itself when you walk away. When I park my car in the garage, for example, I purposely don’t lock the doors.

      Even without all the fancy GPS stuff, there could be a mode that says that if the car is within range of a certain wi-fi station (poor man’s GPS) to not lock the doors. If the car first verified that it could log onto that protected wi-fi you would have a layer of extra security against spoofing.

      Do these fancy chargers have unique ID numbers? You could have an easy algorithm: if car is plugged into a certain unique charger don’t lock the doors.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know if the chargers have unique IDs or not, but the one that I’ve got just plugs into the 240V/50A socket in the wall. For many Tesla owners, that will be the only charging cable they have, and they’ll unplug it and stuff it in the car for road trips.

        Suffice to say that I’d be more comfortable with WiFi & GPS as the way of detecting that the car is at my house.

      • 0 avatar

        Fair enough.

        If it’s at home in your garage, maybe you can find a hiding place to store a key close enough to the car? : )

        I’m always locking my doors, no matter when or where, so this is moot for folks like me.

        I also like the idea mentioned of a charger-mounted fob attachment. But it would have to be encased in the charger to deter prying it off for theft.

  • avatar

    I LOVE reading about these. Maybe someday I’ll even be able to own one, haha. It definitely holds more novelty/fun-factor than a similarly priced sports car.

    I know. I’m an odd one. :p

  • avatar

    This might admittedly be a dumb question- but I have no idea with a Tesla and have also never owned a “keyless ignition” car- with the garage lock thing can’t you just not lock the doors in the first place? You yourself know that it is in your garage charging, why don’t you just not lock the doors?

    I’m assuming the answer is that the doors automatically lock when you take the key out of the area and you want the geo-fence to tell it to not do that?

    • 0 avatar

      Well, here’s my understanding:

      Pretty much every car with a smart key dating back to the early 2000s (and including my 2015 Golf SportWagen) has a small button or touch-point on one or more exterior door handles that you press to lock the doors. I’m sure you’ve seen them before. If the key fob is outside the car and on your person, it will detect that and lock the doors. Some cars also have a “walk-away” auto lock feature, which locks the doors automatically once the car is off and the key is determined to be a certain distance away…meaning that as you walk into the store, or your house, the car will eventually lock itself. It appears the Model S lacks the “lock” button on the door handle that most other cars have, so that the only two ways to lock it are either to use its walk-away lock feature or to reach into your purse/pocket and lock it with the key fob. The latter is inconvenient—especially for women with disorganized purses—so most people would probably leave the walk-away lock feature enabled. Having to dig for the key fob and use it to lock the car sort of defeats the point of a smart key, after all. But it’d be nice if the car knew that it was in the garage and remained unlocked even as you walked off with the key, because…most people don’t lock their cars while they are in the garage. If his wife forgets something in the car, she’ll need to remember to grab her purse on the way into the garage, or else she’ll arrived to a locked Tesla. And that’s inconvenient. That’s the point the author is trying to make.

      Exterior door handle lock button:

      • 0 avatar

        In my experience, some of the “smart key” systems can throw a wrench into the valet process. People will leave their cars but forget they have the key in their purse. The valet drives off, parks the car, shuts it off, then hunt for the key. No key? Can’t lock the car.

        • 0 avatar

          Most cars give you an audible warning from both the interior and exterior of the vehicle to make you aware that the key is undetected and the vehicle is running. They usually also throw up a message on the instrument cluster LCD, if one is present. Then, the valet can chase down the customer and get the key or the customer will hear the warning and hand over the key. More often than that, though, valets are trained to make sure a key is present before accepting a car, and will ask for it if they don’t see it.

    • 0 avatar

      The Tesla automatically locks its doors and closes the door handles when it no longer sees any keys in radio range. There’s no way to say “don’t lock the doors when I’m at home”, which is my feature request.

      • 0 avatar

        I figured this is what it had to be. Thanks everyone for the explanations.

        I’m not luddite but I think I like the old “remote door locks” where you still have to push a button on the fob thing a little better because I’m nervous about any kind of auto-locking. Probably just need to get used to it.

  • avatar

    By the time we get our Model3, I would hope Tesla has added an ‘old-skool’ mode that deactivates all those clever but overbearing and counter-intuitve computer/gps things…

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect that the Model 3 will have to make a variety of cost-reduction changes, relative to the Model S. It’s entirely sensible for them to adopt traditional door keys and locks.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d be just as pleased to have a -good- EV with the user technology of my ’99 Chevy and ’99 CR-V. No touchscreens, just remote locks via a traditional old school keyfob, a lock on the steering column and not a “start button”, ABS brakes. maybe not even a vehicle stability computer, etc.

  • avatar

    I grew up in the big city. Here are the rules:

    When you leave your car, you lock it. Even if you are only going to be away from it for five minutes. When you are in your car, in a public area, you lock it.

    If you are leaving your car unlocked for the night in Houston, even in a locked garage, you are risking its loss. You should lock your car whenever you leave it. I guarantee I could get into your locked garage easier than into your locked Tesla. For the same reason you should always lock the door between your garage and house if it is an attached garage.

    “Smart” keys and computers are no substitute for situational awareness and pro-security habits. I would not trust an $80,000 car to consumer grade electronics and software to “remember” to lock it. I would always press the button. As far as this “walk-away” scheme, how long do you think it takes a thief to walk up to the car, open the not-yet-locked door, and run off with something valuable that’s inside? Are you really prepared to try to interrupt a 6’4″ 240 lb. 20 year old thief who has your car door open and is rummaging around in the glove compartment?

    As an example of something similar, my wife’s Toyota supposedly shuts the headlights off after a certain delay, so you (theoretically) don’t have to explicitly turn them off when you shut the car down. Until the evening when they didn’t turn off and the battery was dead. I instructed my wife to make sure to always turn the lights off. No more dead batteries.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I live in the suburbs, but have more cars than garage bays.

      When we heard about local thieves breaking car windows in people’s driveways to get their stuff, I instructed my wife to leave the cars UNLOCKED in the driveway. That way, if they want my $100 GPS, I won’t spend my insurance deductible and time getting the car repaired.

      • 0 avatar

        >>> I instructed my wife to leave the cars UNLOCKED in the driveway. That way, if they want my $100 GPS, I won’t spend my insurance deductible and time getting the car repaired. <<<

        Before having a car with remote locking I would often leave it unlocked. Mostly it was because I was lazy and there was nothing to steal, but (for me at least) I used the excuse that I was less likely to have the windows broken. Humorously, I did this for about 6 months with a used car I had just purchased until a friend pointed out that I left the extra car keys in the passenger door side pocket! I fixed this situation promptly … by removing the extra keys.

        • 0 avatar
          Japanese Buick

          I have relatives who live in a small town that’s dominated by a state prison. A large percentage of the working age population work in the prison. There the rule of thumb is: leave your car unlocked, with the key inside. Because if one of them escapes, you don’t want him knocking on your door looking for the keys. And you want him out of town ASAP.

      • 0 avatar

        I still empty my car of anything valuable when it is parked. And we haven’t had thefts for years around here. Some habits die hard. When I lived in Italy years ago – we’d pull the entire stereo out and take it into a restaurant b/c the removable face stereos had not been invented yet.

        if we started having problems here with thieves I’d do what you do – I’d leave the car empty and unlocked.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      In college my car was a total pile. I left the keys in it all the time. In fact, the radio was stolen out of it with the keys in the ignition. True story. I was pretty torqued at the fact that someone felt it necessary to steal my stereo and leave me with indignity of driving said pile with no radio. It was fairly obvious to anyone that stealing from me at the time could not be construed as Robin Hood giving back to the masses…..

    • 0 avatar

      I’m originally from rural Vermont, and up here it is rare for people to even lock their houses, let alone their cars. I had many friends who’s families left their car keys in their cars at all times with no problems at all.

  • avatar

    Assuming the Tesla has some sort of cellular or wi-fi connectivity, instead of geofencing why not have the option of it accessing your home wireless network. The range on those is generally somewhat limited. If the car can pick up your wi-fi signal it can be left unlocked.

    • 0 avatar

      And, the car can verify the authenticity of the wi-fi if it is a secure wi-fi connection. (Well, at least that’s the theory until that is also spoofed.)

      You could also set up a system that if the garage door opener that is part of the car is used then the lock could be disabled until the car is driven again.

  • avatar

    You can turn off the walk-away door lock feature on the Tesla. My wife hated it because when the car was parked in the garage, it was locked, and she likes to use a car as a place to keep stuff, and it was annoying to have to go back in the house and get the key in order to open the car.

    I believe this setting is stored in the user profile though, so at first I just tried turning it off in her profile but not mine. But that wasn’t good enough for this “locked car at home” problem, because any time I came home with the car it would be set to my profile so it would lock itself and the issue would repeat. “I thought you turned that evil walk-away door lock feature off.”

    Tesla could improve our marriage by making the auto-lock sensitive to GPS location (as they have with the air suspension). This is exactly the kind of first-world problem created by car software in the first place that can only be fixed by even more car software. The list of software ideas and improvements Tesla owners have “demanded” is truly incredible (or depressing, depending on your perspective).

    By the way, the Fiat 500e makes a really cool noise to make pedestrians aware of its presence. It feels a bit like the ambient sound on the Starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek.

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