Tesla Ownership Vignettes

Dan Wallach
by Dan Wallach
tesla ownership vignettes

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.”

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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3 of 39 comments
  • Jimal Jimal on May 28, 2015

    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.

    • SunnyvaleCA SunnyvaleCA on May 28, 2015

      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.

  • Z9 Z9 on May 28, 2015

    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.

  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)
  • Tassos And all 3 of them were ordered by Fisker's mother.Seriously, after Fisker's DISMAL record of UTTER FAILURE in the past, only a GOD DAMNED MORON would order this one.
  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/