For the second year in a row, my family went on a massive EV road trip. Five of us — my wife, 3-year-old, 7-year-old, and 17-year-old exchange student — piled into a rented Model 3 and drove 2,661 miles across the Northeast to see family and friends and enjoy seven beautiful states. What blew us away was how little we spent on fuel for our vacation. While the rest of the gas-bound world winces every time they fill up at the gas station, electric fuel for the thousands of miles we drove didn’t even come to $100.
Planning an EV trip
Last year we drove our own Model 3 cross country from Portland to Ohio, we’ll cover 2,700 miles on our way east and return via a 5,000-mile scenic southern route through 12 states. We flew most of the country this year (on one of our increasingly rare flights, which we later compensated) looking for an EV to rent. Unfortunately, this is still a challenge. Hertz, for example, nine months after his big announcement on the purchase of 100,000 Tesla, he only has vehicles available for rent in 25 citiesand when we booked the rental a few months ago, that number was even lower. Our only option to rent an electric car was a peer-to-peer car sharing website, Turo.
After looking around Columbus, Ohio and looking at about a dozen options, we booked Markus’ white Tesla Model 3 for our monthly trip. To be honest, we didn’t consider other options than renting a Tesla. We’ve owned a Model 3 for three years, and while we’re really excited about all the new EVs from other automakers and the fast-improving fast-charging network across the US (as well as our frustration with Elon and his all too public deceptions), we know from experience that Tesla’s integrated charging network is miles ahead of anything else. We used to own a first generation Nissan Leaf and during my previous work at an electric transportation non-profit I drove many other electric vehicles and unfortunately with the exception of Tesla’s supercharger network it’s still a crap shoot if you have enough chargers or the chargers will work when you show up and refuel your vehicle.
What we paid for the trip
Renting any car is expensive these days. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that you could rent a car for less than $500 a month, but a quick scan of monthly car rentals in Columbus, Ohio (where we picked up and dropped off our vehicle) shows the cheapest gas car. to nearly $1,300.
But renting a gas car was out of the question for us. We’ve been proud electric car owners since 2017, and after tasting a quiet, smooth exhaust-free alternative, it’s hard to go back to the loud engines and smoking tailpipes that directly fuel the climate crisis.
Markus’ Model 3 cost us $2,000 for a 31-day rental, which came out to $64 a day. We booked several months in advance and took advantage of the monthly price discounts, so I’m not sure if this is an accurate representative price for a shorter summer EV road trip. (Also, it’s also good to know that when using Turo, most of our rental payments go to individual entrepreneurs rather than a large corporation.)
We started the trip in Columbus, OH, then went to Pittsburgh, PA to visit family and then to New York for four days of car-free fun. From there we drove to Portland, ME and spent a few days exploring the natural beauty and beaches, visiting family and friends, and a working tour of one of the best state efficiency and heat pump programs in the country (thank you, Andy Mayer and Maine efficiency). Then we headed out for another long day of driving to visit friends in Syracuse, NY, and then to Cleveland, OH, and finally back to Columbus to drop off the car and go home. This route meant we had four long days of riding, averaging over 400 miles per day, which meant that when we weren’t riding we were almost always plugged in.
We stopped at 12 Tesla Superchargers on our road trip this summer and never had to worry about a bad charge. As Northwesterners on a cross-country trip, we also appreciated that the car would plan our entire trip by calculating exactly which chargers we’d need to stop at in Tesla’s vast network and how much time we’d spend at each. This system is a huge competitive advantage for Tesla (and will remain so until charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations and/or other automakers build their own charging networks) and makes traveling with the Tesla EV just as easy, if not easier , than ICE. ones.
On the other hand, Tesla has raised the price dramatic overcharging in the last few years – from 24 cents per kWh in many places a few years ago to now 45 cents or more at every station we visited on our trip.
This monopoly on charging is a real risk to consumers, as Tesla (which accounts for 70% of the current EV market) can seemingly raise its prices on a whim. There isn’t much competition to keep this greedy corporate temptation at bay, as Tesla drivers can’t charge at most other stations without an adapter.
The good news is that even on a road trip, drivers aren’t dependent on the Tesla for all, or even most, of their fuel. We charged 12 times at Superchargers, getting 206 kWh of electric fuel from Tesla, and it cost us $95. But our total trip consumed 517 kWh (the equivalent of 14 gallons of gas), and another 311 kWh (60% of our fuel) came from plugging into standard 110-volt outdoor outlets at our generous hosts’ homes.
We got involved at practically every overnight stop on our trip, including a garage in NYC. The important lesson here is that fueling options are everywhere and only cost the outlet owner a few extra dollars on their monthly electric bill. Tesla owners depend on the now-expensive (but definitely still worth it) Tesla Supercharger network for fast charging on long-haul days, but they can supplement that charging with virtually any other outlet that can slowly charge their vehicles for a fifth of the cost. gas.
The Tesla we rented from Markus is one of the few Model 3s with only 215 miles of range, as it was an effort to fulfill its $35,000 EV promise. Our car at home has a range of 310 miles and we weren’t quite sure how the lower range model would measure up on 400-500 mile days. It ended up being just fine with almost as much comfort as our longer range vehicle. On longer days, it may require three charging stops instead of two, but when traveling with small children, stopping every 2-3 hours for 15-20 minutes is almost a must.
One thing that helped is that we averaged an amazing 194 watt-hours per mile on the trip, which translates to something like 160 mpg for ICE cars, which helped reduce our charging needs. This is largely due to our seasoned hypermiling abilities, where we don’t drive fast and leave the windows down instead of firing up the air conditioning. Thanks to this, every kWh goes further. My wife also graciously tolerates me checking how efficiently she is driving every 30 minutes. In this journey, I am proud to say that the student became a champion and finally surpassed my average.
All in all, our massive EV trip was amazing – good visits, good places, good transport and good times. We spent $95 on electric fuel to drive 2,661 miles. If we rented a gas car that would get 25 mpg, with gas at $5.00 a gallon ( average price during our trip) we would spend $532 on gas and fund petrochemical states, petrochemical corporations and the climate crisis. Instead, we saved $437 in fuel costs on our trip, and that fuel savings nearly offset the cost of renting a Tesla versus driving an ICE car. We spent just $286 more for a full month of driving the Tesla, which provides an excellent driving experience on many levels.
|Car rental type||Monthly rental price||Fuel costs||Total cost|
|Tesla Model 3||$2,000||95 dollars||2095 dollars|
|The cheapest ICE car||$1,277||532 dollars||1809 dollars|
Note that the electricity costs above do not include the 311 kWh we charged at our hosts’ homes. At 15 cents per kWh, that would increase their spending by an additional $47, and it doesn’t change the bottom line.
With today’s high gas prices, I hope our trip shows how much financial sense it makes to lease, drive, and if you haven’t already, buy an EV. Even with the limited number of electric rentals available and the price premiums of luxury Teslas, our costs were almost comparable to renting any cheap gas car. Just imagine a near future where there will be many more electric vehicles and charging stations will be ubiquitous. We will get to the promised land where the cheapest option is the one that keeps our sky and planet clean.
Big thanks to Naomi Cole, my hypermiling life partner of 15 years, for her wonderful edits and contributions to this article.
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