How to Charge a Tesla on a Road Trip


How to Charge a Tesla on a Road Trip

Tesla electric vehicles are no longer a glimpse of the future, but an emphatic statement about the viability of plug-in cars today.  The Model S, Model 3, and Model X are quickly becoming common sights on our roads and highways and not just in major metropolitan areas.  While still considered a luxury car, many of these Teslas are family and primary-use vehicles, which means road trips.

How do you charge your Tesla on a road trip?  Fortunately, there are quite a few options, but you will need to plan ahead.  

  1. First, know the driving range of your Tesla model and plot out the total distance you will be driving during your road trip.  
  2. Next, research where you can stop to either partially or fully charge your Tesla.  
  3. Lastly, determine your charging options at or near your final destination.  

No matter how long of a road trip you’re planning on taking, you’re going to need to plan ahead when you drive a Tesla. Continue reading for everything you’ll need to know to make a safe and drama free trip!

Know the Driving and Charging Limitations of Your Tesla

The biggest challenge facing Tesla drivers planning a road trip is how to charge their vehicles away from the familiar and convenient surroundings of home and work.  As Teslas and other electric vehicles (EVs) become more and more mainstream EV charging stations continue to pop up at a dizzying pace, dotting cities and neighborhoods at places like shopping centers, libraries, and office buildings.

However, despite the ongoing proliferation of EV charging stations in urbanized areas, venturing outside of city limits can create challenges for Tesla drivers.  “Range anxiety” is a phrase that is all too familiar to Tesla owners as it was coined to describe the fear on the part of a person driving an electric car that the vehicle’s battery will run out of power before reaching the destination or a charging station.  

(In certain markets, the Automobile Association of America or AAA, has a little known pilot program that can dispatch emergency EV charging trucks to help charge stranded electric vehicles.)

Tesla Vehicle Driving Ranges

Before tackling the challenges of planning a road trip with a Tesla vehicle, it will be helpful to know just how far the various Tesla models can drive on a full charge.

Aside from its sleek design, ground-breaking performance, and innovative features, another appealing aspect of Tesla vehicles is its driving range.  Before Tesla made its splashy entry in the electric vehicle arena roughly seven years ago, EV owners were fortunate to drive 100 miles or so on a full charge.  Tesla vehicles raised that bar significantly as shown below (all mileage based on full charge):

  • Model 3 – 220 mile range for standard range vehicle, 320 miles for extended range model (2019 versions)
  • Model S – 270 mile range for standard range vehicle, 335 miles for extended range model (2019 versions)
  • Model X – 238 mile range for standard range vehicle, 295 miles for extended range model (2019 versions)

Tesla Charging Times

Tesla Supercharger Charging

MODELMILES RANGE PER HOUR OF CHARGE
Model 31000+ miles/hour charged
Model S1000+ miles/hour charged
Model X1000+ miles/hour charged

Tesla Superchargers are the fastest way to charge a Tesla. The Superchargers are located along roads similarly to gas stations. They typically cost about $10-15 for a full charge.

240v Outlet Charging

MODELMILES RANGE PER HOUR OF CHARGE
Model 330 miles/hour charged
Model S23 miles/hour charged
Model X20 miles/hour charged

When at home, or not near a Supercharger, Tesla recommends charging with 240-volt power. If you are a Tesla owner, then chances are that you have invested in the Tesla Wall Connector in your garage that supplies the 240-volt, 50-amp electrical service needed to provide the fastest charging time for your vehicle at home.

120v Outlet Charging

MODELMILES RANGE PER HOUR OF CHARGE
Model 33 miles/hour charged
Model S3 miles/hour charged
Model X2 miles/hour charged

If you don’t have a Supercharger near by, or a 240-volt outlet, you can use a standard 120-volt outlet to charge a Tesla. All Teslas come with the Mobile Connector Bundle as standard equipment. This bundle includes a charging connector with 20-foot cable and an adapter that plugs into a standard 120-volt, 15-amp common wall outlet.  

Tesla advises its new owners that this Mobile Connector kit is recommended as a backup charging option while traveling and should be kept in the trunk at all times.  In other words, the Mobile Connector is not a feasible or sustainable means of charging a Tesla vehicle for everyday driving, and the following figures prove this point emphatically.

Yes, you read that correctly.  One full hour of charging from a standard 120-volt outlet will get you three miles of driving range on a Model 3 or Model S, and two miles on a Model X.  If you were to leave your Tesla vehicle plugged into the same outlet overnight (10-12 hours), the next day you would have 30 to 36 miles of driving range on your Model 3 or Model S and 20 to 24 miles on your Model X.  

This may be enough to drop the kids off at school, commute to work or run errands the next day but it certainly will not get a road trip off to a productive start.

Planning Your Tesla Charging Strategy

Unless your travel plans call for hopscotching to your destination 20 to 36 miles per day (depending on which model Tesla you drive and assuming you will have overnight access to an electrical outlet), it would be wise to examine all available charging options for your next road trip and formulate a charging strategy, especially if it’s going to be a long one.

Tesla Charging Stations

Supercharger stations are electric vehicle charging sites dedicated exclusively to Tesla vehicles.  Whereas the Tesla Wall Connector charging unit for homes is rated at 11.5 kW (kilowatts) and can fully charge a Model S in roughly nine hours, the Tesla Supercharger is rated at 120 kW and can do the same job in roughly an hour and 15 minutes.  Hence its name.

Recognizing the need to bridge the driving range gaps between major urban areas, Tesla has been expanding the number of its Supercharger stations at a robust pace.  Throughout North America (the United States, Canada, and Mexico) there are roughly 1,636 Supercharger stations with a total of 14,497 available Supercharger connectors.  

The highest concentrations of Supercharger stations correlate to areas where Teslas are popular, such as the Bay Area, Southern California and New York, but they can also be found on highways linking major cities and urban areas, and along heavily traveled corridors.

The typical Supercharger station has 8-12 connectors (stalls), and most, if not all, are open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  Supercharger locations can be found on Tesla’s website, the Tesla smartphone app (iPhone and Android) and through each vehicle’s on-board computer (which will not only display the closest Supercharger locations but also show how many charging stalls are available).

Depending on the area and time of day, you may find yourself waiting for a charging stall to open up.  There seems to be a consensus among Tesla owners that the best time to visit a Supercharger station is early in the morning before the a.m. rush or mid-morning after the commuters have come and gone.

Annual Supercharger Credit

It is worth noting that to promote longer road trips, Tesla sometimes offers new buyers of its Model S and Model X vehicles an annual Supercharger credit of 400 kWh (kilowatt hours), which equates to roughly 1,000 miles of driving per year.  Unfortunately, this offer does not extend to Model 3 owners, but according to Tesla, the cost of fully charging any Tesla model is significantly cheaper than the equivalent in gasoline.

Tesla touts that many more Supercharger stations are in the works, but most current and planned locations are concentrated in urban and high traffic areas.  Any road trip exceeding several hundred miles, no matter what part of the United States it runs through, will likely include significant stretches of driving through undeveloped areas.  

After all, isn’t appreciating the natural scenery of rural America part of the appeal of taking road trips?

Public Charging Stations

When it comes to charging their vehicles at public charging stations, Tesla owners seem to have the best of both worlds.  Not only can they charge their Tesla vehicles at Tesla-exclusive Supercharger stations, but also at the even greater number of universal EV charging stations.  As of April 2019, there was an estimated 21,300 electric vehicle charging stations across the United States, with over 62,000 charging connectors.  

The overwhelming majority of these public EV charging stations offer what is known as Level 2 charging, meaning 240 volt power with amperage typically ranging from 50 to 80.  (Level 3 charging would be Supercharger charging and Level 1 would be your 120-volt common wall outlet.)  A state-by-state breakdown of these stations can be found here.

Public charging stations are designed to accommodate virtually all makes and models of electric vehicles, including Teslas.  There is a universal, standardized charging connector known as the SAE J1772 (also known as a “J Plug”), and it is far and away the most common charging device found at public EV charging stations.

The Mobile Connector Bundle that comes with all new Teslas includes an adapter that enables the J1772 to plug into any Tesla model.  To assist EV owners in finding public charging stations nearest them, there are numerous smartphone platforms and online tools available.  Here are a few of the more popular ones:

  • U.S. Department of Energy – The Alternative Fuels Data Center website is a straightforward, easy-to-use database of EV charging stations in the United States and Canada.  Searches can be performed by location, and results can be filtered by fuel type (e.g., electric, biodiesel, hydrogen, etc.) and charging capabilities, including a search filter specifically for Tesla-friendly sites.  

A route mapping feature enables you to enter the starting city, the destination city, and the number of miles you are willing to deviate off course (e.g., 5 miles, 10 miles) and the website shows you all the public charging stations along your route as well as in your starting and ending locations.  This information can be downloaded from the site and emailed to you.

  • ChargeHub – This is another popular site that offers numerous search filters to help you narrow down search results to best suit your specific needs.  For example, ChargeHub allows you to specify specific charging connector types (such as the J1772), particular station brands, free charging providers, and operating hours.  

With certain charging locations, there are icons for when connectors are currently available or when they are all being used.  ChargeHub also has a route planner for longer trips.

  • PlugShare – This is one of the more popular online tools used by Tesla owners.  EV charging station searches can be filtered by power, connector type, amenities (e.g., wi-fi, restrooms, hotels & lodging), and other options.  

Plugshare also has a trip planning feature that populates the driving route with charging station stops once the starting and ending locations have been entered, and the entire trip can be viewed on Google Maps.  The route can be easily edited to add or remove stops, and the trip planner will even calculate range estimates based on your particular Tesla model.

  • Google Maps – Among the features that have been added to Google Maps is searching for nearby EV charging stations near you or a specific location.  Like the other online tools, Google Maps will not only show you where you can charge your Tesla but also how many connectors are available. 

Best of all, since it is Google Maps, you can utilize street view to see exactly where to go if you’re in an unfamiliar area (e.g., road trip).

The Cost of Charging Your Tesla

While there are public EV charging stations where you can charge your Tesla for free, you will need to search for them and hope they are within an acceptable range of your travel route.  Chances are you will have to pay for the charge.   

When it comes to public EV charging stations or networks, there are two payment method models, (1) the pay as you go model and (2) the membership or subscription model.  Payment details will vary depending on whose network you are using to charge your Tesla.

Just as there are recognizable brands among the over 100,000 conventional gas stations across the nation, such as Valero, Chevron, Shell, and Mobil to name a few, there are also brands associated with public EV charging stations.  

Particular brands may be more highly concentrated in one part of the country compared to another, but certain networks operate a greater number of charging locations and can be found in more states across the US.  

Most EV charging networks require initial registration and linking the new account to a credit card prior to making the first visit, while others operate on a monthly subscription model for charging access.  Either way, it is best to complete your registration and set up your EV network account before departing on your road trip.

Here a few prominent public EV charging networks:

  • ChargePoint – By all estimates, this is the largest network of public EV charging stations with more than 6,000 independently owned sites.  California has the highest concentration of ChargePoint locations, but this network operates sites in 42 other states.  

Initial registration and credit card link are required, but account set up is free, and charging visits can be managed via a mobile app on your smartphone.  Since the charging stations are independently owned, the actual charging method (e.g., by usage/kWh or by plug-in time) will vary from location to location, but many sites offer free public charging.

  • Blink – The Blink network operates 1,600+ charging sites in 25 states, with most of the locations in Texas, California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington.  Initial registration with a credit card is required to open a Blink InCard account.  Blink sites charge by the kilowatt hour (kWh), so this is a usage based billing system, much like paying a stated price per gallon of gasoline. 

These rates can be found on many EV network charging station locator tools.

  • EVgo – This network of over 700 public EV charging sites is operated by the clean energy division of NRG, one of the nation’s largest power producers and electricity retailers.  EVgo operates on a monthly subscription model and requires first time users to register.  (However, their website also states that EVgo will always take care of an EV driver in need.)  

Unlike Blink, EVgo charges by plug-in time, either hourly or by the minute, depending on the location and the time of day.  Rates will certainly vary depending on whether you are an EVgo subscriber or simply an EV driver in need of a charge.

As you can see, range anxiety is quickly becoming a thing of the past with the number of Tesla Supercharger locations and public EV charging stations growing by the day.  With the amazing connectivity provided by smartphone apps and online tools, many of which display nearby restaurants and retail centers, you can even plan your grocery shopping or grabbing a bite to eat around charging your Tesla.

Do Your Research

Once you have determined a comfortable driving range for your particular Tesla model and you have calculated the total distance that will be driven to your destination, it is time to utilize the various tools and resources we have discussed.  Along your planned driving route, plot charging stops that are within driving reach of each other.  

Select Your Charging Locations

Your best option will always be a Tesla Supercharger station as it will provide the shortest charging time, so consult the Tesla website or the smartphone app to see if there are any sites along your driving route.  Even if it requires a slight detour (e.g., 10 to 15 miles), the time you lose driving will be more than made up by the quicker charging time compared to public EV charging stations.

Speaking of which, since there are a far greater number of public EV charging stations than Tesla Supercharger sites, chances are very good that you will be visiting them.  As you research viable charging sites, be on the lookout for Level 2 charging with J1772 connectors (and make sure that your Mobile Connector bundle in the trunk has the adapter).

Be ever mindful of the length of charge time and the correlating driving range that you will achieve.  Unless you are fortunate to have a Tesla Supercharger station or two along your route, do not expect to fully charge your vehicle while on the road.  You will be piecemealing your driving sessions to arrive at your final destination, so you need to plan your charging stops accordingly.

Planning a charging stop to coincide with a meal break, a little sightseeing, or even some shopping would enable you to make the most of your charge time.

Choosing Your Lodging

Statistics show that nearly 80% of all EV charging takes place at home, and this should be your guiding light when planning your road trip.  Your greatest opportunity for charging your Tesla as fully as possible will be overnight at your lodging location.

We’ve already seen that charging from a 120-volt wall outlet, even overnight, will not boost your driving range significantly.  On a road trip, charging time is a premium.  For this reason, it may be worthwhile to select a hotel that offers Tesla charging onsite, or at a minimum, Level 2 J1772 charging.  

While various online tools do have search filters for EV charging at hotels, it would be best to confirm with a simple phone call.  It is worth noting that figures pertaining to the number of Tesla and public EV charging stations do not include restricted access charging sites, which would include those on hotel property as they would be accessible only by paying guests.

What if You Go off the Grid?

What if electricity isn’t available for long stretches during your road trip or at your final destination (for example, overnight camping at a remote location)?  While common sense dictates that you charge up as much as possible before venturing off the electrical charging grid, it would also be prudent to consider other charging options in the event that electricity is not readily available.

If you live in an area that is prone to weather-related loss of power or an area that is susceptible to wildfires and, therefore, subject to fire-preventive power shut-offs by the utility companies, then perhaps you are familiar with portable power generators. 

Basically, a portable power generator supplies electricity via a gas-powered engine that powers an on-board alternator to generate your own electricity on demand.  

Can you Charge a Tesla with a Portable Generator?

The answer is yes, but in order to do so, you will need a portable generator that meets very specific requirements, and you will need to follow a few specific steps.

Portable Generator Requirements

Tesla vehicles are technological marvels, and to protect highly sensitive and potentially vulnerable components from damage, certain safeguards have been built into each Model S, Model 3, and Model X.  Basically, we need to defeat these safeguards in order to charge your Tesla with a portable generator.

1.  The portable generator must be an inverter to deliver a pure sine wave output.  All Tesla models require clean power, and if the Tesla’s sensors detect a modified or lesser sine wave, they simply will not allow the vehicle to charge because what they sense as potentially dirty power could result in damaging electrical surges.  By converting DC (direct current) power into AC (alternating current) power, an inverter generator mimics the electricity that is fed into our homes from the utility companies.

2.  The portable generator must be properly grounded.  Another safeguard implemented by Tesla’s engineers is that the incoming power must be from a properly grounded source.  If the vehicle’s sensors detect non-grounded power, they will not permit the Tesla to charge.  With certain models, the generator’s frame or chassis adequately serves as a proper ground as detected by the Tesla’s sensors.

It is recommended that when charging a Tesla from a portable generator, the amperage setting on the generator be set to low initially, and gradually increased to 28-30 amps.  Also, the generator should have a minimum output of 1500 watts.

Choosing a Portable Generator

All things considered, two portable power generators come to mind as possible options for charging a Tesla in an emergency situation:

  • Generac IQ2000 – This is a gas-powered, inverter generator with a sustained output of 1,600 watts.  It measures 20” x 13” x17” and weighs 47 pounds and would easily fit in the trunk of all Tesla models.  It has a fuel capacity of 1.06 gallons.  It is touted as one of the quieter power generators in its class.
  • Champion 9200W – Although this inverter generator satisfies our two requirements, it measures 48” x 40” x 30” and weighs nearly 250 pounds.  It would not be a viable option for a Model 3 owner due to the small trunk opening on that vehicle, and would not leave much room for luggage or any other travel items in a Model S or Model X.  

However, it does boast a 7.7 gallon fuel tank and can operate at 9200 watts.  This generator is considerably loud (owner’s manual likens it to being near a vacuum cleaner).

It is important to note that while a portable power generator can charge a Tesla vehicle, it is not as effective or efficient as conventional charging methods.  Even with hours of continuous charging from a portable generator, your Tesla may only achieve 20 to 30 miles of driving range, which would may be enough to get you to a charging station or a somewhere to plug in your Mobile Connector.

Portable Generators and Gasoline

Another important consideration is that most portable power generators run on gasoline, which means that for continuous operation (i.e., lengthy Tesla charging session) the generator’s gas tank will need to be refilled, perhaps repeatedly.  Furthermore, there are significant safety concerns associated with transporting containers of gasoline in your vehicle.

Even with the safest gas containers money can buy (also known as “Jerry cans”), there are significant safety concerns when transporting gasoline in a closed container.

  • Gasoline is highly flammable, but perhaps the greater danger is the extremely volatile and potentially explosive fumes.
  • Gasoline emits carbon monoxide, which is itself odorless and potentially deadly with prolonged exposure in an enclosed area.
  • Gasoline spills will produce a noxious odor that will linger for days, if not weeks.
  • Handling gasoline requires the utmost care and attention.  Prior to opening the cap on a gas container, it is recommended that you ground yourself by touching metal to avoid sparking from static electricity.

With carefully selected equipment and with a little know-how, it is possible to charge a Tesla with a portable generator. Whether this charging method is feasible for a road trip however, is debatable. As an emergency means of charging your Tesla in the event of power loss at home, however, it seems to be a worthwhile investment.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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