Tips for taking long trips where there are no Superchargers

Tips for taking long trips where there are no Superchargers

Just back from a 24-day Model S adventure going round-trip from Reno to Boston (8099 miles), and I wanted to post these tips while they're fresh in my mind:

• Use rated miles and charge 20% more than you need normally; 30% if driving in heavy rain, headwinds, or running the heater; 40% if both heavy rain and headwind. Then add 6 miles per 1000 ft of elevation gain (or subtract 6 miles per 1000 ft of elevation decline. Try to make your last charge stop of the day a short one (75 miles or less) so that you don't waste too much time charging miles you don't need that day.

• Cold weather is not a problem (on average the heater shortens your range about 15%), but you do want to plug the car in overnight - even if only from a regular wall socket to retain the charge.

• Drive 60 on freeways and remember that with multiple stops at RV parks or public chargers, "The faster you go, the longer it takes to get there!"

• Get a copy of the KOA Directory (or Woodalls if you need to use non-KOA RV parks), and join the Blink and Chargepoint networks. The KOA parks are the most EV friendly and you can charge at 28 rated miles per hours versus about 18 at most 30A J1772 chargers. Some Blink chargers are restricted to 17A in AZ, NM, and possibly other places.

• Get the Tesla App for your smartphone so you can monitor charging remotely. I had breakers pop at a Blink charger in Bristol, TN and a dozen times at various RV parks (it usually happens in the first hour). In each case the App saved me - I went back to the car, reduced the current to 32A (24A in the case of switching to the second Blink charger), and barely skipped a beat. Some nights at RV parks I was too tired to wait an hour and see if the breaker would hold 40A, in which case I set the car to 32A and went to sleep.

• Make arrangements the day of travel, checking on the availability of 50A RV park slots as you go. Prepay overnight stays if possible, otherwise use late check-in to avoid the reluctance that many non-KOA RV parks tend to have with allowing EVs.

• Carry a regular 12-guage 100-ft 120V extension cord, as it can save you in a pinch. I used mine at hotels to hold a charge during cold weather overnights after charging up at nearby Tesla stores. Strangely enough, no one seemed to mind, even when I once draped it out a 3rd floor window. The conversation also quickly shifts to the car.

• Be realistic. You can do almost anything that gas cars do when on the Superchargers (I drove 770 miles from Las Vegas to Reno in a day), but when charging from 50A RV park 14-50s the best you can hope for is about 375 miles a day, and even then it makes for some very late evening drives. Set the limit at 300 miles if you want a "normal" travel day.

• It's a challenge finding hotels and RV parks that are close enough that you can walk between the car and your room. I solved that problem in several locations by staying in a KOA cabin (which requires bringing your own linens and towels). If you do that, be sure to request a deluxe cabin, which has running water and a shower/bath.

• Charging costs vary. Most common was a $10 daytime charge at KOA camps, and $20-$30 overnight. But many times I had to pay the full overnight rate, because I was taking a spot that could otherwise be rented to an RVer.

• Some KOAs operate shuttles to interesting tourist spots nearby, and these make great daytime charging spots. My favorites were the KOAs near Hot Spring National Park, Nashville, and the Grand Canyon.

Happy adventures,

Jack Bowers

portia | March 28, 2013

thanks for the report and tips. wow, 8000 miles, you are going to need your 12500 mile service soon! I am tempted to do a long road trip sometime, and it helps to hear from those who have done it.

jbunn | March 28, 2013

Jack, what were the types of plugs you ran into at campgrounds?

uberlaut | March 28, 2013

I assume you have the big battery?

Tâm | March 28, 2013

Thanks Jack for very nice and essential tips!

JackB | March 29, 2013

Already had my 12k service right before the trip, which went fine. My performance tires had more wear than I expected, perhaps because of the way I'd been driving, and I opted to replace them because I didn't want to deal with replacing tires during the cross-country trip. I'll have a mello driving comparison at 24k because the cross-country trip was mostly highway miles without aggressive cornering or acceleration.

Most RV parks have at least a few 50A outlets (14-50s), but it's always good to call ahead and check, because the 120V 20/30A outlets are useless for the purpose of long-distance travel (the 50A outlets will give you about 28 miles of rated range per hour, versus 3-4 miles an hour for the 20/30A 120V outlets).

I've got the 85kW battery, which takes 9-10 hours to fully charge overnight from a 50A RV park outlet.


cerjor | May 16, 2013

I just finished driving my model S from Sun Lakes, AZ to Camano Island, WA: 1755 miles in four and a half days. I averaged 301w/mi so my rated miles and actual miles were very close. I tried to arrive at a charging station with at least 50 miles of range left (actually averaged 65 and only charged to maximum range during overnight charging as that would mean less time charging at the next charger. As others have said, plan on 2-3 hours of charging for every hour of driving (except when in supercharger country.)

Here are a few of my impressions:
1. The car is extremely comfortable. Absolutely no problems there.
2. The superchargers are wonderful. So fast.
3. While NEMA 14-50 can be 240V, it is more often 208V or thereabouts at commercial sites.
4. I wish I could have used my mp3 player through the car’s sound system so I could have listened to books.
5. Finding something to do while charging for six hours is a challenge.

I charged at a variety of places:
1. NEMA 14-50: Three RV parks and the Tesla store in Tigard, OR; average 8.7kw
2. J1773: Two stops on the West Coast Green Highway, one at a Mitsubishi dealer, average 6.7kw
3. Superchargers: Barstow, Tejon Ranch, Harris Ranch, Folsom, average 74.3kw.

Twice I left the car unattended overnight while I slept in a nearby motel. No problem. Total cost for electricity was $26 (two RV parks at $10, one at $6)

I hope that when I make the return trip in the fall, additional superchargers along this route will have been opened. That would cut about a day off the length of the trip.

cgiGuy | May 16, 2013

I'll have to check more into the KOA parks. I'm glad to hear that they are more EV friendly. My experience was mixed on a (short) trip recently in Texas. I had outright "nope, we don't allow it here" to "sure.. full price."

Made it from San Antonio to Corpus Christi (~180 miles) with a 60kWh MS. The decrease in elevation helped on the way down. Once there, I relied on a RV park with nearby lodging and it worked out well. Additionally, a shopping mall in town has a free 30A charger, so the wife and I ate there and walked around to gain additional miles.

There were a couple Nissan dealerships in town, but I wanted to save that as last resort, since I'm not sure how receptive they'll be to Telsa owners..

txjak | May 16, 2013

My wife has a friend with a Nissan Juke and recently took her to the Nissan dealer for some service. She spent a half hour of Tesla time before they could leave, since all the reps wanted to check out the car, inside and out. :-)

MandL | May 16, 2013

cerjor: If you have a smartphone you should be able to load your audio books on it and stream bluetooth. But there is always something like this:

shs | May 16, 2013

We listen to audio books all the time (Audible) either using iTunes or the Audible App. When I connect my iPhone via bluetooth it shows up in My Media, hit play and it works great. So much better than having to use a mini stereo cable.

hikerockies | May 16, 2013

@cgiGuy: I'll have to check more into the KOA parks. I'm glad to hear that they are more EV friendly. My experience was mixed on a (short) trip recently in Texas. I had outright "nope, we don't allow it here" to "sure.. full price."

It would be great if Tesla could negotiate a nationwide deal with KOA that allows Tesla owners to charge at any KOA at a fixed price (per hour, per charge or per day). No more wondering if a particular KOA would allow EV charging and how much it would cost.

Earl and Nagin ... | May 16, 2013

It won't be that easy since, if you put yourself in the position of a campground owner, it isn't just the cost of the electricity.
He has to also consider whether a charging EV will block a site from an overnight guest that will pay full price.
You will also be drawing a continuous full 40 amp load. This often trips older breakers that they'll have to replace.
I've heard responses from "no, we don't allow it", "sure, full price", "sure, but my boss is cheap. Let me charge you for a small site even though you'll be using one of our 50 amp sites", "sure, we have a storage fee for $20/day", "sure $10 is fine", to "sure, charge for free, glad you're sticking it to the the oil companies".

hamer | May 16, 2013

I charged at a KOA park near Ashland VA on a trip from NC to NJ and back. They were very nice and friendly but charged me $5.00 / hour for the charging. I did not take up a space that could have been taken by others; this is a very large park with (I think they said) something on the order of 200 slots, and even though they had several groups there, there were still some open slots.

The RV persons were all very interested in the car. And on he return trip, I did bleak the breaker. Those breakers sit outdoors and even though they are in a box I suspect over time they deteriorate and when subjected to a continuous approximately 40 amps might fry.

EVTripPlanner | May 16, 2013

Great tips - thanks. I posted a link to this thread at my site, which has more resources for road trippers at

Mark Z | May 29, 2013

The storage fee of $20 for 24 hours at the KOA at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, NV is a reasonable fee for an overnight charge while staying in a hotel nearby. One important rule: they do not allow sleeping overnight in the car!

Earl and Nagin ... | May 29, 2013

re: Circus Circus important rule: they do not allow sleeping overnight in the car!

That's funny, they never mentioned this rule when we charged our Roadster there ;-)

Brian H | May 29, 2013

Was it necessary then?

Gadfly | February 19, 2014


Kudos to you for an extremely useful posting.

Gadfly | February 19, 2014

Great source for calculating elevation changes point to point: