The amount of writing about electric vehicles in mainstream media these days is staggering compared to when I decided to make the shift from fossil-fueled vehicles to electric vehicles in 2016. From a deep dive technical perspective, there are always new and interesting innovations, but in everyday life? Well, more and more people are making the shift, and I’m kind of forgetting that I drive an EV sometimes.
Just a year or two ago, I would enthusiastically explain the benefits of electric transportation to anyone who would listen, but now, I suddenly don’t have to. Almost everybody is getting it. The world is going electric. So, if for nothing else, you might consider the following a warning that you too could forget about your daily mobility, should you chose to go — or have already gone — electric.
In about 3 years, I have had a 100,000 km (62,000 mile) run in my Tesla Model 3, and there is absolutely nothing about this car that show any signs of not being able to do this several times over.
Imagine you had a flying carpet like Aladdin. It just works. No oil changes. No replacements of internal mechanical parts. If you used a flying carpet for your daily commute, you wouldn’t think a second about it’s functions or performance. You would just get to your destination, roll it up, and go about your business. That’s how I use my car, except for the roll up part.
Obviously, the flying carpet analogy is ridiculous, but let’s look at some numbers to get back on the ground — pun indeed intended. In my earlier articles about my Tesla Model 3 experiences, I at one point compared it’s running cost to a 2001 Audi A2 that I owned for 8 years. This car was mostly known in Europe, and was a leap in lightweight manufacturing and engine efficiency.
The A2 was, with its cousin VW Lupo, the first mass produced “3L” vehicles — meaning they could go 100 km on 3 liters of diesel (+78 mpg). This was huge back in 2000, and buying one of these cars made you feel really environmentally conscious. So, this was about as light as you could tread in terms of emissions if you really had to drive a box of metal on four wheels, but then, about a decade later, the fully electric vehicle had its real comeback, after it lost to the Ford Model T a century earlier.
Intuitively, I always suspected that in terms of efficiency and environmental impact, the EV had alway been the better choice, and it seemed it would now have a real chance of commercial success. After leasing a couple of Nissan EVs and a BMW i3, the Tesla Model 3 became available with a range that had moved close enough to its gas-guzzling peers to make it a reasonable alternative at a comparable price tag. What a pity Audi didn’t make an electric A2, the platform was perfect for it.
In terms of total lifetime carbon footprint, there are many reports arguing that EVs win out, but here we will look at the daily stuff. I put the Nissan Leaf in there for comparison too, but since the one I drove for a year was a lease with insurance, tax, and service included, I put the lease expense in grey and left out financing of the others since they were paid for in total from day one anyway:
Note the relatively low fuel costs on the Audi compared to its service costs: It had exceptionally high mileage, but unfortunately, very expensive lightweight parts that wore down very fast (e.g., magnesium rear brake drums and very thin front disc brakes).
This is real-world data, showing clearly how my daily driver vehicle expenses have changed, and even though the Audi was an impeccable build, the Tesla keeps up just fine and exceeds in comfort and size. This is why the Tesla Model 3 feels like a flying carpet — with a windshield, which, by the way, is the only part I have had replaced because it was stone chipped.
You may wonder about the much lower electricity cost on the Tesla compared to the Nissan, and there are a couple of reasons for this.
First and foremost, I still enjoy free Supercharger miles due to the referral program that was in place when I bought the Model 3. I racked up 20,000 km of free Supercharging before the program ended, and still have 7,600 km left, expiring early next year. Still, that’s only 12,400 km of the 100,000 km total (7,700 of 62,000 miles). The rest is home charging. The Nissan was more expensive to charge on the go than at home.
Secondly, a couple of years back, I prematurely lost a net metering agreement (like 90,000 other home solar owners in Denmark), which forced me to change my tactics, and thus I shifted to a scheme of spot price on electricity. This way, with effective use of timing my charge in conjunction with when my 4 kW solar array outputs the most, I can keep electricity cost very low. On a windy day in Denmark, electricity costs can even go negative! Very often at night, prices are very low. So, while fuel prices are surging these days, I have never paid so little for my transportation needs.
At exactly 100,000 km (62,000 miles), my Tesla Model 3 has reached total cost per mile parity with my Audi A2 (2 DKK/km = $0.46/mile). My data for the Audi is very precise, since I have sold it and therefore can calculate its exact depreciation in value. The depreciation value of the Tesla is estimated from prices I have found for similar models at similar milage on the Danish market.
Unless service expenses on the Model 3 unexpectedly starts shooting up from now on, it should turn out to be significantly cheaper to run than the A2 was when reaching the same mileage. Note that I bought the Audi A2 when it was 4 years old, so I got it cheaper than new. Still, the 186,000 km (116,000 miles) that I drove the A2 now has the same average cost per mile over 8 years as my Tesla Model 3 has achieved over 3 years.
Had I bought the A2 new, it probably would have lost to the Model 3 already (with a wide margin). Apart from the variable price on energy, it really comes down to durability, and if electric vehicles in general prove to be more durable due to fewer parts (e.g., drivetrain) and in spite of more expensive parts (e.g., battery), it really is a no-brainer to go electric.
As much as I love old cars, using the old fossil technology as a basis for relatively long-distance daily transport needs is throwing money out the window. The tipping point is probably somewhere around 10,000 miles per year for comparable vehicles, for now.
Battery & Range
A word on the battery, because that’s what everybody wants to know about: How long will it last? In Europe, the long-range rear-wheel-drive version was specified at 600 km WLTP. From the app screenshots above from new, then to 50,000 km (31,000 miles), and lastly to 100,000 km (62,000 miles), we can conclude that degradation was about 5% halfway, and about 9% up till now (based on 100% state of charge). On a daily basis, I rarely charge above 90%, but I will charge to 100% if I have access to cheap electricity and know I will start driving within a couple of hours.
Keep in mind I took off the hubcaps and put on some wider tyres at 14,000 km (8,700 miles), so all things considered, these numbers aren’t really that bad in my opinion. Also, I got the car in the beginning of summer, so the first number was probably never realistic. The degradation might even flatten a bit over time? We shall see. I’ll check back at 200,000.
Tesla Build Quality
You hear it often: Teslas have poor build quality. Sure, there are some panel alignment issues on my car, but I have heard about worse, as well as better. There will probably be big differences on builds from California, Texas, Berlin, and Shanghai, but until all models come out with the front and rear being made each in one piece on the Gigacasting machines, and bolted onto the structural battery pack, the last word is not said on build quality. Time will tell.
However, I have nothing to complain about on my car. Everything holds up just fine. I see no difference or weakness over time. It all feels just like the day I got it, for better and worse. Is it the quietest EV? No, so I had it silenced. Is it the best handling EV? Probably not, but it’s sporty enough any day on an open winding road, and in terms of acceleration, a 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds is likely more than adequate in your daily commute too.
Quite frankly, the interior is holding up just fine. I see no material difference compared to any other premium segment cars that I have experienced lately. Of course, I keep it clean, and protect the surfaces with the correct agents once in a while, but I’m certainly not overdoing it. This is a machine meant for daily use, and it most definitely lives up to that purpose.
I find the overall simplicity very compelling. Some people complain about missing buttons, knobs, and screens, but that just means fewer things that can break, and again, let me drive the point home as to why I invested in this unconventional product: lowest possible cost per mile.
Tesla Model 3 Maintenance
There are a few important points about maintenance, if you want to make sure that running costs are kept to a minimum. You can easily forget to do anything, because you will not be called in for checkups. So, here are a few things I have been made aware of and made sure to eventually get around to.
You may have heard that the brakes on a Tesla (or any EV for that matter) will last forever, or at least for the life of the car due to the wonders of regenerative braking, but there are a couple things to be aware of, especially if you live in areas with seasons of rain and snow.
In Denmark, a lot of salt is spread on roads to rid ice and snow (saline water has a lower freezing point than fresh water) and it causes heavy corrosion on metal parts. At 50,000 km (31,000 miles), I had the Tesla service center check on the brakes, and they found no problems. They cleaned and lubricated the calipers and moving pistons and off I went ($100 was all they charged me).
When I closed in on 100,000 km (62,000 miles), I had my tyres replaced, and the brakes were obviously up for another inspection. They were still functioning perfectly and had no wear to mention, but something else had happened:
On these photos of the left front and rear disc, you can see corrosion is starting to show. This is a problem, not for safety reasons at this point (because the function of the brakes are tested to be okay), but new guidelines have recently come into play where cars are called in for safety inspection in this country.
In Denmark, the first mandatory inspection is due 4 years after purchase of a new vehicle, and then every 2 years. The new rule is that if there are signs of corrosion on the brake disc surface, they must be replaced! And in my case, I was warned that corrosion was actually starting, as you can see on these close-ups. I have always had my regenerative braking set to maximum, but from now on I am going with the lower standard setting to make sure I use the brakes more often. Hopefully they will wear enough in the coming year to avoid the claim of replacement at the first inspection.
A complete set of discs is costly and I am pretty sure the little savings I get by not using them so much is not enough in comparison. Also, I would hate to discard a set of perfectly safe and effective discs because of tiny specks of corrosion. You might argue they are not as safe, but that’s the thing — in the inspection centers, the brakes are tested vigorously, and that should be enough no matter how the discs look, unless they are worn too thin of course.
On average, I have been doing 173 Wh/km = 5.8 km/kWh (278 Wh/mile = 3.6 miles/kWh), so far with full regenerative braking enabled, so we will see if that changes going forward in the standard setting.
The cabin filter is important to replace in good time, maybe once a year? I was a bit late to do this, which is stupid because it’s not that difficult to do yourself and it cost $50. It had started to get moldy when I replaced it after 2 years of use. Just do this once a year and it will be fresh and fine I guess.
I can’t really think of anything else. Please leave a comment below if I have neglected something important. I’m afraid I’m forgetting the functions of mobility due to the non-interfering nature of the EV technology. Ahem.
I may just have been lucky. I have heard about plenty of quality issues, and yes I have somewhat foggy tail lights, but nothing serious. This car is the single most expensive appliance I have ever bought, and yet it now costs me less than I would have ever imagined. The first year or so I was thrilled, awed, amazed, puzzled, impressed, and broke, but then all that started fading — not reversing, just fading. When something works effortlessly every single day, without changing, you adapt.
No new strange sounds, no change in performance, no change in mileage, no material change in battery capacity. Oh, wait, there was that over-the-air software update in late 2019 that boosted performance and range a tiny bit (maybe 1 or 2%?), and of course the regular updates to the user interface, making it a bit better every time. But apart from that, no change, no rattles, no squeaks, no bits and pieces falling off. And so far, it just gets cheaper on average for every mile driven.
I did not expect a new car model from an American car startup to keep it together so well after this many miles in 3 years, and I did not expect to often find myself forgetting about this futuristic mode of transportation I am using on a daily basis. Simply amazing. Having lived with other brands, this is not exclusive to Tesla — the sensation of simplicity is something any EV owner will attest to. No wonder EV sales are picking up:
Fresh numbers out of the Danish vehicle importers association reveals that 9,604 battery electric vehicles have been registered year to date, compared to 5,147 in the first 5 months of 2021, an increase of 86.6%. January to May 2021, battery electric vehicles had a market share of 7.1%. The same period this year, this number has increased to 17.6%. So, total vehicle sales going down, EV sales going up. Go figure.
It’s so strange to think about how alone I was in thinking and talking about EVs up until — well, just a couple of years ago really. Nowadays, I find myself answering the occasional question about range, charging, service, pollution, etc., when everybody around me discusses plans to replace their fossil-fueled vehicle with an EV, and more commonly: when they have actually done so.
I’m thrilled that all of this is finally happening, but I’m feeling more and more detached from the process. Using an EV in my daily life has become trivial, and the number of EVs out on the roads is growing exponentially. EVs are very rapidly becoming the new normal, and since I have imagined this for the last 4 decades, it’s hard to comprehend that it’s actually happening now.