Recently, I was traveling and rented a Tesla to drive for the day. For those of you who have driven and love this vehicle, you’re in for a comical treat. For those who have never driven one, this will be a great introduction of things to expect and traps to avoid. Enjoy as I share my first experience with this edgy electric vehicle.
In July of 2021 we traded in my beloved mom-truck, also known as a minivan, in for a new vehicle. We were departing the east coast and knew that going to the west coast we would want to have a more fuel-efficient vehicle. We landed on the electric car, the Chevy Bolt. This car provided us our first experience with an electric vehicle and we are thrilled with its affordability and features. It allowed us to go from spending around $50 for a tank of gas to less than $10 to charge on average IF we had to pay for electricity. While we enjoyed the savings and not paying for fuel, we also enjoy using our aviation fuel-planning skills in the process. Similar to planning fuel stops while flying, we have to think about planning our charge stops along our longer drives to ensure we have enough miles to get to our destination as well as back-up charge options along our route. Because the miles to go are estimated, the actual miles remaining can vary based on terrain, air temperature, and whether we are using the heater.
Since I am well-versed in our electric car, I assumed the Tesla would be similar. Boy, was I mistaken! I loaded the bags in the trunk and hopped in the car. Realizing I’d forgotten to grab something from my bag, I looked for the handle to exit and suddenly panicked. There was no typical door handle to pull to exit the car! It appeared that there was an additional window-type lever so I chanced it was the correct exit button and was relieved when the door clicked open. (See picture of the door handle below.)
I acquired the item from my bag and got back in the driver’s seat to start to familiarizing myself with the cockpit of my car for the day. I looked at the place where the speedometer is usually placed, only to realize that all the gauges were on the computer screen to my right in the center console of the dashboard. This is a small adjustment, so no big deal. To start the vehicle, I discovered the key card I was given needed to be placed near the cup holders. I pressed the brake, shifted the lever into drive, and rolled out on our adventures for the day.
We got to our first stop, parked, and exited the vehicle. I was in a hurry because we were on the way to an appointment and needed to grab some food beforehand. It was at this moment I realized I had no idea how to turn off or lock the vehicle. Flustered, I called my younger brother who has had a Tesla for some time and would know the answer in a flash. Thankfully, he answered my call and graciously walked me through how to turn off the vehicle and how to lock and unlock the car. There was no lock button like any other car I had ever driven. It was as if I was now in a space-age car from the Jetson’s era and I was clearly unqualified to fly this thing! My brother shared that there is a little camera to the right of the driver’s door. To lock the car with my key card device, I needed to hold the card near the camera and the car would lock. In his car, apparently, he has it paired to his phone and he just walks away, the car turns off, and locks. Ok Mr. Fancy pants, that’s awesome, but this lady just needs to turn the car off and lock it so I can grab my kids some food. Got it, and we were on our way. (See picture of the door camera below.)
Feeling relieved and slightly more confident, we continued to few errands. It was a warm day and I sat in a parking lot with the windows down. A nice gentleman walking by complimented my shiny, ruby red, space-age vehicle. I politely thanked the kind stranger, never mentioning that I was sitting there trying to look calm and remember how to adjust the climate control so I could close my window. I prayed the guy would not ask me any questions and I would not have to admit my inability to tell him anything intelligent about this car I knew minimal about. I merely replied, “I love a beautiful, bright colored vehicle.” Finally remembering where the climate control feature was located, I was able to adjust the temperature finally close my window, enjoying a more temperate zone inside the car.
Arriving at my last appointment for the day, I was walking inside when a well-intentioned woman sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine mentioned, “I love your car! I get mine later this year.” Deciding to help a sister out, I admitted it was a rental and it was my first time driving a Tesla. I shared a few tips and tricks I learned throughout the day in my soloing of the car. Realizing I left my phone in the car, I went back with my key fob to retrieve it. The door would NOT unlock. SHOOT! I was panicked. I could not even call for help if I wanted to! My new friend, encouraged me as I stood there, trying to unlock the vehicle. Finally, I got the door to unlock by holding the fob in the right location for a short bit. Relieved, I retrieved my phone, and we laughed about how handy it would be to have the unlock feature on our phone for this car, which is something she will definitely do when she gets hers.
As I finished my day, I reviewed what I had learned. Friends of mine who have a Tesla genuinely love it. As an electric car-owner myself, I see the value in the future of electric vehicles, as well as the challenges and drawbacks. Having used a different brand of an electric vehicle, the Tesla was not completely intuitive, but I did adapt quickly to the nuances of it. Coming from an aviation background, I learned to fly on what are called “steam gauges” or “six pack” instruments which are six instruments that tell a pilot the altitude, speed, and orientation of the aircraft. As technology advanced, glass-cockpits were introduced which merged the instruments into a sleek screen, compiling all the same information into a modern monitor of information. The glass-cockpit airplanes have taught me to seek and find information, which came in handy when adjusting to finding information on the Tesla. While the screen in the vehicle is low-profile and similarly compiles the car information as was done in airplanes, I can personally say that I like having the gauges in front of me like a regular vehicle, compared to in the center console as the Tesla does. As a pilot, I’m always keeping an eye on the gauges right in front of me such as oil pressure, temperature, and speed. One feature I do enjoyed about electric vehicles is the acceleration rate. The Tesla does not disappoint in this category. While I did not remember to try out “Ludacris mode,” which enables maximum acceleration on the Tesla, I did stomp the accelerator as I got onto the highway and up to speed with traffic. I can definitely say the acceleration of this car is fun and sporty, as is our current electric vehicle. One difference I noted after driving the Tesla all day was the steering. The vehicle steers well, but is definitely heavier to touch than my personal Chevy Bolt. My current car is more like a super golf cart than the tank-like Tesla.
So, would I drive one again? Yes. However, I’m not ready to purchase one for myself yet. Next time, I’ll be more versed in the quirks of the ultra-modern vehicle. I would be remiss if I did not note one more aviation parallel to driving a new vehicle. Not all aircraft fly, handle, or operate the same, and often their similarities can be misleading. A Cessna 150 for example, lands very differently than a Cessna 182. Both aircraft are high-wing, single-engine propeller planes, yet they are handled differently for landing. The importance of knowing how your vehicle handles is the same for cars as it is for airplanes. You must be familiar with how to operate things safely and efficiently. Failure to familiarize oneself can be life-threatening in an emergency. While driving a Tesla is similar to driving an average fuel-fed car, there are definitely some things one must know before hopping behind the wheel. None of the silly things I experienced were life-critical, but they sure reminded me why it is important to know your vehicle.
Have you ever had an experience where you tried something new and quickly realized you did not know as much as you thought you knew? How did you adapt?