In early 2020, just before lockdown, we bought a used 2015 Tesla Model S 70D from Tesla. Naturally, if I’d have known that I would hardly need a car for at least a year due to a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have bought it. But as a used car it has worked out very well.

EVs in general make very good used propositions and I don’t think this is widely appreciated. The media in general is obsessed with perpetuating myths such as short battery life, dangerous fires and autonomous cars, none of which are really a concern to any EV drivers. In fact most batteries are lasting a lot longer than anyone thought they would, EVs have fewer fires than ICE cars and any cruise control or “autonomous” features make cars far safer. This last fact is now reflected in lower insurance costs.

EVs are inherently simple and operate at much lower temperatures than IC (internal combustion) engines. These factors both make them more durable. All three EVs I have owned (Leaf, ioniq and this car) have been bought used, either from a dealer, privately and from the manufacturer. None have had any significant issues or unexpected costs.

The Model S is certainly both more entertaining and relaxing compared to my previous car, the Ioniq 28. The centre of gravity is lower. It does have amazing roadholding and there is never a hint of loss of grip. Apart from an initial fault with the water heater, which took two flatbed trips back to a Tesla Service Centre (and certainly made me sure I made the right call in buying a Tesla with a warranty!); this particular car has been amazing. It’s a very easy car to own, mainly because it can charge literally anywhere. Almost no servicing is needed. There’s no tax to pay. It’s large enough to take anything I need to carry: a bike without taking any wheels off; large panels of wood for DIY; plus there’s room in the frunk (under the bonnet) and also under the boot floor, where I keep charging cables etc. The cruise control (an early version of the unfortunately – named “Autopilot” and virtually the same “MobilEye” system as fitted to our Ioniq) works really well on motorways. Literally all you have to do is to choose when to overtake. Indicate and nudge the steering wheel, and the car moves into the next lane.

Downsides are that the car does consume some energy standing still. This is a Tesla “feature” – but since it also helps keep the battery healthy I don’t mind. Charging isn’t really very fast unless the battery is hot. Again, this is a battery protection feature and other EVs can also experience this, particularly liquid-cooled models, it’s been dubbed “coldgate”. Tesla have chosen batteries with high power density to deliver high performance, and a compromise is that they work best when quite hot. The battery management system won’t allow the highest charging speeds, nor much regen braking, with a cold battery. It’s easy to heat the battery from the Tesla app by asking for climate control, which works whether or not the car is charging. Most of the time our 28kWh Ioniq will charge faster than the Tesla at “rapid” chargers. The satnav isn’t as good as it could be in terms of routing, and the “big screen” or “MCU” in my car is an early Version 1, so can be slow to start. It uses a 3G data connection, so downloading maps and using the free Spotify or TuneIn can be patchy. But hey, first world problems.

Charging

One of the reasons we chose this particular car is that it has the optional “dual AC chargers” which in practise means it can take AC power at up to 22kW, or 32Amp 3-phase. This can be really useful in rural areas without rapid DC charging, which often do have AC charging posts, and will add around 70 miles per hour. This also means that an AC plugs intended for Renaults at older “rapid” charger will also deliver 22kW, and can be useful if other options fail. We can also use Tesla superchargers of course- although these represent only 11% of the UK’s rapid chargers- and with the CCS upgrade we can use any public DC charger as well. Potentially, with a Chademo adapter we could buy or borrow, our car can also use Chademo chargers- so every type of rapid in the UK can charge a Model S (or X). This is probably unique. Domestic charging at 10 amp on a 3-pin plug is also possible, though hideously slow.

I’ve found that charging rates are up to 110kW at very low state of charge, with a gradual drop as the battery fills up. So, around 55kW at 50% charge and so on. You can imagine that it’s best to use rapid charging only when the battery is very low, and this applies to any Tesla. Other cars can have a more constant charging profile. Fastest progress on a long trip would be to stay in the 0 to 50% charge region, unless you’re also stopping for a longer break.

The cost of charging varies from free, for many AC posts, to 35p per kWh (3 miles in this car). Typically you wouldn’t charge fully at a rapid, a 50% top up would cost around £10. Finding a charger is getting easier as there are so many in the UK now. You might have noticed them at BP stations and you’ll soon see them in far larger larger numbers at motorway stops.

93kW charging at a Tesla supercharger

Battery deterioration

If you believe some headlines, a 6 year old EV must have some significant capacity loss and will even need a replacement battery. Using ScanMyTesla we can read a wide range of variables and see a number of measurements such as temperatures, charge rates, HVAC settings and number of charge/discharge cycles and so on.

To determine battery deterioration, we need to know the original capacity. It turns out that Jason Hughes, the developer of ScanMyTesla, determined the real gross battery capacity and available capacity from CANbus readings. This isn’t exactly the same as the number on the badge, and for a 70kWh Tesla the new gross capacity was 71.2kWh and available was 68.8kWh. The difference is a “buffer” reserved by the car to protect the battery pack. Today the buffer is slightly higher, i.e. the car reserves a slightly larger amount at the bottom end, 4kWh, for battery protection.

After 5.6 years the car has lost 5.6% of its capacity, leaving 63.2kWh useable from a full charge. The car has now covered 43000 miles. So no, we don’t need a new battery and I don’t expect to any time soon. The model S has a relatively large battery with thermal management, so has covered fewer cycles than a smaller battery would. Thermal management means that the battery has never got as hot as, say, a Nissan Leaf’s battery, so the deterioration is significantly less.

In terms of range, at a real 70mph we can expect around 210 miles. This is around 20 miles less than when the car was new. As ever, weather makes quite a difference to range.

Upgrades

Tesla are treating owners of older cars fairly, and as newer hardware becomes available they are making it available to any older cars. Examples are the CCS charging upgrade and MCU replacement. The newer MCU has 4G data connection and Netflix. CCS upgrade costs £280 and MCU2 costs £1400. Personally, I’d rather spend £1400 on a newer TV for the home, if I wanted watch even more Netflix.

The CCS upgrade is more necessary- it’s the standard plug at public chargers now, and also because any new Tesla Supercharging facilities installed in Europe from 2020 onwards are CCS plug only. So if you didn’t have CCS then any new facilities, Tesla or otherwise, won’t work for you. We ordered it and a Tesla Ranger came and fitted it, and did the necessary firmware upgrade, on our drive. It has worked well at every rapid charger I’ve tried; Osprey, Ecotricity, and BP Pulse.

Servicing

We had the annual MOT roadworthiness test done in September at Cleevely EV and an “inspection service” for a very reasonable price.

Tesla do not schedule servicing for their EVs. This leads some to think it’s not required, but given that it’s still a car, servicing brakes and checking the suspension is still necessary. The brakes are standard Brembo, and can have the same corrosion issues as any other car used in a country with wet, salty roads. James of Cleevely EV has some good video of working on Tesla brakes, it’s easy to see that an annual service to lubricate the calipers and keep the pads moving freely, is far preferable to leaving the brakes until they need expensive replacement or even become dangerous. The Brembos are very easy to work on as long as you have a decent 3mm pin punch to knock the pins out- but that’s a story for another day.

Overall owning the Model S has been very easy. Although it’s physically wide that hasn’t been a problem. It hasn’t been used as much as I might have in the past, due to working from home. I typically commute only twice a week and we tend to use the car at the weekends.

There are suddenly more electric cars available, but until public charging gets more prolific I think a Tesla is the best long distance car simply due to the Supercharger network. No other network offers plug-and-play simplicity and reliability, nor the number of chargers at motorway locations. Yet.

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