Tesla Model 3 road trip supercharging
Photo: James Carter

A winter drive from Toronto to Ottawa and back showed James Carter and his family how, with the current state of destination charging, EV road trips require planning and precision. Read on to see how the trip unfolded

We’re now almost ready for our first family electric road trip in our Tesla Model 3 SR+, from Toronto to Ottawa and back for the long weekend to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators. The trip is 400 kilometres each way, which is theoretically possible without stopping, but given that the car isn’t fully charged (it’s currently at about 75 per cent) and it’s cold (-5°C), we’ll have to stop and charge at least once, maybe twice.

Things we’ll find out:

  • Value of Tesla Superchargers vs. J1772 chargers
  • Accuracy of cold weather range and Tesla energy usage predictions
  • Ease of finding charging stations
  • General cruising comfort and long-distance autopilot usage

Let’s see how it all goes.

Pushing off

We left Toronto with an indicated 280 km range from a 75 per cent charge. Upon leaving we entered the Ottawa address in the Model 3’s navigation, and it suggested that two charging stops, one in Port Hope for 20 minutes, the other in Kingston for 30 minutes, meaning we’d arrive with 10 per cent charge remaining – not much of a buffer. It also predicted a five-hour trip, which is one hour longer than normal.

Tesla charging in Toronto driveway
James Carter’s electric car, charging pre-departure in Toronto

Once we’d cleared the city, it became obvious that the car was using much more energy than it had assumed – about 230 Wh per kilometer at 120 km/h. This meant we arrived at Port Hope with less energy than expected, so I decided to leave it on the Supercharger for an extra 15 minutes.

We faced the same issue at Kingston, and were fortunate to grab the last available Supercharger. As we were having lunch, we let the car fully charge to ensure a large buffer, with 365 km range indicated.

Just as well, as we made the remaining 180 km to Ottawa with only an indicated 35 km left, taking just under six hours. There’s no charger at the hotel, so after we settle, I’m off to find juice, with the car indicating “very low charge.” By the way, the Leafs beat the Senators 4-2.

The best of times

A couple (very) high points about road tripping with a Tesla:

  1. Autopilot: Though we all know it is completely mis-named, the self-steer/active cruise control is a huge benefit in reducing driver fatigue. Even though you’re still actively engaged in driving, reducing the focus in always ensuring that the car is properly aligned in the lane is a seriously big help, in much the same way normal cruise control alleviates constant throttle inputs to maintain a constant speed, and therefore reduces fatigue. Ours does not have FSD (Full Self-Driving Capability), and I can see one touch lane change from that being a real help.
  2. Supercharger network: It is an absolute understatement to say that using this is completely seamless and hassle free. I can’t emphasize how important this is in EV ownership. More on this later.

These two parts of Model 3 cruising are particularly good, if not industry leading. The Model 3 is also pretty close to its direct competitors in cruising comfort – it’s a quiet, relaxing place to be, with perhaps the biggest issue being a slightly fidgety ride from the 19” sport rims with winter tires.

Problems plugging in

Once we had arrived at the Ottawa hotel, we had to figure out charging – which had to be sorted before the big hockey game. My wife’s family had arranged the hotel and hadn’t considered our EV, so there’s no charger on site. A real drag.

This meant consulting PlugShare for nearby destination chargers, and with only 30 km remaining, it had to be close. With some looking, we found one about a half mile away, outside a condo. However, due to a unique app sign-up and an ominous warning about non-registered visitor vehicles being liable to towing, we decided to move on.

“There are still some very large infrastructure gaps for EVs”

James Carter, Vision Mobility

The next was at a Mitsubishi dealership another half mile away. On arrival we did a loop around the building and found the Level 2 ChargePoint charger, which was available. Unfortunately, my ChargePoint account, which I needed to add a credit card to, wouldn’t work. I rang the helpful customer assistance who got it working, but at this time an hour had gone by, and I now faced a one mile walk back to the hotel in -5°C before getting ready for the game.

In other words, if you think pumping gas is a pain, the worst of EV charging can be much worse. There are still some very large infrastructure gaps for EVs.

After seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs win the hockey game, a huge wait for Ubers and an eventual order mixup meant I ended up walking back to get the car from the Mitsubishi dealership charger (the rest of the family took Uber), about one and a half to two miles. This meant a 45-minute walk/run in -7°C at 10pm, and on occasion, shin deep snow. On the bright side, it was good exercise, but this is not something I would want to do regularly.

“Non-Tesla charging is still the wild west, and dealers clearly don’t ‘get’ the opportunity in front of them – and that equals disruption”

James Carter, Vision Mobility

Arriving at the dealership, I found that dealer staff had blocked my exit path with a vehicle, but with *just* enough gap to squeeze past. Clearly the dealer was sending a message – this charger isn’t for use outside business hours, despite the listing on PlugShare.

It goes to show that non-Tesla charging is still the wild west, and dealers clearly don’t “get” the opportunity in front of them – and that equals disruption.

The journey home

Today we return to Toronto and it’s going to be interesting.

Last night we Supercharged in Ottawa to just under 100 per cent during dinner in preparation for returning, with the car showing around 350 km of range. Leaving our dinner party halfway through to move out the Supercharger bay, however, wasn’t cool.

However, after the 24 km back to the hotel and some range loss in the -15°C overnight, the car was showing a range of under 300 km, meaning it was unlikely we’d make it to Kingston even though it was only 180 km away.

Our Tesla's route from Ottawa to Toronto
Part of the route mapped from Ottawa to Toronto

This meant getting up early and driving to the nearby Brookstreet Hotel for Tesla destination charging, where I stayed for about an hour and a quarter, topping it up to an indicated 335 km. Getting to Kingston, however, would still be tight.

Out on the road we decided to keep our speed to 115 km/h to play it safe with our battery life. After only about 20 minutes in the car, in fact, it told us to “Keep speed below 120 km/h to reach destination”. Soon after, it gave us the same warning for 115 km/h.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, we dropped our speed to 100 km/h as a precautionary buffer. After 20 km we saw our buffer quickly increase, allowing us to up the speed to 110 km/h and later 115, then 120 km/h. We’ll be fine, we figured.

Lessons learned

After reaching Kingston safely, but with only 10 per cent charge remaining, we discovered all the Superchargers were in use. We only had to wait a few minutes, however, before someone left.  

While we ate lunch, the car charged to about 80 per cent before we headed for Toronto. We had one more stop at Port Hope for a 15-minute charge and restroom break, and landed home with about 20 per cent charge remaining. A complete non-event after our Ottawa issues.

Some reflections on the trip:

  1. Cold weather, plus 120 km/h speed, plus load, plus 19″ sport wheels with winter tires all resulted in a big hit to range.
  2. Destination charging is essential for a pleasant road trip.
  3. EV charging, apart from Tesla, is still the wild west. If you’re using J1772, a road trip would be much harder.
  4. The Model 3 is a pleasant road trip companion, and auto pilot is worth its weight in gold.

Key learning: It’s perfectly possible to road trip a Tesla Model 3 SR+. Just do a little planning beforehand to avoid some major hassles.

This article originally appeared as a seven-part post on LinkedIn.

James Carter Vision Mobility

James Carter is Principal Consultant of Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy that provides services to OEMs, Tier 1s, dealers, startups, industry organizations and companies on strategies to succeed in a New Mobility environment. Prior to that, James worked for Toyota for 19 years in Australia, Asia and North America.

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I recently did a similar 1100 km roundtrip from Victoria to Portland (and beyond). Using mainly superchargers made the trip easy, but the colder weather definitely reduces range in the SR+. I only use J1772 chargers as “last resort”.

  2. As an EV owner for >3.5years I would like to share some experiences/advice. I have done a 16 day roadtrip from Toronto to PEI before there was much fast charging, a trip from Toronto to the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and numerous Ontario tips. The beauty of an EV is that you start every am with a full (when you need it) “tank”.
    Suggestions for your next roadtrip: a)always leave with 100% charge (admittedly awkward if you do not have home charging) b)A bit of planning is essential. Do not leave accommodation details to someone else, make sure you have some kind of destination charging. Tesla or J1772 (ironically often provided by Tesla) is great but I have used a dryer plug (10-30) at family and at B&Bs I have used stove plugs (14-50) and 120v (5-15). I call ahead if staying at a B&B and ask. I have never had anyone decline use of a “3prong standard 120v outlet with nothing else on that circuit”. c)Do not underestimate what 120v 12a charging will do. In your 3 SR+ you get ~2% an hour. So charging 17:00 to 10:00 gets you almost a third of a “tank”. d)You did well by making food and washroom stops at charging places. e)It is much much easier to road trip in an EV in 2020 than it was in 2016 or 2017. f)Kingston supercharger is the most crowded one in Canada as it has only 6 stalls. If you can make it 1hr away Belleville has 20 stalls. Brockville Supercharger has been pending for >1.5years. Once built Ottawa and Montreal trips to/from GTA will be easier. g)If you have to rely on J1772 and Chademo/CCS at substantially <100kw DC fast charging then long distance travel will be slower, less spontaneous and probably more expensive. If you have a Tesla with a Chademo adapter plus thick extension cords and multiple adapters for your mobile connector you are as set as you can be in 2020. Still check plugshare when going off the beaten path. Enjoy.

  3. Great article as I too have done the Ottawa trip from Caledon Ontario several times. In the colder temp months, my 40kWh Leaf is no match for the distances between Fast Chargers so I don’t take it. I car swap and drive my wife’s ICEV. However, if I were to have a Model 3 or other 60+ kWh battery sized vehicle, then I would no problem do it.

    I did take a Jaguar i-Pace to Ottawa and back in June of last year, which is an easy task (only 1 charge stop needed) with spring/summer temps. I would imagine I would need 2 stops at -10C temps.

    It really depends on the vehicle as well as the owners/drivers want to drive an EV farther distances. I find the stops to be part of the journey.

  4. I do not own a Tesla car yet, my eyes on a Cybertruck. Its great to hear about both Canada and USA Super Chargers, and more importantly when Mitsubishi dealers block chargers. This is probably why Tesla does not show the competitor chargers on their navigation screen.
    I talk to the general public here in BC to see if anyone would buy a Tesla car. Most times they are worried about charging. Also, surprised when I meet people who want the Cyber truck. Did not expect it to be so popular.

  5. I did a 4200 km trip in 2018 in my new Chevy Bolt. Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York. It worked fine but I had to be disciplined about planning. I was glad to be travelling solo so that I could just stop and read as I charged, without little ones looking for a pool! In Portage du Notre Dame, I stopped midday at a municipal charger and it was so hot and so beautiful I found a B&B and spent the night. Total electric costs For the trip: $13.00.

  6. How does the SR+ perform in Toronto/Ottawa snow? I am moving back to Canada with an SR+ and am concerned about rear wheel drive in 30 cms of snow 🙂

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