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Tesla Battery, Range and Charging

Aug 10, 2021

Why have I seen a drop in my range? What’s the best way to charge my Tesla? We’re going to help answer those questions.

The topic about the battery, in particular, the rated range and charging, has been revisited repeatedly. But there are a few battery experts out there and truly good experts that really do know a lot about lithium-ion batteries which coincidentally is basically what the Tesla battery is. The problem is many of these experts have slightly different takes on how the battery works and what’s best for it. As a result, you get a lot of mass confusion and misinformation being spread about all topics surrounding the battery from the best charging practices to battery degradation.

In the end, we found we had more questions than answers and realized a lot of the answers were right there in front of us. That was on Tesla’s website and owner’s manual.

Tesla has the best advice about your battery and who better to go to for advice on your battery than Tesla.

This article is to break down everything Tesla has to say about the battery from the best charging habits to helping you better understand what the rated range really means and everything in between.

Note: All of the information about Tesla is only coming from Tesla’s website and owner’s manual.

What is MPGe?

Most likely, any car you had before your Tesla was powered by gas, and like most people, you probably had a general idea of what kind of gas fuel you got. The mileage was measured by how many miles you can drive on a gallon of gas (MPG).

When you are looking and buying a new gas car, one of the more common questions is, “what’s the gas mileage?” You can typically find that information on the sticker of the car. The number is given to that particular car by strict standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency or the EPA. For example, the Mustang GT500 gets 14 MPG which is the average between city and highway combined.

Since electric cars don’t use gas, the EPA had come up with a new way to measure the fuel economy. They came up with MPGe which is short for miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent.

So what is MPGe exactly?

MPGe stands for miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent. The equivalent part is what we’re talking about energy in a gallon of gas as opposed to the volume of a gallon of gas which is what MPG basically refers to.

Numerically, the EPA says that a gallon of gas has 115,000 BTUs or British thermal units of potential energy in it and is equivalent to 33.7 kWh of stored electricity. KWh is typically how you measure the capacity of a battery. The math isn’t simple as you can imagine. This is part of how they actually pull that equation together.

Why does MPGe exist?

MPGe exists because the electric car market required something in order for shoppers to be able to compare other electric cars and to be able to compare electric hybrids and regular gas vehicles so that they can know what kind of value they’re getting.

However, a high MPGe doesn’t mean that they can actually get that many miles on a full charge.

If an electric car comes with a battery lower than 33.7 kWh, the car can’t get that miles on a full charge, while if the car has a 40 or a 60 kWh battery, it can get further than what their MPGe is.

Tesla Range

Tesla driving range is the distance that a Tesla can travel on a single charge.

Tesla Displayed Range

In the case of the Tesla Model 3 Long Range, the estimated driving range by EPA is 310 miles. It’s the Tesla estimated, rated or displayed range.

The number of miles indicated by the battery icon on the Touchscreen is the estimated range of your current state of battery that has been adapted on fixed EPA test data. This number isn’t impacted by your driving habits, but it is impacted by the temperature.

Tesla Actual Range

The actual range and the displayed range are different because the actual range does indeed depend on your personal driving habits and your environment.

Your estimated actual miles can be accessed in an energy app on your Touchscreen, and this number gives you a more accurate and reliable number to work with.

It takes an average consumption of the energy over the last 5, 15, or 30 miles and gives you a better idea of how far you can drive on your current state of charge.

 

Tesla-actual-range

 

This will fluctuate during your trip depending on how fast you’re driving or if you’re going up or down hills, or the temperature outside.

If you put a destination of navigation, it will predict the percentage of battery you have left once you reach your destination.

Hopefully, this clears up any misconceptions you may have had about the displayed range on the screen.

Tesla Battery Range Fluctuations And Degradation

Why does the displayed range fluctuate up and down? This question creates a lot of frustration and concerns for a lot of Tesla owners, especially when they see it go down.

Almost everyone’s initial reaction is battery degradation, but is it really battery degradation? According to Tesla, ”It’s natural for this to fluctuate due to the nature of battery technology and how the onboard computer calculates range.” 1

After digging a little deeper, I discovered Tesla expands on this by stating ”It is normal for estimated range to decrease slightly over the first few months before leveling off. Over time, you may see a gradual, but natural, decrease in range at full charge.” 1

 

 

You may have seen this chart or slight variations of it. It certainly is backed up by Tesla’s statement, but it looks a little like Tesla’s very brief and simple way of explaining battery degradation and really doesn’t answer a lot of questions and concerns.

Let’s take a look at this graph from Stats App. The graph displays the daily average efficiency across all users of the app. The ridges indicate higher efficiency during the warmer months of the year. As a result, more range. The troughs show lower efficiency during the colder winter months when there is also less range.

 

 

This graph helps illustrate what Tesla says about fluctuating range.

It’s natural for estimated range to change, particularly over time or with a recent change in temperature.” 1

Tesla expands on this by saying, “Range can be impacted by extreme cold or hot temperatures; however, the impact will seem far more noticeable in cold weather.” 1

This certainly explains the big drop in efficiency, and many times the range will see a drop as well during the colder winter months as illustrated by the Stats App.

They then go on to say, “Tesla high voltage batteries are regulated to keep the battery temperature within optimal boundaries. Even if the vehicle is not being operated, the high voltage battery temperature is monitored and regulated to prolong its lifespan and performance.” 1

In conclusion, the estimated or displayed range can be impacted by the outside temperature which can explain fluctuations in the range. A drop in your range after a full charge can mean one of two things or, in some cases, both:

1. Natural battery degradation

2. Recent drop in the outside temperature

Since the battery is more efficient in warmer temperatures, you may start to see an increase in your range after a full charge. Tesla does not have much to say about battery degradation on their website or even the owner’s manual, continuing to leave many in the dark. When you start seeing alarming drops in the displayed range, we hope some of you can better understand some of the fluctuations you may have been seeing in your displayed range.

According to Tesla, it’s normal to see slight drops in the displayed range over the first few months before leveling off. This helps explain early signs of degradation for many new Tesla owners.

Best Ways To Increase Your Range

How to get the most range out of your battery according to Tesla.

Let’s get started with the basics directly from the Tesla’s website,”Your driving behaviors and environment play a big role in achievable range. Frequent stop-and-go driving, inclement weather and uphill driving put a natural strain on the battery. To maximize range, it’s important to watch your driving speed and enable regenerative braking when possibleAs you drive, be mindful of common reasons your range may decrease more rapidly: high driving speeds, stopandgo driving, short trips, uphill travel, inclement weather such as rain, snow, and headwinds.”  1

Some of the other basics quite honestly will also help electric cars get better range:

1. Be sure to maintain the car’stire pressure. You can find that information on the inside of the driver’s side door jamb. 1

2. Remove any unnecessary cargoto help lighten the load. More weight requires more energy to move the car. 1

3. If you have a roof rack orbike rack on the rear of the car, be sure to remove them when not in use, which will obviously help reduce added drag.

4. You can also reduce aerodynamic drag bymaking sure all of the windows are up. If you have air suspensions such as in the Model S and X, drop it to low or very low when driving on the highway and use the aero wheel covers if you have them.

One of the many advantages electric cars have over gas cars is the ability to take the energy created from slowing down, braking and putting it back into the battery.

Tesla recommends that you take full advantage of this by setting the regenerative braking to standard and even better on one pedal driving to help control and avoid rapid acceleration and deceleration which uses more energy. Tesla recommends setting your car to chill mode.

 

 

As we’ve learned that cold weather can have a big impact on your range and here are some of the things Tesla recommends to help reduce those impacts:

1. Keep your Tesla plugged in whenever possible. This will help the battery retain some heat. 1

2. Precondition the battery before turning on your Tesla. When possible, plug in and charge while you precondition.1

Preconditioning your battery is very easy. It’s as simple as going into the Tesla app, either turning on the heater or defroster.

The best way for this to be effective is if you’re plugged in; otherwise, it will use the battery power to precondition itself.

You can also use scheduled departure which is essentially a timer in the car set for the time you plan to leave the next day.

Simply plug in your car, and it will be charged to the level you set and precondition for optimal performance based on the time you’ll be leaving.

If you live in a cold climate, Tesla also recommends you watch for the snowflake icon. A blue snowflake icon may appear on your touch screen if your car battery is too cold to access all of its stored energy. When this icon is displayed, you may also notice that battery power and regenerative braking are limited. Once the battery is warmed, the snowflake will disappear.

Charging, driving and preconditioning are all ways to warm your battery quicker.

3. Limit high use of heat and air conditioning. Instead, use seat heaters to keep cabin climate at an optimal temperature. 1

Other than mentioning limited use of air conditioning, Tesla doesn’t have a lot about driving in hot temperatures. They do mention to keep the air conditioning on during supercharging to help keep the cabin temperature cool, while also using energy from the grid rather than the battery.

In conclusion, there are a lot of ways to help you get the most range out of your battery. The most challenging time of the year to do this is during the colder winter months making the car less efficient. Tesla has provided several tips to limit that impact as outlined.

Most of these tips are common sense, while others require a little more knowledge about the car to take full advantage of them.

Best Tesla Charging Practices

When it comes to the battery and charging, in particular, there are a lot of opinions about the best practices. Some say you should only charge to 70% on a daily basis, while others say 80% or 90%. There are even some people who think it’s okay to charge 100% every day.

But what does Tesla have to say about all of this?

Let’s start with how Tesla defines charging habits.

Charging habits include how often you charge, what voltage charger is used and how long the car stays plugged in. These can all have a direct impact on range depletion. Adopting healthy charging habits can also improve range.” 1

There’s actually a lot to unpack. Let’s start with Tesla’s statement of how often you charge a Tesla.

How Often Do You Charge?

When asked what’s the best way to charge a Tesla, or should I charge my Tesla every night, Tesla answers by saying, “We recommend plugging in every evening to top off the battery. This ensures you always wake up to a fully charged Tesla.” 2

It is worth mentioning that what they mean by always wake up to a fully charged. Tesla does not necessarily mean a battery charge to 100%.

Most likely, many of you use rechargeable nickel cadmium batteries before which have what is known as the memory effect. This is when the battery gradually loses its maximum capacity if it’s repeatedly charged only after being partially discharged and the best practice is to fully discharge the battery before charging to preserve the lifetime of the battery.

 

 

If that’s what you’ve been trained to do and have used in the past, your natural reaction to the Tesla battery is to fully discharge it before charging, but Tesla states, “Tesla uses lithium ion batteries so there is no memory effect, this means there is no need to deplete the battery before charging. We recommend plugging in as often as possible.” 2

Tesla also mentions this in the owner’s manual that “There is no advantage to waiting until the battery’s level is low before charging. In fact, the battery performs best when charged regularly.3

Tesla also discourages discharging the battery to 0%. “Discharging the battery to 0% may result in damage to vehicle components.” 3

 

 

The chart highlights the differences between lithium-ion and nickel cadmium batteries.

What’s Voltage Charger Used?

Let’s take a look at what Tesla means by what voltage charger is used. This simply means what type of charger is best for daily charging and Tesla recommends Level 1/2 charging.

Maintain a regular, everyday charging routine using a lowvoltage charger. It’s best to rely on highvoltage charging (i.e. Supercharging) only when necessary.”  1

So does this mean you run the risk of damaging the battery if you Supercharge every day?

According to Tesla, “The peak charging rate of the Battery may decrease slightly after a large number of highrate charging sessions, such as those at Superchargers.” 3

This may sound alarming, but the beautiful part is even if you do use Superchargers frequently, Tesla has taken steps to help protect the battery no matter what condition the battery is.

To ensure maximum driving range and battery safety, the battery charge rate is decreased when the battery is too cold, when it is nearly full or when its condition changes with usage and age. These changes in the condition of the battery may increase total Supercharger time by a few minutes over time.” 3

In the end, Tesla states several times on their website that it’s always best to only use Superchargers when necessary, like road trips or when you need a quick charge, otherwise Level 1 or 2 charging is best for daily charging to help maintain your battery’s health.

How Long Does The Car Stay Plugged In?

Next we find out what Tesla means by how long the car stays plugged in. In the owner’s manual, Tesla states, “Model S and all Teslas in general has one of the most sophisticated battery systems in the world. The most important way to preserve the Battery is to leave your vehicle plugged in when you’re not using it.” 3

What we’ve learned is by leaving the car plugged in, it helped keeps the battery warm during cold temperatures and improves the range, but there are other reasons to leave it plugged in as such that goes on to say, “This is particularly important if you are not planning to drive the car for several weeks. When plugged in, the car wakes up when needed to automatically maintain a charge level that maximizes the lifetime of the battery.”  3

What Percentage Should You Charge The Battery On A Daily Basis?

Now we go on to one of the more controversial battery charging topics, what percent should you charge the battery on a daily basis?

I’m going to make this as simple as possible by starting with a quote from Tesla’s website “For regular use, we recommend keeping your car set within the Daily range bracket, up to approximately 90%. Charging up to 100% is best saved for when you are preparing for a longer trip.” 2

The ‘Daily’ range bracket is seen on the charging screen in the car and also in the app. The range bracket varies between the lowest at 50% to the highest at 90%.

 

 

That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Tesla does not indicate which percentage is better, but they do mention this “whenever possible, don’t let the battery go above 90% or below 20%.” 3

To summarize what Tesla says about what percentage to charge to on a daily basis, they recommend charging anywhere between 50% and 90% and go on to say it’s best to avoid charging above 90% and letting it drop below 20% whenever possible.

In Conclusion

For anyone who has researched the best charging practices for a Tesla battery, you probably discovered you can quickly find yourself going deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole. There are so many quote-unquote experts and opinions on what’s best for the battery. In the end, you find yourself with more questions and concerns than before.

But if you trust what Tesla has to say about this topic and decide to follow the guidelines that have been addressed in this article, it should be very simple.

Best Tesla charging practices:

1. keep your car plugged in wheneverpossible.

2. Use Level 1or 2 chargers during your daily charging and save supercharging for road trips.

3. Set yourdaily charging level to max out between 50% & 90%

4. Trying to avoid letting it drop below 20%and going above 90% whenever possible.

Outside of that, Tesla’s got you covered with software to help maintain and protect the battery. Hopefully, you discovered a few things about the best charging practices that should help ease your mind at least a little.

How Do You Charge A Tesla?

How do you charge your Tesla? Did you know your Tesla has different ways of charging? There are a lot of questions that cover different levels and types of charging.

When Tesla delivers your brand new Tesla to your house, they supply to you with most people call it charging unit or Tesla calls Mobile Connector. However, technically, it calls electric vehicle supply equipment or EVSE.

Before we get into that, let’s go briefly over three different ways you can charge your Tesla.

Level 1 Charging

Level 1 charging uses a typical 110-volt household outlet. You may also refer to trickle charging. This is also the slowest way to charge your car since typically you get about 3-5 miles of range per hour.

 

 

Level 2 Charging

You can do Level 2 charging at home. Most people need to have an electrician run proper wiring from your breaker box, but it’s well worth it because you can get over 40 miles of charge per hour depending on the circuit breaker you have installed.

You will be able to charge at both these levels with the included EVSE that Tesla supplies, but in order to get a Level 2, you’ll need an adapter.

DC Fast Charging

The fast way of charging is known as Level 3, technically, DC fast charging or, in the Tesla world, Supercharging.

With their latest V3 Supercharging network, your car can charge as fast as 1,000 miles per hour. Having this charging speed at home would be nice, but most homes don’t come with this power-up.

 

 

Now go back to your electric vehicle supply equipment or the EVSE. The reason it calls that is because it does just that supply the electricity your battery needs to charge, but believe it or not, it doesn’t directly charge the battery.

Instead, your Tesla has an on-board charger. The EVSE cannot directly charge the battery because the battery stores the energy as Direct Current, also known as DC energy.

The energy that comes from your house through your EVSE provides Alternating Current, also known as AC power. The on-board charger takes that AC power and converts it to DC power the battery needs.

 

 

However, since Supercharging uses DC power, it skips the on-board charger, altogether and goes directly to the battery.

 

 

Outside of it, you may have noticed instead of Supercharging, the charging network outside Tesla simply calls DC fast charging. Now you know why they call it that.

If you’re charging from home using a Level 2 charger, it’s important to know that not all Tesla are created equal. Some will have the capability of faster charging than others.

For example, all Performance and Long Range versions of the S 3 X & Y have an on-board charger capable of 11.5 kW or 48 amps. With a 60-amp breaker, it will be able to get as much as 44 miles per hour. Those rates can only be attained with a unit capable of supplying that kind of amperage, such as the Tesla Wall Connector, or other third-party units.

 

 

 

That mobile connector that comes with the car is only capable of delivering about 32 amps on a 50-amp breaker. Once again, you need to make sure you have the correct adapter for either a NEMA 6-50 or NEMA 14-50 outlet which can be purchased.

However, the Model 3 Standard Range Plus and the Model Y Standard Range have an on-board charger capable of 7.7 kW or 32 amps. And with a 40-amp breaker, they are capable of getting as much as 30 miles per hour.

Hopefully, you learned two or three things about charging, but there is more for you to learn. It’s more complicated than what represents in this article. We just give you a basic idea of different ways of charging and how your car accepts a charge.

Tesla Phantom Drain

The term “phantom drain” was developed by the Tesla community, and I couldn’t find it anywhere on Tesla’s website or owner’s manual.

In fact, Tesla doesn’t really have a technical term for energy loss while the car’s parked. They just give advice on how to reduce that loss. To keep things simple, I’ll continue to refer to this “loss” as “phantom drain”.

Although not the most reliable source, here is how Wikipedia defines phantom drain or at least variations of this term.

Standby power, also called vampire power, vampire draw, phantom load, ghost load or leaking electricity, refers to the way electric power is consumed by electronic and electrical appliances while they are switched off or in standby mode.” 4

Tesla is no strange to this, and this variety of defines of phantom drain depends on several factors which we’ll go over a little bit. Let’s get started with this quote from owner’s manual.

NOTE: When left idle and unplugged, your vehicle periodically uses energy from the Battery for system tests and recharging the 12V battery when necessary.” 3

This is Tesla’s basic definition of phantom drain or, as they call it, “discharge rate”.

The Battery can discharge at a rate of approximately 1% per day, though the discharge rate may vary depending on environmental factors (such as cold weather), vehicle configuration, and your selected settings on the touchscreen.3

On average, every Tesla is expected to at very least lose 1% of battery per day.

Situations can arise in which you must leave Model S or any Tesla unplugged for an extended period of time (for example, at an airport when traveling). In these situations, keep the 1% in mind to ensure that you leave the Battery with a sufficient charge level. For example, over a two week period (14 days), the Battery may discharge by approximately 14%.3

This is one of the reasons why Tesla recommends keeping your car plugged in whenever possible to help reduce and even prevent the phantom drain from occurring.

As we mentioned that the outside temperature could have an impact on the range, especially in cold weather when the battery is less efficient, but it’s the case not only when you’re driving, but while you’re parked.

Even if the vehicle is not being operated, the high voltage battery temperature is monitored and regulated to prolong its lifespan and performance – this is why you may notice the compressor running even while parked.”  1

It’s not just the outside temperature that can impact how much the phantom drain you might see, but your personal settings of the car can play a role in the phantom drain.

In some cases, you may notice that consumption is higher. We recommend deactivating features such as preconditioning, Sentry Mode, Keep Climate On and any aftermarket equipment when not needed.1

Unfortunately, you lose out on any of the benefits from the features you turn off to help reduce the phantom drain. For example, preconditioning helps heat the battery to an optimal temperature to give you better range or driving, especially in cold temperatures. However, this feature is best utilized when you’re plugged in; otherwise, it will use energy from the battery to precondition itself and heat the cabin.

When you have the Sentry Mode turn on, the camera sensors remain power on and ready to record suspicious activity whenever your Tesla is locked and parked. This will prevent the car from going into Sleep Mode and will give you  a higher normal phantom drain.

Most of these features do require the battery to at least be 20% of charge. Once you drop below that, they will disable on their own.

Although Tesla doesn’t technically use the word “phantom drain”, they still point out what will drain your battery while it’s parked, and the severity of that drain depends on your own personal settings in the car.

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