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What Surprised EV Owner About Renting Model 3

by Staff

Gia Mora charges her rented Tesla Model 3 at a Supercharger station in a Santa Barbara, California, parking structure.
Amy Senger

  • Gia Mora, an electric-vehicle enthusiast, went on a 1,000-mile road trip in a Tesla Model 3.
  • She rented the car on Turo and wanted to see whether the sedan stood up to her electric ride.
  • Mora said it felt like driving a computer but that the Tesla delivered on the hype.

My friend Amy and I both drive electric cars. But after deciding to drive to our friend’s house in Northern California, neither her Nissan Leaf nor my Fiat 500e had the range necessary to conveniently travel 500 miles.

Amy Senger charges the Model 3 beside an olive farm in San Ardo, California.
Gia Mora

We decided to rent a longer-range electric car on Turo, a peer-to-peer car-rental app.

We were both curious about the Tesla experience, so we consulted an online Tesla Supercharger map, which showed 45,000 charging stations. It confirmed there were plenty of stations along our anticipated route.

We searched Turo for Teslas with unlimited mileage available for pickup and drop-off at John Wayne Airport. We booked a 2022 rear-wheel-drive Model 3 for about $65 a day.

This Model 3 offered a top range of about 260 miles — middling compared with long-range vehicles such as the ultraexpensive Lucid but plenty of battery capacity for our slow-travel purposes.

I was eager to try long-distance travel in an electric sedan, as I’d road-tripped over 18,000 miles in an electric SUV.

Would the Model 3 — the most popular electric vehicle in the world — live up to the hype?

Picking up a car rented from Turo

Senger picking up the Model 3 at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California.
Steve Mandzik

The first morning of our trip, the owner messaged Amy with the parking-spot number at the airport where she’d find the Tesla. She had to send a selfie holding her driver’s license in front of the Model 3’s license plate so the owner could verify her identity.

The owner then unlocked the car remotely and directed Amy to a key card inside, which had to be placed on a specific spot on the console for the Tesla to start.

Amy then drove from Orange County to Los Angeles County to pick me up.

While loading my luggage, we found an adapter in the trunk that allowed the Model 3 to be charged at stations outside the Supercharger network so we’d never wind up stranded with a dead battery.

Mora and her friend setting out on an all-American electric road trip.
Amy Senger

Amy and I agreed to charge after no more than 200 miles. For our journey north to Salinas, we’d need to stop twice for about 30 minutes for each charge.

We weren’t concerned about the added hour (or more if we had to wait for a charger) to our travel time because we planned to explore the area along each stop.

While charging in Santa Barbara, we visited a local coffee roaster and an olive farm in San Ardo while filling up at one of the farm’s 12 Superchargers.

Mora sips on locally roasted coffee while waiting for the Tesla charge in Santa Barbara.
Amy Senger

On our return trip, our charging stops included visiting the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo and a Whole Foods snack break in Santa Barbara during our final fill-up.

Even at the busiest Superchargers, we never had to wait for a station. And we traveled home on a Sunday — one of the most notoriously congested charging days.

Senger soaks in the opulence of the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California, while the Tesla charges in the parking lot.
Gia Mora

Flights may have cost slightly less than the total $400 that Amy and I split for our weekend of travel. But we loved our zero-emissions experience and participating in the sharing economy with Turo.

More than 1,000 miles later, our journey was successful, but there are some things I wish I’d known about road tripping in a rented EV.

Using a key card is different from controlling the car by app

Mora locks the Model 3 with a key card.
Amy Senger

Teslas owners can lock, unlock, and operate their cars with an app on their phones. Renters have to rely on key cards.

While we’d understood where to place the card to start the car, we couldn’t figure out how to lock it.

I’d searched online for “how to lock a Tesla,” and everything I read said the car locked itself when the driver exited. We assumed that applied to the key card, too.

On our last day up north, Amy realized we’d left the Tesla unlocked overnight and inadvertently left the climate control on, chipping away at our charge as the car sat in the late summer sun.

We’d fully charged the day before, so it set us back only a few minutes of extra charge time.

Again, I frantically searched online for how to lock the car, this time including the search term “key card.” We discovered tapping the card on the driver’s side door frame locked it.

We tapped the card. The Model 3 beeped once, the mirrors folded in, and the doors were locked. We were lucky nothing got stolen and would have benefited from knowing this before the penultimate day of our trip.

Tesla Superchargers are easy to use, but it’s hard for renters to track costs

The in-dash Model 3 touchscreen displays the mileage capabilities, the charging speed and time, and a warning to precondition the car for faster charging.
Amy Senger

Because Tesla manufactures EVs and runs the Supercharger network, the systems work together seamlessly.

Pull up to a station, open your charge port, and insert the charger. The Tesla automatically begins charging, billing directly to the credit card on file. There’s no messing with apps or external screens.

You can see the estimated charging time on the dash touchscreen, but the rates, which fluctuate based on charging speed and the time of day, are not evident to renters.

Since we don’t own the Model 3, our charging was billed to the owner, who billed us. That made it more difficult to tell what we’d spent on charging fees.

We could have found that information through the touchscreen, but it didn’t seem worth the effort as we knew it wouldn’t be extortionate.

Our final bill for charging was about $120: $100 for the charging fee and $20 for returning the car with less than a 50% charge.

We learned that while you could pull up to a charging station, Tesla advised drivers to navigate to the charging station through the touchscreen. This “preconditions” the car so it charges faster.

We thought we’d done that before our first charge, but we hadn’t and the car notified us accordingly.

Tesla Model 3 one-pedal driving is hard to adjust to

By the end of the trip, Mora felt comfortable driving the Tesla Model 3.
Amy Senger

By default, the Model 3 uses a single pedal to speed up, slow down, or stop the car. Take your foot off the accelerator and the car comes to a halt.

This EV quirk has a purpose: It captures the energy lost during braking and coasting and returns it to the battery to extend range.

One-pedal driving takes some getting used to, especially in reverse, where you must depress the accelerator instead of releasing your foot from the brakes.

Some practice reversing before we departed would’ve spared my friends from several jerky parking-space exits.

On the highway, however, I found one-pedal driving reflexive and comfortable. And after our weekend in the Model 3, I’d even smoothed out my single-pedal skills in stop-and-go traffic.

Like any new car feature, with a bit of trial and error, one-pedal driving becomes second nature.

Tesla Model 3 is worth the hype

The Model 3 had a reliable range, accessible charging stations, luxurious seats, and glasslike driving.

Still, I found that the Tesla felt like driving a computer. There are no buttons. Everything from the direction of the air vents to the opening of the glove compartment is controlled through the touchscreen.

While this might become second nature to Tesla owners, as a first-time renter — even one with significant EV experience — the touchscreen learning curve was steep.

Between Tesla’s recently reduced prices and the available rebates, it’s hard not to recommend the Model 3 to folks interested in EV travel as renters or owners.

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