Model S–My first service visit


A couple of weeks ago I had a problem with Autopilot that was remotely diagnosed as a failure of the front camera. I scheduled today’s service visit to get it replaced.

I woke up early and decided to go ahead and leave for my 90-mile trip to the Charlotte, North Carolina, Tesla Service Center. I thought I might be delayed in the Charlotte rush-hour traffic, but I was wrong. There were no delays and I arrived 45 minutes early, before the service center opened. I pulled up to the service entrance, parked and listened to the streaming audio.

While I was waiting for the service center to open, a white pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot, a fellow got out and started walking around looking at cars. I decided to walk over and greet him, wearing my Tesla ball cap. I told him I wasn’t an employee, but just an owner waiting for them to open. He had questions and I invited him to come sit in the car. We had a nice conversation about the usual questions one has about a Tesla, about models and features and the ownership experience. (He had first seen a Model X at the Nordstrom store in Charlotte where Tesla has a small display area.) A little later a service employee arrived to let me in.

Charlotte Showroom and Service Center

In my planning article, I talked about charging, and whether I would need to charge in Charlotte to get home. I did a little better than rated miles, and arrived with about 53% charge left. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the first questions they asked me was how much charge I needed. How thoughtful! I said to add 20 miles. I also asked them to rotate the tires (which are approaching 6,000 miles), which they were glad to do.

I read on the Internet that you are supposed to take your Universal Mobile Connector (UMC) with you on a service visit, just in case it requires a firmware update, and that you should make sure when you leave that it’s still there, so I was also pleased that when they did the initial walk-around they asked me if I had brought charging equipment and noted the UMC on the service intake form. (I noticed on the service invoice they emailed me that they tested the UMC.)

They have a spacious waiting area with a big-screen TV that was, thankfully, off. I had a nice place to sit and a place to plug in my tablet. I remembered the charging cable for the car, but forgot the one for the tablet. Oops!

While I was waiting, I went into the showroom to look at the Model X on display. The sales associate and I tried to get the awesome Model X Christmas light show to work, but for some reason the falcon wing doors wouldn’t open, so the effect was not so awesome. He thought that the problem might be that the demo car was in service mode. Here it is for you:

Several folks came in to look at cars, and there were at least a couple of test drives. It also looked like a car was ready to be delivered. Others were marked sold. I was told that the service would take about half an hour longer than planned because they had to reinstall the firmware to support the camera, which they said was a newer model.

While waiting for the car to finish, I walked to the nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant for lunch. When I checked out, the checker commented on my Tesla hat, and when I said that I drove a Tesla, he became visibly excited and said that he hoped to be able buy a Model 3.

I knew that when your car is in for service, remote access is disabled. This is what the mobile app showed during lunch:


After lunch, the car was ready. I learned that he service center has their own internal supercharger, so my car was juiced up more than I needed and ready to go. They went through the service visit with me, and I had a nice conversation with Vito, the manager. My tires were wearing evenly, even though I have a rear-wheel drive model. When they brought the car around, not only was the service completed, the car was washed beautifully. I was ready to go home.


Everyone was friendly and accommodating. Everything was accomplished. It was a five-star service visit.

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A Tesla Christmas present

imageSoftware updates are one of the neat things about owning a Tesla. Since I got my car  three months ago, two software updates added features to the car that I didn’t have before. One arrived last night in time for Christmas. Here are some of the things added since I got my car:

  • The radar can now detect two cars in front of me and react to mitigate a collision if that car stops suddenly.
  • The audio equalizer went from 3 bands to 5 bands.
  • I can pair my key fob with my driver profile, so it sets the seats and controls for me or my wife when we unlock the door.
  • Instead of a satellite view of Earth imposed on the Google map, I can choose Mars.
  • Improvements in the Audio interface including support for genres and artists, and voice searches.
  • The map shows amenities near the Superchargers.
  • New setting prevents cabin overheating in the car while parked.
  • There is improved auto-steer performance.
  • Cruise control works more smoothly.
  • More voice commands are available.
  • The car now has automatic map zooming, and full-screen map mode.
  • There are several additional safety improvements.

More new things are expected before the end of the year.

Update: New navigation maps too!

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Model S: My first service visit–planning

Every couple of weeks when I turn on the car I get a message that says: “Driver assistance features not available” and none of the Autopilot features work. The condition lasts for the duration of the trip. The message also says to call Tesla if the condition persists, and after 6 incidents, I called Tesla. Eventually they diagnosed the problem remotely from the vehicle’s extensive logging data and determined that the Autopilot camera needs to be replaced.

If this had been my old Toyota Prius, I would have just shown up at the dealership 5.6 miles from my house first thing the next morning, and waited until it was fixed. If the repair extended through lunch, I would have walked half a mile to one of several restaurants or gone shopping. If they didn’t have the part, I’d have to wait an extra day. With Tesla it’s a little more complicated.

Some Tesla owners report online that non-critical repairs like mine take a long time to schedule. In my particular case, the earliest repair appointment was just a week out. My schedule was the limiting factor this time and so the repair is set in two weeks. Instead of 5.6 miles, the nearest Tesla service center is 94.9 miles, and the trip takes an hour and 45 minutes, not considering rush-hour traffic in Charlotte, NC. Right now Google Maps shows 17 traffic incidents on the route between me and the service center. 😯

The distance to the service center presents an opportunity to discuss a common situation,  an 189.8-mile round trip in Winter in a car that gets 210 rated miles of range in normal weather. The chart below is for a Tesla Model S 70D. It’s in a fact-filled article from the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Do Electric Cars Work in Cold Weather? Get the Facts….”

Tesla Model S 70D highway (65mph) range as a function temperature. Because of its larger battery pack and more efficient thermal management system, the Tesla retains nearly 200 miles of range at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Data as reported on Tesla Motors website.
Tesla Model S 70D highway (65mph) range as a function temperature. Because of its larger battery pack and more efficient thermal management system, the Tesla retains nearly 200 miles of range at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Data as reported on Tesla Motors website.

I don’t know now what the weather will be like on December 27 [Update: the weather forecast says it will be 43 degrees at 7 am, about the time I will leave home. My Garage will be in the upper 50’s I think.], but presuming it will  be come kind of cold, I think a fair estimate of my range would be 85% or 178 miles, short of what I need for the round trip. Let me hasten to add that this range shortfall is not a big deal. Some amount of charging will be added to the car at the Tesla service center, and there is also a Tesla Supercharger in Charlotte. (Some Tesla models with a larger battery could make this trip easily without charging.) But let’s approach the question more generally and talk a little about trip planning.

Trip planning

There are useful resources for planning a trip. A number of Tesla trip planners exist on the web today:

Each of these websites allows you to put in travel destinations, and gives you routing; they will estimate how long the trip will take, how much charging you need to do and where. Unfortunately, they all have their quirks. A Better Routeplanner, for example, attempts to minimize driving + charging time rather than just driving time. It’s a cool idea, but the Model S 60 has a completely different charging profile than other Tesla cars, and as a result A Better Routeplanner gives sub-optimal routes for the 60. [Update: ABT has been updated to work  correctly with the S 60.] EV Trip Planner, the most used, can’t distinguish between the old S 60 and the new S 60, and as a result presents incorrect charging time estimates. EVTripping worked best for me in the past, actually having an option to specify a new S 60 car, but it errs by underestimating charging time. All three are still under development and may improve in the future.

There is another route planner, and it’s built into the car. At the current version of Tesla firmware, I think it’s the one I’d choose to rely on. It’s limitation is that waypoints can’t be specified and you can only start the route from the car’s actual location. When I gave it the service center location, it estimated that I would arrive back home with 0% charge.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Bjørn Nyland videos on YouTube. Bjørn is a Tesla owner in Norway who is actually making a living creating videos and delivering stuff around Norway in his Tesla. Trip planning is a  frequent topic in the video series as he travels around Norway and beyond, and it is interesting to see how he approaches the problem. He uses the car trip planner to estimate the  range needed, and then adds to the needed range things like elevation, temperature, precipitation, speed, cargo load, road conditions and wind. Some of the other trip planners let you specify some of those, but none compensate for all. Some planners work in the car web browser and some don’t.

This brings up a problem with some of the trip planners: you don’t know what factors they are considering. For example, A Better Routeplanner considers current temperature, but you wouldn’t know that just looking at it. EV Trip Planner is the most transparent and comprehensive of the trip planning solutions, but it doesn’t consider precipitation and road conditions (wet, snow).

Bjørn has developed some rules of thumb that he uses to compute the range he will need, and uses a trusty pocket calculator to do the arithmetic. He got those rules from experience, and I believe that I need to start recording details about my trips so I can see how conditions actually affect my car, and what my real range is.

Elevation seems to be the most difficult to compute. The energy required to climb a hill is simple physics, but in real life one goes up and down hills in between start and destination. The car recovers (regenerates) energy coming downhill, but not all of it. I don’t have an authoritative number, but I’d say the total loss is around 40%. EV Trip Planner says the total up and down between here and Charlotte is 3940 feet (but the net is only –171 feet!) and I need 115 rated miles.


They estimate that the repair will take 3 hours. My appointment is at 9AM and I’ll try to be on the road by 7. I don’t know how much charge I’ll get at the service center, so I’ll plan a swing around to the Supercharger, which unfortunately is on the other side of town.

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Life with Model S

I blog about owning a Tesla not so much because I am a fan of Tesla, but because I am a fan of a sustainable energy future that electric cars, and Tesla in particular, are helping come to pass. I can remember a time before the Environmental Protection Agency started regulating pollution, when there were elevated levels of poisonous lead in children from leaded gasoline exhaust. I have seen dramatic improvements in the environment since that river caught fire in 1969. It’s not right yet, but it’s much better. I look forward to the shift from fossil fuels to primarily solar power, and from gasoline engines to electric ones. I want a quieter and greener future. My intended audience is people interested in buying an electric car, and those who are awaiting delivery of one.

I’ve had my Tesla Model S 60 car since September 26, 2016, about 10 weeks. I’ve driven over 4,800 miles. Things have settled down and the car is a normal part of daily life.

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Fake news

If you haven’t heard about the fake news story, “Pizzagate,” you can search for it on Google, or read this article at the New York Times. The rumor was basically that a pedophile ring was operating out of a pizzeria linked somehow to Hillary Clinton. It was just one more nutty story circulating on the Internet, like the secret tunnels connecting Walmart stores, internment camp trains, and President Obama’s plans to invoke martial law rather than leave office. The story got serious when a fellow showed up at the pizzeria with an assault rifle, fired a shot, and announced he was investigating. That followed a string of harassment and death threats directed at the restaurant. This story might have been funny, but then the shooting started.

The problem is that some part of the population appears ill-equipped to deal with the barrage of information from the Internet, where a respected news web site looks very much like a fake news site, where bad actors, foreign governments, criminals, pranksters and political operatives abound. Charts and graphs are published by non-existent organizations that have official-sounding, but made up names. I am appalled that my own friends repeat fake news on Facebook. There are people who reflexively disbelieve any established news or governmental source, but then latch on to crazy stories from the likes of Alex Jones and his InfoWars brand. At least some have suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected president without fake news.

Some have suggested that Facebook censor fake news. Facebook, in return, has agreed to cut off advertising revenue through Facebook to fake news sites. I don’t think that will have any effect. I personally spend a lot of time debunking these stories on Facebook and try to embarrass the people who spread them.

Critical thinking and evaluating the reliability of sources is something that we as parents should teach our children, and it should be a core mission of schools. Unfortunately, many of our parents and teachers lack the skills themselves.

A modest proposal

Social media sites have a “Like” button. On Facebook there is also Haha, Sad, Angry and Love. Why can’t they add “Fake”? Just as people enjoy being liked, they might be deterred from posting fake news if their posts were fake, and it would be a crowd-sourced resource to help identify fake news. Tools could be added for social media users to filter content based on their “Fake” preferences. If you agree, share the idea on social media.

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An open letter to Senator Graham

Dear Senator Graham:

I, and I think many of my neighbors, are anxious these days in the wake of the recent election of Donald Trump. I am concerned that a Trump administration will not respect the basic rights of Americans, hurt the most vulnerable of our citizens, and take the country along a destructive path relative to the environment.

For example, Donald Trump recently tweeted a suggestion that people who burn the American flag lose their citizenship. You went to law school. You know that there is no way under the US Constitution to take away someone’s citizenship (unless obtained fraudulently). I’m no fan of flag burning, but the Constitution must be followed.

Trump is taking the lead from Alex Jones, one of the nuttiest crackpot conspiracy theorists on the Internet, on several issues including his unsubstantiated claim of massive voting by illegal immigrants. And this nonsense about climate change being a Chinese hoax? And don’t forget that until recently Trump was a birther!

The rule of law, science, common decency and competence go beyond party lines and political differences. I hope that you and your fellow senators will provide checks and balances against the most extreme excesses of any executive, and particular the poorly-prepared one we just elected. I hope you will not rubber stamp incompetent and extremist nominees for executive positions and the courts.

I want President Trump to succeed and I want America to be great under his leadership. He’s going to need a lot of help doing that. Please help.


Kevin Davidson

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Will Donald Trump release his tax returns when he becomes president?

I was looking at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s federal income tax return from 1937 just now. It’s a quaint historical document. Roosevelt is the first president to my knowledge for which we have income tax returns. He didn’t release them during his presidency, but they were made available through his presidential library later, 25-years worth of them. President Truman released his returns during his presidency, as did Nixon, Ford (summary), Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Cheney, George W. Bush, Biden and Obama (years 2000-2016).

Add to that the tax returns of presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton (16 year worth), Cruz, Fiorina, Kaine, Kasich, Pence, Rubio, Sanders, Stern, Romney, Ryan, Gingrich, Santorum, McCain and Palin, to name some readily available ones.

Much was said about Donald Trump’s refusal to release tax returns as a candidate, despite a strong precedent. Will Trump now follow the presidential precedent to release tax returns? Particularly for a president with extensive financial holdings, it would seem important for the public to know whether their leader is working for them or for himself. As NPR’s Peter Overby said: Donald Trump brings “to the White House a unique potential for conflicts of interest.”

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