Things I learned while renting a Tesla

Author: Ansel Robateau 9/26/2023

We reserved a Tesla Model 3 from Avis at the Orlando International Airport.  The price was reasonable.  It was just over the price of a small sedan and comparable to the price of a medium to full size sedan.

We approached the car and it was unassuming, all black and clean.  We had to figure out how to open the car because of the unique door knobs.  There are no indicators on the knobs for where to push or what to do so I pushed against the largest part of it and the door popped open and the window went down a little.  I decided to pull the door open by the top of the door window.  

Getting in the car is interesting because there are no traditional dashboard displays.  The only display is the large screen in the middle.  There is no gear shifter between the seats.  Fortunately, I did read that the shifter was on the steering wheel so I was prepared for that.  As soon as I sat down, I instinctively pressed the brake pedal and the car started to light up and come to life.  The battery charge was indicated on the screen and it was at 74%.  I thought that was a little low but I had read that the range of a standard Tesla Model 3 was above 200 miles and I had 100 miles to drive, so I wasn’t worried.

We opened the trunk.  It was pretty easy,  just pressed the button under the back of the trunk hood and it popped open and lifted.  There was sufficient storage in the trunk but less than expected.  The floor is shallow.  This means that we just fit our small suitcase and our bags in the trunk.  I probably would be disappointed if this were my primary car.

Going back inside, the seats seemed small.  They were snug on our butts.  But the material of the seats were comfortable

We took some time to get used to the controls.  We didn’t know how to do anything.  We wanted to connect our phones but couldn’t find any plugs anywhere.  I remembered that it has inductive charging and my wife has an iphone, so we took the phone out of the case and placed it on the charger between the seats.  It started to charge.  That was nice.

We then started to look for the bluetooth settings so that my wife could connect her phone.  It took some time because we were unfamiliar with the screen controls.  Fortunately, we found it and connected my wife’s phone.  It connected without a problem.  My wife is used to apple car play and wanted to know why the navigation was not connecting to the screen.  I had to explain that the car uses its own navigation and does not have apple car play.  This was a negative for her.  

It took some time to figure out the navigation.  I was looking for a navigation button somewhere and could not find it.  Fortunately, after pressing around the map appeared and I pressed search and typed in our destination.  It charted the path, showed us that we had enough charge to get to our destination and we prepared to leave.

On our way out, I realized that I needed to adjust the mirrors but we could not find the mirror controls.  We had to google it to find out how to adjust them.  This was comical because we hadn’t even left the parking garage of the airport and we already had to stop just to figure out how to adjust the mirrors.  It turns out that everything is adjusted using the touch screen.  This is so unlike any other car we had ever driven where there are dedicated buttons for functions like mirrors and air conditioning.  We found out that the controls on the steering wheel can adjust the mirrors after pressing the correct buttons on the screen.  After adjusting the mirrors, we were ready to go.

Driving the car is nice.  The steering wheel feels solid and smooth.  It also feels eerily accurate.  Where some cars steering wheels can become off center, this one is always perfectly centered.  That’s nice.  The acceleration is good but I was concerned about efficiency because I didn’t want to run out of power for my long drive.  Up to this point, I did not know how accurate the battery prediction was.

Turn signals are interesting.  Unlike traditional cars, the turn signal has two options.  Pressing it lightly activates the signal for a short time.  While the signal is on, a camera video appears on the center screen showing your blind spot.  I found the camera mildly useful since I am more familiar with using the actual mirrors and checking my own blind spot.  I did, however, find the virtual car and lane visualization more useful in checking blindspots.  It’s also really useful in letting us know if there is a car behind us.  I found that I rarely looked in my rear view mirror because the screen would already let me know that someone is behind us.

The drive is smooth.  The car was really nice to drive on the highway.  It took us where we needed to go without trouble.  However, I wanted to stop and add a bit of charge right before we reached our destination because the car would have been at 9% at our destination.  It seemed wrong that a car that was supposed to have over 200 miles of range would go from 74% to 9% after 100 miles.  I have to imagine that this is because of frequent use and battery degradation since this is a rental car.  

My wife didn’t like the fact that it seemed that I was needing to charge frequently.  This was not a happy experience for her.  Fortunately, I had already mapped out a Tesla Supercharger that was close to our destination and charged up for 10 minutes

The Supercharger experience is really nice.  I had never used one before.  There are no screens on the chargers and apparently no buttons.  However, there is a button on the nozzle indicated by a dark circle.  I pressed the button to release it from the charger and pressed it again when close to the car and the charging port opened automatically.  That was really nice.  I then plugged it in and watched as the tesla symbol lit up blue, blinked a few times then turned green.  I looked in the car at the screen and it showed that it was charging.

While the car charged, we went into a DQ that was at the charger and ordered something nice.  When we went back out, we saw that we were up to 50% from 12%.  That was nice. 

We continued to our destination and parked in the underground garage for 2 days.

On the afternoon before we left, I knew that there was a charger on the resort property.  So I wanted to have a full charge before leaving the next day.  I found the chargers and fortunately, there was a free spot.  There were only 2 chargepoint chargers available.  Fortunately, the adapter that was in the Tesla worked with the charger and I plugged it in after installing and registering with the chargepoint app.  I’m glad that my wife was not with me. She would not have enjoyed that experience.  Having to download an app and register your credit card just to get fuel in your car is a jarring experience compared to pulling up to a gas station and swiping.  However, the registration worked and I started charging.  The Tesla said that it would take 5 and a half hours to charge to 90%.  I was okay with that since we were not leaving until the next day.

I let the car charge for 5 hours and stopped it because we did not want to interrupt our evening just to move a car.  This was also something that was not fun for us since a gas car would be a single stop and then we’re off, the electric car required two stops this time, one to start the charge and one to stop the charge.  Fortunately for us, it was on the property so I was only gone for 15 minutes.

The next day, we drove back to Orlando to our next stop and we did not have to stop at all to get there.  The Tesla went down to 12% after being charged to 80% the day before.  It also lost power overnight and we started the trip at 74%.  Why it lost so much power overnight, I don’t know.

We stayed at a hotel that did not have a charger on the property so I had to find a Tesla charger nearby.  Fortunately, there was a Tesla Supercharger close by.  I took some time to charge it to 53% that afternoon so that we could enjoy the rest of the stay.  We did not have any long drives left.

The next day, we drove from the hotel to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  There was no charging there but the drive was nice.  We parked in the open parking and enjoyed our day.  Returning to the car, we passed a few other Teslas.  They all look so much alike that it can be hard finding your own car.  Fortunately, we had a special sticker on the windshield.  The car didn’t lose much if any power that day and we drove back to the hotel, blasting the A/C after a long day at the park.

I planned to charge up the car in the early morning while my wife slept so as to not disrupt our day.  We needed to return the car with a 70% charge, so I spent 30 minutes at a Supercharger to get it up to 92% thinking that would be more than enough.  The charging experience was fine.  The Supercharger was reliable and I sat in the car, enjoying the A/C and some music.

We took a short trip to Disney Springs and parked in their garage.  By the time we got there, which was not far at all, the car had already lost 12% battery power.  This must be a battery in poor condition because I’d be very unhappy owning that car if it lost so much power not doing much.  We traveled to the other side of the area to catch a movie and I notice some EV chargers in the lot.  I thought that I would give it a quick charge to ensure that I would be at 70% or above when returning the car.  Alas, the chargepoint chargers were incompatible.  This was another negative experience with the car especially for my wife.

Fortunately, after a day at Disney Springs, we were able to get back to the airport in time and with 68% battery power.  The people at AVIS were nice enough to forgive that 2% and we unpacked and left to go to the terminals.

In the end, we charged the car 4 times during our trip.  

The Tesla supercharger prices are unknown because Avis pays for it then charges the renter at the end.  According to my receipt my fuel charges were $0.24.

Final rental price for 4 days: $299.89

Overall, our experience with a Tesla is that while a good car, it’s a bit too different from a regular car to be comfortable and the charging infrastructure, while good, is less than what's needed for a smooth experience.