So after driving(renting) a Tesla Model 3 for 15 days, I would like to share some of my reflections.
I opted to rent one of these rather than a Toyota Camry or Corolla since I’ve spent many years behind the wheel and under the hood of Toyotas. That, and in the end, it didn’t cost me any more than the latter options when balanced out by Ubers additional $1.00 per ride paid to EV drivers while on the platform, which came out to around $120 per week. Yes, it meant that I got to drive a Tesla, and made it appear as though I was making more money, but in the end, because of the additional cost, I didn’t make any more than I would have in my Prius. It was a wash, but still worth the 15-day test drive without the possibility of buyer’s remorse.
Since it was a rental, I didn’t have a home charging unit, so I used the local Tesla Superchargers about 3 miles from my home. Pretty convenient, and there was never a wait. One thing that was a little bit of a bummer was having to charge sometime between 4-8 a.m. to take advantage of the lower, off-peak cost. Don’t even get me started on the EVgo chargers. I couldn’t find one that actually had a working Tesla charger. They were all damaged and wouldn’t charge the car. And frankly, when I compared it to the cost of filling up my Prius for the same amount of miles driven, the savings wasn’t worth the 30-35 minutes per day versus 5 minutes twice a week at the gas station with my Prius. Time is our most valuable asset, and we can never get it back once it is spent. And from what I understand, even as an owner with a home charging unit, the cost savings isn’t that much over an equivalent model year 2o23 Prius at only 2/3 the cost, although it would save all of that daily time at the Superchargers. Another bummer was having to spend 30-35 minutes every morning charging the Model 3 for the day while missing out on the local early morning rush at surge pricing. Fortunately, I like to read and was able to get my social media fix for the day out of the way before sunrise.
Driving the car was a blast. One of the best driving experiences I have ever had. And I absolutely loved the single-pedal driving. Probably only touched the brake pedal 15 times over 15 days since I was already used to driving with regen as a long-time hybrid driver, even though the regen on a Prius is nothing like that of the Model 3 most of the time.
As someone who spent 13 years working as an automotive technician(electrical/electronics), I disassembled and reassembled thousands of cars of all makes and models. And I can safely say, as a master-level technician, that the Tesla Model 3 leaves a lot to be desired in the way of fitment and appointment. However, I understand that there must be some corners cut to meet the price point they are seeking to provide. Unfortunately, for me, this is a big disappointment. I was hoping for quality, at least better than what would be found in a 1980s Hyundai Excel.
Regarding its use as a rideshare asset, I cannot recommend it for a number of reasons. However, I did love the fact that no one did or was able to slam the doors. It took much more effort to shut the door. That being said, I lost track of how many times people had to try 3-5 times just to get it shut. Completely the opposite of my Prius. And that window having to roll up and down an inch each and every time they kept trying to shut the door drove me nuts, and I am sure it would have eventually resulted in the early failure of the window’s electronics, parts, and support mechanisms. Maybe not right away, but probably somewhere down the road after the car was out of warranty at tremendous cost to the owner. This window issue would likely not be a problem for the average consumer that drives 15-20,000 miles per year as most people would likely never even see the end of their warranty, but for a rideshare driver that needs to pay off a car note while making enough money to live on, the 4 year/50,000-mile mechanical warranty would be gone in just one short year. Long before the car was paid off. Not to mention the powertrain warranty that would be gone in 2 short years, leaving the rideshare driver completely exposed to very, VERY costly repair bills and rental fees while their car is being repaired.
Then there was the issue of there being no handles for people to use to get in and out of the car. Something of convenience and necessity most, if not all, cars have had throughout the lifetime of anyone that would be using rideshare. Something we are all used to having and using. And to a lesser degree, the metal frame that most cars have around the door’s window glass. Few highly ambulatory people under 50 would be affected by a lack of this piece of design architecture. But this sturdy metal frame for those that are seniors, infirmed, overweight, or obese is almost indispensable. Obesity, according to Harvard University, is the rapidly growing category most of our adults in the U.S. find themselves in. Roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese(69%), and one out of three is obese(36%), and these numbers aren’t improving. I would hate to think of what that repair would cost as it wouldn’t even be covered by the warranty, and I doubt Uber would cover the cost of that. They would consider it wear and tear to be placed on the shoulders of the independent contractor driver.
The door handles. Ugh…Those outside old-school refrigerator-style door handles. Aside from the fact that most first-time riders struggled to get in at first, I imagine their design is ultimately going to find someone getting a ring on their finger hooked and unintentionally dragged down the street or run over unintentionally. And if the rider was one that had long acrylic fingernails, they were almost impossible to operate. A lesser complaint is that they open in a manner completely opposite to all other door handles on most modern automobiles that we have all grown up with. The last time I saw refrigerator door handles like this was on a 1955 Volkswagen Bug. Maybe there is a reason why Volkswagen abandoned this design almost 70 years ago in favor of something like what we have all grown up with.
The vegan leather seats, what we would have called Naugahyde back in the 1970s was priceless and I would suggest a must for rideshare driving. It was extremely easy to keep clean, and with no possible staining that I am aware of in most situations that could be problematic with untreated cloth seats, which is most I’m sure. Big win on Tesla for this appointment. However, one place where Tesla failed the test of quality is on the door panels where the panel meets the window glass. I couldn’t believe that I was able to see with my naked eye the cut off edge of the vegan leather from the outside of the vehicle. And I didn’t even have to squint or lean over to see it. It was right there, sticking out like a sore thumb. That alone would be a lifetime distraction for me as it is a design flaw that is completely unnecessary and could likely be resolved by the designers at no additional cost to them or the consumer.
And then there is the spare tire, or better yet, the lack thereof. This is uncalled for, considering there is ample room for even a full-size spare in the car, considering there is no engine. The ‘Frunk,’ as it is called, would be a fabulous location to stow a spare tire, full size or donut. I completely understand why BMW decided to remove the spare tire from their Z line in 1997 and even recently in other compact models. There was little to no room. But Tesla is without excuse in my opinion, even though I understand their concern with people possibly damaging the battery by placing a jack in the wrong place. I would rather see them design a system with a jack and jack point that would eliminate the possibility of battery damage rather than remove what I would consider necessary safety equipment for driving. Especially in a car that so easily gets flat tires requiring a tow truck and hours, if not a full day lost for something that could be remedied in 30 minutes with a spare tire, proper tools, and a page in the owner’s manual with a few words and pictures.
Another thing I noticed about the brand new Model 3 that I drove was the sound of the wire loom and split-tubing you could hear rubbing against the dash when adjusting the steering wheel. Not a big deal since most people will adjust the wheel once to their liking and leave it unless this is a vehicle that multiple people of different sizes were continually readjusting to their liking. This is a big no-no from an electrical engineering standpoint. You don’t want wires moving all the time if at all, and you especially don’t want them rubbing against other stationary components.
Cruise control is another problem, in my opinion. It would randomly do a breakneck brake check when there was absolutely nothing in front of the vehicle that warranted an immediate full stop. Once this happened, I stopped using it for fear that I might end rear-ended by one of our many overly aggressive drivers filling the roads of metropolitan Los Angeles. It was uncalled for.
The landscape-oriented touchscreen, which is very reminiscent of the massive iPad Pro, was amazing to behold. However, in a world where we have become so screen focused, I am a little worried that it likely has been or will be an unintended distraction rather than an overall benefit. Yes, there are many things that can and do distract drivers, but this one could easily be resolved with an auto-dimming feature that activates once the vehicle reaches 10mph along with a HUD(heads-up display on the windshield for the basic necessities that the driver needs.
As I wrap up this review, I will say that I absolutely loved, LOVED the trunk to frunk window/roof on the car with the exception of its cleaning, inside and out. Internally, an awkward task at best and likely something that would leave most with a pain in their neck. That, in my opinion, is an epic win for Tesla, and for me, it almost washes away all of the other design flaws. I also love the lack of distraction in the sparse design of the dashboard and console. A big win for me. Less stuff to break or clean.
I really was hoping for a better overall experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast to mash the accelerator or fun pedal as I liked to call it, and I will miss that with my Prius, but for now and until they fix some of these basic design flaws, I will gratefully drive my ultra-reliable Prius off into the sunset. It is a great car with no payment that allows me to make just as much money driving for Uber as the Tesla did when considering the total cost of ownership from beginning to end.
I will end this review here since I only had 15 days with the car and the 2000 words it took to share these thoughts alone should be enough to help the discerning rideshare driver decide if this car is right for them. For me I will stay with the tried, tested, and in my opinion best car for rideshare driving. The Toyota Prius. There is a reason it has been the standard for Taxi companies for decades now. It just makes the most sense financially.
Thanks for your time.
-Michael J. Loomis – 7 Years – 18,000+ Rides – 4.99-5 Star Driver