Tesla Model S - One Charge
Using only one charge, how car can an all-electric car go?

Frequently folks ask about my 85 kWh Model S, and one of the most common questions is about its range. Although the simple answer is the officially-listed "265 miles", I find a far less abstract description, such as specific destinations, to be much more effective.

This is a log of seven single-charge road trips, starting from our home in northwest Orange County, I've completed using this all-electric car. As we traveled, I logged the time, odometer, and range remaining for every event of interest.

Destination Nominal Round Trip Distance (miles)
Legoland 140
USS Midway 197
Lake Arrowhead 180 (with significant climb)
Legoland Hotel 140
Snow Summit 221 (with significant climb)

All charging at home.


Legoland California is a Lego-themed amusement park appealing to young children of all ages with a penchant for creative building and design.

Like me, my son is an enthusiastic Lego builder, so I like to encourage him by supporting his desire to be immersed in the subject. Those days his school out are opportunities to take this day trip.

How much range we used depends on how we drive the car. Sometimes I was careful to conserve energy, sometimes not.

Upon our return home, we consistently ended up with more range remaining than the maximum electric range of the Nissan Leaf, the Fiat 500e, the Chevy Volt, the Plug-in Prius, the Ford C-max, the Cadillac ELR, or the BMW i8.

Tesla Model S at Legoland

April 1, 2013
TimeEventRange Remaining
8:30 amDeparted Home260
9:43 amArrived Legoland183
Range/Distance ratio: 1.18
Conditions: Modest Traffic, Range Mode Off

This was my first long-distance single-charge day trip with the Model S. As much as anything else it was an experiment, in preparation for a trip to San Francisco, to see how much consumption occurs when I don't pay attention to range ("Range Mode" limits energy to the climate control system, and I wanted to see a reasonably worst case scenario), so I allowed myself to drive as hard as I felt like without regard to efficiency. Along the way I bested a Ford Mustang driver who attempted to challenge me.

TimeEventRange Remaining
3:18 pmDeparted Legoland178
4:27 pmArrived Home94
Range/Distance ratio: 1.29
Conditions: Heavy Traffic, Range Mode Off

The return met with late afternoon weekday traffic, forcing inefficient deceleration and acceleration.

Tejon Ranch Supercharger
August 30, 2013
TimeEventRange Remaining
8:48 amDeparted Home259
10:04 amArrived Legoland189
Range/Distance ratio: 1.01
Conditions: Drafting, Range Mode On

This time, as an experiment in preparation for an upcoming visit to the USS Midway, I tried to conserve energy by limiting my speed mostly below 70 mph and drafting, like used in road bicycling, behind large vehicles like big-rig trucks and trans-city buses.

It worked, resulting in a nearly one-to-one ratio between actual distance and range used, my best result up to this time. It was neat to see the gauges in the car immediately show the efficiency benefits from leveraging others' air wake.

TimeEventRange Remaining
2:00 pmDeparted Legoland190
3:35 pmArrived Home113
Range/Distance ratio: 1.16
Conditions: Bad Traffic, Range Mode On

With the morning experiment with conservation completed and the experience from the last trip, I knew I could not run out of range for the return, so I pushed it, but then encountered Friday-afternoon traffic, to great annoyance. Advanced technology has yet to solve that.

Laval at Legoland
We went to see the Lego X-wing fighter.
December 29, 2013
TimeEventRange Remaining
8:38 amDeparted Home257
9:50 amArrived Legoland176
Range/Distance ratio: 1.17
Conditions: Range Mode On

This time we took the whole family to Legoland during Christmas break. The X-wing fighter was still there.

Different this time was that we drove a few more miles to go to Ruby's for dinner, eating into the remaining range, not that we were worried.

TimeEventRange Remaining
5:56 pmDeparted Ruby's near Legoland176
7:15 pmArrived Home93
Range/Distance ratio: 1.18
Conditions: Modest Traffic, Range Mode On

By leaving later, we missed most of traffic, but range was clearly not a problem.

X-wing arrives at Legoland

USS Midway - Cub Scout Overnighter

On this trip my son and I were among four Cub Scout packs for a very special event: a weekend overnight stay onboard USS Midway (CV-41), an actual aircraft carrier that served in the US Navy, carrying out numerous missions from 1945 until 1992. It became a museum open to the public in 2004.

This was a special experience. Father and son learned all about life aboard a real aircraft carrier.

Not being a normal hotel, the USS Midway cannot be expected to provide me a place to charge. My wife wanted me to use my previous car, a 2001 BMW M3, to drive this trip, because we didn't know what the effect an overnight stay without charging power would have and the distance (197-mile roundtrip) was greater than I had ever attempted before in any all-electric car. Reviewing my Legoland data, I predicted that we would be fine, if I was careful about my driving, so I went ahead using the Model S. Besides, it would be cool.

Tesla Model S at USS Midway

November 16, 2013
TimeEventRange Remaining
12:52 pmDeparted Home257
2:35 pmArrived USS Midway159
Range/Distance ratio: 1.03
Conditions: Drafting, Range Mode On

Using what I learned from a Legoland drive in August, I applied techniques to conserve energy, including drafting behind large big-rig trucks. Those typically drove around 60 mph, but the trans-city buses, although harder to find, drove faster at around 65 mph, so I used those for most of the trip.

I parked the Model S on the pier where the USS Midway was docked. When I ran the numbers from this leg of the trip, it was clear that repeating the conservation techniques should get us home, as long as there wasn't much loss overnight.

November 17, 2013
TimeEventRange Remaining
10:46 amDeparted USS Midway156
12:16 pmArrived Home52
Range/Distance ratio: 1.08
Conditions: Less Drafting, Range Mode On

With only 3 miles of range lost since arrival, overnight loss was a non-issue. Knowing the results from the previous leg, I wasn't quite as careful to draft behind big vehicles, but I did keep my speed to around 65 mph. Arriving home with over 50 miles to spare on a 200-mile trip was very comfortable margin.

Tiger Cub in the Captain's Chair

USS Midway Badge

Lake Arrowhead

Driving into the mountains is another challenge entirely because much of the energy used goes into raising the altitude of the car, as dictated by physics. The route requires ascending to 5600 feet before descending towards the lake. But the ascent is preceded by an hour-long drive, adding to the consumption.

Downhill, in a typical gas car, the brakes burn away most of the energy due to the descent. In the Model S, the descent drives energy into the motor, acting as a generator, which in turn recharges the batteries. This "regenerative braking" process is not as efficient as the normal consumption mode, so one cannot expect downhill recharging to reverse the uphill consumption completely, but at least the battery has plenty of room to store this energy.

Tesla Model S at Lake Arrowhead

The best technique found was to allow the speed to build up as much as we felt was safe and comfortable, using this momentum, instead of consuming battery energy, for flat stretches, but use the "regen" to gently slow into a curve or when encountering traffic.

January 4, 2014
TimeEventRange Remaining
9:24 amDeparted Home261
11:10 amArrived Lake Arrowhead131
Range/Distance ratio: 1.41
Conditions: Uphill, Drafting, Range Mode On

As careful as I was to conserve energy, we consumed 130 miles of range, very high for the road distance. We could only hope that we could make up enough of that consumption on the downhill.

Bear in mind that 130 miles exceeds the electric range of the Nissan Leaf, the Fiat 500e, the Spark EV, the Honda Fit EV, the Toyota RAV4 EV, the Chevy Volt, the Plug-in Prius, the Ford C-max, the Cadillac ELR, or the BMW i8. At the time of this drive, the Model S is the only production car that could drive this leg entirely on electric power.

We actually didn't have just one destination but several in this mountainous area, driving up and down the hills from a restaurant to a home to a park to a shopping area, etc. After a stop in Blue Jay, we were ready to go home.
TimeEventRange Remaining
3:30 pmDeparted Blue Jay118
5:06 pmArrived Home61
Range/Distance ratio: 0.64
Conditions: Downhill, Drafting, Range Mode On

Driving downhill was pretty exciting. I forgot to mention that this car handles, with its low center of gravity, wonderfully on these twists and turns. We accumulated at least a dozen more miles at the bottom of the hill than at the top, but I couldn't record that.

Lake Arrowhead

Bruin Woods

The ratio of the roundtrip distance and range consumed turns out to be 1.04, which is quite good, indicating significant energy conservation both uphill and downhill.

We returned home with more electric range than that of most other vehicles. Amazing! Perhaps next time I don't have to be as careful.

Legoland Hotel

Not only does Lego make a theme park, but they built a Lego themed hotel right next to the park. For my son's birthday we took him to stay two nights at Legoland Hotel. We took the whole family, and my son was so excited to go. This car has so much cargo space that after using the front trunk and the back trunk our things were shifting and sliding around on the drive.

I called to ask if we could charge an all-electric car there, and they said yes. But when thinking about the last few trips here I questioned if we really needed to charge. The only real drain was two days of letting the car sit the parking lot.

March 14, 2014
TimeEventRange Remaining
9:00 amDeparted Home272
10:20 pmArrived Legoland Hotel194
Range/Distance ratio: 1.13
Conditions: Range Mode On

Tesla Model S at Legoland Hotel

The drive south was very pleasant with no problems or unusual events.

The hotel was fun, with some unique amenities ideal for young children. We drove to the local Ruby's for dinner once, at least for the variety.

March 16, 2014
TimeEventRange Remaining
11:07 amDeparted Legoland Hotel175
12:20 pmArrived Home98
Range/Distance ratio: 1.17
Conditions: Accident, Heavy Traffic, Range Mode On

The drive from Camp Pendelton until Dana Point was surprisingly bad, mostly due to an accident on the freeway. This sort of thing happens. I drove faster to make up the time while the family fell asleep in this quiet car.

Lego Movie Set "Everything is Awesome!"

Snow Summit

As an avid skier, I bring my son to the slopes to teach him skiing. Last summer I sold my previous (gas) car, which I drove on last year's ski trip, so this year I drove my son to Snow Summit, which does not have a charging station, in my Model S for the first time.

The journey is 220 miles with a 7000-foot elevation change, so no non-Tesla vehicle, as of three years after the Model S was released, can make the round trip on electricity alone. What makes it really tricky is the unpredictability of traffic and road conditions, which can include snow and ice. I have yet to buy chains for the 21-inch wheels of my Model S.

Fortunately I've driven to neighboring Lake Arrowhead and back several times so I know how to use these hills. And the Rancho Cucamonga Supercharger is a big safety net I could use on the return. So I gave it a shot.

Tesla Model S at Snow Summit

March 13, 2015
TimeEventRange Remaining
6:00 amDeparted Home265
8:03 amArrived Snow Summit95
Range/Distance ratio: 1.53
Conditions: Heavy Traffic, Uphill, Range Mode On

Friday morning traffic was bad, really bad. I drove 15 mph in some spots and used surface-street alternatives before I even got to the mountains. Only on the windy mountain drive was the traffic clear. The last snowstorm was over a week ago so fortunately the roads were clear and chains were not required.

We arrived and had a quick breakfast in the car. ("Don't make a mess!") Then when the rental shop opened we got all our gear and lift tickets and hit the slopes! My son had a great time! Despite the "spring snow" limiting our skiing to the morning, we finished it with a little snowball fight before lunch.

Note I drove 110 miles yet somehow I'm supposed to make it back home on 94 miles of range? The marvels of regenerative braking!

March 13, 2015
TimeEventRange Remaining
1:20 pmDeparted Snow Summit94
3:29 pmArrived Home32
Range/Distance ratio: 0.57
Conditions: Downhill, Traffic, Drafting, Temperature Variation from 45 to 95 degrees, Range Mode On

Ski Pose Carving some tracks, dude.
The Tesla navigation system predicted I would be back home with 8% of charge. As we were driving home I made an effort to slowly build up the predicted final range remaining, settling on 11%. We started in 45° weather, but passed through 95° San Bernardino County, so the air conditioner, sound system, iPhone charger, etc., were on the whole time. Fortunately my son slept almost the entire way home.

By the time I entered Rancho Cucamonga, I could see that I would have enough charge to make it home if I continued to be careful, so, by skipping that Supercharger, this report could be on this web page as the longest journey I've driven on one electric charge.

Despite driving 220.7 miles on electricity alone, I ended up with more range remaining than the maximum electric range of the Plug-in Prius, the Ford C-max, or the BMW i8. The range/distance ratio of the overall trip was 1.05.

220.7 miles traveled 220.7 miles traveled with 32 miles of range remaining!


The Model S is an amazing road-trip car. The experience of driving the Model S is so much more relaxing than a typical gas car because it does not have the extra engine and transmission noise, but especially because this car does away with the low-frequency rumble and roar that shakes one's innards.

Nevertheless, because of its blistering-fast acceleration (0-60 in 4.2 sec) and incredible and immediate torque at all but its highest speeds, it is so easy to succumb to the allure of dusting every car out there.

However, that temptation is in tension with conserving energy, requiring self-control. Energy loss due to air friction is proportional to the cube of the speed, and the Model S has the technology to sustain long-distance travel, so getting good numbers on this page critically depends on the human's ability to resist temptation for speed.

I have to admit such virtues are so hard to keep up. After exercising efficient driving in the early legs, I often find I have a lot of range remaining. Consequently, on the final legs, knowing I have plenty of range, I hear the torque's siren song, "How can you let that ______ pass you?"

The following amends the table of destinations with the range remaining upon return.

Destination Nominal Round Trip Distance (miles) Range Remaining Upon Return (miles)
Legoland 140 100 (average)
USS Midway 197 52
Lake Arrowhead 180 (with significant climb) 61
Legoland Hotel 140 (two nights without charging) 98
Snow Summit 221 (with significant climb) 32

Bear in mind that I as driver sometimes did not drive efficiently when towards the end of these road trips. Nonetheless those times that I did conserve shows a real-world range of about 250 miles. For example the USS Midway trip suggests one charge is enough for 197 + 3 + 52 = 252 miles, not far from its starting EPA-rated range. Or extrapolate from the first leg of the August 30 Legoland trip: 70 + 189 = 259 miles. Sounds pretty good to me.

To go beyond one charge, use the Tesla Supercharger network, which our family has done in a trip to San Francisco.

2014 Follow Up: In May 2014, Tesla Motors brought the San Juan Capistrano Supercharger online, making every trip to the San Diego vicinity just too easy. Just charge up on the return, if we need to.

In October 2014, Tesla Motors brought the Rancho Cucamonga Supercharger online, making every trip to the Lake Arrowhead, Lake Gregory, Big Bear area very easy. Just charge up on the return, if we need to.

2015 Follow Up: I no longer experience range anxiety; it is now a range challenge! Seeing how far I can go in my Model S has become a fun game. The culmination of the above trips have given me great experience driving my Model S for distance, knowing how to drive (despite wind, hills, traffic) but also how to leverage the detailed energy readouts. That gives me the confidence, especially exercised during the Snow Summit trip, to intentionally push the limits how far I can go with the Model S. Knowing how to calculate where I can go means I know how to plan a road trip. When my kids are old enough, I want to take them on across the country in this Model S!

Dean E. Dauger holds a Ph. D. in physics from UCLA, where his group created the first Mac cluster in 1998. Dr. Dauger is the award-winning author in multiple American Institute of Physics' Software Contests and co-authored the original, award-winning Kai's Power Tools image-processing package for Adobe Photoshop. After founding his company, Dauger Research, Inc., its debut product, Pooch, derived from Dr. Dauger's experience using clusters for his physics research, was soon awarded as "most innovative" by IEEE Cluster and continues to revolutionize parallel computing and clusters worldwide with its patented technology.

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