What’s it like to own a Tesla Model Y for a year

2020 Tesla Model Y Long Range

If you are thinking about buying a Tesla — and perhaps any electric vehicle — here are some random observations after one year of ownership.

It was a year ago this week, I picked up a black Tesla Model Y Long Range with “Full Self Driving” in Brentwood, Tennessee, without ever taking a test drive or even sitting in a Tesla.

The driving experience is different; instant acceleration, one-foot driving mostly, and minimalist dashboard with a large touch screen, but it took only a couple days to adjust.

I like using my phone as the car’s key (there is no key-shaped key) and having most everything on the touch screen, including to open the glove box, is easy to use.

Vehicle software updates “over-the-air” is a great idea. In a year, I’ve had at least 31 software updates to my Tesla, one about every 11 days. The downloads happen when the car is parked at home and connected via WiFi to my home network. Even my wall charger has gotten software updates.

Full Self-Driving — an intentional marketing misnomer costing $10,000 today — works great on the interstate. It does traffic-aware cruise control, autosteer and, with the settings I use, suggests lane changes and makes those when confirmed by the driver. It has a few other features, “summon” and “smart summon” and parking assist which I have yet to use.  

It makes for a lot less stressful driving and I’m less tired when I arrive at a destination after a long road trip. Still, it’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.

I do not use Full Self-Driving often on East Tennessee’s curvy secondary roads and city streets. A new beta from Tesla may change that, but it still will not be “full self-driving” with no driver intervention. Of course, the “real” full self-driving is always just a few weeks away from release, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

I haven’t had a lot of “range anxiety” (the electric vehicle owner’s fear of not being able to get to a destination), but it could happen. The car is very proficient at calculating what the battery state of charge will be at a destination within a percent or two.

I’ve been very conservative in pushing the limits, making more frequent and longer charging stops on longer trips than I might have gotten by with. And I do more planning with a great tool called A Better Route Planner.

I have taken several longish trips and can confirm the real advantage of Tesla is its extensive supercharger network. That advantage could be lost if the company does not keep expanding the network to pace with sales or if other, more ubiquitous networks come into being.

Map of my drives during the past year.

Tesla does have supercharger tight spots. Knoxville is one.

The Knoxville supercharger in the Turkey Creek shopping complex is frequently at or near capacity .. and a waiting line of cars to charge on weekends and holidays is becoming more common. Luckily, I charge at home and don’t use it. A second Knoxville supercharger is in the plans for later this year.

Off the interstates, there are charging deserts so planning is essential.

Overall, Tesla’s network of fast chargers is superior to anything else out there. Finding and getting to them is integrated into the car’s navigation and driving experience. It’s simpler than you think.

Most of my supercharger stops have been less than 20 minutes. I have never watched Netflix or played a video game in the car.

I have also found charging with a regular outlet can work reasonably well if you are staying somewhere for a while. On a regular 110/120 outlet, my Model Y charges at 1 killowatt per hour (about 3.83 miles). That’s nearly 46 miles on a 12-hour overnight charge.

Have I saved money? Hard to say. 

In the 12 months before I bought the car, we spent $1,945 on gasoline for two ICE SUVs. In the 12-months of owning the Tesla and with my wife continuing to drive an ICE SUV, we’ve spent $489 on fuel, including charges for charging a Superchargers, but not including home charging, a savings of $1,495. 

My charging costs including home charging have been $367, according to data from TeslaFi, a service that pings the car and pulls information into a nice web interface. I’ve used TeslaFi since the first week I got the car, but there are few gaps when I was driving or “home charging” at locations without Internet access. It’s fairly close, however.

But, we’re talking about 2020 and 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic. We curtailed our travels a lot. I retired in September and haven’t had the daily work drive for three-fourths of the last 12 months.

Tesla Model Y mileage after first 12 months

Also, fuel costs do not include the purchase and installation of a Tesla wall charger, ($800 in my case including the electrician’s bill, but with a 30% federal tax credit).

Tennessee charges $100 extra for a license tag sticker to compensate for not paying gas taxes at the pump. I get that.

All in fuel costs are a lot lower, about 2.5 cents a mile home charging — more if paying for supercharging. My average combining both home-charger and supercharger miles is probably 4 cents a mile. (The EPA rates it at 121 MPGe, or “miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent.”) 

My “lifetime” average energy use is 261 watt hours per mile, or about 3.83 miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh). My utility charges residential customers 9.75 cents per KWh and does not offer off-peak pricing, which I could use if available. Residential Electricity costs vary a lot across the country.

So, fuel costs are a lot lower, but there is the one-time cost for a home charger.

(Home charger costs are all over the place from a 110/120 wall outlet to the Tesla Home Charger. An option many choose is to put in a 14-50 outlet, most commonly used for clothes dryers, with a $35 adapter for the mobile charger included with car.)

I spent zero for the year on routine maintenance. I had Tesla’s mobile service come to my home soon after I bought the Model Y to adjust an alignment gap along the rear hatch and Discount Tire rotated the tires for free just in the last couple of weeks.

Dealer service every 5,000 miles for my previous car seemed to be $200 to just wink at it and was often up to $500 or more with a problem. And with a 10-year-old car, there were problems. 

With Tesla, most issues are covered by its warranty of four years or 50,000 miles for the basic warranty and eight years or120,000 miles for the battery and drive-train.

Consensus among owners is tires wear faster and body work is expensive.  (There is a large and active social community of Tesla owners on Reddit, Facebook and dedicated websites. There are scores of YouTube videos on every aspect of buying, owning, driving and maintaining a Tesla.

Fewer moving parts or systems to break should result in maintenance savings. Yes, electric vehicles are generally more expensive. The theory is the savings will pile up over the lifetime of ownership.

If you are considering buying a Tesla, I hope this helped. Feel free to use my referral code for 1,000 miles of free supercharging for both of us if you buy and take delivery of a Tesla.