Tales from a Tesla Model S at 200k miles

Tesloop’s first vehicle, a Tesla Model S they put into service in July 2015, has reached a new milestone: 200,000 miles on the odometer. Tesloop, you’ll recall, ferries passengers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in electric Tesla vehicles, making it easy to rack up that many miles in a year. Not many electric cars of any make or model have reached this kind of mileage, so I was curious to find out how the Tesla is holding up.

I called Rahul Sonnad at Tesloop, who noted that these were nearly all highway miles, and the Model S was in Auto Pilot mode most of that time. According to Tesla, city vs. highway miles aren’t such a big deal in electric cars, but it’s worth mentioning.

“We did have a few things go wrong,” Sonnad said. At about 30,000 miles, the car was relaying messages to Tesla HQ that the motor was operating at low power. “Tesla called us up and told us that,” Sonnad said. “We didn’t notice any problems. It was super fast.” But Tesla had the company bring the car in, and it replaced the front motor.

The bigger issue, and the bigger question that everybody asks about, according to Sonnad, is battery degradation. That was my question too. The Tesloop Model S has only degraded about 6%, even though it’s being charged to 100% every day, rather than the default—and recommended—90% charge.

“For your daily driver, you don’t fully charge unless you’re doing a long trip,” Sonnad said. “We’re doing a long trip every day. We save, like, three minutes in charging in Barstow if we fully charge beforehand. We decided that we’re gonna suck it up, fully charge, and let it degrade. We figured that if it degraded enough, we could take it off a Vegas route and put it on a local Orange County route.”

Then, just as the car hit 200,000 miles, the range estimator became inaccurate. Though the car didn’t actually lose any range, the estimator would say it could go another ten miles—and then power down. Tesla looked into the issue, and told Tesloop that there’s a battery chemistry state that high-mileage cars go into, and the software isn’t properly compensating for that change. There will be a firmware update in three months that will take care of the discrepancy, but Tesla just replaced the battery to solve the problem. “We got our 6% range back with the new battery,” Sonnad said with a laugh. “But had the firmware been updated, we’d be fine and plugging along.”

Tesloop has paid to replace the car’s 12-volt battery for $190, and it buys sets of off-the-shelf 40,000-mile Goodyear tires pretty regularly, for a total of about $2,500 in the past year. And those are the only maintenance costs it’s had, thanks to Tesla’s unlimited 8-year warranty. “We haven’t even replaced the brakes,” Sonnad said.

I wondered if Tesloop, given how it’s using these cars, has any extra warranty or service deal with Tesla. “It’s nothing special; we’re under the standard warranties and everything,” Sonnad said. “We now have a lot of first-name friends in the service department, and we ask a lot of questions. And the car is in there for various inspections.”

He also noted that Tesloop’s car reached this mileage in just a year. It would take most people a decade to drive this many miles, and over that time it’s likely that a bunch of little things will fail. “I buy old cars personally, 20-year old cars, and things don’t work like they should on those cars,” Sonnad said. “There are issues like those that we didn’t encounter in one year, but not any in the drivetrain.”