Tesla Model 3 Rented from Hertz: What I Learned on a 1,600 Mile Road Trip – Barron's

Have you ever forgotten your cell phone charger while on a trip and spent the rest of the time worrying about how to charge it? Now imagine that your phone is a car and you are driving it across four states.

That sums up my experience with my wife and cat while driving a Tesla Model 3 that we rented from Hertz. In total, I traveled 1,663 miles from my home in Brooklyn over ten days to visit family and friends in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio over the holidays. The car worked fine, but I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out where the next charge would come from. In total, I visited 13 charging stations (16 if you count the three that either didn't work or weren't compatible with the Tesla) and, in extreme cases, had to wait an hour for a full charge.

I wish I could say I did this for a cause like protecting the environment, but the truth was less noble. The rent was hundreds of dollars cheaper than anything else available. That seems to be the case for many right now: Two of my colleagues at Barron's who recently rented vehicles saw similar discounts on electric vehicles.

Hertz announced in early January that it would sell 20,000 of its electric vehicles, or about a third of its global electric vehicle fleet, and reinvest some of the proceeds into purchasing more internal combustion engine vehicles to meet demand. In other words, not enough people are renting electric cars and opting for gasoline-powered vehicles instead.

Following the announcement, Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr told CNBC that there are still customers who want electric vehicles, but not at the level of demand Hertz expected. “Our business is to provide customers with choice. We also include electric vehicles in this selection,” he said.

Advertisement – ​​Scroll to continue

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

After my experience renting an electric vehicle, I can understand people's hesitation. Here's what I learned from my trip – and what I can advise others.

Check if your destination has a charger – and see if Hertz has the equipment

This may seem obvious, but it affected me more than I realized. You'll want to charge your electric vehicle overnight, especially in cold weather.

Advertisement – ​​Scroll to continue

Why? Similar to a phone battery, you lose charge in cold weather. On the coldest night in Cleveland, when temperatures dipped below 30°C, I lost about seven percentage points of battery life due to the cold weather. The car was turned off and parked in my in-laws' attached garage. The battery has only lost part of its charge due to the weather.

Some hotels offer chargers to their guests. Call ahead to make sure they work, how many there are, and whether they are compatible with your electric vehicle. If the hotel charger does not work with a Tesla, you can use an adapter that allows third-party chargers to be used with a Tesla vehicle. Check if your vehicle has an adapter before leaving the Hertz parking lot.

Although Hertz's website never explicitly states that an adapter will be provided to you, the materials suggest that you will have one in your vehicle. A Hertz video showed me how to use and equip the adapter. But when I looked for the adapter on a non-Tesla charger, I couldn't find it in the vehicle.

Advertisement – ​​Scroll to continue

When I contacted Hertz customer service, a representative told me that the company had changed its policy on providing adapters “because too many chargers have been stolen or lost” and that the company “cannot guarantee that the “Adapters are included with vehicles,” but I could look for replacement parts at Hertz locally.

You can also charge the device at home – even from a 120-volt outlet – but this requires a kit that Hertz doesn't mention at all. Charging is very slow – about 5 kilometers of extra range per hour – but you don't lose battery in the cold while you're plugged in and gain extra range while you sleep.

A note about Hertz customer service. Hertz says it has an EV customer support team on its app, but I couldn't find a way to contact them. Instead I called general customer service, who kept hanging up on me while on hold. I then went to Twitter and messaged Hertz and received the above response.

Advertisement – ​​Scroll to continue

When reached for comment, Hertz said that customers should use Hertz.com/myEV and its electric vehicle blog for tips and articles, and that the company will continue to implement training tools and guidelines to improve electric vehicle customers' experiences. Hertz referred all electric vehicle questions to its roadside assistance team, which can be reached at 800-654-5060. Hertz says these team members are trained to help customers with electric vehicles.

You'll be charging more often than you think

When I was thinking about renting the car, I figured I would only have to stop once on my drive to Cleveland to pay a fee. The math was simple: The Model 3 has a range of 260 miles, according to Hertz's website. If the vehicle was 100% full when I picked it up, I could charge more than half the charge and then refuel to cover the remaining 200 miles. I would finish the trip when the battery still has 60 miles left. Probably a little less since I planned to heat the car, listen to music and use the windshield wipers.

My math was way off. I got about 160-170 miles on each charge, which resulted in me having to stop a total of three times on the 460 mile trip to Cleveland. Tesla's navigation system helped me find the chargers, and there were many along this route.

What I didn't realize is that electric vehicle ranges are estimates based on a mix of city and highway and don't take cold weather into account. On highways, electric vehicles use up a charge quicker, and the cold weather doesn't help either. The Tesla navigation system in my car told me that driving under 70 mph would have saved me about 10% of battery life on my trip, and I saved another 5% from heating the interior, defrosting my windows, and something called “battery conditioning”. “What Tesla says is bringing the battery to an optimal temperature in cold weather before charging.

Advertisement – ​​Scroll to continue

Range anxiety is real

On the way from Cleveland back to New York City, I stopped four times, an extra time just to make sure I had enough cargo to overcome the traffic, the time spent looking for a parking spot, and other obstacles that I might encounter. This fee turned out to be largely a waste of money – I had enough money to get around city traffic.

But the fear of not having enough battery, often referred to as range anxiety, plagued me throughout my trip. It didn't help that it was my first time traveling in an electric vehicle.

During my trip, I always wondered whether Tesla's navigation system correctly calculated when and where to charge. I often noticed that the calculations were off by five to seven percentage points and that I ended my trip with less battery than originally estimated.

Every time I visited friends or saw family, I looked for a charger nearby that I could use to charge my power tank while I had coffee with friends or went shopping. That never really worked. Chargers are rarely located near your destination. For example, in downtown Cleveland, where my brother lives, there were no Superchargers.

On my trip to Columbus to meet friends, I thought I found a charger in a parking garage less than a five-minute walk from our Airbnb. I grabbed my parking ticket, rode the chargers to the parking spaces and got out. To my dismay, the chargers were broken. So I drove 15 minutes with a Supercharger to another parking garage and used the charging time to eat dinner nearby.

Charging takes a lot of time – and safety can be an issue

Each charge took between 20 minutes and an hour, with the average being around 45 minutes. This added an hour and a half to the travel time on our trips to and from Cleveland. And while we were able to eat, stretch, use the toilet, and drink coffee during charging time, these activities rarely lasted as long as the charging itself. A lot of time was spent sitting in the Tesla waiting for a full charge.

The Tesla I rented didn't have entertainment apps like Netflix installed, which seems to be a popular pastime while waiting for a charge.

I often took the opportunity to grab a coffee or something to eat at a nearby Starbucks. Sometimes food was scarce, like at the Burger King in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, with Superchargers in the parking lot. Most of the time this required a slightly longer hike. In Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, you had to walk 0.3 miles to a Starbucks, crossing a busy street at 35 miles per hour with no sidewalks or crosswalks.

Due to my range anxiety and the lack of chargers near my wife's family in Painesville, Ohio, my wife and I decided to stop to charge at 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve. We sat alone at an empty charging station in an abandoned mall in Cleveland for about 30 minutes just to get our battery to a more comfortable level.

Don't expect any fuel economy savings

I chose to rent the Tesla because it cost less than the other vehicles available. But that's where the savings ended.

In total, I paid $179.72 to charge the vehicle, plus a $25 charging fee for not returning it to Hertz when it was 95% full, and $4 in parking garage fees for chargers in Columbus.

You don't pay on the go. The first time my wife and I stopped at a Supercharger station on our trip, we realized there was nowhere to pay. The vehicle bills Hertz and you can see the price on the vehicle's screen at the end of the charge.

Hertz will then bill you for the charging costs when you return the vehicle without incurring any additional costs. Tesla Superchargers charge a fee for refueling, which contributed to higher prices.

If you are in an area where there are many charging options, you can use the navigation system to compare charger prices. We have rarely been in such a situation.

By the way, the Hertz fee for the insufficient return of the car was unavoidable. I live more than 10 minutes from the airport and couldn't find a charger near Hertz at LaGuardia Airport that doesn't charge parking fees. Plus, I didn't want to spend another 45 minutes on the charger. But here's a tip that can save you $10: sign up for Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, otherwise the fee is $35.

Using FuelEconomy.gov, I did some calculations on how much I would have paid in gas if I had taken a Toyota Corolla or a Volkswagen Jetta, two vehicles available at the time. I probably would have saved about $20, avoided Hertz's low fee, and avoided some parking garage costs.

But then I would never have been able to spend all that time at chargers in places I never would have stopped otherwise.

Write to Matthew Bemer at [email protected]