I rented a Tesla for a month. It was a steep learning curve

I rented a Tesla for a month. It was a steep learning curve
  • PublishedSeptember 16, 2023

My wife and I decided to rent a Tesla on a visit to Canada last month. A major car rental company was renting them for about one-third the cost of a petrol car. We figured, how different could it be?

Turns out — a lot different. It’s not a car. It’s an operating system with wheels.

The anxiety over our car choice started to build six weeks before our trip. An email from the rental company popped into my inbox. “Introducing: Your Tesla Model Y.”

Two weeks later, another message arrived. “Are you ready to experience the rental rEVolution?”

That was followed by another email: “It’s time to explore the world of EV.”

We read the emails, looked at EV electric vehicle charging options, and when we picked up the Tesla in downtown Toronto we thought we were ready.

We were wrong.

The display screen in a Tesla asking for Data Sharing permission and showing the controls for the frunk and trunk.
There are several different models of Teslas.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

First of all, everything about the Tesla Model Y is different from a regular car. Door handles? Yeah, those are a two-step process. Push the back part in, the front part pops out, and pull to open.

Cool? Yes. Needlessly complicated? Also yes.

Virtually all of the controls for the car are on a big iPad-like screen. And I mean nearly everything.

Before driving it for the first time, I wanted to adjust the mirrors. Now, in just about every car I’ve ever driven there are switches to adjust the mirrors on the door by the driver’s side mirror.

Not the Tesla. You have to go through the screen, find “mirrors”, choose left and right and use this ball toggle thingy on the steering wheel to make adjustments.

Pretty much everything defaults to the screen. For example, in the default setting for when you reverse, the mirrors tilt to the ground so you can’t use them to back up. That’s to force you to use the image from the rear camera on the screen.

We also used the screen to change our acceleration setting after our first “Floor It” test on the road. After being thrown back into our seats, we figured out how to select the “Chill” setting. That’s really what it’s called – Chill. Even then, it was by far the fastest car I’ve ever driven.

Man driving a Tesla.
The car’s speed is displayed on the control screen.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

When you’re driving, there’s nothing directly in front of you to show how fast you’re going or if your turn indicators are on. Instead that’s displayed on the top corner of the control screen (just to your right in North America, or your left in Australia).

In fact, aside from the big screen, the dash has nothing on it at all. I can only surmise this is some sort of “Tech Bro” design aesthetic. So clean it reveals nothing about operating the car.

Teslas don’t have combustion engines, so there’s nothing under the bonnet. Instead there’s a storage space called the “Frunk”, or front trunk. We couldn’t get it open for two days.

Teslas feature a “frunk”.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

On the third day, after consulting a YouTube video, we figured out we were pushing the wrong part of the control screen to open it. And we never did get the glove box open. It needed a PIN. To remove the code in the settings you needed another PIN, which we didn’t have.

YouTube also provided the location of the hazard lights button. Not on the dash like a regular car. On the roof. Of course.

The thing is, driving and charging this car was not a problem.

Tesla has a series of super chargers along the big highways in the province of Ontario. On average it took about 45 minutes to charge up the battery to about 450-kilometres range. Tesla billed this automatically to the rental car company. So that part was brilliant.

A Tesla charger.
The car took about 45 minutes to charge up to 450 kilometres range.(ABC News: Norman Hermant)

But for the driver of a low-tech, nine-year-old manual hatchback in Australia, the things this Tesla decided to do on its own were maddening.

It has Automatic Emergency Braking as a default setting. If it determines a car turning across traffic in front of you is too close, it brakes on its own. The car just takes over. You can disable this – but again, you have to go into the settings.

A few days in, the screen started bugging me to schedule a software update. I kept putting it off but the car wore me down. A message came up and said once the update starts, we couldn’t use the car for 25 minutes.

Hardly the end of the world – but is the thing a car or a laptop?

Every time we got in, the screen asked us to authorise Data Sharing. Every time, we killed that box. We figured Elon Musk and Tesla can get along fine without our data.

And how do the many people that own Teslas feel about all of this? Well it seems from a quick glance online they have fully bought in — drivers post videos such as “20 Hidden Tesla Tips” and “Hidden Features”, and “Tesla Model 3/Y Tips and Tricks”.

I am all for the EV revolution, but I guess I’m old school. No tricks. No updates. No automatic control.

I just want to drive the car.


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