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Autostrada del Sole
From Munich to southern Italy, 1,036 km in a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
Last change: 2020-10-15 – Copyright © 2020-2020 Hans-Georg Michna
Since I have the Tesla Model 3 SR+, I wanted to try out a real long-distance drive in it, knowing full well that this version with its medium-sized 53 kWh battery is not ideally suited to the task. A long-range Tesla would clearly be better, but the question is, by how much? My rough guess is that it would shave a half hour, less than 5%, off the total travel time.
My wife and I wanted to visit one of her favorite places at the Mediterranean shore in Sant’ Antonio (between Terracina and Sperlonga), where she knows a nice villa, owned and inhabited by a friendly, elderly woman who rents out apartments to visitors.
The distance is 1,036 km = 644 statute miles. I used A Better Route Planner (ABRP) to plan the charging stops, and was recommended 5 stops, all at the preferred Tesla Superchargers, all in Italy, for maximum overall speed.
Even in an SR+ the distance is drivable with just two charging stops, but that would mean long charging times and driving at truck speeds, preferably drafting behind a truck, which would be no fun and several more hours, so I never considered that choice. This shows again that more charging stops usually save time, particularly if you run down the battery to 10% or even 5%. There’s a compromise here between speed and the risk not to reach the next charger. Also, below 20% I would moderate my speed and moderate it even more below 10%, to avoid very low voltages in the battery and to save on electricity to reduce the risk.
Since the car’s own navigation routes through Tesla Superchargers anyway, I did not have to do anything there. Just entering our destination yielded the same stops at the same Superchargers that ABRP already proposed. That was easy. The planned stops were at:
Brenner – Affi – Modena (the one southeast from the city) – Arrezo – Magliano
Curious as I am, I still used the https://www.chargeprice.app/ to check for alternatives. Interestingly there was an alternative 100 kW charging station at Brenner, right next to the Tesla Superchargers, where electricity was free. At the next Supercharger, Affi, I also found a free charger, albeit only 50 kW. But you can’t beat the price. Further south I could find no more free chargers. [However, it turned out that all Tesla Superchargers in Italy were temporarily free of charge. See also the footnote at the end, above the Closing Remark.]
Modena required the longest charging time, almost a half hour, so that was suitable for a lunch break.
Both Austria and Italy have road tolls on the highway. Austria is more complicated, because one needs a vignette, valid for 10 days, that you stick to the windshield in case your car is checked. On top of that you have to pay a road toll for some selected stretches of the road, in this case for the Brenner-Autobahn that cuts through the highest mountain range of the Alps.
Fortunately both can be handled digitally as well, so no windshield sticker and no stopping for the road toll. I used the ASFINAG app, “Unterwegs” (meaning, on the road) to pay for the digital vignette, of which we needed two for our planned two-week holiday, each costing €9.40. The vignettes have to be bought 18 days ahead because of the 12-day return rule for online purchases. This means you can cancel the vignette until two weeks after purchase and you can drive 18 days after the jpurchase. The vignettes are tied to your number plate.
For the road toll the app allows you to register your number plate and your credit or debit card. Wen you pass the toll station, the toll, in this case €10, is immediately deducted from your credit card. The registration lasts forever, so as long as you drive the same car with the same number plate, you don’t have to worry about the Austrian road toll on this particular route.
For the Italian road toll there is also an electronic solution, but it involves renting an electronic device, which seemed excessive, so we went for the old solution, pulling a ticket and paying when we left the highway.
A few days before departure some complications arose. The weather forecast had turned sour with rain in the Alps and even in southern Italy. Moreover, along the entire distance a headwind of at least 3 m/s was predicted. So I entered these weather conditions into ABRP to see how it would change our estimates.
Originally the estimate was roughly 9:30 h driving time and about 2 h charging time. This sounds a bit worse than it really is, because even with a diesel car I would want a lunch break and a few additional short breaks, so the actual difference is more like 1 extra hour or less for charging. A long-range Tesla would probably cut the difference in half again. But since I don’t drive such long distances often, the long-range battery would be a waste of money for me. Also, the SR+ is the most efficient car far and wide, more efficient even than its own Tesla brethren.
On top of that, ABRP no longer routed through the Magliano Supercharger, but instead now chose a non-Tesla charger at Orte, a bit earlier along the way.
I wondered why that was and, after some searching found out that the Magliano Supercharger was out of order. There is another charging station right next to it, but I guess, ABRP now chose a charger in a slightly more suitable position. I had instructed ABRP to prefer Tesla Superchargers, but ABRP will choose other chargers if they are sufficiently favorable and also, of course, if no Supercharger is near the desired position.
The result of the weather calculations and perhaps of the somewhat slower charger was that we would need a bit more than 12 hours to reach our destination.
Because we had good reasons to arrive before dark and we wanted to have some buffer time to account for possible delays, we decided to drive off by 5 am. I also decided to increase our driving speed above the originally planned 120 km/h = 75 mph and drive up to 135 km/h whenever I found that we had battery charge to spare. Knowing that the Italian way of driving can cause extra risks, particularly for somebody who is not used to it, I would reserve the higher speeds for lower-risk situations.
In fact, we left on Saturday, October 3, at 5:20 am, still in the dark, but with a bright full moon. I had instructed the Tesla to have itself fully charged and climatized at 5 am, so we drove off with the battery at 100% and warmed up to allow full regeneration after a short while on the autobahn. We didn’t need as much to reach the next charger, but I wanted to keep the travel time as short as possible. Under more favorable weather conditions I would have left with 90%.
On the nearly empty German autobahn I drove 130 km/h and reached the Austrian border in due time. There is no regular vignette check, but there are cameras and occasional spot checks along the way, so you cannot skip the vignette and risk the rather high fine, I think €120.
After driving half-way through Austria, we reached the beginning of the Brenner-Autobahn. At the the toll station you drive through under the green digital road toll “FLEX” sign. As you approach the barrier, an electronic sign shows that your car, more precisely your number plate, has been recognized, and the barrier opens before you reach it, so you don’t even have to stop.
So we continued, now in light to medium rain with the occasional stronger shower under the first signs of daybreak.
Through Austria the speed limit is 100 km/h = 62 mph, except for electric cars, which are allowed to drive at 130 km/h = 81 mph. Unfortunately, the Austrians reserve this right only for their own, Austrian-registered electric vehicles. All foreigners have to drive 100 km/h, electric or not. So we set the autopilot to 100 and chugged along with little effort on the still very empty highway, until we reached the Italian border.
Just behind the border there was the Brenner Supercharger, but I looked for the other charger first and spotted a black column on the other side of the Superchargers. It had three cables, CCS on the left and also a CHAdeMO and a Type 2 connector. Using my umbrella against the light rain, I connected the CCS plug with the car, but nothing happened. So I walked around the column and found a row of buttons with unclear markings on the left side. It seemed that the first button had a different purpose, so I pressed the second, and, presto (quickly) the current began to flow for free. No app, no card, just one button to press. Still not as good as the Tesla Supercharger without such buttons, but you can’t beat the price.
Power went up above 80 kW on this 100 kW charger. We couldn’t reach 100 kW, because our battery still had a sizeable charge left in it.
This way we could redeem the price of the first vignette. We went into the restaurant “Lanz” for a cup of coffee, a very good Italian espresso, and a visit to the excellent bathroom with warm water, a sensor-equipped washing soap foam dispenser and a highly effective warm-air hand drier.
As ever so often, when we came back to the car, it had already charged more than we needed. So we disconnected, changed drivers, and drove off into daybreak.
The drive down from the Alps in steep, curved valleys was spectacular, though not always very fast to drive. Through many tunnels and along the river Adige we descended into Affi, the location of the next Tesla Supercharger, not very far from the Lago di Garda (Lake Garda). However, we had to exit through the toll station and pay. To operate the automatic station it is necessary to drive very close to it, such that the driver-side mirror almost touches the wall. Otherwise you’d have to open the door or lean far out of the window. An alternative could be to drive as far as possible to the right, open the left door and actually get out of the car to stand in front of the machine. We didn’t try that method, and so had difficulties to find and reach the slots to enter the ticket and the money and to claw back the change. But we made it.
There are also lines where a card can be used to pay, but it was unclear whether that would have to be a special road toll payment card, which we didn’t have, or a normal credit or debit card. So we never tried these lines, knowing that holding up traffic can become unpleasant and can even incur expensive fines, like nearly every driving mistake in Italy. There are also manned paying stations, which we sometimes used later.
The Supercharger station was not far from the highway and easy to find. And indeed, just opposite from it there was a charging column, this time a white one. We connected its CCS plug and charged up without problems, albeit a bit slower, because this charger delivered only a maximum of 50 kW. But the money saved by sacrificing a few minutes was about as much as the price of the road toll, so we didn’t mind. We will use these two free chargers again on the way back, if they still work.
On our way we crossed the mighty river Po on a bridge.
Just before Modena we left the A22 highway, which ends here, and joined the A1, the famous old Autostrada del Sole. It would take us past Bologna, Firenze (Florence), and Roma (Rome) almost all the way to our destination.
We passed the city of Modena and left the highway again for the next Tesla Supercharger. The car’s navigation system directed us there on a somewhat strange way that involved driving down a road, then turning back and branching off into some kind of compound. A barrier opened automatically when we drove close, and we ended up at a small Tesla Supercharger station behind the hotel, connected, and began charging.
We walked around the hotel block and entered. There was a restaurant at the end of the block, apparently belonging to the hotel. I went into the hotel lobby, where there was a buffet with cake and other food to buy. Turning left I ended up in the bathroom, which was well-equipped and usable.
We had brought our own food, so we didn’t have to go into the restaurant. Had I known about the buffet, I might have planned to buy something there, but as it was, we just sat down in the car and ate our picnic.
We continued through mountains and many tunnels on the now curvy, six-lane Autostrada del Sole. The old highway is not very spacious. To the left of the fastest lane, just beyond the white, lane-limiting line there is a divider wall in areas with many curves.
I was driving on autopilot at the speed limit of 130 km/h = 81 mph in the fastest (leftmost) lane in light to moderate rain. This is fast, but not normally too fast, for the road condition.
In a somewhat tighter right turn the autopilot kept up the speed, but came closer and closer to the left lane-marking line and the separator wall just beyond. This got me into the unpleasant position to have to cancel the autopilot in the curve. I saw it coming and kept thinking of whether I should trust the autopilot or kill it. But when the left wheel almost touched the line, I had no choice.
Killing the autopilot means that I suddenly have to apply a steering force that I cannot precisely predict. If my manual force is too little, I could crash into the wall. If it is too strong, I risk crashing into the dense traffic in the neighboring lane.
In the event it was too strong, which was proper, given the closeness to the dividing wall. The car swerved right, I quickly compensated, so the car swerved back to the left, and due to my long driving experience I could quickly and safely bring it back under full control. I still perceived it as frightening. A beginner could easily experience increasing oscillations, followed by a rather terrible, possibly deadly accident.
I would say that the autopilot should never leave the track in a curve. It should instead lower the speed gently and well in time.
My recommendation for all Tesla drivers on autopilot in similar situations is to gently reduce speed with the right thumb-wheel well before any curve that looks tight for the speed. Alternatively kill the autopilot while still driving straight before such a curve and steer manually, which could still be a bit difficult, if the curve is tight or unexpectedly tightens.
We drove on into the flatlands of central Italy, partly in dry weather, even with a little bit of sunshine, but also areas of light rain and heavier showers. The highway was now wider and later grew to 8 or in some areas even more lanes. There was less traffic, so the driving became easy and almost boring.
Near the little town Battifolle near the bigger city of Arrezo we left the highway again to charge up at the next Tesla Supercharger behind a hotel that didn’t seem to have much business. But the charger worked well, so in a couple of minutes we could take on enough energy for our next leg.
Our next stop should have been the Tesla Supercharger at Magliano, which was now out of order. ABRP directed us to another place not long before Magliano, a little town named Caldare in the vicinity of the bigger town named Orte.
There were two charging stations in the area. We left the highway, paid the toll, and steered towards the charger we could reach first. It looked good, seemed to have electricity, but whenever I touched it with a charging card, it instantly displayed a message that the card could not be authenticated. The truth was apparently that that part of the system was defective. We could not get electricity, although it was there.
So we turned back towards the highway and reached the second fast charger. That one worked just fine and could be paid with the ADAC EnBW mobility+ card, yielding a well acceptable price of €0.38 / kWh.
We continued along the Autostrada del Sole until we reached the turnoff towards our final destination at the seashore. The drive was uneventful, and we parked our car in reach of a power line socket to charge it overnight.
I later checked whether any of the connections developed excessive heat. One needs an adapter for the Italian sockets. It is the weak point of the connection, because it has contacts on both ends in close vicinity, so it gets heat from both sides. If this adapter still does not get hot, then the contacts are good enough. I recommend to recheck after some 10 minutes and feel and smell the adapter. If it does not smell and feels warm, but not hot, keep charging.
Of course you have to trust the electric wiring. At 230 V and 13 A you draw almost exactly 3.0 kW, of which about 2.5 kW end up in the battery. The rest gets lost in the Tesla car’s computer, in the power electrics of the car, and in the cables and wires. The Tesla's display nicely shows you the voltage on the car side. As the car turns up the current, this voltage drops from the original 230 V down to 220 V or even further. The difference between the no-load voltage and the full-load voltage is a good indicator of how much energy you lose to the house wiring. If the voltage drops very far, like below 210 V, that would be another reason to worry and perhaps reduce the current.
Many households in Italy have only one circuit breaker, often 16 A. If you charge your car and another big electric device is switched on, that can trigger the circuit breaker. It has happened to me. After this I reduced the current to 6 A. But if you know the household and can make sure that at certain times no other big electricity-consumers are activated, you can try a higher current.
Be wary before your departure. You want to be sure that you can reach the nearest fast charger. So either charge sufficient capacity well in time or reduce the charging current to a safe level.
Electricity in Italy costs around €0.24 to €0.26 per hour, possibly at certain times less or more. Find out how much your Italian landlord has to pay, so you can repay the correct amount. Set the notifications in your app to report charging start and finish times, so you have a recond of these times on your smartphone and can determine how much you charged.
Time to settle down and enjoy the sound of the waves.
Altogether we needed a bit more time than planned, mainly because of slower driving in rain and dense traffic. But we had foreseen this and still reached our destination in daylight by using up the planned reserve time. All in all it took us close to 14 hours. I hope for less rain on our way back, but the southerly wind can stay.
After spending the next day to settle down and getting acclimatized, we set out for another drive, a visit to the archaeological site of Pompeii. This is the Roman city that was buried under volcanic ash from the neighboring volcano Mt. Vesuvius in A. D. 79, almost 2,000 years ago.
Due to the less touristy month of October and the pandemic, there were relatively few visitors, so we could enjoy the impressive ancient city that seemed incredibly modern and highly livable in many respects. I recommend a visit if you are in the area.
We hired a guide, which turned out to be a good idea. Without him we would have missed many things, we would not have understood them, and we would not have learned as much about the ancient life style and the sad ending.
Plan for 3 hours at the very least, perhaps 4, and wear suitable shoes for the walk. Make sure it will not rain during your visit.
On one of the parking places, “Zeus Parking”, only 100 m from the main entrance, there is a Tesla Destination Charger, consisting of two 22 kW charging points with Type 2 cables and plugs. Our Model 3 SR+ takes only 11 kW, but after 3 hours we were already at 90%, so that’s just fine.
Plan B, in case these chargers weren’t working, was two fast chargers on the southern side of Napoli (Naples) along the way. Plan C would have been one of the few chargers along the toll highway that we didn’t actually use.
On a later date we used one of the many Enel charging stations that can be found in many cities, often half a dozen even in a small city. They have a Type 2 socket and another one that I didn't recognize. The procedure is as follows:
The first that come to mind are the excellent food, not just pizza, and the beautiful old towns, some of them built on hilltops. Not to mention the exotic (for us) landscapes and the nice weather, still warm and often sunny in October.
But I want to mention the specialties you face when driving a car. These are mostly not so pleasant, partly just because we are not used to them.
From our place to Pompeii we could have driven a bit over 2 hours partly on a toll road or 2½ hours mostly along the shore, so we chose the latter to see more of the towns and the nature along the way.
We found that Google Maps and the Tesla navigation is significantly less precise in southern Italy. It actually took us 3 hours. Maps miscounted roundabout exits repeatedly and sometimes navigated wrongly, for example when roads did not allow trucks, but were actually legal for us. It helps to look at road signs, not only at the screen.
The autopilot does not reliably read speed limit signs in southern Italy. Around Napoli it allowed us to manually set the autopilot speed above the indicated limit, apparently admitting that the speed limits are either unreliable or not always to be obeyed.
I also noticed that the https://www.chargeprice.app/, which reliably shows chargers and prices in Germany, misses many chargers in Italy. The best way out seems to be Google Maps, which lists many chargers that ChargePrice does not know. In the Google Maps app on an Android phone look at the search proposals, shift them to the left to get at the rightmost, "… More", choice, tap it and scroll down to tap the "Electric vehicle charging" choice.
Even in Germany, when you drive exactly by the rules and obey speed limits, it happens that you find yourself in front of a truck only a few meters behind that wants you to go faster. In Italy you get the same, but amplified.
A related specialty is a very fine-grained system of speed limits, like from 90 km/h to 80, 70, 60. In and between towns you have 50, on ramps 40, at difficult spots and construction sites 30, 20, and 10, sometimes only a few meters between them.
However, the Italian drivers generally do not obey them, so the question arises, why would anybody fine-tune the speed limits to such a degree, when nobody cares anyway?
On the other hand we witnessed a speed check twice. It was not hidden, like it would be in Germany, but very obvious at the side of a wide road in a town. Everybody seemed to know that they were there.
Speed limits of 70 km/h and above are mostly obeyed, but with a wide margin. Many drivers seemed to exceed them by 20 km/h, but only few by much more. Speed limits of 60 and under are mostly ignored, except perhaps in town centers. Driving at the speed limit is unbearably stressful because of peer pressure from behind, so I tended to trail behind an Italian car, hoping that the driver knew where the speed checks were.
There are also fixed cameras, but the German blitzer.de app that works in much of Europe announces them in time to slow down. It seemed though that almost all of them were sabotaged and inoperable. I still slowed down, trying to avoid any road traffic complications at all costs.
Driving in Italy is visibly dangerous, as drivers not only ignore speed limits. They basically ignore everything. You cannot rely on rules. They also reckon with everybody else breaking the rules. I can only guess that there are some unwritten rules that a foreigner does not know, so you have to be doubly careful. The driving reminded me a lot of the driving style in Africa, which I regularly do, mostly in Kenya. So I almost felt at home in southern Italy, after I realized this.
The roads are often in poor condition. Deep potholes are rare, fortunately, but I saw a few that I did not like. But the highways are falling apart in many places, and the repaired bits are not exactly smooth either. Perhaps one should take a newly bought Tesla to southern Italy once, to uncover possible manufacturing flaws.
[Footnote] Only later I learned that all Tesla Superchargers in Italy were free of charge at the time. I checked, and indeed I had paid a price of €0.00. So my exercise with the free alternative chargers was unnecessary and even, by a few minutes, counterproductive, because I could have charged a bit faster at the Superchargers. However, around October 12th the free period ended. On my way back I will have to pay, but I will still try to use two free fast chargers in northern Italy.
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