Here are 6 things I've learned driving a Tesla about 15,000 miles in 6 months:
1. Self-driving cars won't be robots at first
There seems to be an idea that car autonomy is binary - that we'll go from fully human-driven vehicles to completely driverless ones, where cars will drive us to the office while we tune out and check Facebook.
That's not how it's going to work. Car autonomy is going to happen in stages, and it's first going to be a collection of driver-assist features.
I use two features in the Tesla on a regular basis: adaptive cruise control, which has the car accelerate to keep it at the speed I select and brakes for vehicles in front of it, and auto-steer, which drives the car (keeps it in its lane) and changes lanes for me if I put my turn signal on.
On a normal trip from LA to Vegas, I use both features 85% of the time, which removes a lot of the stress of driving. The 15% is when I'm in complex city environments or high-density freeway exchanges, at which point I usually take the car off autopilot. This is because, for example, the car isn't very good about slowing down for sharp curves on a highway off-ramp. It's learning, but it's not there yet.
2. Rechargeable batteries are very sensitive to the environment
The car battery drains significantly faster when it's windy, cold, and for some reason when there are dust storms (which there are on a regular basis are on the road between Vegas and LA). But it also drains very little when you go downhill. Plus it has regenerative braking, which means you can actually recharge it a bit by pumping the brakes.
So you get to know your Tesla - how far you can push it. I overcharge it a bit when it's really windy out, or when the temperature drops below about 55 degrees. But I also don't charge it as much when I know I'll be going down a big hill, such as Cajon Pass on the way from Barstow, CA back to LA.
3. There's an etiquette to Tesla Supercharging Stations
Tesla has built a global network of Superchargers, but it turns out that they're not all created equal. Some Superchargers charge more slowly on certain days, and certain ones are just slower all the time.
There's also etiquette at a Supercharging station. It's similar to a men's room: you never take the stall directly next to someone. Neither car charges as quickly that way, and you risk getting a dirty look - or that pitying one that says, "You must be new to this."
4. It's basically impossible to steal
When I first started, I used to get anxious about the car getting stolen. But every Tesla comes with an app that tracks its location at all times, so even if someone stole it, you'd know exactly where to send the cops. In fact, this happened.
The Tesla app is also handy because it tells you exactly how much the car has charged. When I stop at a Supercharging station, I go to Starbucks and simply monitor the car's progress on the app. The app will also show if there's a door open or window down, and I can use it to lock or unlock the vehicle remotely, and flash the lights and honk the horn.
5. People form remarkably tight communities in long-distance shared rides
Tesloop is a bit like UberPool, only long-distance, electric, booked in advance, and, well, cooler because it's an all-Tesla fleet.
I'm often asked whether people in the car get along - whether we've ever had any awkward trips because strangers are riding together. So far I've had only polite, friendly people in my car, and they've often bonded in fascinating ways. I recently witnessed a $20,000 business deal happen in the car between two riders who didn't previously know one another.
6. Sometimes people let you in just because you're in a Tesla
Yes, it makes you feel like a celebrity.