Camping in the Back of a $145,000 Tesla

Tesla cars have their own advantages, but here is one that’s quite new. Using the “camper mode” software program, some of the Tesla owners are turning their electric cars into campers.

A recent report by Bloomberg revealed that this software offers the owners a climate-controlled night under a panoramic glass roof.

“As the sun set beyond the long-needle pines and emerald waters of Lake Tahoe, I looked across the campfire and laughed out loud,” mused Tom Randall.

“I was about to go “camping” in the back of a $145,000 electric car because, well, it’s become a thing.”

A hotel on hot wheels. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

A hotel on hot wheels. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

Bloomberg reporter Tom Randall, who recently tried the software himself, reported that the Tesla Model S has quite a lot of room to sleep for at least one person when its rear seats are laid flat. Randall noted that the person should, however, be less than 6-feet. If the driver wants to leave the air condition or the heat on all night, then he/she needs to make sure the car is in “camper mode.”

Tesla “camper mode,” as it’s often called, may not be sanctioned by the company, but a community of drivers is devoted to the practice. There are forums and You Tube videos that praise the virtues of Tesla camping and explore the hacks you’ll need to make it work.

Tesla cars have a keyless access feature, found on many vehicles these days. If you approach the car with the remote key, the car can be unlocked. If the driver gets out of the car, the car gets locked and everything that was open shuts down. If the driver does not start driving, then the electric car will shut down the climate control and other things after half-an-hour.

One way to get around this is with the use of third-party Tesla car app (remote S for Tesla available from iTunes), with a “camp mode” function that will optimize the car’s systems for a good night’s sleep. The app checks in with the electric car every half-hour, and allows the climate control and other features to remain on. This is a quirky, little Tesla subculture.

This hump could’ve been a back-breaker. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

This hump could’ve been a back-breaker. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

Randall noted that when he woke up he was a little anxious about the battery usage as he was new to electric car driving. He was surprised to see that the car barely used battery.

He then thought about what the Tesla salesperson had said when he asked, “how long the car could keep me comfortable in gridlock?”

“Days” said the salesperson, whom Randell now believe was right.

The sapphire blue Model S Randall was driving for the week has a 90 kilowatt hour battery—the largest you can find in a car on the road today. In theory, it should be able to handle a night of climate control and HEPA-level air filtration without much limiting of the vehicle’s range.

Also, electric cars are virtually silent and release no tailpipe emissions (they don’t have tailpipes) so they won’t suffocate the camper or disturb the local fauna. As for the Model S’s panoramic glass roof, well, no tent can compete with that.

In his article, Randall observes that the back row seats of the 2016 Model S do not fold completely flat unlike the earlier models. In fact, they leave a hump of several inches that could be a real pain in the backside.

Engage Camper Mode. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

Engage Camper Mode. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

To level out the incline, he stopped by a sporting goods store and picked up a few leftover cardboard boxes. Although it took only a minute to even out the hump, it’s an annoying extra step that somehow feels like cheating, opined Randall. Cardboard in place, he unrolled a self-inflating sleeping pad and made up his bed with a sheet, pillow, and light blanket.

He also noted that Model S’s little brother, the more affordable Model 3, will be camp-ready, if a bit cramped.

Headed for production in 2017, the seat will fold flat enough to make a space for a person with height not more than five-and-a-half feet tall. Anyone much taller than that would need to bend their knees or sleep at an angle. Tesla is hoping to make at least 500,000 Model 3s a year, beginning in 2018.

A great road tripper of an earlier era, Jack Kerouac, drove a 1949 Hudson Commodore made by a scrappy auto company and priced a step above the average car of the day. If he were alive today, he’d probably be checking out a Model 3.

Confirmed: The seats will fold flat. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

Confirmed: The seats will fold flat. Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Tom Randall

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

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