Hurricane Bonus: Tesla Unlocks More Range, OnStar Adds Services

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Legend had it that cool, rainy weather made dad’s carbureted car run smoother. In 2019, there is one automotive advantage to rainy, stormy weather: Automakers are unlocking or freeing up features to customers affected by Hurricane Dorian.

Tesla will unlock free Supercharger access, unlock the software-limited range ceiling on some cars, and force-charge PowerWall batteries to full power. General Motors will provide enhanced OnStar services for anyone with a digital-technology OnStar system (2006-present), and give lapsed OnStar customers free service for the duration of the storm. And now that OnStar is no longer the only telematics game in town, others will probably match GM and OnStar crisis assistance programs. Based on past hurricanes, automakers will likely offer discounts of, say, $ 1,000 if you have to replace a storm-damaged vehicle.

Assuming your car still has power, the car’s rooftop antenna and more powerful radio transmitter allow for better call quality and more distant connections in case the most current cell tower isn’t functioning. Cars with Wi-Fi hotspots allow owners to email or text relatives to show they’re safe and then turn to social media to show everyone how bad the storm is where they live.

Tesla Powerwall. (Does your garage look like this?)

“Why Is Tesla Crippling My Range?”

Hurricanes lead Tesla to take a multi-point approach to owner assistance. This hurricane — Dorian, the one that stalled over Bermuda before turning its attention (as of Tuesday) to the US coastal seaboard as far north as the Carolinas — is getting a similar response.

First, Supercharger stations are unlocked in storm areas. You don’t pay for electricity during the storm, as long as there is electricity at the Supercharge site. This may lead to longer lines as Tesla people flock to top off their vehicles. Our advice is simple: If have power at home, charge there! It’ll cost you a couple of bucks, but if you own a Tesla, even a Model 3, it’s a rounding error on your lease or purchase payments. Leave the Supercharger stands to apartment dwellers, or those fleeing north or inland. See Elon Musk’s shortest-ever tweet, below (shortest unless he ever told someone No in a tweet):

In addition, Teslas with a more powerful battery embedded than buyers actually paid for, will have the full power and range available for the duration of the storm. For instance, Tesla Model S and Model X 60D vehicles were sold at a price commensurate with having a 60-kWh onboard. But it’s actually a 75-kWh battery software locked down to 60 kWh. Similar, standard range Tesla Model 3s have had a software-locked 220-mile range while the Model 3 Standard Range+ has a 240-mile range. They’ll get the additional range for the storm duration. Think of it as a short-term superpower. This software-capped-capability situation annoys Tesla chuckleheads who miss the point: You paid for 60 kWh (Model S, X) or 220 miles (Model 3), so be happy you’re getting 8-24 percent more range for a week, to let you outrun the storm. The correct response to Tesla is “thank you, Saint Elon,” not “class action lawsuit.”

Finally, if you have a Tesla Powerwall at home, Tesla remotely enabled the Powerwall Storm Watch feature. Basically, it makes sure the batteries are fully charged at all times. A home with solar that charges Powerwall might use power-company electricity at night to ensure the batteries are full. People with new Powerwall systems should — in a power-failure condition — not treat them as they might a backup generator with an assured supply of natural gas or propane. A US home on a normal day uses (roughly) 10 kWh to 25 kWh of power. Powerwall 2, $ 5,900, is rated at 13.5 kWh. Tesla marketing says it’s good for a week … if it’s hooked to a solar array. In reality, it’s good for 1-2 days if you want to use air conditioning, an electric stove or an electric dryer. Using only the bare minimum of lights and appliances, doing without A/C, shutting off the garage refrigerator, you might get 3-5 days.

Some automakers such as Nissan have reverse charging with EVs. In Japan, a Leaf can supply power to the Leaf that most of the year drew power from the Leaf. So far, it’s not a feature in the US. When it happens, the emotional value of EVs will increase. So long as you have a full battery when the storm hits.

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