Our Cross-Country, Electric Drive In The Burning Heat

Monument Valley: almost too hot to get out of the car.

We drove cross country this summer, and it was hot as hell everywhere. Ninety-five degrees in Philadelphia and New York, 100 degrees in Utah and Arizona, 110 in Barstow, CA. When it dropped into the 80s in some places – or at night – it felt great. At one point I checked the car’s interior temperature on the app before getting in, and it said 140 degrees. Is that even possible?

Yet the trip was amazing, and went off without a hitch. And doing it in an electric car was a big part of why.

This was my fourth time driving cross country, and the only one without the stress of the engine potentially overheating, fluids leaking or some similar problem. Our Tesla Model Y did great, barely breaking a sweat in 7000+ miles. It was steady, relaxing and fun to drive, with heat-pump AC that kept us a cool 70 degrees even in 110 degree heat. And we were able to give several friends test drives – and answer a lot of strangers’ questions – in our effort to evangelize electrification.

Charging wise, there were fast chargers – and also overnight chargers – everywhere, usually at convenient places to use the bathroom and buy food. We normally drove about 200 miles between charges (the car’s range is 320). We only got in trouble once, in Iowa, and that was my own fault for not listening to the car’s charging advice. We ended up having to backtrack 15 minutes to the last supercharger… but as a result did see the “largest truck stop in the U.S.,” and an awesome vintage truck museum.

The heat pump A/C was one of the biggest things that made the trip more comfortable. Any time we wanted, we could just sit in the car and be cool without the engine running… and without feeling guilty about burning gas.

When it’s that baking hot out you don’t want to be outdoors mid-day. You lose energy almost instantly, without realizing it. We saw men working on roofs and on tractors in 100 degree heat. We saw people broken down by the side of the road. We saw kids and families outside trying to play and live life. Trying to ride it out.

A family sweats in 95 degree heat in Brooklyn, NY.

In heat like this, you just want to eat in the car, wait in the car, nap in the car, do whatever in the car. Especially if you’re trying to minimize indoor exposure to COVID in public places (as we were).

Most people leave their engine running, burning gas to stay cool. We saw tons of cars and trucks idling, with people in them, while they waited or unloaded or had lunch or whatever… burning gas or diesel (and releasing carbon) to avoid the extreme heat. A vicious cycle. But who can blame them.

So we were super lucky to have the efficient heat pump AC running off a big battery. It made everything much better.


Otherwise, I was just kind of surprised that absolutely nothing went wrong with the car, not even a little. The tires stayed within 1 PSI of each other the whole 8,000 mile trip. There were no chipped windshields, low fluids, weird indicator lights, nothing. When we got back we took the car in to have the tires rotated and the guy said not to bother, there was almost no wear on them.

Maybe it’s just that new cars are better than the lemons I drove cross-country in my twenties. But I suspect that long-distance driving in an electric vehicle is a whole new (and better) thing, and that people will catch onto this quickly. For us, it was easier, less stressful, and more comfortable… not to mention cheaper (less than gas would have cost).