Tesla Service Two (yes, 2) Times

     I really must take the time soon to read some in the WordPress Blog turorials. Apparently they tell you how to make your pages attractive and inviting.

     Meanwhile, here’s some words:

     I never had any intention (whatsoever) of being organized in my writing. So it’s not much of a surprise that the blog’s timeline appears heavily influenced by movies such as Memento, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction (You da’ bomb, Q.T. Like boom! (LINK) )  This post starts out in the days before the last post, and finishes in the days after.

     I grew up in China Lake, CA, the military town on the (at the time named) NWC in the Mojave Desert, previously named NOTS and now named NAWS. [These are all Three Letter Acronyms (TLA’s), the military’s prescibed way to reference systems, places, procedures, materiel, and, for all I know, each other. I realize that ‘NOTS’ and ‘NAWS’ does not result in a count of three letters (excepting that you would then proceed to ‘four’) by non-military personnel (NMP’s), but the military refers to these as Extended Three Letter Acronyms, or ETLA’s. I kid you not.] The civilian support community is Ridgecrest, right outside the fence. . Very little concertina wire is strung between the two, but you do have to show a pass to get onto the base. Used to be base employees, such as my dad, a physicist, could rent a house on base and raise a family there, so although I grew up on a military base, I’m not a classic army brat. (There were a few decades right after WWII that the military figured physicists had something big to offer them. Really big. So my dad got in on the salad days of government employment. His PhD was in optics, but my understanding is that he did mostly politics). I learned to love the desert growing up there. A favorite family vacation spot for weekends was Death Valley, and we’d been there many times as a family, and when I got to be a licensed teenager I spent weekends there with my friends doing teenage things. Lotta’ fun back then. I won’t go into details, other than to say that, looking back on it, I have come to believe that the teen years are the way Darwin weeds out the unlucky.

            After a few days back in Pocatello after our shakedown trip to the Grand Canyon, we set off to Ridgecrest, CA (R/C) to pick up the old man. Not the father. A different old man. If you wanted to, you could see the previous blog entry for some background on that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

     We hit the first supercharger in Beaver (*snort*), Utah, which got us to the one in Las Vegas. Lookin’ at the map there’s two ways to get to Ridgecrest from LV, the sensible way through Barstow, where the next supercharger is, or the stupid way through the lowest and hottest part of the United States. I chose the stupid way. ‘Cuz DV is my old stompin’ grounds and I know it like the back of my hand. And Barstow is no fun. We overnighted in Pahrump (*snort*) – and I should mention here that I’d been assuming that all RV parks couldn’t care less if you rolled in there with an RV, a van with a pop-up, slept in the back of your corolla, or pitched a tent. Apparently, some of them consider tent dwellers the lowest of the low, ‘cuz there are a baker’s dozen RV parks in Pahrump and the reception we got was chilly (Which would have been most welcome in the 98 degree heat except that it’s just a figure of speech). But we found one that would take us and the car was a big hit with the owner of the park and several of the permanent residents (Did you know there are two types of RV’ers? Those that are passing through on vacation and those that live there, so called ‘permanents’. The one’s passing through are called ‘retirees’). I love giving rides to people in the Tesla. Often just down the street and back (at high G’s), ‘cuz I love to make people giggle. I try to learn something new every day. On this day I learned that I should just tell heavy smokers about the car, not give them rides in it. ick. But it had mostly aired out by morning.

   There is actually enough range to get all the way from Pahrump to R/C on a single charge, but it leaves only about 20 miles wiggle room in the battery, so even if there were no way to charge in DV, we could still, with careful husbandry, make it where we needed to go. Probably. The squeeker range estimate didn’t bother me much, ‘cuz I was already going the stupid way and what’s one stupid thing more or less between friends, right? Besides, Barstow is no fun.

    Furnace Creek Campground is 200 feet below sea level (3,000 feet below Pahrump), so the energy usage and battery remaining all looked really good on the morning drive, the 62 mile drive into DV only using 41 miles of range. I knew this would happen, the scary part being the 1,800 foot climb up to Emigrant pass before dropping down into Panamint Valley and then up to R/C at 2300.

     I had planned on two nights in DV, with an interesting hike in between, so we installed ourselves at the Furnace Creek Campground (LINK) and, glory be, they had RV sites with POWER and said we could charge for free at one of them, mid-May being well after the end of their sensible season so the campground and RV park were mostly empty.

Tent in Furnace Creek

     We set up our tentsite and I drove over an iron campfire ring on the way to the 50 amp RV plug and blew a tire. Kaboom, and I could fit two fingers easily through the sidewall, maybe could have fit three, but why hurt it, right? BTW, the picture shows a #2 pencil in the sidewall rip.  Shown for scale only.  #2 pencil was not involved in the puncture and wanted me to make sure you understood this.  The car knew before I did what I’d done and helpfully told me to pull over safely as soon as possible (not difficult, I was only going 2 miles per hour).

Death Valley two fingers tire hole

     Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. But I’m a man, I can deal with a blown tire. I walked over to the service station and inquired, foolishly, if they had any spares. They could mount a spare if I brought the car and the right tire. Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. I called Pahrump to see if the right sized tire was available (Catch a tour bus outa’ DV, buy a tire, be back by morning, problem solved). The guy I talked to said there were none in Pahrump but he’d check online to see if any of their 50 franchises had one, and … no tire within 500 miles but he could expand the search. No thanks. I figured someone in LV must have one. Laura suggested I call Tesla Service. I called Tesla Service.

     They are very soothing at Tesla Service, and very helpful. They strongly suggested that the safest course of action was to get the car to their service center in LV, and explained all the in’s and out’s of why that would be, and quickly got me off my high horse of just taking care of it myself (“Honey, just hold this corner of the car up while I spin off the lug nuts with my vice grips”).

     So by now it’s 5:35 PM on a Saturday. I thought to have the car towed to LV that very night and Laura and I could stay at a hotel for two nights, what a bummer (actually that would be a bummer, since I find LV more than a little creepy. Pahrump as a whole is a rather arrogant and self satisfied small desert town because you can gamble there without the creep factor). The guys at Tesla Call Center had sent the service order to their guys in LV, and Tony there called me right away, again being very soothing, optimistic, and efficient, and saying he’d stay there or meet me later that night, whenever I pulled in, to put the car in the shop over the weekend so it wouldn’t have to sit on the street, and apologized that they couldn’t get it taken care of right away but assured me that I’d be on the road an hour after they opened Monday morning. Great customer care! I was really impressed. But I got to thinking just then that we were already planning on staying in the campground for 2 nights and the space was paid for, so how about getting the tow Monday morning instead?

     Saturday later on, cooking outside on the picnic table using the alcohol stove. Sudden violent sandstorm. Pots and pans and supplies and flaming sheets of alcohol flying through the air. Crisis mode. Brief but intense. Very exciting. No chance to get pictures. Had to chase our stuff across the road. Some screaming. Very exciting. Retreated to the inside of the tent. Sandstorm continued for hours. There was a guy 2 campsites over who just sat outside through the whole thing. I talked to him later – old desert rat. Apparently he thought violent sandstorms were the bomb and he’d really quite enjoyed it.

     We got up early Sunday and went on a 9.6 mile hike up Golden Canyon, across the ridgeline to Gower Gulch, up the gulch to Zabrieski Point, and back down the road to Furnace Creek. We got up early since it gets hot fast there. About mile marker 2, as I recall. We’d taken 2 gallons of water and drank most of it by the time we got back to camp. A shower and a swim in the pool over at the ranch was only $5 so we did that, and very welcome it was. The pool there is very large and has sunshades over most of the periphery, under which people sunbathe. Yes, it’s that hot.

     I called Geico for the tow. I’d perused the Tesla owner’s forum and Liberty mutual was suggested as an insurance company. They quoted $2,200 for a year. A bit more than the Saturn, but what did I expect? What I didn’t expect, for sure, was that when they found out the car would be registered in Montana rather than Idaho the insurance jumped to over $8,000. Back to the forums – “try Geico”. $1,480. “Sign me up”. The hard-sell from Geico was for their $3 per month roadside assistance package.

     “I don’t need it, I have AAA plus, they tow you 100 miles for free”

     “We’ll tow you to the nearest qualified service center for free”

     “Oh, hell yeah”.

I called AAA for kicks – LV was 114 miles away, the tow truck (flatbed) would come out of Pahrump and my cost for the final 14 miles would be $160. Geico sent a truck Monday morning from, of all places, Ridgecrest, CA, to tow me to Las Vegas, and it didn’t cost a dime. Total round trip for the truck 530 miles. Had the actuaries at Geico really thought this one through? Did I care?  Here’s the guy who gave us a tow.  This is what living in R/C will do to you.  He’s 35.

Death Valley tow truck

     The guys at Tesla Service in Las Vegas are GREAT. Smooth sailing the whole way, $324 for the fix. They also replaced the main cooling fan ‘cuz they’ve seen a lot of dust get in the bearings in the desert environment and the fan sounded louder than it usually does, and they washed and vacuumed the car and gave me an aerosol can of non-ammonia glass cleaner and a bag of microfiber cloths for cleaning the bugs off the front (and that stuff really works), gave us coffee and chocolates, more tips on washing the car, and a recommendation for a place to have lunch and an offer to drive us there. Definitely a VERY positive experience.

     And then we left Las Vegas for the second time and drove to Ridgecrest. Via Barstow.

    We arrived Monday night, the same night we’d originally planned on before the blowout, so it didn’t set us back at all, and it’s a good day when you need a tow out of Death Valley and it doesn’t mess up your schedule.

     Fast forward here 9 days later, to New Mexico. We’d driven the Very Old Man 536 miles the first day, 460 the second, and were on the last leg of our trip to deliver him into the extended hands of his family. I mean, into the hands of his extended family. We had lunch in Roswell when something strange happened. Aliens? Quite possibly they were involved. You be the judge. The seat adjustment pre-sets no longer worked. The Nav system seemed to be working just fine, but there was an error message on the big screen: “Nav system not functioning correctly. Service is needed.” So we drove on down the road, service being a long way away and the extended family much closer. What a pain to have to adjust your own seats, though. We pulled over in Artesia, only 40 miles from our final destination, Carlsbad, for a soda, and the dash screen was blank when we got back to the car. Otherwise everything was fine, the car would drive fine, but I like to know how fast I’m going. The dash screen is rebooted by holding the top buttons on both sides of the steering wheel down for 5 seconds. No response. The main screen is rebooted by holding the center buttons on both sides of the steering wheel down for 5 seconds. This got a response – the center screen went black, and a Tesla logo appeared in a few seconds, followed by the usual center screen after 10 more seconds. The Nav error was still there but now the car wouldn’t drive. Oh crud, I had made it worse.

     I called Tesla Service. They were not able to contact the car – That’s because there is no 3G service in Artesia, NM. There is a gas station with one restroom. Service really really wanted to contact the car. Is there wifi in Artesia? Well, no, but … I set my thmartphone up to be a mobile wifi hotspot (Settings, networking) and they talked me through how to get the car to hook up to it. If you have a Model S yourself, you should practice this maneuver a couple of times. Might come in handy. Now they could see the car, and were able to download the logs to forward to the nearest qualified repair center. Long tow, that, from Artesia, NM. But he thought he could get it driveable, and he did. This involved him doing some things from his end and me holding down the center buttons for 90 seconds. Not too tough, but still no dash screen.

     On down the road, now following another car so my speed wouldn’t drift up, but it seemed awfully fast. Then I got this idea. I pulled up the Trips screen of the Controls screen, and watched the odometer while Laura timed us for exactly one minute. Viola! With a calculator and a stopwatch, you can tell your speed even without a dash screen!

     88 mph. Time to lose this particular pace car. We found out later that the closer you are to the New Mexico / Texas border, the faster everyone drives.

     I kept it at 60 to make the math easy. Tesla Service called me back and told me they’d looked at the logs and the solution would likely involve replacing some hardware and doing something with the software, and they would fly out a technician with the part that very night or, at the latest, the next morning. The nearest airport is El Paso, a coupla’ hours drive away from Carlsbad, which we had achieved by that time. They wanted me to leave the car hooked up to the phone’s wifi for about an hour after so they could fiddle with it some.

     Service called back in an hour to ‘try something’, and talked me through pulling out the ‘hard reboot’ fuse and then sticking it back in. Apparently this is the Model S’s Ctrl-Alt-Del. It’s the yellow 20 Amp fuse in the middle top of the right hand (the car’s right hand) fuse block.

   There was a click and the whole car just went limp, but when I put it back in and stepped on the brake, Viola! It worked! 100%. Go figure.

It’s been a while since you saw a picture, so here’s a little dead bush I saw in the Alabama Hills:

windswept little bush at Alabama Hills


2 thoughts on “Tesla Service Two (yes, 2) Times

  1. Hi Walter! Sounds like a grand adventure so far! Sorry that you and Brady didn’t hook up in Guadalupe…it was his birthday that day, and he LOVES the Tesla! Anyhow, you asked, so….I am more interested in hearing about the people and places you go to. But you are a very entertaining writer, so whatever you are blogging, I am certain I will read! BTW, I remember a DV trip that was fantastic!!

  2. It sounds like you are participating in a “customer debugging” system for Tesla Motors. Not unexpected, considering the entirely-new design, and in fact most of us encounter some of this on new models. Also – it amazes me to see more and more car manufacturers moving towards the no-spare-tire standard. Most of the luxury groups are already doing this, although some like BMW at least utilize run-flat tires to give you 50 miles or so after incurring a flat. But I am impressed with your resourcefulness in overcoming the challenges you have encountered.

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