Should I Charge My Tesla to 80% or 90%? Or 100%?

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This is a question that is quite common among both Tesla owners and non-Tesla owners who intend to become Tesla owners: “Should I charge my Tesla to 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%?” Having owned Teslas in a few different scenarios, and having followed Tesla closely and professionally for nearly a decade (wow, that’s surprising when I think about it), I think I have a bit of useful insight to try to answer this question.

First of all, the simple answer is: it depends. Or, in popular car lingo, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

As I understand it, it is ideal to keep a lithium-ion battery as close to 50% as possible. That’s if you want to achieve super duper ideal results in terms of longevity.

No one is so extreme or has such ideal conditions to keep a car battery right around 50%. Even aiming to keep it between 40% and 60% is a bit extreme. (Though, I have considered trying to do this with my car — and I probably will try it out at some point just to see how effectively I can do this.)

I think one of the most common pieces of advice that experts (including Tesla salespeople and delivery specialists) give to owners or potential owners is to charge up to 80% unless you need to charge more than that for a trip. Basically, that doesn’t get too far away from 50% (or, to put it another way, too close to 100%). Keeping it below 80% should not cause much worry (hopefully no worry), while still providing plenty of range for normal driving needs. It’s an easy generic comfort level.

Some experts, though, will even tell you that more than that is fine, because the batteries are packaged and managed very well in a Tesla car or SUV and it’s not worth it for a person to stress over such a trivial matter. Some may just favor the approach of not worrying too much and not sweating the small stuff — which I would argue is not the worst approach to life on Earth. Enjoy your vehicle and fuggedaboutit!

That said, when I’ve charged up above 90% routinely, the Tesla infotainment screen has even warned me that it’s not good for the battery to be charged up too high on a regular basis. Tesla wouldn’t push that message out to people if there wasn’t some significant merit to it.

“Wait, why were you routinely charging up above 90%?,” you may be asking. This is where YMMV comes in again.

It’s important to not go so crazy trying to optimize your battery lifetime that you stress yourself out, waste a bunch of time, or create a challenging scenario. For a bit more than 1½ years with our Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+), we had no home charging. So, I was routinely charging at Tesla Superchargers or much slower ChargePoint stations when that was all that was needed. Pre-pandemic, it fit our schedule well to plug in at the grocery store and perhaps eat lunch there, plug in at the mall and work while my daughter played on a nearby playground, plug in at a Starbucks and work in the coffee shop while people watching, etc. Charging was so convenient and fit so well into our weekly habits that it didn’t really do much for me to charge above 80% or 90%. In the COVID era, however, we spend much less time out and about, which means that we have less opportunity to charge. So, I switched to doing much more Supercharging and I charged the car to a higher percentage more often in order to extend the time until we needed to charge again.

Also, in that situation, we were leaving right after charging, so we’d quickly get the charge level down to a better percentage. The worst thing is to charge a battery up to 100% or so and then leave it sitting there for a long time.

The point is that our weekly habits made it more sensible, weighing all matters, to charge above 90% two or three times a week.

A few years ago, I co-ran a Tesla shuttle service in Europe. In that business, it was important to have the Tesla Model S ready to go on long trips as much as possible, so we asked our drivers to charge up near 100% (or we did the charging ourselves when we were the ones who had to manage that). Again, circumstances called for this, so we did it. We didn’t try to keep the car’s battery below 80% because that would have been detrimental to our service and the business as a whole.

Getting back to my Tesla Model 3, I now have a garage and home charging. I’ve mostly been charging the car up to 60–80% as I get used to this, since that feels comfortable but doesn’t go too far. This is using just simple 110V charging — the same as your computer or phone or electronic toothbrush uses. I don’t seem to have any need for something faster than that. I will probably shift to a max of ~70% soon, because I certainly don’t need more than that except on the rarest of occasions (that’s about 143 miles of range in my Model 3 SR+). That will probably lead to routine draining of the battery down to 30–40%. Keeping it between 30% and 70% will feel good, especially considering the fact that I have Supercharged this Model 3 a lot … and that’s not very good for a battery in the long term.

So, with regard to the question, “Should I charge my Tesla to 80% or 90% or 100?,” the answer is “yes.” Charge it to whatever you need to charge it to and don’t stress. Though, to whatever extent is comfortable and not raising your anxiety level, try to keep the battery within 20–30% of 50%.

All of that clear? To put it in simpler terms, here’s my bullet-point prescription:

  • Need to charge to 90%+ in order to get around in a convenient, stress-free, time-efficient way? Go for it!
  • Fine charging to 80% without having to change much (or anything at all)? Then stick to 80%, not 83% let alone 90%+.
  • Really don’t even need to charge to 80%? Hover around 50% as much as possible — whether that’s 40–60%30–70%, 33–66%, or whatever fits.

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