How Does Tesla Keyless Driving Work?

Keyless indicator on dash

Now that Tesla Model S Firmware 6.0 is finally upon us, I’ll be working my way through a review of each new feature with the first being a look at how Tesla Keyless Driving works.

Tesla Keyless Driving

Tesla Keyless Driving (Firmware 6.0)Keyless Driving is a feature that allows one to power up and drive the Model S without using the factory key fob. In fact the key fob doesn’t even need to be in possession as all you need is a smart phone (with Tesla Model S app installed) and connectivity to the internet.

Pressing the “Start” icon located on the top right corner of the Model S mobile app begins the Tesla Keyless Driving process. You’ll be immediately prompted for your password which many owners have found annoying (despite this being an extra security measure) for the following reasons:

  • You’ve already logged into the Tesla Model S app. so why would you have to login in a second time to start the car?
  • Inputting long and challenging passwords (something we all should have) is exceptionally difficult from a mobile device.
  • TouchID support for iOS users is not yet available. This would simplify the authentication process. At the very least, Tesla should consider use of a PIN which would make the keyless driving authentication process significantly less painful.

Tesla Keyless Driving (Firmware 6.0): password promptOnce you’ve completed the keyless driving login process you’ll have two minutes to get into the car, depress the brake pedal and shift into drive. This process can not be cancelled so you’ll have to wait out the two minutes before the Model S reverts back to an inactive state. Keyless driving does not unlock the doors so be sure to initiate this first.

Both the app and the car have visual indicators notifying the driver that keyless driving is enabled.

ALSO SEE: [Video] Tesla Firmware 6.0 Reviews

If you activate keyless driving and later change your mind, just be sure that your doors are locked to minimize any attempts at theft. As a test I rolled down the driver’s side window, locked the car, walked away and enabled keyless driving. I then went back to the car (without my key fob) and climbed into the car through the window (without unlocking the car) and was able to drive away.

Tesla may want to consider adding the ability to cancel the process as long as the car hasn’t already started within a set period of time. The Model S locks immediately upon exiting (assuming auto-lock is enabled) so be sure not to leave your phone in the car or run the risk of being locked out.

Keyless Driving in the Real World

There’s no better way to put the Tesla Keyless Driving feature to the test than to go fobless the entire day and experience it in the real world.

Test #1

My first trip was a roundtrip excursion through a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru.  Everything went off without a hitch, and so well that I started to imagine life without a key fob.

Test #2

Tesla Keyless Driving (Firmware 6.0): connection failureThe second keyless driving experience was supposed to be to Church but the Tesla app wouldn’t connect even after 10 minutes worth of attempts using both my iPad and iPhone. I eventually gave up and grabbed the key fob so I wouldn’t be late to my destination.

The power management mode on my Model S is configured to only “sleep” at night but despite being in the most responsive setting I still encountered the connection failure.
This experience brought to light a few obvious points that owners may overlook, but worth noting:

  • Your smartphone must have internet or 3G connectivity for this to work. This is especially important to note if you were to take a journey to a location where internet access is spotty (ie underground parking at a mall, camping trip into the mountains).
  • The Tesla servers have to be working. Don’t take for granted that Tesla servers will always be available. All servers experience maintenance windows and unexpected downtimes.
  • Keep your destination in mind before embarking on your keyless driving experience.

Test #3?

My final keyless driving trip would have taken me much further away from home, but since I had nobody to pick me up if things went wrong and I didn’t want to call Tesla on a Sunday complaining that I couldn’t get home due to this new feature, so I decided to abandon the test and just drive with peace of mind knowing the key fob was sitting comfortably in my pocket.


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