How to Use the Tesla Navigation Controls

We reviewed the Tesla Model S map and navigation displays in a previous write up so for this post we’ll focus more on the controls itself. Only those that elected to get the Technology Package (about 85% of owners) receive turn-by-turn navigation and controls.

Searching for a Destination

There are three separate methods for searching by destination or point of interest:

  1. Voice Search
  2. Typed search
  3. Pick from your Places

Tesla Navigation ControlsBefore you ignore the voice command search option, something I did when I first got my Model S, let me just say that the voice search on the Model S is the best I’ve experienced across any device. It’s got the power of Google’s voice recognition behind it and the full Google maps database so it’s incredibly good at understanding and finding what you’re looking for.

It’s so good that it’s even able to pick up complex names and places. Voice search not only saves time, but provides a much faster and safer execution than trying to type in the search terms while in the car.

To activate voice navigation, press and hold the voice command button on the top right of your steering wheel and ask “Navigate to” or “Where is” or “Drive to”, followed by your destination, and then release the button. A very common new owner mistake is to press and release the button before speaking. Don’t do that or else it won’t work.

Note that “home” and “work” are special words that use your designated home and work addresses as the target destination. The “to” part is optional as well so you can just press and say “Navigate home” to always get home from wherever you are. Even simpler than trying to click your heels three times. As a special bonus, if you haven’t set your home or work address, the Model S will detect frequent stops and suggest that you set your home or work address for future use.

Another way to search is by typing in your location into the search box. Like any tablet the big keyboard pops up and you can enter any terms you want. If, somehow, the voice recognition got things wrong or you want to modify a pre-existing search you can do so here.

When searching for destinations you can be specific and ask for names, you can ask for street addresses, or generic categories. I’ve tried all sorts of different options and always had great success with it. In the search below I asked the system to find a Japanese restaurant:

Tesla Navigation Controls

If only one result is returned, it will immediately start navigation to your location (most notably with the “Navigate home” type command). Searches that return multiple results are displayed in a scrollable list sorted by distance to travel. Pressing on any of them will immediately start navigation to that destination. If your map zoom level allows it, the possible destinations are also shown on the map and you can press on any of those to have extra controls like marking them as a favorite, or calling the destination if it has a phone number. It would be nice if you could inspect possible destinations from the search list rather than having to find the icon on the map.

Saved Destinations

Tesla Navigation Controls

The Model S has a fairly rich set of saved destinations accessible from the “Places” button. This area not only lets you save favorite locations and set your home and work addresses, but also saves your recent locations and search terms. Removing recent destinations from your history and searches can be achieved through the edit button in the top right of the menu screen.

The Favorites section of Places is the most broken and dysfunctional. At the top, home and work destinations always appear. After that its a list of all saved favorites. The order they’re presented in is undecipherable. It is not sorted in alphabetical order, nor is it sorted by distance. Because of this, finding a Favorite a real pain.

Thankfully, Tesla has grouped all Supercharger locations into its own section making each charge station easy to find.

The Visited Chargers section shows off the locations that you once received a charge from whether it’s a Supercharger to a standard 110V outlet.


The Tesla Model S has no routing options yet (ie. optimize based on traffic, alternate routes). Once you start navigating it does its magic to get you there. It will automatically re-route your travel directions if you happen to miss a turn but that is all it can do. Even GPS systems that sell for less than $100 can do a better job when it comes to routing. I find this the most disappointing area of the Model S navigation system.

Model S owners want routing that takes into account the state of charge (SOC) of their battery, terrain, weather, possible charge locations along the way, etc. That may all sound complex, but it’s something an enterprising 16 year old has put together on his own so why can’t Tesla do the same?


It’s a shame that a navigation system with so much promise and capability is so limited in what it has delivered to Model S owners. Will firmware 6.0 address all the Tesla Navigation System shortcomings? And will it also go above and beyond by integrating capabilities that no other car navigation system on the road today provides? Elon has hinted it will do the latter.

A super-advanced navigation system would certainly be nice, but most Model S owners would be happy to see it just on par with other systems on the market.

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