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Owner’s Manual Companion

This very useful article for owners and enthusiasts of Tesla’s vehicles was created by the long-time poster and longtime Tesla owner, @J.T. We owe him a debt of gratitude for the early years. It is currently maintained by TeslaTap. We hope you find it useful!  (Dec-2023 update)




Tesla is a thinking person’s car. Some are ill-equipped for ownership.

  • The options, prices, standard equipment, and design can change at any time which makes it difficult to decide whether you want to wait for the next iteration or place your order and start driving the best car in the world sooner. Be aware that gallery and service center staff have no advanced knowledge of any upcoming/unannounced features so don’t blame them should something come along that makes you feel you should have waited.
  • The VIN assignment is unpredictable. However, you will get it in plenty of time.
  • For VIN decoding see our Tesla-specific decoder.
  • Our article on Selecting the right battery size for your new Tesla is a bit dated but may be useful.


What State of Charge (SOC) is best to promote peak battery health?

It seems like a really basic question, but our understanding of Lithium-Ion battery chemistry does not yield a “one size fits all” kind of answer. And Tesla’s position on this is “it depends.” One thing we do know for sure is that you want to keep your SOC above 20% and below 80% for the most common NCA-type batteries. That seems like a fairly big target, easy to achieve, but even that guideline has its detractors.  For LFP cars (some Model 3/Y RWD cars), the battery chemistry is different, and charging to 100% every day is fine.

In the Summer of 2023, Tesla dropped the recommended daily charging from 90% to 80% for cars with NCA cells.  Likely either one is fine, but dropping to 80% will reduce the gradaual battery range decline.  Use 100% when you need it for trips, but otherwise, it’s best to use Tesla’s recommended 80%.

Many owners latch on to this “80%” rule for these reasons and add one of their own. “What if you need to make an unexpected errand and your car is only charged 80%?” My answer is, that you drive to a Supercharger on the way and add more electrons when you get low. Most people live within 150 miles of a Supercharger, so it’s not a huge concern for most people. “What if” adds a lot to the range anxiety of the uninitiated.

The only thing that cures range anxiety is owning the car for a few months and realizing that most of the time you might not even look at your rated range. You pack it in for the day, plug your car in, go to sleep, and wake up to a car ready with more range than you need for almost all of your errands. Pretty nifty.

To add just a little more confusion to this topic you should be aware that when asked, Elon Musk and JB Straubel said that the “most comfortable” SOC for the Tesla battery is between 50% and 62%. So, if you need to keep your car plugged in for a couple of months at a time for vacation or travel set the charge level to 60%. This way Vampire Loss might take it down to 55% before recharging.

For a lot more on range see our Range University.

This brings us to the next highly debated section:

How often should I charge and should I keep the car plugged in even if it isn’t charging?

Tesla has made it clear as clear as can be to keep the car plugged in whenever possible. They even used to include in the glove box a card that said, “A Plugged-in Tesla is a Happy Tesla.” Of course, people have asked why they should keep it plugged in all the time and Tesla came back with a very technical answer: “Because we said so.”

Of course, there are times when you can’t keep your car plugged in. But, there are times when Tesla can’t keep all of the cars at the factory plugged in so just how important can it be? Think of it this way. If you have your SOC set to 80%, and you keep the car plugged in all the time, a car that has 405 miles of range or more at 100% SOC will always have at least 300+ miles of range whenever you get in the car. The chances of you running out of charge are pretty slim. A good habit to get into. However, if you thought you were going back out for the day and then didn’t, you might go to sleep and wake up to a car with only enough miles to get you stuck on the freeway. Not a good situation for Tesla should the local news get a hold of it. “Tesla Dies on Freeway Causing Massive Jam.” The story won’t affect Tesla owners, but range anxiety is the number one concern of non-owners, so it’s not going to help the cause.

Admittedly we do not all plugin our cars all of the time. But, most of the time we do. There’s no good reason not to, and there might be some ancillary benefit, other than waking up to an adequate charge car, that we are not privy to. So, like Tesla and Nike say, “Just do it.”

Understanding Charging 

What’s Going On In My NCA Battery? by @Anthony J. Parisio

NCA (Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum) Lithium batteries are very stable at receiving and giving power between 20% and 80% of charge. The curve is a straight line between these two points. That means it is like you are plugged into a wall outlet getting constant even power. In the period before 0% and 20%, they are very unpredictable. The thousands of cells in the battery pack can discharge at different rates which can lead to some cells having reduced capacity or even death over time.

The opposite end (80% to 100%) is also true. The 7000 cells in the Model S/X pack can charge at different rates which might cause some cells to end up with reduced capacity or even die over time. The safest place to be is in the 20% to 80% range. Tesla has some hidden space at the top and bottom of the range to keep you away from 0% and 100% but not all that much. They wanted to give us more range.

The reason this is true is that the lithium and graphite compounds used in the batteries are crystals. They grow and contract as the electrons populate and depopulate the crystalline structure. Crystals crack if you push them too far too fast! Cracked crystals are dead batteries. The electrons coming in and going out so fast and unpredictably at the top and bottom of the charge curve increase the chance of cracking. There is no known way to change this; it is the physics of the structure. See why the top and bottom are dangerous.

You will notice when using a Supercharger it will charge fast at the beginning of charge time. As it gets closer to the top it will slow down. This ensures “not too much too fast.” This minimizes the chance of crystalline structure damage.

Editor 2023: Some cars, such as the Model 3 RWD use LFP (Lithium-Iron-Phospate) batteries. This formulation is not as dense as NCA batteries but can be charged to 100% as much as you want without any concern about reduced longevity.

Note To get a Supercharger where you want one

Note A great resource on home charging, plugs, and adapters

The EPA ratings on Tesla vehicles vary up to 470 miles (i.e. A Cybertruck with the range extended).  Most drivers won’t achieve the EPA numbers on a regular basis due to the following factors:

  1. Elevation: Large elevation change is the biggest factor in an EV’s range. When traveling up a steep incline, the battery will deplete much more rapidly than at the same speed on level terrain. Elevation drops are your friend, regen will add energy back into the battery.
  2. Weather: Batteries are less efficient in colder weather. Also, a lot of battery power is diverted to battery maintenance and cabin warming which reduces range. Wet pavement and snowy roads add friction and also reduce range.
  3. Speed: The faster you go the more energy it takes to overcome wind resistance.
  4. Acceleration: Just like in conventional cars jackrabbit starts wreaking havoc on mileage. If you combine launching with driving fast, you will deplete the battery extremely fast.
  5. Tires: Summer tires are stickier than winter tires and reduce range. New tires need to be broken in and some owners have reported reduced range until they’ve put over 1000 miles on new tires.
  6. HVAC: AC does affect range a bit but not nearly as much as heat does on older cars.  All new Teslas (since 2021) use a heat pump design that is more efficient in cold weather.  Still, some range reduction will occur at low temperatures.

On the early S without the self-closing port door, if the charge port door is stuck closed and all the buttons are no help try the “karate chop”. Hit the right-most edge of the door with authority and it should pop open. Moisture on magnets or misaligned magnets is usually the culprit.

If your MC (Mobile Connector) is plugged in properly and there’s no green light try pressing the reset button on the back of the unit (Gen 1) or unplugging it for 1 minute and plugging it back in (Gen 2).

If your UMC doesn’t unlock, open the trunk, find a little door on the driver’s side, and pop it off. There is a small lever, which when moved, releases the Charging Plug. Note that the older Model S cars did not have this option.


Operating Safely

This section goes over some important safety tips, including making the car safe and comfortable for pets and passengers while parked.

  1. Error! Water Damage & Safety
    1. Contrary to Elon’s joke about the Model S is like a boat, DO NOT drive through significant standing water. Tesla Technical Support warned, “This can permanently damage your vehicle.”
    2. Plus if the water is deep enough and moving fast enough you could be trapped and drown; be careful, be sensible.

To keep the accessories on for pets or passengers when you leave the car do one of these things:

    1. Have a passenger touch the screen and the accessories will come on; or
    2. Leave the door ajar and the accessories will not go off; or
    3. Use the E-Brake on the Control Panel and leave the car in Neutral and the accessories won’t go off; or
    4. You can also manage the climate from your phone in 30-minute intervals; or
    5. When parked, tap Climate and select the option “Keep Climate On”. HVAC will remain on until the SOC goes below 20%.
    6. Error! ALERT:   If you leave by the passenger door ajar, everything will stay on until you turn it off from the MCU or reenter the car and open the driver’s door. This is by design, not a bug.
  1.  Lightning Information
    1. It is safe to sit in a Tesla vehicle and ride out a thunderstorm. Even if lightning strikes the car, you will not be injured nor will the car be damaged with the possible exception of a paint blemish where the spark contacts the car.
    2. Don’t try to Supercharge during a thunderstorm. A nearby lightning strike to a power line will find its way into the car where the resultant transient energy might damage sensitive electronic circuits throughout the car.


This section goes over some instructions and tips for getting and operating your Tesla. It also includes some enhancements to improve the whole experience.

  • Have a problem after delivery? In North America, call ownership at  +1-877-798-3752. You can also email ServiceHelpNA@tesla.com. You may find it’s easier and faster to just set up a service appointment from the Tesla phone app.
  • Door handles will NOT auto-present after 48 hours of inactivity on the Model S.
  • Important! IMPORTANT: CELL PHONE INTERFERENCE. Cell phones can interfere with the phone or key fob to car communication. Don’t keep them in the same pocket. A cell phone near your fob in your bag or purse may lock you out. The car does not “see” the fob and locks the car.
  • Yellow dotted lines on the energy graph are due to limited charging capability (regen) or limited power output (go). This can be because of a cold or full battery for the former, and a cold, hot, or low battery for the latter.
  • Important! IMPORTANT: COLD WEATHER OPERATION. We strongly suggest that any owner whose ambient temperature drops below 40°F prepare for the changes in vehicle range and operations.
  • You can attach a USB mouse to your car Some USB game controllers also work for the built-in games!
  • To change your Valet mode PIN do this: Press where it says you forgot the code and sign in using your Tesla account. Once you log in that way, the next time you enter valet mode you get to enter a new PIN.


This section goes over some instructions and tips for resolving common and not-so-common issues.

  • Rebooting solves many problems. If gremlins appear,  press and hold both scroll wheels for 10 seconds to reboot the MCU. This can be done while driving, but you may lose the speedometer and other instrumentation.
  • Warning REMOVE EVERYTHING FROM USB PORTS BEFORE REBOOTING.  (A bootable USB drive can cause boot problems)
  • After any software installation, some owners do a scroll wheel reboot
  • Stuck Charge Cable?!! Remember if the doors are locked the charger cable is locked too.
    1. Hold down the cable connector button for more than 10 seconds; or
    2. Hold down the trunk button on the fob for more than 2 seconds (Model S or X); or
    3. Open the trunk, find a little door on the driver’s side, and pop it off. There is a small lever available on newer cars, which when moved, releases the Charging Plug.
  • If the car won’t wake up press on the brake, hard, and do the scroll wheel reboot.
  • Important! CLUNK SQUEAL WHINE KNOCK THUMP CHIRP If your car is doing any of this check out our Museum of Tesla Sounds and see if your sound is explained.
  • Is your calendar not Syncing? Try this tip: The calendar only updates when the Tesla app is on. So turn on the Tesla app every day that you want your calendar synced. It will only sync for today’s events and tomorrow’s.  Also, confirm in the phone settings that the Tesla app has access to your calendar.
  • If your Panoramic Roof doesn’t close after a software update here is a workaround: Just hold the pano roof close button on the screen for about 5 seconds. The bug is a false hand sensor trip. Holding the button overrides the hand sensor.
  • If you’re not getting the same rated miles on a charge as you had previously don’t fret; your battery is not dying. There is no accurate way to determine how many miles of range you will get out of a charge except to drive the car until it stops. What you see on your speedometer is a calculation based on an algorithm based on calculations of the state of charge of the battery: it’s a guesstimate. So, if a 90% charge got you 360 miles yesterday and today it only got you 355 just fuggedaboutit and enjoy the drive. And if you tend to obsess about the number on your dash, a little electrical tape over the number will help. Or, change your readout to percentage and you’ll always see that exact percentage every morning. See our Range University for more details.

Contacting via the Tesla Website

There are several ways to contact Tesla. If you have an idea or suggestion and are an owner, use the Contact link at the bottom of every Tesla page (not TeslaTap.com).  Select a topic like “Roadside Assistance”.

  • OTA updates take about 2-4 weeks to reach the entire fleet. We don’t know how it’s done.
  • Every new version is closely followed by sub-versions. which tweaks the update. These are bug fixes. They usually don’t come with updated release notes. Go to Controls -> Software for your version number.
  • When the update is available for your car, an update notification will appear on your screen, and perhaps on your mobile device. You can initiate installation immediately or program the installation to start at a later time. If you close the screen and did not set a time to install you can always touch the alarm clock icon at the top of the MCU to access the options.
  • An installation can take from 45 minutes to as long as 2.5 hours depending on the scope of the update. While the car is installing the update it will appear dead at times, sometimes it will appear possessed. Regardless, you won’t be able to operate anything in the car until the installation is finished. So, plan accordingly.
  • If you have a bootable USB drive attached, remove it before doing the update (ideally, USB flash drives for music or dashcam recording should not be bootable, but it could be if infected with a virus).  The drive Tesla includes with your car is not bootable and can be left in place.

  • The Supercharger Superguide explains which stall is the fastest to use when others are occupied.
  • Experiment with travel conditions and range at evtripplanner.com
  • Here is @Blueshift’s excellent Supercharge Info which has very up-to-date status reports about new chargers.
  • Camper Mode When camping out in your car you can keep the Climate System ON by selecting camper mode from the HVAC panel.
  • When staying at a hotel/motel where there isn’t a good cell signal, connect your vehicle to the WiFi if possible. This way your app will still work.
  • For those with back issues or who get a stiff back after long rides, consider this suggestion: Increase the lumbar “out” and turn your seat heater on 3, whether or not you have a cold A/C in your face. Also, on a cross-country trip, my masseuse suggested using a tennis ball placed on the seat beneath my right glute, where the IT band travels. I also found it useful to place another between my lower right back and the seat. Long-haul truckers have been using this for decades. It helps! (@NKYTA)



The Owner’s Manual! You can read the owner’s manual pdf on any device by going to Tesla Account, selecting Manage on your car, and then Glovebox. The manual is also available in your car by going to Controls -> Software.


The Basics on Autopilot today:

  • Note Keep your hands on the wheel.
  • Note Keep your eyes on the road.
  • Note Keep your butt in the seat.
  • Note Keep the sensors clean.

Thanks to George Hawley for the information below.

  1. Autopilot is a catch-all term that includes several driver assistance features. It is not the automotive equivalent of autopilot in aircraft.
  2. Autopilot (AP1) features are only available in Tesla cars produced after September 2014 that are equipped with a forward-facing radar transducer in the middle of the front of the car, a forward-facing HD camera in the front of the rearview mirror housing, and 12 ultrasonic sonar transducers, arrayed around the periphery of the car.  AP2 changed the design in cars made after October 2016 with 8 cameras, radar, and doubling the range of the sonar sensors. The radar in AP2 is no longer needed or used.
  3. Basic Autopilot features are included with all Tesla cars today. For new purchases, there is also a Full Self-Driving (FSD) option you can buy with your initial order, or as an after-delivery addition. FSD is a set of features, many of which are still being developed.  In 2021 Tesla started a subscription service for FSD as an alternative to outright purchase.
  4. Autopilot with FSD currently includes Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), Auto-lane change, Auto steering, Auto parking, and Summoning (operable both using the fob and the updated iPhone app.) The Autoparking feature is parallel parking and perpendicular parking (the car backs into the space.)  Additional features are planned for the future.
  5. TACC enables the car to cruise up to a top speed set by the driver and to follow a vehicle, maintaining a distance that corresponds to the time it would take to reach that vehicle’s current position. The distance is also set by the driver.
  6. TACC locks onto vehicles as small as a motorcycle.
  7. Autopilot functions are recommended for use in good weather on well-marked roadways, especially limited-access highways. Functions depending on the camera may be disabled when driving directly into bright sunlight.
  8. Autosteering requires hands on the wheel. It is disabled if there is no slight tug on the steering wheel by the driver detected after a number of seconds. The driver will receive a warning if the car senses that the driver’s hands are not on the steering wheel. After three warnings, AP is disabled until the car is stopped.
  9. Autopark is initiated by touching a prompting icon on the main screen. The icon appears after the car passes a candidate space. Autoparking requires the car to perform some internal calibration calculations and may not work when first tried.
  10. The ultrasonic sensors have a maximum range of about 16 feet in AP1 (first version) and about 30 feet in AP2 and AP3.  Some newer vehicles no longer include ultrasonic sensors, as all the ranging is determined by the cameras.
  11. Multiple software downloads have been delivered since the first availability of initial Autopilot features adding functionality and refining performance.
  12. Autopilot features require the driver to be constantly vigilant and prepared to take over control of the vehicle at any moment. It is a driver assistant feature, not full self-driving.
  13. Autopilot does not stop for a stopped object or vehicle that has not been previously tracked. FSD offers more advanced stopping abilities with stop signs, traffic lights, and other situations. The driver is ALWAYS responsible for safe driving, even if using FSD.
  14. It is recommended to not use Autopilot in areas of road work or maintenance where there could be lane closures, mismarked lanes, or stopped vehicles in a lane.

  • Low-profile performance tires wear quickly and might provide a bit harsher ride.  Use non-low-profile tires for longer life and more ride comfort, at the sacrifice of some handling.

Tesla cars can be activated through the use of a radio transmitter/receiver device in the shape of a miniature car, as appropriate. The Model 3 and Y do not have a fob included with the vehicle purchase, but FOB can be bought afterward. This device is referred to in the owner’s manual as a key. It is referred to in Tesla’s FCC registration as a fob key. Most owners just call it a fob.

Its primary function is to act as a key to unlock and lock your car, to enable the car to operate, to open/close the rear hatch, to open the front “frunk”, and in the case of the Model X, to open and close the side doors.

It contains a radio transmitter/receiver that emits and receives signals.  Each fob is uniquely encoded to operate a car with a designated VIN with an encrypted rolling code. The software in the car can recognize individual fobs and link them to the Driver profile of the person with that fob.

If the fob is not working, you can unlock the car and turn it on using the phone app.  In addition:

Model S: If the fob battery is low but not working there is a failsafe. For most 2013 and later cars, place the fob at the end of the passenger wiper that is closest to the center. For 2012 and early 2013 cars, place the fob on the passenger side fender.  In both cases, next press and hold a door handle for a few seconds and it should unlock.

Model X: Hold the fob on the driver’s side between the front and rear doors below the door opening and press the door handle for a few seconds. If this fails, remove the fob battery and try again.

The FOB has a button-style battery to provide power, CR2032 in the case of the Model S, 3, and Y before 2018 and CR2330 afterward.  The Model X fob uses a CR2354 battery. It’s smart to keep a spare fob battery in the glove compartment. Check your FOB to be sure of the right battery.

The Model X fob batteries may not be commonly available. Order CR2354 online or at any Tesla service center.

Battery life depends on usage, but 1-2 years is typical.  If you are getting short battery life, it’s typically due to counterfeit or rejected batteries that are resold as new.  Very low prices are a good indication of a poorly made or used battery.

Fobs are not waterproof, and may not survive a washing machine. If this occurs, you can disassemble a Model S fob,  dry it out (maybe by putting it in a bag of dry rice), and then replace the battery.

More on Fobs:

Thanks to George H for the original contribution


Got an Idea?

  • All are coming “soon” (A four-letter word if there ever was one)
    soon adverb that time in the future about a minute after eventually but a second before pigs start flying.
  • Normally, no one outside of Tesla knows when a car will arrive, when new features will be released, or when that new update will get to your car.
  • Disclaimer: Tesla built a car, not a perpetual motion machine. Solar panels, wind turbines, wheel generators, and supermagnets are not going to change that.


Fun bonus ‘easter eggs’ have been hidden by the clever programmers at Tesla.  Check out our list of Easter eggs.