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Sounds of Tesla Vehicles

Your Tesla is an unusually quiet car, and you may hear some sounds that would normally be masked by a loud ICE engine or are just different due to the design of the car.  Most sounds are normal, but some sounds may indicate additional actions are necessary. We’ll do our best to separate the normal from the abnormal and how the problems are corrected.  While there are a lot of possible problem cases, these are rare and most owners never have any of the problem sounds.

Most of these sounds relate to the Model S, but may also occur in similar locations on the Model X and Model 3.

Normal Sounds

Top car view normal sounds

1a. HVAC condenser fans – There are fans in the front of the car that help cool the HVAC condenser. These should not be heard inside the car, but will be heard as a fan whirring noise from the front of the car when the fans are running at maximum speed. This sound sample is from the front of the car, with HVAC running about 50% (at 100% it is quite a bit louder).

1b Light buzzing for 5- 30 seconds – The air suspension compressor may be leveling or adjusting the vehicle level. This can occur even when the car is off on occasion.

1b Woosh of air occurs infrequently – The air suspension compressor will occasionally release a burst of pressurized air to regenerate the dehumidifier. The sound lasts about 1 second and is normal for the vehicle to make this noise on occasion. It may occur after the suspension compressor stops.

2a. HVAC Compressor – This makes a kind of mechanical whine from the front of the car and may change in pitch. The compressor is a variable speed design, meaning it runs faster and makes more noise when the system needs maximum cooling. This is one sounds that you rarely notice on ICE cars (due to engine noise).  You can often hear it when you are outside the car and it is running hard on a hot day and you are supercharging. The HVAC compressor runs to cool the battery as well as the cabin, so even if Climate is turned off, you may still hear this noise.  Tesla now includes a sound blanket on new cars, but old cars (2012-2013) may not have this. If you find it annoying, Service can add it to your car.  Even with this change, you may hear the noise when the HVAC is running at maximum power. While driving, once the cabin is cooled off, the sound will disappear. This recording was made at max AC, but fan first set to low so you can hear the compressor slow down without the fan noise that usually hides it.

2b. Short Rattle from Front Drive Shaft – Lasts about 1 second on AWD performance versions (S and X) and may vibrate the car slightly, when suspension is on very high and apply hard acceleration. Keeping the suspension on Normal or low should avoid this.

3. Tire noise – Like any car, tires generate some noise when driving. Typically, this is heard at about 15 MPH to 35 MPH. Above a certain speed, other noises like wind may exceed the tire noise. On some very poor roads the noise can be quite loud (as it will be in any car on the same road). This sound sample is at 35 mph on a medium rough road.

4. Minor Wind noise – As you get to higher speeds, like any car, some wind noise can be heard. It should not be very loud if all the Windows are closed and the pano roof is closed.

5. Rumble for 1 second – This is the warning sound when the car senses you are going outside the lane. This is only available on Auto-pilot cars, when the Lane departure warning option is turned on. On some local roads with poor lane markings may trigger the warning unexpectedly.

6a. Minor Motor/Inverter noise – You may hear the whine of the motor/inverter, which the pitch directly changes with speed. On RWD cars, most owners cannot hear this at all. On AWD cars, it may be noticeable from the front motor, as it is closer to the cabin.

If the noise is from the rear motor, check if the parcel shelf is open or closed. When partly open (or missing), you may hear a little more noise. In all cases, it shouldn’t be annoying.

6b. Hushed whirring sound from the passenger left vent, even when the car is off (cars after October 2016 with AP2). The fans on the AP2 processor unit behind the dash are running and will turn off in about a minute after the normal vehicle shutdown.

7. Whirring when switching out of park or into park for 1 second from rear, and may be accompanied by a mechanical click. Usually cannot be heard inside the car with the windows/sunroof closed. This is the normal operation of the rear parking brakes. They are electrically operated and screw closed or open depending on the desired state. Sometimes the calipers stick to the rotor (also quite normal) and when switching from park to drive/reverse they will snap into place. Sometimes a slight forward or rear motion causes the release after the parking brake was engaged for a while.

8. Engine Noises or Backfires – Likely you’re traveling next to an obnoxious loud ICE vehicle. Suggest converting more consumers to EVs!


Abnormal Sounds

abnormal sound locations

1a. HVAC Condenser Fan screech, chirping or fast tappet sound when winding down (powering off) – This may indicate a bad fan bearing. Service should evaluate and repair if necessary.  The sound sample first hears the fan (normal) before climate is shut off so you can hear the screech of the condenser fan as it winds down.

1b. Lion type growl from left or right front – If the car is started, the aerodynamic radiator shutters on the left and right sides activate in about 10 seconds in some conditions. Normally these make no sound, but if they make a 2 second growl, they should be attended to. Not a serious issue, but have service repair the bad shutter.

1c. Mild vibration and related noise at higher speeds (50+ mph), Refresh Model S only – The front license plate is attached with two screws and adhesive. While rare, if the adhesive breaks loose, the license plate holder will flap against the bumper at higher speeds. Remove plate holder or have Tesla service reattach. For removal, Tesla uses special security screws, so angled long-nose pliers are required or this tool.

2. Windshield Wiper chatter in light rain. This is usually caused by the application of a window sealant like Aquapel or RainX.  Removing Aquapel or RainX once applied is quite difficult. The best fix is to switch the blades to a Bosch replacement blade.

3. Squeak when pressing brake pedal – the brake power booster may need replacement.

4. Mechanical Whirring noise inside dash that occurs whenever the car is powered.  It may be one of the fans in the main display is failing and has a bad bearing. The sound likely doesn’t change no matter if climate in on or off, or the temperature is cold or hot.  These should be silent.

4. Dash minor buzzing near main display for cars with ambient lighting.  Check if the sound disappears when you turn off ambient lighting.  If so, set screen brightness above 70% or turn off ambient lighting. It is unknown if Tesla has a fix for older cars that exhibit this noise. Usually if climate is on, you can’t hear it, so it’s rather minor for most owners that encounter it.

5. Dash creaking and crackling sounds usually when driving over bumps – You may be able to stop the sounds by pressing on the top of the dash. This may be caused the dash rubbing on the A pillar. Contact service. There is a service bulletin to correct this issue.

6. Dash flapping sound only at higher speeds and road bumps do not cause the sound. The cabin air filter may not be secure. Service can correct.

7. Dash clunk noise only when turning – Check if your J1772 adapter or something else is rolling around the glove box. Also check for items in the cubby below the main display.

8a. Steering in hard turn causes clicking/popping – This is caused by an oversized bolt that may need replacement. Tesla service can easily fix this. It is not considered a safety issue.

8b. Squeaking Brake pedal – A brake fluid flush may be required. Contact Service.

9. Loud Wind noise at higher speeds – First confirm all the Windows are fully rolled up and the pano roof is closed.  If you still get loud wind noise, it may be a window or door seal is not perfect. You almost need to test drive another car to tell if it’s normal or perhaps something that needs to be corrected.

10. Intermittent Ticking sound from under front driver’s seat – A design change was made where the rivet size changed, and over time and vibration some seats end up make a ticking sound. A seat bottom  replacement is needed if this is the case.

11. Creaks from the B pillars when going over bumps – Some older cars built in 2012 or 2013 may develop this issue. Tesla service can fix this.

12a. Helicopter chop noise at one wheel location – usually starts above 20 MPH and varies with speed and you feel the car vibrate. The noise is louder with the Windows open. This is often a bad wheel bearing.

12b. Grinding metal noise from one wheel –  A pebble may have gotten trapped between the rotor and the backing plate. While not serious, service will need to remove the pebble.

12. Worn Tire noise – When the tires get to the end of life, the wear bars will make a noise that directly relates to speed, a sort of slapping sound. The noise is louder with the Windows open. The tires need to be replaced (not a warranty item).

13. Knocking sound both still or moving when the car is on.  The air suspension supply could be contaminated with moisture/ambient air and the system needs to be evacuated and refilled with nitrogen. This is a service item.

 

14. Motor whine/milling sound – This can be a loud whine that gets louder over time.  The sound frequency changes with speed, but usually doesn’t get louder with speed.  This can be caused by a problem with the reduction gear (rare), or more commonly a bad bearing.  Tesla will likely need to repair the drive unit. Some noise from the front motor in AWD cars is normal. For the bearing issue, the noise only occurs when power is applied. During regen, it immediately disappears. This recording is from the car going from 0 to 25 mph over 10 seconds. The noise is not really objectionable yet in this S85.

14. Rear clunk noise when transitioning between power and regen.  This may be a bad wheel bearing, a motor mount or slack in the gearbox. Tesla service will need to evaluate and fix.

14. Rear hum that gets louder with acceleration or speed and louder over time.  This is typically coming from the inverter (attached to the motor) and the drive unit may need repair.

15. Rear clunk noise only when starting a turn – Check if you have something rolling around in the rear trunk well like the J1772 adapter or other power adapters.

16. Loud Low-frequency pulsing sound from the rear at some speeds with a window open – The rear hatch is misadjusted, and it is being buffeted by airflow. The service center can easily fix this with a minor adjustment.

17a. Tire/Wheel Well rubbing sounds when backing up, turning sharply and suspension on high – The tire may rub on the wheel well liner. It may be fixable, but you’ll need to bring the car into service. The clearance is very tight under this combination.

17b. Rattle/Squeak starts at moderate speeds – Possible a rock has lodged between the fender liner and the main HV battery and makes noise under vibration.  Contact service to fix.

17c. Thumping during acceleration – The front drive shaft may be defective. Contact service to fix.

18. Pano Roof cracking/creaking sounds – mostly random while driving. One report had two screws in the cross-bar protruding just enough to cause noise on the glass. Service can correct.

19. Headache inducing drone or nagging sounds from back or side of car – Usually caused by Mother-in-law or spouse. No easy fix short of divorce. As a temporary fix, increase stereo volume level to 10 or 11.

6 thoughts on “Sounds of Tesla Vehicles

  1. ChiTown75D says:

    Thank you for creating this guide. Extremely helpful. I was hoping to find a possible explanation to my issue and didn’t see it. I often get a very loud clunking noise from the rear of the vehicle when I put it into drive. Happens about 1 in 10 times and it is definitely not weather related. Any insights are much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Moderator says:

      This sounds like the brakes, which due to so little use can stick to the rotors after being parked for a while. When you back up, they snap and you hear the loud clunk. I’ve had it happen on my car, but not all that often. I’m not sure why some encounter it more often. May be how long the car is parked or weather factors like humidity? If this is the, it’s considered normal and nothing to worry about. You might mention it at the next annual service, but really not concerned.

  2. BeautifulBlueS says:

    I think that I have a new noise for this thread. My 2016 Tesla S has always made the usual warm up and cool down noises. Suddenly the latter is always on if the key is near the car. It sound like a pump, and sort of stutters on and off: “uh, uh-uh, uhhhhh” over and over. It stops if the car is off for 15 minutes. The noise is much louder outside the car than inside and appears to be coming from the front, toward the passenger side. I called Tesla Service and emailed an audio file to my closest service centre. They say any car with noise issues must be brought in. My concern is that the nearest centre is 200km from home. They won’t say whether or not the car is safe to drive that far. That noise is always there when I am driving. ( I can send the audio file if it helps )

    • Moderator says:

      Not sure I’ve heard it before. There are several fluid pumps that may make noise when starting to go bad, and might run to cool the battery after the car is turned off for a few minutes. There is also the HVAC compressor which may also run after the car is turned off. It is noticeable outside the car any could be normal. If you have air shocks, the air compressor might make noise too, but it shouldn’t run for 15 minutes unless there is some air leak, and even then I expect it would trip a fault.
      Still, I’d have the shop look at it. I don’t think it’s a safety issue. Should any of these items totally fail, the car will detect it and do what is necessary to keep it safe. For example, if battery coolant is not working, you can still use the car, but it might slow charging and limit high-performance driving to limit how hot the battery gets. I hope you’ll let us know what service finds out.

  3. Tesla-MLC says:

    Here’s a new one, directly from the shop report:

    Concern: Customer states: there is a rattle in the front dash which is only heard above 50mph.

    Corrections: Interior NVH General Diagnosis

    Test drove with customer and heard rattle/squeak noise from front of dash/firewall area. After many attempts to find squeak and re-drive, a rock was discovered between RF fender liner and outside case of HV battery. At higher speeds the road vibrations would cause this to squeak against HV battery case. The rock was removed and customer called back to convey the good news of the removal of his noise.

    Pay Type: Goodwill

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