Tesla Model S gets stranded in Nevada desert, exposes limitation of keyless app

Article by Christian A., on January 28, 2017

Apparently, Tesla’s keyless app is useless as soon as the driver goes into place where there is no cellular service or signal. This is based from the experience of an owner of a Tesla Model S electric sports car – a true story from Ryan Negri of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Tesla launched its keyless app to allow owners to lock, unlock or power up their Tesla Model S even when they don’t use the factory key fob, which of course is still a vital part of driving. As long as a user has a smartphone – powered by Android (Google) or iOS (Apple) – with installed apps from Tesla as well as a cellular signal (for Internet connectivity), he or she could control and monitor his or her Tesla Model S from a far. The keyless app works by having the smartphone app send a request to Tesla’s servers, which in turn process it and transmit a command to the Model S.

Tesla’s keyless app has advantages and disadvantages over a typical key fob. In terms of range, Tesla’s keyless app could reach the electric car as long as there in cellular signal or Internet connection. This means that even if a user is a hundred meters away, he or she could use the keyless app to unlock the Model S. Meanwhile, a key fob employs short-range radio signals, which are good for around 20 meters. These signals are sent directly from the key fob to a receiver unit in the car. But Tesla’s keyless app doesn’t. The request from the app is first sent to Tesla’s servers before it is transmitted to the car. When the connections to the servers are gone, so is the owner’s access to the car.

Negri learned about this the hard way. It seemed that he didn’t know that the keyless app feature needs a cellular signal before it works. So, when he and his wife went out to drive to the Canyon Rock to take some photos of the freshly fallen mountain. He was very confident in the keyless app feature, and so he only took his smartphone but left his key to his Tesla Model S at home. Negri parked his Model S six miles from home, and he was already two miles away from cellular activity. As soon as he returned to his car, he grabbed his smartphone and tried to unlock his Model S using the keyless app. Much to Negri’s chagrin, he couldn’t unlock his Tesla Model S, simply because there was no cell service. His wife had to walk around two miles to find cellular signal, and then contact a friend who was good enough to bring their key fob to their stranded location. Negri managed to later post his experience on Instagram.

Lesson learned: Tesla’s keyless app feature might be awesome, but only when there is cell service. If you’re planning to go to places where there is no signal, better bring your key fob with you.

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