Published on February 13th, 2016 | by Kyle Field


Tesla Model S Service Screens Exposed

February 13th, 2016 by  


I recently picked up a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Tesla Model S (part 1 and part 2 of that story), and in the first month, drove it across the US, gave the Supercharging network a serious workout, and have already converted a few new EV enthusiasts along the way. Unfortunately, in that same span, I have also had to invoke the warranty for a minor repair. Thankfully, Tesla is very different when it comes to service and it was one of the least painful interactions I have had with any company in recent memory.


The repair was nothing major — the rear passenger door handle wouldn’t always work when attempting to open the door. Tesla door handles do a few things: They typically pop out when the key is detected in the proximity of the car. If they don’t detect the key, they can be touched to manually request that they pop out (presumably after looking for and finding the key in the area). And finally, when gently pulled on, they trigger the door to open.

They way they open doors is different than “normal” doors, which are actually mechanical levers that physically unlatch the door. Tesla handles, on the other hand, are just sensors. When they detect a tug, they send a signal to the car to pop a solenoid that releases the door. With the higher level of complexity, these are more prone to failure and, given the relatively early model that I have (with a serial number less than 9,000), I’m still on the early side of the learning curve for some of the more failure prone hardware components.

After a few failures and with my two little boys having taken up near-permanent residence in my rear seats, the handle became more of a headache than I was willing to tolerate. I will unpack the Tesla support process more thoroughly in a future article, but the early learnings I wanted to share relate to the way the Ranger (yeah, Ranger!) connects to, talks to, and updates the car as part of a normal service appointment.

For my door handle change, one of the first things I learned was that they had to update my Model S firmware. This confused me a bit, as I was already running v7.1, but having worked as an IT project manager for many years, deploying a variety of solutions around the globe, I realized he was referring to a minor revision of the same major revision (7.1) of the firmware. This was interesting to me, but makes sense given the complexity of the cars and the fact that they operate much more like a smartphone than a typical car.


Enter the Matrix

To perform the update, the service tech cracked open the panel on the right side of my dash and jacked his HP laptop into a mystery port in the black hole of my car.

After making the connection, the service tech went back to work on the door and I went over to explore the wonderful world of service screens. It was immediately clear that the laptop was ready to load new firmware into my car (or part of my car), as it was in a screen talking about sideloading firmware with different versions available. I later learned that many of the individual hardware components also have their own firmware — just as smartphones do (a recurring theme here) where a modem has different firmware than the WiFi radio… and can have different versions even within the same major version of firmware.

The laptop itself was running a Tesla proprietary application called Toolbox (how original) version 2.0 r0040. The software on the laptop looked fairly standard, with the firmware update screen being front and center. A few other options — like Tires and Suspension, Safety, Steering, and Driver Assist — sound interesting, but without details, it’s hard to say what they allow.


Tapping into the Model S

When I first glanced at my touchscreen, it looked like there was a black, boring status message pulled up, which I assumed said something along the lines of, “connected to the laptop, ready to take orders,” but a closer look revealed that I had, in fact, gone down the rabbit hole and this was just the beginning….

With the laptop connected, the main display in the car indicated that my car had gone into service mode. I soon realized that I was looking at a completely new set of menus with options down the left and tabs across the top. After a bit of probing, I also realized that this new screen was able to go full screen (vertically), displaying TONs of information about my car. My favorite was the birthday — I found out that my Model S was born on Tue, Mar 19, 2013, at 09:32:02. 🙂 This information can’t be found anywhere in the normal user interface and was fun to see.


Tesla Model S “Vitals” | Image Credit: Kyle Field

The Apps tab shows that Tesla seems to be getting ready to push out Spotify to Teslas in the US, as it includes a Spotify Test app. Spotify Premium was awkwardly deployed to all Tesla owners outside the US with the 7.1 firmware update, but stateside users were denied the bonus, presumably as a result of more complex negotiations in the home markets for both products.


Tesla Model S Service Screen “Apps” | Image Credit: Kyle Field

There are also a handful of other apps available — Image Viewer would be helpful, though maybe a bit too distracting to be safe.

Jumping down to the thermal tab revealed a full-screen thermal flow map of the Tesla Model S, including battery cooling loops, comfort heating and cooling, passive and active cooling triggers, dual chargers (only one being utilized on my 110 home charger, which was plugged in and pulling a staggering 12 amps), and the drive unit/inverter. The thermal flow map appears to show how heat and cooling are managed amongst the various components that generate or consume heat. Batteries operate when held at an ideal temp, which from the picture appears to be between 28 and 29 degrees C.


Tesla Model S Service Screen “Thermal” | Image Credit: Kyle Field

From the images, it is all the more evident that the Model S is wired up more like a smartphone with sensors everywhere, firmware for each piece of hardware, and tons of minor revisions of updates happening all the time, transparent to the driver. The Data tab had one of the most dynamic screens.


Flipping through all of the service information tabs and screens revealed a wealth of information, and it was clear that I was only skimming the surface. Check out the full gallery below to get the inside scoop on what’s going on inside the brain of a Tesla Model S. Location and personal info has been blacked out for your safety. 😀

Here’s a video of a YouTuber (not me) walking through some of the service screens. It’s worth noting that the video shows a Tesla Model S running older firmware, so the look and feel is a bit different:

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link:

  • neroden

    “A few other options — like Tires and Suspension, Safety, Steering, and
    Driver Assist — sound interesting, but without details, it’s hard to say
    what they allow.”

    I can explain most of this. These are “switches” in the firmware to tell it which hardware the car has. It’s the same firmware regardless of the car hardware, so the firmware has to know several things:
    — 21″ wheels or 19″ wheels?
    — air suspension or coil suspension?
    — autopilot hardware present, simple parking sensors present, or no sensors?
    There’s also a switch for what color the car is.

    • neroden

      (How do I know this? Humorously, some people ended up with cars with the color switch set wrong — all the images of their car on the screen had the wrong color. The service tech fixed it.)

  • Philip W

    Kyle, you might want to remove GPS information from your pictures. I know where you live now 😛

  • hybridbear

    I’m surprised that you were allowed to take all these pictures & publish them… But, I’m certainly glad you could!

  • James Adams

    Why is the Tesla service tech driving a Ford??

    • It’s early days at Tesla. Give them time to make a full line of different models. Bob Lutz and I can see them all now. 🙂

      • Tim

        Hahaha, you ate my comment right down to the Bob Lutz swipe! You’re funny.

    • Kyle Field

      My kids asked the same thing 😀

    • David Crandon

      Yeah! Especially when they now have enough room to put stuff in the Model X SUV. Even if it is the most butt ugly car on the planet.

    • neroden

      Tesla hasn’t made a panel van yet.

  • Dan

    Spotify is the best! They just got most of The Beatles which was just about the only thing they didn’t have before that. It is like having almost every cd ever for 10 bucks a month. There is also spoken word poetry, audio books, lectures from the likes of Joseph Cambell and Noam Chomsky and more.

    I listen to music and stuff at work a lot with spotify and really really like it!

    Great partnership between Tesla and them, and nice backround Kyle on the inner workings of the service screen/matrix Lol.

    Superior technology for the win!

    • Jenny Sommer

      I don’t get it. Everything is free on YouTube.

      • Dan

        Hard to listen to music on youtube for hours while your phone is in your pocket. And there’s something to be said for paying for art. At least spotify makes contracts with artists. Maybe people like the Metallica guys aren’t happy with just being millionaires, but more average people can get onto spotify or other platforms and earn something while gaining exposure. The days of being ripped off by studios isn’t over but independent artists have more options now.

        • Jenny Sommer

          Doesn’t the phone connect to the car? It’s easy to do playlists on YouTube.

          • Mike

            It is interesting how human-factors end up playing out. You would think it would be simple to just make youtube playlists, connect to the tesla, and listen. As it turns out, the real life mechanics of this aren’t so user-friendly.

            1) Youtube needs to open all the time, unless you jail-break your phone. A bit annoying.
            2) Even if 1) isn’t true — the interface isn’t seamless to the tesla. It is actually far easier to just have Spotify be native and have it always work, and always play when you start the car. This isn’t seamless using bluetooth with either iPhone or Android.
            3) In the course of daily usage of the vehicle, it turns out using Spotify or other native internet radio in the tesla is far better experience. It is hard to explain until you actually experience it. Some people might call it lazy, but you are talking about $10 a month for someone who paid $100k for a car.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Open the desktop site in Firefox and it will keep playing when you lock the screen.
            I like to save the musik for offline paying anyways.
            Is there really no good way to connect to the onboard soundsystem? Aux cable or a simple FM transmitter would do the trick.

          • Mike

            Sure — but imagine running errands on a Saturday using this scheme. You drive 10 minutes, exit the car. Get back in 5 minutes later, drive another 10 minutes. Repeat this exercise multiple times over an hour. You need to open firefox and pause the music. What if you want to go to the next song? You have to open firefox again — bluetooth controls don’t proxy into the firefox HTML5 media player. This means entering in your password or at best use your finger to auth into your device — find firefox, open it, etc. I can assure you this scheme is not user friendly — not when compared to how seamless the native internet media players work in the Tesla.

            The tesla senses you are approaching and automatically preps the internet stream so when you sit down, it starts playing where you left off. If you want to go to the next song, you simply hit a button on the steering wheel. You want to hear something different? Use a single button on the steering wheel for voice control.

            Give it a try for a month… see which one you end up using. 🙂

          • Dan

            Yeah but I don’t work in my car and youtube uses way way more battery life and I can’t turn the screen off with youtube playing. The convenience is, in my opinion, worth paying for. I do not have cable tv or a landline phone so instead of paying for those things I treat myself to spotify and hulu. My parents and I use the same netflix account. Life is pretty sweet as far as the entertainment goes with zero commercials and no BS news channels.

            I remember the days of stressing with commercials which I literally only see now, on youtube.

            No complaints here though. Youtube is great. That is where most of my news comes from plus I read articles and of course the very reliable cleantechnica for the good stuff! 🙂

  • Martin

    Why beyond my knowledge of computers.
    It is explained well, but beyond me. 🙁

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