Tesla Software Update Tips & Tricks

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We are used to software updates on our phones, but cars that require software updates are still somewhat of a novelty. Until Tesla came along and shattered that paradigm, cars were more like appliances that, once they rolled off the production line, didn’t evolve much in functionality, safety, or technology.

Tesla changed all of that with the Model S when it added an expansive 17″ touchscreen display to the center of the dash. It became the hub for the car and the primary way for drivers to interact with and control the vehicle. All of that new functionality was packed into what is essentially an oversized infotainment tablet that let hand tendrils tap into specific vehicle functions, and that also allowed Tesla to update the more important functions of the car, like the battery management system and Autopilot.

With software updates being new to cars and many new Tesla owners joining the ranks everyday, we put together a handful of informational tips and tricks to make the software update experience better.

When Is It Coming?

Tesla fanatics are always itching for the next software update to come through, thanks to the loads of functionality Tesla tends to bring with each update. And I have to admit, being able to kick off a 45 minute software update from the comfort of your couch and then have your car suddenly be capable of new things — like opening your garage door when the car gets close or keeping itself in a lane with Autosteer — is pretty amazing. Many of us owners get a thrill out of that.

The latest update from Tesla added a new Software Update Preference in version 2019.16.1 (and newer versions) that lets owners choose when they want to receive updates. For the fanatics out there, go into your settings and select Software > Software Update > Advanced. You can select the option to receive updates immediately as they are available (and there are a few other options/settings).

Sentry Mode Bug

I’ve discovered that Sentry Mode — which utilizes the existing set of cameras used by the vehicle for Active Safety, Autopilot, and Full Self Driving to improve safety while the vehicle is parked — comes with a few quirks. One of those quirks can set you back if you’re not careful, and it relates to software updates. If Sentry Mode is enabled and a software update is started from the phone, the update will not be installed. The phone will go through the normal 2 minute countdown and then mysteriously make it look like the update has been rescheduled for another time.

To get around this issue, disable Sentry Mode from the phone before you start a software update. Because it’s all software, Tesla will likely fix this bug in a future update, but for now, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Supercharging + Update = Nope

When CleanTechnica was up in Fremont, California, touring Tesla’s Fremont Factory, touring Tesla’s high-tech seat factory, and interviewing Jerome Guillen, President of Automotive, we were also expecting or hoping for a few software updates to enable some new functionality. I had purchased Autopilot a few days before the trip and was eagerly hoping for the new functionality to be pushed down to my car before or during the journey. Supercharging V3 had also been released that week, and as a member of the Early Access Program, I was hoping for a software update to open up the new V3 chargers for my Model 3.

After spending several days with Zach Shahan and Chanan Bos bouncing around the Bay Area and interviewing leaders in the cleantech space, a software update ironically showed up mere minutes after Chanan and I dropped Zach off at the San Jose Airport and headed back to Fremont for a top-up at the Supercharger. This was just before driving back down to Southern California. The plan was to install the update as we Supercharged for maximum efficiency.

Instead, we found that the software update actually would not fire off while we had it connected to the Supercharger. It’s unfortunate, but also understandable — updates can affect any part of the car and the last thing we need is to cause an issue with the car as it is gulping down power from a Supercharger at 125kW.

A whole lotta nope! Image credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

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Bypass The 2-Minute Timer

Tesla software updates normally fire off with a 2-minute timer. This gives owners time to cancel the update if they all of a sudden remember that they are actually in the drive-through lane and can’t leave the car in place for 45 minutes while it updates. Many owners want to cut right to the chase and get the updates rolling as soon as possible, but sometimes that’s just not smart and the 2-minute timer saves you. But other times it’s just a time-consuming annoyance.

A new trick around this was discovered thanks to a tip from a Tesla Mobile Tech. Yes, you can skip the 2-minute timer and get right to the update. I gave this a shot in the update from 2019.12.1 to 2019.12.2 and it works as advertised. Pretty neat little lifehack. Watch my 13-second how-to video here:

What Version Are You Running?

The addition of the Software field to the options menu also gives owners a home base for all of their software needs. The new window displays the version of the software that’s running on the car. Because it uses such a logical format, owners can quickly tell what version they are running and when it’s from. For example, in the current software my Tesla Model 3 is running, 2019.12.1.2, the first four digits of the software version are the year (2019), followed by the week the build was started (12).

Behind that, Tesla uses typical software versioning, starting with version 1 and iterating upwards as needed. Occasionally, a sub-version will show up. New builds of the software typically show up about a month after the week indicated in the software version, but this varies depending on the complexity of the update, testing required, and the like. I’m a fan of software testing, especially when that software is responsible for steering my car down the road at 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) a few inches from neighboring lanes.

This latest update added the version of the navigation maps being used in the vehicle. This is not something we have seen any relevant applications for or any need for, but it’s there for the curious.

Fire It Off From Your Phone

Back in the day, Tesla owners had to actually get into the car to get a software update started, but no longer! When a software update arrives, owners are alerted that an update is ready from the car and is also on their phones. Tesla recently added the capability to start the update from the phone, which is a nice touch since many updates seem to get pushed down in the late evening hours.

When a software update is ready to be installed, the car now pushes a notification through the Tesla app to let the owner know that an update is ready. They can also jump directly into the app and fire off the update. That’s a neat bit of functionality that makes loading new software updates even easier. Just remember, once it has started, you’re committed, so don’t fire off a 45 minute update while you’re waiting to get a coffee or just before you have to head out to pick up the kids. I’ve had a few near misses myself as my excitement about the new update trumps the logic, scheduling, and order-of-operations functions in my brain. [Editor’s note: ditto.]

Do you have your own tips and tricks that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments so we can add it here or include it in our next roundup!

If you want to take advantage of my Tesla referral link to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging on a Tesla Model S, Model X, or Model 3, here’s the link: http://ts.la/kyle623 (if someone else helped you, please use their code instead of mine). You can also use my referral code to get a new Tesla Solar system for your home.

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Kyle Field

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. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1663 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field