Tesla Heat Pumps Are Failing in Extreme Cold, Owners Say—But Musk Claims Fix Is Coming

More than 25 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y owners say their cars wouldn’t warm up, often in subzero temperatures.

byJames Gilboy| UPDATED Jan 18, 2022 6:18 PM
Tesla Heat Pumps Are Failing in Extreme Cold, Owners Say—But Musk Claims Fix Is Coming
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For all their differences, electric and internal combustion vehicles heat their cabins in pretty much the same way. Both repurpose heat from their drivetrains, though in the case of EVs, that heat comes not from an engine but from either an inverter or a dedicated heating element. Regardless, each should work in any environment, though some Tesla Model 3 and Model Y owners have reported their heaters failing in the cold, leading to potentially life-threatening situations that forced Tesla to issue a software quick-fix.

Reuters reports Transport Canada has received 16 complaints from owners of the aforementioned Teslas saying their heaters failed to operate in temperatures below freezing. Separately, The Drive has found 10 similar complaints filed with the NHTSA; one for the 2021 Model 3, and nine for the Model Y. The NHTSA's database registers the initial complaints regarding this issue being filed a little less than one year ago, which Tesla attempted to address by replacing the coolant system's "super-manifold" and some of its sensors. Service, however, has evidently not addressed the issue, as owners' complaints have continued into 2022.

According to InsideEVs, Tesla attributed the problem to a recent update, which apparently can result in the coolant system's intake flap freezing open, overexposing the heat exchanger to cold air. The car's sensors reportedly register this as a failure, which disables the coolant pump to stop the heater from blowing cold air. Obviously, this has no effect if the coolant circuit was never warm to begin with.

To be clear, EVs' heat pumps are responsible for both conditioning the cabin and the batteries. With a faulty heat pump, range can also be reduced significantly, though the main concern here is related to the Teslas' HVAC systems.

More than 60 percent of complaints have come from Canada, land of the taxpayer-funded 94-mile Model 3, where Tesla owners have reported failures occurring in extreme weather. One stated their children almost suffered frostbite, while another said their Tesla "could have killed my family today when the heat stopped working in -40C." Owners were initially advised to prevent the problem by keeping their cars' front air passages clear of ice and preheating their vehicles 30 to 60 minutes before driving.

Since then, the issue has been brought to the attention of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who tweeted Saturday that "fixing this is a high priority," and that an update was on the way. Though believed to be only a temporary patch, one that allows the heat pump to run even with the intake flap being stuck open, at least one Tesla owner has reported this has fixed the problem.

While this comes as a relief for Tesla owners who previously experienced the problem themselves (or merely feared it), it raises questions about which update Tesla believes caused the issue, reports of which could predate said update by months. While it's definitely for the best that Tesla owners aren't freezing to their seats, neither they nor Tesla are out of the woods yet.

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