Tesla prides itself in simplicity—whether that be a minimalistic interior, single-piece casting, or the use of as few sensors as possible. In 2021, Tesla made the decision to remove the radar sensor from its best-selling Model 3 and Y vehicles and decided shortly afterward that the luxury-oriented S and X should follow suit. Now, Tesla is going on the offensive for select vehicles that still have radar units installed and unplugging the sensors from customer cars during routine service appointments.
The silent change was noticed by some eagle-eyed customers who found a no-cost line item on their service estimates, which must be approved prior to a Tesla Service Center performing work on a customer car. This means that if owners approve the work estimate for their car without reading through it ahead of time, the service techs may simply disconnect the radar during the service visit.
Contrary to earlier reports, Tesla isn't actually physically removing the radar units from customer cars. Instead, the service bulletin (which is not accessible to the public, but has been shared in a Reddit comment) describes disconnecting the radar from the vehicle harness and capping off the end of the plug—so the radar unit is still in place, just not physically hooked up to the vehicle's wiring harness.
Some owners have caught the line items on their estimates and have tried to remove them, only for the item to be automatically added back. Others have had success to remove the task by manually asking the service center to not disable the sensor, something which reportedly is obliged. However, owners say they are then warned that "a future over the air update is going to disable the sensor anyway."
Vision-based Autopilot has a few drawbacks versus vehicles that use radar. For starters, vehicles can't enable cruise control or Autopilot over 85 miles per hour, which probably isn't a huge deal, considering that the highest speed limit in the U.S. is 85 mph and EVs lose quite a bit of efficiency at higher speeds. They also can't follow other vehicles quite as closely, with the following distance kicked back from one car length to two, meaning that it is easier for other vehicles to sneak ahead of them in traffic. Some owners have complained that without the radar sensor, they are now also receiving errors regarding their parking sensors being obstructed—something one would expect to be related to ultrasonic sensors, but reportedly appeared after their radar module was unplugged.
Tesla's techs have informed some owners that their vehicles haven't been using the radar sensor for quite some time. One owner says that they were told that their car "hadn't used the sensor once in over three months" after it was disabled by a software update. This tracks with an archived version of the automaker's Transitioning to Tesla Vision help page which states that all Model S and X vehicles built for the North American market have used vision-only based systems since February 2022.
So why is Tesla actually tampering with the radar now if vehicles haven't used it in over a year? Well, according to one posted on Tesla Motors Club, the radar unit was "just draining the battery without being useful." Tesla's radar units have also been subject to water intrusion problems that have required the complete replacement of sensors.
Reportedly, the subset of owners that have had their sensors unplugged is only those whose vehicles are capable of using Tesla Vision to begin with. Older vehicles, or vehicles without upgraded Autopilot cameras and computers, are not having their sensors unplugged, presumably because they actually rely on the radar sensor, unlike the vehicles which have reportedly already undergone a software disable. However, owners that paid to upgrade their Autopilot hardware have reportedly also had their radar units unplugged.
Tesla's approach to the radar debacle is pretty polarizing among owners. Some believe that since Tesla has improved its vehicles with its vision-only system, radar is obsolete. Others feel that Tesla has effectively weakened its vehicles' functionality by removing the radar sensors and are upset that they have a vehicle with fewer features than they expected when purchasing it. Whether or not it's the right approach still remains to be seen.
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