Tesla Won’t Sell Its ‘Trailer Mode’ Software to Owners With Aftermarket Tow Hitches

Tesla claims issues with “liability” and warranty limits mean it can’t unlock Trailer Mode for aftermarket hitch buyers, even if you’re using one that’s independently certified.

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Oct 29, 2022 9:30 AM
Tesla Won’t Sell Its ‘Trailer Mode’ Software to Owners With Aftermarket Tow Hitches
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Multiple Tesla owners have reported being unable to purchase Tesla's Trailer Mode towing software after installing third-party tow hitches. Tesla has allegedly offered multiple reasons as to why, despite apparently offering the software to owners with aftermarket hitches previously. Though Tesla vehicles are still capable of towing without it, the software update makes it safer by disabling Autosteer and automatic steering interventions, lowering automatic emergency braking force, and increasing the follow distance on automatic cruise control.

The limitation appears to affect owners of the Model X and Model Y, which have tow ratings of 5,000 and 3,500 pounds respectively. Neither tow package is available in the vehicles' configurator, with only the Model Y's Tow Package appearing on Tesla's accessory site. Because the official Tesla tow package has been out of stock in the United Kingdom for an extended period (archives on The Wayback Machine last show it stocked in June), Model Y owner and cybersecurity specialist Scott Helme purchased a third-party option—only to learn Tesla was unwilling to sell him access to the software.

Helme explained to us that he bought his car "pre-reg" (registered, but not his choice of specification), and went to a reputable company with E.U. type-certified hardware for his hitch and its installation. When he went to Tesla to buy the Trailer Mode software pack however, Tesla apparently refused on the grounds that the aftermarket tow bar wasn't an official Tesla accessory, describing it as a "liability." Screenshots of Helme's email exchange with Tesla Support indicate the automaker blames "a microprocessor supply shortage" for the Tow Package's unavailability. Tesla claims Helme's Model Y is consequently unable to tow, and allegedly says Helme must eventually pay Tesla to remove the third-party hitch and install its own.

"It doesn't say anything about their tow bar being required anywhere I can see," Helme told The Drive. "How was anyone supposed to know this? Not that it justifies their behavior in any way, this is an awful way to treat consumers still."

Tesla Model Y. Tesla

Helme isn't the first Tesla owner to encounter this issue, which was previously reported on Tesla Motors Club in November 2021. In the linked forum post, a Model X owner reported that their friends with Tesla products had been able to obtain the Trailer Mode software for use with aftermarket hitches. But when they sought the software for themselves, they were told that wasn't permissible, with Tesla reportedly attributing its refusal to install the software to warranty limitations. Another owner chimed in to say they still tow their race car all over California without the software and hadn't encountered any issues thus far.

The conflict evidently isn't one widely experienced by Tesla owners, as these two reports make up the entire body of complaints on the matter we found in a cursory search. Regardless of how widespread the issue is, these cases suggest Tesla is moving towards becoming even more of a closed system than it already is. If a car owner has hardware independently verified to be up to the task it's built for, then no car company should have the right to deny their customer the software to use it, plain and simple.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com