Update NoticePerhaps only geeks appreciate this, but I was excited the other day to see a software update notification pop up on my Model S. Most software updates for products are minor fixes and tweaks but sometimes they include new and exciting functionality and Tesla is no different. In the past we looked at Tesla’s frequency of updates and their contents, but this post is about the actual update process.


By all reports i’ve read that Tesla owners can get software updates over the air through the built-in (free) 3G internet connection that is included with every Model S or over a wifi connection if they’ve tethered their Model S to a wifi point in one or more locations. There are rumors that those with wifi connections tend to get updates faster than those relying only on 3G connections but that is difficult to prove.

Regardless of the connectivity, your Model S only notifies you once it has found and downloaded a software update. The notification is the one above. Note that it doesn’t provide anything really useful like the version number that is now available, release notes for that new update in advance of installing it, etc. Unless you troll the forums there’s no way to find release notes before you install. While Tesla does post release notes to your “My Tesla” account on Tesla.com, the notes lag far behind the date when the install is available.

Software update notices provide no useful information in advance of the update.

Watching the forums may give you a hint about what is available since Tesla staggers releases. Not everyone gets notified of an available update at the same time. Before I got this notice I was watching the forums and saw people reporting availability of 5.11 so I was anticipating an update notice soon for that update.

If you dismiss the notification you can make it come back up by pressing the Tesla logo at the top center of the 17″ screen. Otherwise you can start the install or schedule it to happen later.


Update Clock IconOnce the car has the update and is ready to apply it, you can apply it immediately or you can schedule it for a certain time of day (not day of week or exact date). The car must be in park for the update to get applied (more on this later) and they say it can take up to 45 minutes for the update.

Since this was my first one, rather than apply as soon as I was parked for a good time, I scheduled a time 5 minutes in the future to watch the process.

Once scheduled, a new icon appears at the top of the 17″ screen that looks like a clock. This is the only time i’ve seen this icon appear. Clicking on it brings back up the scheduling options for the software update but otherwise it just reminds you that you have one scheduled.

Other than the limited scheduling options which didn’t seem very restrictive to me, the scheduling part worked as expected.

The scheduling part worked as expected.


Update Out optionWhen the update process starts it gives you a warning and an “out” to cancel if you change you mind — the car will be unusable for up to 45 minutes once it starts. After this countdown you get a small “Starting update” notification followed by an “Update in progress” notification. And thats about it for up to 45 minutes.

Most people would walk away at this point, but the engineer in me couldn’t do that so I sat in the car for the entire update. The best way to describe it is that its messy, like child birth. Your car is going to do things you didn’t know it could do. Its going to make sounds, flash lights, spin fans, gurgle and do all sorts of other scary things. (BTW did you know your glove box opening button is lit?)

The best way to describe it is that its messy, like child birth

There are a lot of components in a Model S. According to TeslaTap, there are 432 lights, 50 motors/solenoids, 52 processors and a host of other complex machinery in the Model S. Each one needs software of some sort to control it and then a test program to go with that for making sure things are running fine. While i’m sure the iPhone update is an impressive engineering feat, I doubt it holds a candle to the Model S’s.

While i’m sure the iPhone update is an impressive engineering feat, I doubt it holds a candle to the Model S’s

The whole experience was kind of disturbing and i’m not sure i’d sit through another. At one point in the process the dash said this:

Bricked?I’m thinking “Uh oh, I bricked my $100K car!” Rather than hopping on the phone with Tesla, I waited it out. 45 minutes had not passed. It would be ok. Those Tesla folks are brilliant, it will be fine.

It was. After 22 minutes of more frightening behavior including lost temperature readings, mismatched clocks on dash vs 17″ display, the sound of bakes tightening like clenched cheeks, and other exciting things it told me the update was successful.


Phew I lived through the update (no surprise really since Tesla has done at least a couple dozen software updates to an ever-increasing fleet of Model S’s). I had previously been on version 5.9 (1.51.94) and I was expecting to see version 5.11. So I was disappointed to see the same 5.9 release notes and a version 5.9 (1.51.109). Same minor release as before, just a few builds later. In my previous post I had assumed that Tesla did not do in-version updates (i.e. an update from 5.9 to a later 5.9) over the air, but I was wrong.

Without any hints in the release notes and without finding anyone else in the forums that had the same version and build as me I have no idea what Tesla did to my car. With all the openness around patents you’d think they could be a little more forthcoming with the changes they’re making to your car. I can’t say that i’ve noticed anything different since the update but I assume something was fixed or improved (or they just wanted to prove me wrong with the whole in-family update comment!)

I have no idea what Tesla did to my car

The elusive version 5.11 had not arrived and more than a week has passed without it appearing. I’d be happy to skip 5.11 anyway if I could head right to the infamous 6.0 update that Elon has been promising for quite a while. I make sure my Model S is on wifi every night and day just so ensure I don’t miss my chance at that most precious of things — an over the air software update for my car!

The most precious of things — an over the air software update for my car!