Almost two years ago Tesla introduced Keyless Driving with a lot of press and excitement and I covered the basic functionality at the time. Since it has been a while and most people seem to have forgotten about the feature I wanted to share how Keyless Driving works for me.
Just to remind everyone what the feature is, it’s the ability to drive your Tesla without your key FOB being present. This works through Tesla’s mobile app and can be found under the “Controls” tab. From there you press the “Start” button and enter your Tesla.com password and then the car is available for keyless driving.
Note that enabling your car for Keyless Driving doesn’t unlock it, so usually you first unlock the car, then enable keyless driving and then drive away. You can drive for as far and as long as you want in this mode, but next time you put the car in “park” you’ll need to re-enable Keyless Driving.
With Keyless Driving both the device where the Tesla app is running and your Tesla itself will need to have a working Internet connection, either wifi or cell service. This can be an issue if you’re in a location with poor cell coverage including underground parking structures, etc. Unfortunately, there are no workarounds for this issue.
Entering your Tesla password each time you want to start the car is a real pain. Even if you use a password manager like 1Password you still have to flip back and forth and copy and paste the password. If you can remember the password or it is easy to enter you may want to rethink your password security.
Fortunately, there’s a workaround for this issue and using newer iOS devices. If you can live with using a 3rd party app, then get the “Remote S” app. I reviewed the app when it launched and it supports “Touch ID” so you can quickly start your car with the tap of your fingerprint. You will still need to click to unlock, then click to start but it’s a heck of a lot better than entering your password each time.
When to use Keyless Driving
For the longest time, I didn’t use Keyless Driving. I found that not knowing when it would or wouldn’t work based on local network coverage to be too concerning. Eventually, though, I found a case where it works well for me and now I use it often during the week.
I go to a local gym several times a week and don’t want my key FOB in my pocket while I’m working out and nor do I want to hang it on the wall with other people’s keys. The gym is in an area with decent cell service for both the car and my phone. So, when I head to the gym, my fob stays at home with my street clothes. I unlock and start the car in my garage with my phone, drive to the gym and then do the same in reverse when I go home. As an added bonus, I can start the A/C as I’m nearing the end of my workout for a refreshingly cool car.
For cases where you know the network conditions and they’re not variable and it would be better not to have the FOB with you then Keyless Driving can be useful.
Use keyless driving only when you know you’ll have good network connections for your car and phone.
There was another story I read about someone wanting to let a friend drive his car while he was away on business. That can make sense and be helpful if you trust the person and they know the limitations/requirements of network connectivity.
Only enable Keyless Driving for people you trust and that know the limitations of the feature.
When things go wrong
After one of my daily workouts, I had to stop at the local bank on the way home. I parked and got out with my deposit and took care of business. On the way back to the car I realized I had left my phone in my car. Sometimes this means you’re going to need to call someone for help, but for me, this turned out ok.
The Remote S app also includes an Apple Watch app. I use my Apple Watch for tracking my workouts and a bunch of other things and it’s always strapped to my wrist. I rarely use the Remote S app on the watch — most apps are terribly slow on the watch and take a long time to launch, but in this case it saved me.
As I walked back from the bank, I brought up the “Remote S” app on my watch and unlocked the car. Since I was there, I turned on Keyless Driving too although just the unlock would have been enough to get me back in business with access to my phone.
The Apple Watch is a good backup for a phone locked in the car when using Keyless Driving.
Having the additional safety net of the watch was really nice. Without that, it may have ended my Keyless Driving use.
Note that your phone must be within Bluetooth reach of your watch for the Apple Watch access to work.
Also, if you’ve lost or broken your phone, don’t expect to be doing any Keyless Driving with the Apple Watch alone. The Apple Watch does very little without Bluetooth connectivity to your phone.
I’ve heard that Tesla Service may be able to remotely unlock your car for you if the car has a network connection. If your phone is locked in the car then you’ll have to find the phone number and borrow a phone but you may be able to get yourself unstuck that way too.
When not to use Keyless Driving
By now you know not to use Keyless Driving when cell service or wifi network coverage is poor, but it’s actually a little worse than that.
Recently I was cleaning out the garage and needed to move all the cars out. I didn’t have my FOB on me, but no worry, I could unlock and start the Tesla with my phone. I did that and pulled the car a little way down the driveway. After cleaning the garage I went to move my car back in and couldn’t unlock the car. It turns out that I was just far enough down the driveway that my wifi was marginal, but the car had not switched to cell service. So, in an area where cell service would have been fine, I found myself locked out of my car. Fortunately, I only had to walk back to the house and get the FOB, but this story should illustrate how tenuous the Keyless Driving and reliance on a network connection can be.
The local gym I go to isn’t that far from home and in a pinch, I could walk the few miles back home. In my driveway, I can just go fetch the FOB. My wife works at home and I can also call her to bring a FOB if I end up stuck. To keep the stress down, always have a backup plan if Keyless Driving doesn’t work for you.
Don’t use Keyless Driving without a backup plan.
Keyless Driving can be a very useful feature under just the right circumstances, but you need to be careful with it to avoid getting stranded. Many owners I’ve spoken to don’t use the feature for just that reason. Even with planning and thought like i’ve done I only narrowly avoided having to call someone for help.
Keyless Driving would be much more reliable and useful if it used some kind of near-field communications (NFC) with your phone to allow it to unlock and start your car. That technology is fairly new, but it would be a nice upgrade in newer Teslas. An NFC approach would avoid the flaky network issues which are the main trouble with the feature, but it wouldn’t help with locking your phone in the car unless it could also detect that and prevent a lock when the phone was there.
Minimally Tesla should add Touch ID and Apple Watch support to their app. It’s silly that basic features like this are missing a feature that they’ve had available for two years and owners are forced to resort to third party apps using an undocumented and unsupported programming interface from Tesla.
Like missing navigation features, Keyless Driving could be improved with a little work and time from Tesla. I really wish Tesla had a team focussed on continual improvements to basic functionality rather than the “firedrill” approach they seem to use on Autopilot and Falcon wing doors.