Tesla Full Self Driving FAQ

Last updated 21-Sep-2022

There are a lot of questions asked about the Tesla full self-driving system (FSD), what it is, what it isn't, whether it transfers, do Tesla remove it when the car is sold, etc. We answer the most common questions asked below:

History of Full Self Driving

In late 2016, Tesla replaced the Autopilot 1 (AP1) system made by Mobileye with their own hardware and software. It was always in Tesla's roadmap to use their own system but a suspected falling out with Mobileye hastened the change. Tesla launched the new system as Enhanced Autopilot (EAP), said to exceed the previous AP1 system in features, with a further upgrade to Full Self Driving (FSD) which promised the owner the ability for the car to meet you at the door, drive you to work, and park itself all without driver engagement.

6 years later and the software is still in development, it has had a number of hardware upgrades and software rewrites and it is now a fairly accomplished driver assist package and the latest beta program is the US showing a glipse of what it will potentially bring in the future. However, it has also become a joke amongst many due to Musk's constant promises of imminent leap changes in performance with quotes such as "robotaxi arriving by the end of the year" said every year, for many years.

There are also conflicting views on what Tesla really expect this to be able to do. Musk frequently talks about the cars capable of being self-driving taxis but the website wording typically talks in much more reserved terms. This leaves a great gulf in expectation from those expecting the most ambitious set of capabilities, to what may be a much more moderate set of capability. We also have the legal accountability of the driving the consider, and we have written an article on Tesla self driving levels which explains the different levels and the challenges that need to be overcome at each.

How do I know if the car has the Full Self Driving option?

Tesla have not helped themselves in this regard as they have started to use the term "Full Self Driving capability" which has also been interpreted as having the hardware but the software has not been activated. They also describe the Autopilot Hardware 3 (HW3) as "Full self-driving computer" which also does not imply the software package has been purchased. To further complicate matters, Tesla list in the car "Full self-driving visualisation" which is also not an indication the software has been activated.

To tell if the car has full self-driving feature activated, from within the car bring up the menu and select the "Software" tab. This will display the packages installed.

You need to see "Full Self Driving Capability" with "included package" written beneath it for the car to have the FSD package activated.

If the included package words have an expiry date, then it is time limited and has not been purchased.

Does FSD transfer to my next car?

No. FSD is a feature that has been purchased for that car and it is not currently transferable to your next car.

FSD will however transfer with the car to the next owner and if you are selling a car with FSD enabled, the feature should add value to the car.

Do Tesla strip FSD when the car is sold?

This is often quoted and it can happen but only in very specific situations.

If the car is returned to Tesla, either taken as part exchange, part of the buy back guarantee they ran for a while, a finance agreement that ends etc. then Tesla are entitled to do what they want to the car at that point in time because they own the car. Tesla have been known to remove FSD and EAP and reduce the car to basic AP. They also sometimes take a car without FSD and add it before selling the car on, sometimes this is done to get a higher price for the car when Tesla sell the car.

Where the complication can occur is when Tesla have taken the car in, altered the specification and then sold the car through the trade to a 3rd party dealer who then sells the car on. The car has had its specification changed by Tesla and as well as changes to Autopilot, they can also remove premium connectivity and transferable supercharging if it had it. Our guide to buying a used Tesla from Tesla covers the various changes that Tesla can and do make to the car. The problem occurs when there is a delay between Tesla altering the car spec, and the car updating. Dealers or buyers think they have got lucky and ignore the specification only for the car to later update and the features disappear. Tesla should update the car immediately when they make the specification change, but we are where we are.

What can you do about it?

It is difficult for both buyers and dealers. If you are buying a car from a dealer, then a frank conversation over where the dealer acquired the car and any specification that came with it should help to confirm what the car has. Do not rely on the car unless the dealer can satisfy you the car was not bought at auction or bought directly from Tesla. Tesla generally do not help quoting data protection rules.

Why do Tesla do this?

Tesla has advised owners that they will make an extra allowance for FSD when part exchanging a car, so why would they remove the option before selling the car on? There are a couple of reasons.

While we may not agree with the ethics of the approach, Tesla do own the car and the reason they do it is down to economics, they can make more money in the future by removing the option.

How much does FSD cost?

The cost of FSD depends on what the car already has. Today cars have basic Autopilot already and the cost to upgrade from this basic level is approx $10k (although subject to change). Some earlier cars did not have basic AP activated (not to be confused with the earlier AP1 which did not have the extra cameras and can not be upgraded to FSD) and it was a cost option. Cars without AP have to also pay for the basic AP activation plus the cost of FSD. There are also cars which have Enhanced AP or EAP. This is also a cost option and approximately half the price of FSD. If a car has this activated then the upgrade price is approx $5k.

Are they bringing out a subscription version of FSD?

Tesla are now starting to introduce a subscription model but it is only available in some countries at present. The costs for the FSD subscription model seem to be:

One potential option with FSD subscription is that owners would be able to turn it on and off in monthly segments. This would make it possible to turn it on for sale a road trip holiday but off the rest of the year. If this was the case then we suspect it will higher still per month to balance the lost revenue v buying outright.

Is it really self driving? When will it be self driving?

This really depends on what you mean by Full Self Driving, see our article on Tesla self driving levels which explains the different levels, especially with regard to accountability and responsibility for driving, or the difference between who does the driving, and whether the driver has to ensure the car does it correctly.

We suspect it will be some time before anything above a level 3 cruise control will be approved for use. The car may be capable of doing much of the driving, but the accountability will stay with the driver for many years, we would not be surprised if level 4 did not happen until 2026.

AP1, AP, EAP and FSD - whats the difference?

AP1 was the original Mobileye system that stopped being shipped in late 2016. The easy way to identify it is if the side repeaters have a camera in them.

Basic Autopilot (AP) only came out in 2020 when it became standard on all new Tesla;s. Before then, cars either had no autopilot features (other than the passive safety systems), or they had purchased EAP or FSD. Some assume that AP is on all cars, this is not the case. The features are basically just speed and lane keep.

Enhanced Autopilot is the halfway house between the AP and the Full Self Driving capability. For most of the world, there is little to no difference between EAP and FSD. In the US, those on the FSD beta do get enhanced features, although these are very much in development.

What's HW2, HW2.5, HW3?

Up until late 2016 Tesla used the Mobileye system and the software was called Autopilot, sometimes called Highway autopilot and often referred to as AP1. From late 2016, Tesla switched to their own hardware and the first version of the hardware became known as HW2, some call it AP2 although we don't like that term. They later found that the hardware was insufficient and upgraded it in a couple of ways. They changed a couple of the cameras, added some resilience to the wiring and increased the performance of the main processing computer and this became known as HW2.5. A little later still they needed to upgrade the computer again and this version was termed HW3 although Tesla now also use the term Full Self Driving Computer. The AP software is pretty much identical across the models although some additional features linked to the dash cam and sentry mode vary due to a combination of the HW version and also main screen (or MCU) version.

If you had purchased FSD software option, then Tesla promised to upgrade the hardware should it be required. Cars are now being upgraded to HW3 under that promise. Tesla also appear to be upgrading the Autopilot computer hardware when owners are taking out the paid for upgrade to the MCU even if the FSD option has not been purchased.

Tesla have now dropped the radar from the cars, but those cars on HW2 will require camera upgrades to achieve the FSD Beta currently int he US. It is unclear when other countries will be offered this.

Is FSD worth it?

This is a question many people ask and there is no simple answer. The majority of features available in FSD are also available with EAP which is half the price. As such the incremental value over EAP is really linked to the future developments and capabilities that we are yet to see, and the "guarantee" of hardware updates if required. Another thing to note, the MCU upgrade many owners are paying for costs under $2k and typically includes the AP hardware upgrade which both speeds up the general performance of the screen, unlocks new content and costs about half the price of the FSD option over and above the EAP option. If you have EAP and the earlier MCU, you would be better off to pay for the MCU upgrade rather than take out the FSD option, at least in the short term.

That said, if you are looking at used cars with FSD then it is highly likely that any premium you pay for FSD will be recovered when you come to see. We estimate used cars have a premium of approx. $3-4k over cars without FSD and maybe half that over cars with EAP. If FSD does deliver in the near future then as Musk keeps promising, the value of FSD is likely to go up, although owners have believed this for 4 years and it is still to happen, and our assessment of the challenges to be overcome also suggest the timescales are still fairly lengthy. Musk admits himself that he can be optimistic and the challenges are bigger than he thought. At best we think a used purchase will hold its value.

Is FSD any good?

Up until now we've talked about functionality and not about performance. The Tesla Autopilot system is seemingly loved and hated in equal measure by Tesla owners. Some love the capabilities and visualisations and the promises of where it is heading, others are frustrated by blocked camera, phantom braking and other areas of poor performance. This seems to vary from car to one driver’s expectation to another's.

The move to Tesla Vision has added more annoyances. This forces the headlights and wipers to be on, and these perform poorly in many conditions and need to be turned off.

We struggle to see what value FSD gives outside the US.

Is FSD safe?

Tesla have for a couple of years published statistics of their cars and compared them to the US average for injury accidents and comparing Tesla’s using the passive safety systems and when active autopilot is engaged. The information is relatively sparse and the conclusions are somewhat misleading with a headline that Active autopilot is safer than passive autopilot safety systems because there are more miles between accidents. Our analysis of Tesla's safety report and the need for caution goes into more detail as to why we are sceptical, but in summary, comparing the passive safety system to miles where the driver feels comfortable using the active safety system, is not comparing like for like. The system sometimes will not even engage in poor weather and some road types as an example.

The potential is there for it to eventually be a great safety aid, and the passive safety side of the software is generally good, but we have concerns about over reliance of the driver on active autopilot and some who think that FSD is safer than not using it. That said, as a driver aid, and to reduce strain whilst driving, it can play a part, but currently the driver must remain focused on driving at all times.

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