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:
In late 2016 Tesla replaced the Autopilot 1 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, said to exceed the previous Autopilot 1 system in features, and a further upgrade to Full Self Driving 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.
Over 4 years later 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 with the promise of greater autonomy in the future, however it has also become a joke amongst many due to Musk's constant promises of imminent leap changes in performance and videos that turned out to be economical with the truth. We feel this is a shame as the potential is great, but Musk keeps raising expectations that are not met.
There are conflicting views on what Tesla really expect this to be able to do in the near term. Musk frequently promises feature complete and self-driving taxis (level 5 autonomy) but the website wording often talks about minimal driver input (level 3 autonomy). In short, these levels dictate the level of capability the car will have where the car is responsible, at least in part, for the driving. No car has yet been publicly sold with level 3 autonomy or above. Level 2 autonomy is where the car can perform multiple tasks, but the driver is still ultimately responsible for the actions of the car. The difference between an excellent level 2 and entry level 3 system is largely the legal ramifications. It is entirely possible to have a car that can drive you to work without you touching a single control and it still be only level 2 if the driver is responsible for the actions of the car, and ready to take control if the car makes a mistake. Sometimes the distinction is referred to as "Minds on" driving and "Minds off" driving. Problems can occur when the driver is still responsible but the driver adopts a "minds off" approach and an accident occurs, and some of these accidents have proven to be fatal in the past.
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 as "Full self-driving computer" which also does not imply the software has been activated. And 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 you need touch the car icon in the bottom right hand corner. This will bring up a menu on the screen. On the right hand side there are a list of options, the last of which is called "Software". Click this menu item and the disp0lay will list what the car has
You need to see "Full Self Driving Capability" with "included package" written beneath it for the car to have FSD activated.
If the included package words have an expiry date then it is time limited and has not been purchased.
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.
This is often quoted and it can happen but only in very specific situations.
If the car is returned to Tesla ownership, 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, and sometimes they 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, alter the specification and then sell 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. Some speculate Tesla only remove FSD where it the car was used by a Tesla employee or was gifted to a customer in lieu of an issue, but the feature was never formally granted to the car. We are very doubtful of this scenario being the only one, and our guidance still holds true even if it was the case.
There have been several incidents where Tesla has removed a feature from the car and sold the car into the trade with an accurate description of the car features however, they didn't update the actual car with the revised specification until the new owner registers the car to them. Either the dealer thought they had got lucky and sold the car with the features the car reported and not the features on the Tesla spec sheet or the dealer correctly lists the car but the buyer thinks they have got lucky buying a car with a feature such as FSD only for it to disappear later. Eventually Tesla update the car, often when registered to the new owner, and the buyer complains over the change. You can imagine the arguments that occurred thereafter. Tesla should update the car immediately when they make the specification change.
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.
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.
In summary, it is down to economics
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.
This really depends on what you mean by Full Self Driving. Our opening comments on this page touch upon the different levels of autonomy. The body once known as Society of Automotive Engineers and now abbreviated to SAE have defined 6 levels. Level 0 is where there is no assistance and levels 1 and 2 are variations on driver assist (eg cruise control or lane keep/departure. Level 3 is known as "eyes off" where the driver can do other things like reading a book but be ready to intervene when requested, which can happen at any time but in a controlled fashion, and the car being responsible for the driving otherwise. Level 4 and 5 effectively increase this further and known as "mind off" driving with the car being fully in control under a defined set of conditions, either road type or weather/visibility, but predictable, and ultimately to the point where a steering wheel is not even needed.
Currently the system is not approved for anything above level 2 although some people have assumed it is level 3 and let themselves be distracted. The significant differences between level 2 and level 3 are firstly when on level 3 the hand back to the driver when system is unable to cope is controlled and predictable, the system should fully recognise its limitations and the hand back should be when the system detects it is unable to proceed safely. This is not an abort mid corner or a system failure to recognise an obstruction which requires the driver to take over, it is the autopilot system itself recognising it needs to hand over control. Secondly, the system is also legally responsible which requires legislative and insurance changes. In the event of an accident when under level 3 conditions and the car determines it is under control, the car is responsible for the driving, not the driver.
Having set out the context of what would be required to even achieve level 3 which goes beyond system capability but also requires wider changes that are not in Tesla's gift to grant, you can see that it is not unrealistic to assume the driver will need to be attentive and responsible at all times for some foreseeable time, even if the number of incidents requiring the driver to actually take control is incredibly small.
Enhanced Autopilot is the halfway house between the basic Autopilot (traffic aware cruise control and lane keep assist) and the Full Self Driving capability (whatever that becomes). In practice, today, there are 2 differences between these systems.
Up until late 2016 Tesla used the Mobileye system and the software was called Autopilot, sometimes called Highway autopilot and often referred to a 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.
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.
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 general poor performance. This seems to vary from car to one driver’s expectation to another's. Tesla are also working on a new version which has more capabilities and performance but only a few chosen owners have been given access.
We believe in in the right circumstances (light traffic, good weather, good roads such as freeways or motorways) then the system is pretty predictable and useful. When the conditions become more challenging the system can become more unreliable and drivers want to intervene more often to take control. We have found that we do not trust the system except in these good conditions, but when the conditions are good it is capable.
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.
We 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 of the mistakes it frequently makes to think that FSD is safer than not using it. That said, as a driver aid and to reduce strain on driving it can play a part, but currently the driver must remain focused on driving at all times.