Tesla storage set-up for sentry mode, dashcam, boombox and lightshow

Last updated 20-Apr-2023

Tesla's have the ability to use the built in cameras as both a dashcam when driving and as a sentry mode facility when parked up. Both these features require the owner to use a storage device plugged into the USB port to store the content. Regular USB thumb drives or memory sticks are not ideal due to the limitations of the technology, they are either not fast enough or are not designed to be rewritten to many times and eventually fail. Even the device that Tesla supplies with new cars has a limited life span. A second issue with storage is Tesla have removed many of the data USB ports in the car, and now most cars only have one data port in the glovebox. If you want to do more than use sentry mode, e.g. store music, have custom boombox files or lightshows, you need to make some changes. This guide discusses the choice of storage, how to set it up, and how to also add a music partition if required.

What to use for data storage in a Tesla?

We recommend avoiding thumb drives as the type of memory used is not designed for frequent rewrites which will occur when being used as a dashcam or in sentry mode. They also typically have too slow a write speed and simply can not keep up with the requirements of the car. Even if they work initially, they usually fail after a few months. Even the Tesla supplied drive has a limited life expectancy.

Depending on the amount of storage required we believe the best memory card for a Tesla is a video grade SD memory card or use a solid state disk if you are also looking to store music files locally.

Tesla require the Dashcam and Sentry partition to be a minimum of 32GB, so the storage device either needs to be 32GB or bigger for Sentry/Dashcam only, or realistically 64GB or bigger if you also want to store music and/or lightshows.

You can find our recommendations for suitable storage on our Essential Accessories page.

Formatting the device - quick guide

The quickest guide is to now use the Format device option within the car. You can however manually format the storage device using one of the methods below:

For the storage device to work, it needs to be formatted in FAT32 format.

On a Mac, use the Disk Utility to format the storage.

  • Insert the USB flash drive into your personal computer.
  • Navigate to Utilities > Disk Utility (or conduct a Spotlight Search).
  • Select your flash drive in the left menu.
  • Navigate to Erase in the top menu ribbon.
  • In the pop-up menu, select the correct format (MS-DOS FAT) and click Erase.
  • NOTE: Selecting Erase removes all existing content from your flash drive. If you have content that you want to keep, you must move it to a different device before erasing.
  • Once the flash drive is successfully erased, navigate to Finder and select your USB flash drive from the left menu. The flash drive should not contain any files.

On a Windows PC you can use the "Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions" built in utility as follows:

  • Open the tool, you can simply start searching for it to find it.
  • Select your SSD / SD / Thumb drive. Ensure you have selected the right device
  • Right click and select Format partition, setting the file system to be FAT 32
  • Give the partition a label, we suggest Teslacam
  • Tick apply at the top left for the instruction to be executed. check again you have selected the right device

Setting up the storage device

Tesla require a specific folder to be created for it to store the captured footage.

Using in the car

All you now need to do is eject the storage device and plug it into the car. Use one of the data enabled USB ports (typically ones accessible from the front seat, and the icons should soon appear.

It should be noted that sentry mode keeps the car awake which increases vampire drain quite considerably. The flashing lights of sentry mode can also be triggered by rain or passing animals and in some residential areas this flashing can annoy neighbours. While the advantages of sentry mode help protect your car, its worth being selective in where and when you enable it and we'd suggest if you have relatively safe parking at home and/or work then select the option to disable it in these locations.

You may want to change some of the setting for the dashcam, for instance to save clips on honking the horn visit Navigate to Controls > Safety and Security > Save Clips on Honk > ON. We suggest you read the manual for other settings.

Formatting the device - advanced guide

If you are using a larger device and wish to split the storage to include an area for music and an area for sentry mode then we suggest creating two (or three if you also want to save lightshows) partitions on the device.

Using the same Windows software, this is also relatively easy. We have assumed a degree of knowledge with these steps as each device and individuals requirements may vary, but this should give a suitable guide and key pointers to achieve multiple storage areas on the same storage device.

We have found that SD memory cards do not support split formats easily. When creating the partitions we have found creating the higher partition first (ie the area to the right on the selection area) and then create the second partition using the remainder on the left seems to work better.

Boombox and Lightshow

Setting up custom boombox files is very easy. Either create a music partition on the same device as your sentry mode and dashcam storage as suggested above, or format a USB drive just for music and add a directory/folder called Boombox. Then simply add up to 5x mp3 files to that folder, and remove any spaces in the file names. These will then appear at the end of the list of available boombox sounds.

You can not just create a folder next to Teslacam as the car does not seem to want to read this which we think is disappointing, but that is how Tesla do it. Finally, the boombox feature only works with cars with the external speaker. Its been rumoured that they have made some cars with the wiring for some time and just the speaker needs adding, but at the moment, there is no retrofit option.

A word about sentry mode

Sentry mode in theory is a great idea, however in practice it is very hungry on energy consumption. Our advice is to only use sentry mode when needed, rather than all the time, only turning it on if the car is being left in a vulnerable area for a short period of time. Do not use sentry mode when leaving the car for a long time unless you really need to as the battery depletion will be fairly significant and while sentry mode disengages when the battery reaches a low state of charge, it may still leave you with insufficient range to reach a suitable charge point.

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