The unofficial getting started guide to Tesla’s Model 3
Welcome to your new favorite car
You’ve just taken delivery of your brand new Tesla Model 3. You already know it’s the best car you’ve ever owned. But you can’t figure out how the hell to make it do all the cool stuff you’ve heard about. That’s what this post is for.
I’m going to try to run through the stuff that my friends/colleagues didn’t find obvious, and hopefully it’ll help you appreciate the car even more.
Note: This was written before software v9.0 came out. I’ll be updating the post soon, but everything below is pre-9.0. The biggest change is in Autopilot settings.
In this post, I’ll be covering:
- Setting up your phone to act as your key
- Autopilot (including cruise control, Autosteer, and Auto Lane Change)
- Blind spot detection
- Rebooting the console
- Smoother ride
Let’s get started.
If you find this useful and know someone getting a Tesla, please pass along my referral code to get them 1,000 miles of free supercharging: https://ts.la/brenden44766
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Setup your magical Phone Key
Let’s start with something simple: the “key”. Instead of a traditional key or key fob, the car will unlock and turn on via Bluetooth when you walk up with your phone. It’s honestly magic, similar to the August Lock’s auto-unlock feature (which is a game changer for home access).
To turn this on, open the Tesla app, and tap Phone Key. It’ll walk you through the process. Note: This is a different process (and different Bluetooth antenna) than connecting your phone to make calls or listen to music.
From this point forward, you just walk up to the car and open the door. The car won’t look like it’s unlocked until you actually try to open the door. Then it’ll open up and welcome you into the future.
The auto-lock feature is also great. When you get home, just put the car in park, get out, and walk away. Once you’re about 10 feet away, the mirrors will fold in and it’ll take a nap.
Within 2 minutes of getting in my Model 3, I wanted to try Enhanced Autopilot. If you’re like me, prepare for an avalanche of disappointment. The cameras in the car need to calibrate for the first 20ish miles. But when the time does come, here’s a quick primer.
Warnings to avoid death to you or others
Tesla doesn’t do much to warn users about what Autopilot doesn’t do, so I want to start with a quick, very important, list:
- Autopilot will not stop for pedestrians, red lights, stop signs, etc... Large vehicles are the only thing it will sense / stop for. I have no idea why there aren’t big red warning screens when you turn on the setting, but alas. Because of this…
- Only use it on highways at first. When you’re super comfortable, it will be a bit more obvious what local roads you can use it on. Until then, HIGHWAYS ONLY. And until you’re comfortable…
- Don’t start off using it in heavy fast-moving traffic. Your first few times will be terrifying. You don’t want to be getting comfortable with this technology going 70 MPH with other cars buzzing all around you.
Now please read the above points again. Then we can move on.
Enabling Autopilot features in settings
Assuming you paid for “Enhanced AutoPilot” when buying the car, you’ll want to make sure it’s enabled. Tap the car icon on the bottom left of the in-car display and select “Autopilot” to reveal these three features.
- Traffic-Aware Cruise Control: This is called “adaptive cruise control” in other cars. It lets you set a top speed and keeps you a certain distance from cars in front of you, even if they slow down. You need to set the Cruise Follow Distance, which is how many car lengths it keeps you away from the car in front of you. Start with 3–5.
- Autosteer: This is what most people consider “Autopilot”. It basically keeps you inside a painted lane. You can activate it when the car senses you are in a lane, and its job is to keep you in that lane.
- Auto Lane Change: Yep, the car can change lanes for you.
Activating Traffic-Aware Cruise Control
Now it’s time to turn on cruise control. First, you’ll need to wait until the car is ready to go into this mode. You’ll know when it’s ready, because a number with a circle around it will appear underneath your current speed. This is the top speed the car will go when you activate cruise control (yes, you can adjust it).
Once you see this, press down once on the right lever (the same one you use to shift into drive). You’ll hear the car make a nice chime, and you’ll see the circle around the number is now blue. This means cruise control is activated. You can take your foot off the accelerator.
Change the top speed by tapping the plus (+) and minus (-) on the display next to the blue circle number, or rolling the right scroll-wheel on the steering wheel up or down. Keep in mind, on some roads, the car sets a maximum limit that you can’t override. You can also change the target distance between you and the car you’re following by clicking the right scroll-wheel left and right.
Traffic-Aware Cruise Control will stay activated until you tap the brake. At that point you’ll hear another delightful chime that let’s you know it’s off, and the blue circle returns to gray.
Reminder, try first on empty highways and it only stops for cars/trucks.
The Model 3 will make Autosteer available when the car feels like it’s safely in a lane. It will have faint, gray lane lines on the left side of the display, and once it feels safe, a small gray steering wheel will appear in the top left of the display. This means you can turn it on.
Once you see this, press down twice on the gear lever. You’ll hear a similar chime that you did for cruise control, and the small gray wheel, and the lane lines, will turn blue. It’s happening. You’re no longer steering.
Keep your hands on the wheel. The car requires it, but you’ll be more comfortable with them on the wheel at first. If you freak out, you can deactivate Autosteer by jostling the wheel (cruise will stay on) or deactivate both by tapping the brake.
Occasionally, the car will alert you that you need to hold the wheel. It knows that your hands are there by feeling a tiny bit of resistance when it tries to turn. It doesn’t sense by touch alone, so squeezing the wheel won’t help the car know your hands are where they should be. If you can’t get the warning to go away, just gentle wiggle the wheel.
If you don’t hold the wheel in time, you will be given a time out by your car. Seriously, it’ll turn Autopilot off and you won’t be allowed to turn it on again until you put the car in park.
So that’s Autopilot. It’s best used on highways and in slow heavy traffic. It takes a lot of getting used to, but trust me, you’ll get comfortable and feel like a cranky baby when driving a car without it. It’s magical. Cars without it can go to hell.
Activating Auto Lane Change
When you’re in Autopilot — on a highway — the Model 3 can switch lanes for you. It only works when the car senses the lanes around you, and you can tell when this is happening when you see faint grey lane lines outside the lane you’re in.
When you see these, just turn on your turn signal (although I’d recommend still looking at blind spots). The car will make sure it’s safe, then switch lanes.
When safely in the new lane, it will turn off the turn signal and resume normal Autosteer. Extreme laziness achieved.
There are certain highways, situations where you’ll turn on the turn signal and the car won’t move. During these times, you’ll have to access your monkey brain and revert back to the days of old and change lanes yourself. It’s barbaric, but sometimes we all need to step outside of our comfort zone.
The Model 3 comes with its own navigation system, and to be honest, it’s excellent. I use it exclusively when driving the car. It’s all pretty self explanatory, but the only thing worth mentioning is you can voice activate it by pushing in on the right scroll-wheel on the steering wheel and saying where you want to go.
Charging stops automatically added
When you ask the car to navigate somewhere, it will calculate if you have enough battery get there. If you don’t, it’ll automatically add a stop for Supercharging. It’s a nice little detail.
Navigation is totally separate from Autopilot
Slightly surprising and worth noting: there is zero integration between the navigation system and Autopilot (yet — probably coming when they introduce “Full Self-Driving Capability”). So if you’re in Autopilot and your exit is coming up, the car will tell you the exit is coming but keep driving right past it.
No blind spot detection
One of the bigger surprises is the lack of blind spot detection. On a lot of cars these days, the side mirrors indicate if there’s a car in the lane next to you. The Model 3 currently does not (though it’s coming). On the display, there are subtle lines if there are cars next to you, but that’s the only indication.
The car currently uses the ultrasonic sensors but that isn’t super reliable. So be careful and use your damn eyeballs.
Resetting the console display
Occasionally something might happen with the software and the display freezes up. Before calling Tesla, try rebooting the software.
To do this, push into both scroll wheels on the steering wheel. After 5–10 seconds, the center console will go black, and it’ll reboot. This often fixes most issues. Ctrl-Alt-Delete.
I’ve done this both sitting still and driving. The car continues to operate fine during the reboot.
Also try Power Off
If rebooting doesn’t work, I’ve heard that powering off the car also solves some problems. In the settings menu, there’s a service tab that has “Power Off”. Tap that and wait at least 30 seconds or a minute. Then tap the brake to power the car back on.
Now let’s talk about the feature that terrifies me the most: Auto Park! Basically, the car will help you get into both parallel and regular (perpendicular?) parking spots. I don’t see why this is necessary in most cases, but sure, I guess it’s handy.
Activating Auto Park
This feature is tricky to activate. It only becomes available when it thinks you are near an appropriate parking situation. This essentially means, when it senses you slowly driving past parked cars and it sees a gap, you’ll see a blue P in a circle appear. Usually appears when you’re halfway past the next car.
When you stop the car, and put it in reverse, the Autopark feature appears. You tap the Park button, and the car takes over.
It spins the wheel and reverses, turns, advances, turns, reverses, turns, and eventually backs into the spot. It’s pretty cool, but I usually am terrified it’s going to ding a car. So I rarely use it.
You can charge the car using an official Tesla charger, or you can use other charging network ports (like Chargepoint). The process is slightly different.
With Tesla chargers, just tap the button on the charging handle and the charge door will open. Insert the charger and everything will just start working. When you’re done, tap the button on the charger and it’ll turn off, unlock, and you can remove the cord.
You’ll see charge status on both the in-car screen as well as the mobile app. If you are plugged into a Tesla run destination charger or Supercharger, the cost of the charge will be automatically billed to the credit card you have on file with your Tesla account.
Non-Tesla chargers (and how to unplug)
The Model 3 also comes with an adapter for non-Tesla charging cables. This is a tiny bit trickier when you go to unplug it. To start, attach the adapter to the non-Tesla cable.
Then when the car is unlocked, gently push or tap the charge port door (you can also open via the app or in-car display).
When it opens, plug in like normal.
Unplugging the charger is the tricky part. Because you won’t have a button on the charge connector to tap, you need to unlock the charge port to remove the adapter. You can do this through the in-car display or the app.
Tap the above lock when the car charging has stopped and it’ll unlock the door.
How much should you charge?
There’s a lot of talk about the right charging schedule. Some say you should charge only to 65% on a regular basis, others say you can keep it charged to 80%. I honestly don’t know. The battery rocks, and I’ve never had to worry about range. Here’s advice from someone who knows more about it.
“I would recommend charging to 70% normally. When you need a long trip, charge to 100%.”
It’s clear you should definitely not charge it to 100% on a regular basis. Tesla actually has this built in, setting it 90% by default and marking anything above that “Trip”. So that’s the setting I’ve kept.
With v9, Tesla introduced a way to capture recorded video from the onboard dashcam. You’ll need a USB Stick to plug into one of the USB ports in the console. Here are basic instructions:
- Buy a 16GB+ USB stick. I highly recommend this tiny one. It doesn’t get in the way of anything else in the console, has plenty of space, and is cheap.
- If needed, format the USB stick to FAT32 format. Search Google for how to do that.
- Create a new folder called TeslaCam in the root directory.
- Plug it in. If all is working, you’ll see a camera icon in the top right with a red dot appear.
That’s it. It’ll capture the past hour of driving. If you ever want to save the past 10 mins of video, just tap the camera.
A smoother ride
Some people have complained that the lack of air suspension makes the Model 3’s ride a bit stiff. I’d agree with that, especially after driving a Model S loaner. Tesla has made some upgrades to the suspension system for more recent Model 3’s built, but the easiest way to get to a smoother ride is just to lower the tire pressure a bit.
My car came with all tires above 43 psi. I followed the advice above and found that lowering to 39 psi made the ride much more comfortable.
The car is amazing and I’ve found I don’t need a lot of accessories for it.
The factory console gets scratched very easily. It also is a magnet for dust. I recently installed this carbon fiber wrap and it looks great and installation was simple. Highly recommended.
I bought the available official All-Weather Cargo Mats from Tesla. My advice is that the rear trunk one ($130) is really worth it. It’s huge and provides great protection. The frunk one ($70) isn’t worth it, mostly because I don’t use the frunk a lot. Just seems excessive compared to the price of the larger rear one.
When I was shopping for floor mats, Tesla didn’t offer official ones yet. They do now for $145. There’s also this full floor + cargo set on Amazon for $200. Surprisingly, WeatherTech doesn’t seem to have any yet. I have something similar to these generic ones, and honestly, they’re great. $20 and you have all the protection of the custom ones.
Official Tesla Resources
Newsletters / Forums
What confused you about your Model 3 that haven’t I covered? If you have other things you think should be added to this , ping me on Twitter at @mulligan. Here’s a thread on my favorite details about the car:
Enjoy the car. And remember: touchless car washes!
If you found this useful and know someone getting a Tesla, please pass along my referral code to get them 1,000 miles of free supercharging: https://ts.la/brenden44766