What You Need to Know About the Tesla Model S in Snow

What You Need to Know About the Tesla Model S in Snow

With self-driving features, sleek screens in lieu of buttons and knobs, and the powerful backing of Tesla Motors, it is no small wonder that these cars have people raising their eyebrows. Potential customers who live in northern regions can not help but wonder how this sleek little car handles the snow.

The Tesla Model S does better than most sedans in the snow, particularly given its many features that make driving in inclement weather much easier. Even with that, it is still a sedan and does still have many of the same limitations, including ground clearance.

If a Tesla is on your mind and you live in the north, there are many features that will help set your mind at ease. Read on to learn about the ins and outs of driving a Tesla Model S in the winter.

Overview of the Tesla Model S

Tesla shouting from the rooftops that the Model S is the “highest performing sedan ever made” may be a lofty claim, but its features make it hard to argue with that assessment. It comes equipped with a host of features that make it a tantalizing option, even after the sticker shock of a roughly $80,000 MSRP.

Some of those features include the following:

  • It is fully electric with a charging socket rather than a gas tank. Its driving range is just over 400 miles, which is comparable to a standard tank of gas. With a 440V charging station, it charges in approximately 1.5 hours.
  • It boasts three individual engines with a combined horsepower of over 1,000. It goes from zero to sixty at a breakneck speed of 1.99 seconds.
  • Of course, the Autopilot is what everyone is raving about. The Model S can park, steer, brake, accelerate, and hold or change the lane on its own. It does require that the driver still be alert and in the driver’s seat, so napping while traveling to your destination is not an option quite yet!
  • Because Elon Musk is who he is, he has named the engine variances after the ship in Spaceballs. While most other calls simply call their overclocked mode Sport Mode, the Tesla Model S has Ludicrous Mode. Complete with flying stars on the control screen and playful options, the Model S has its own personality.
  • The Model S has a complete onboard entertainment hub and internet options, with the vehicle itself becoming a hotspot. Browse the web, watch some Netflix, or listen to music, all from the built-in display. Best of all, both the front and back seats have their own displays.
  • The Model S is also packed with fun easter eggs to discover. No spoilers here; you will have to discover them on your own!

These features are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Tesla drivers report discovering new features for quite a long time after purchasing their first model. That said, there are plenty of features crammed into this chic little car for all manner of conditions, snow included.

Winter Driving Considerations with Electric Cars

People are already used to warming up the car before driving in cold temperatures, both for the comfort of the rider and to warm up the engine. These steps are even more important in an electric car, though the Model S does go to some length to make it easy on the owner.

As discussed above, scheduled departure is a fantastic tool for winter driving. Comfort reasons aside, this feature primes the car’s battery so that it is not too cold when driving.

When the battery is too cold to operate efficiently, the driver dash will show a small, blue snowflake icon. It is best to avoid driving your Model S until that icon disappears. In an emergency, it is acceptable to drive right away, so you do not have to worry about being stuck if you need to leave in a hurry.

Doing otherwise can decrease the lifespan of your battery, which can be a pricey fix at about $12,000 minimum. You should not let that turn you off the car, though. Tesla batteries are rated to last about 500,000 miles when properly cared for. In fact, Elon Musk comments that the battery should outlast the car itself.

Regenerative Braking

The brakes in a Model S are different from a traditional car, though they are used the same way. Regenerative braking is a process that captures and stores the energy created from braking a car. In an electric car like the Model S, this results in increased range for your vehicle.

In cold weather when your snowflake icon is on, the regenerative aspect of your braking system will not be operational. This is not a dangerous situation, since your regular friction brakes will still be working normally.

It will, however, lower the driving range of your vehicle and result in needing to charge sooner than usual. The captured energy from braking your car will not be stored in your battery.

Tesla Features That Help in the Snow

With so many features in the Model S, it is no wonder that many of them make driving in snow much easier than it is with a traditional sedan. It may not be on the level of a traditional souped-up truck, but it definitely holds its own.

The folks over at Tesla put a lot of thought into special features to help with all kinds of road conditions. They were particularly determined to rise above the mentality that electric cars are sub-par in wintery conditions, paying close attention to the specific irritations of most other electric models.

All Wheel Drive with Traction Control

Unlike most sedans, the Model S boasts four-wheel drive and superior traction control, having been redesigned from the ground up by Tesla.

While almost all other cars with four-wheel drive use a considerable amount of gas or electricity to sustain it, the Tesla AWD system actually uses less energy than its rear-wheel-drive counterpart. This is because the car’s smart engine actually picks and chooses which engines to use to maximize efficiency.

Meanwhile, the traction control that Tesla designed differs from standard traction control in that each wheel is controlled individually. One tire might be spinning out, but the rest will still be in control and pushing you out of the hazard.

Acceleration Chill Mode

Tesla’s chill mode is a feature that comes with all of their newer models and it is specifically geared toward battery preservation in cold temperatures. This is an acceleration feature that helps match your speed of acceleration with the conditions of the road.

When the chill mode is engaged, acceleration is slowed down to maximize efficiency. As previously mentioned, cold weather can significantly decrease your battery range, so using chill mode is one way to conserve that precious juice.

Scheduled Departure

Scheduled departure is a feature that primes your Model S for use before you are ready to leave. When you set the time you want to leave, your car will make sure that it is fully charged at that time. This system is also designed to charge at times that have cheaper energy rates, which is typically before 6:00 in the morning.

In addition, scheduled departure will have the interior of the car nice and warm for you when you get in, as well as windows defrosted. The walk to your car might not be fun, but there will be no more watching your breath as you drive those first few chilly miles while your car warms up.

Since an electric car must be warmed prior to use in cold months, this is a great feature that minimizes the annoyances that it can bring with it. While its usefulness is highest when the temperatures outside are particularly cold or hot, this is a feature that many find useful year-round.

Auto-Raise Suspension

Society is not quite at the level of Transformers, but this feature can sure make it feel like it. The height clearance of your Tesla can be set from inside the car, lowering it for performance and raising it for extra clearance in hazardous conditions. Of course, this is also great for personal preference, as different people enjoy different car heights for various reasons.

This feature is packed with settings that you access via the main control screen. Beyond setting a temporary or permanent height, you can also set it so that it is raised or lowered at a specific location. This is handy if you have a hard time getting in or out of a low vehicle.

Vehicle Weight Distribution

Most vehicles that do poorly in the snow typically have weight distribution issues. Minivans, for example, can be quite top-heavy and sway around a lot in the wind. This results in poor tire grip and the car can more easily spin out of control, resulting in accidents.

By comparison, the Model S is designed to be very balanced in terms of weight, with the center of balance being underneath the passenger cabin. The heaviest part of the car is its battery, so they deliberately placed it underneath for optimal weight distribution. The battery is long, wide, and flat so that the weight distribution is equal for all four tires.

Since the weight distribution is ideal, this is significantly helpful when driving in the snow. The driver can expect easier handling and more natural vehicle control. This also makes losing traction on ice or snow more unlikely.

Snow Tires

Although they were not immediately available when the Model S rolled out, Tesla now sells their own winter tires in their online shop. These tires are designed for better traction in winter driving, the same as the traditional snow tires that everyone is already used to.

Additionally, Tesla also offers tire chains, both in their online store and at their repair shops. These are fantastic for driving in snow and ice. The chains themselves are designed specifically for Tesla tires, which allows for a great fit and even better traction control.

Using the Tesla App

The Tesla app comes prepackaged with tons of features to keep your car functioning well. Remote start technology was developed with inclement weather at the forefront of the developers’ minds. No one wants to go outside and start a car to warm it up when the temperatures make your nose instantly freeze shut.

With that in mind, the Tesla app can do far more than a traditional remote start system that most modern cars come equipped with.

  • Remote start is a core feature, with many settings within that feature for personalized use.
  • You can summon your vehicle from a parking spot or within your garage with the tap of a button. Additionally, the app connects to your garage door, making this an easier process.
  • You can raise or lower your windows, a perfect feature for someone who often forgets to roll up the windows after parking. This is great for rainy weather since you no longer have to go outside and get wet to roll up the windows.
  • Valet mode and sentry mode are both included in the app. The former locks out most features other than the ignition while the latter activates security systems.
  • Climate control and defrost settings can be changed or engaged from within the app. You can warm up your car in the winter or cool it down in the summer before you even go outside.
  • The app provides pinpoint GPS data on your car so you know where it is at all times. This is highly useful in the event your car is stolen or if you simply just forgot where you parked it.

With all of these options, there is no reason to brave the snow before you are ready to leave, even with the prep that an electric car requires. This has eliminated a significant percentage of consumer complaints regarding electric vehicles in winter weather.

Using Tesla Autopilot in the Snow

One of the main reasons that the Model S is so popular is its Autopilot feature. To understand Autopilot in the snow, you have to understand the Autopilot function itself.

This feature allows you to turn over most driving control to your car. When enabled, its main purpose is to hold your lane and avoid collisions. In fact, Autopilot is demonstrably more adept at managing roadway risks than human beings are. In addition to holding your lane, Autopilot can navigate, park, and even bring your car to you in an area such as a parking lot.

Before you get too excited, this does not mean you can take a snooze while your car is driving itself to your destination. It is still illegal to leave it unattended and is designed for driver supervision. For example, activating your turn signal while in Autopilot will prompt the car to change lanes for you.

However, it is absolutely not advisable to use Autopilot in the snow, as it results in a higher than normal number of Autopilot fails, which is an inability to hold the lane. These failures are caused by the car’s inability to see the lanes of the road with the snow covering it.

It is considered safe to begin using Autopilot again when the roadways have been completely plowed and salted, with all road lines being clearly visible.

To get a clearer idea of the risks of using the Autopilot feature in the snow, this video demonstrates each Autopilot failure that was observed during a winter driving trip.

Tesla’s Tips for Cold Weather

Tesla has published a list of tips for winter driving and maintenance during cold weather. These tips include:

  • Using navigation even if you know where you are going and charging on arrival will help your battery charge faster in the cold. The navigation alerts your vehicle when you are near your destination and begins a preheating process that helps with speedy charging.
  • Drive conservatively to help mitigate the lost energy due to cold weather.
  • Keep your car plugged in during the winter months when it is not in use. This way, it is not using your stored energy to keep the battery warm.

In the end, all cars have their quirks and needs, with Tesla’s models being no exception. It may sound like a lot, but once it is part of your routine, you will find it to be quite normal and manageable.

Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, a 4WD truck is still superior for driving in the snow. Even so, the Tesla Model S definitely holds its own among sedans. If you live in the deep north and deal with a significant amount of snow, it may be worth it to wait until Tesla comes out with a truck model. Otherwise, the Model S can easily handle moderate amounts of snow.

Winter driving aside, with features that are the next best thing to the Jetsons’ flying car, you can safely assume that the future has arrived. Even though it is still a bit pricey, you have been afforded a glimpse into what standard features will become.


The articles here on ThatTeslaChannel.com are created by Greg, a Tesla vehicle and Tesla solar expert with nearly half a decade of hands-on experience. The information on this site is fact-checked and tested in-person to ensure the best possible level of accuracy.

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