Why Are Tesla Headlights So Sensitive?

Why Are Tesla Headlights So Sensitive?

Tesla vehicles are the standard-bearers for integrated technology, and many Model S, Model 3, and Model X features are performed automatically without driver intervention, particularly in models with the latest autopilot technology.  Of these automatic functions, a number are safety-related features that come standard with every Tesla, and one of the most popular is the automatic headlights.

Why are Tesla headlights so sensitive? Tesla headlights are designed to be sensitive. The technology that determines whether to turn a Tesla’s headlights on or off or switch from high beams to low beams is the same technology expected to recognize traffic signals, pedestrians, and cross-traffic several hundred feet in front of the vehicle. Therefore, the system’s triggers for adjusting the headlights are built to be sensitive.

Tesla’s automatic headlights rely on the same front-facing camera system that is an integral part of Tesla’s autopilot package (AP), a suite of automated driving functions designed to be a precursor to full self-driving capability run by powerful cameras.  For this type of capability, a vehicle would need to have an impressive array of sensory equipment, and Teslas certainly do.

Tesla Headlights Rely Upon Autopilot (Self-Driving) Technology

To effectively automate headlight control, current Tesla models rely on forward-facing cameras to determine outside lighting conditions and detect the presence of oncoming and surrounding light sources (older Tesla vehicles utilized a dedicated light sensor).  (Source:  Tesla Motors Club – Forum)

Because proper illumination of the road and surrounding areas is crucial to safe driving (not to mention alerting other drivers to your vehicle’s presence), the cameras used by Tesla vehicles must:

  • Accurately detect ambient lighting conditions
  • Recognize artificial light sources, like the headlights of oncoming vehicles or street lights
  • Gather real-time data about those conditions
  • Convey that information to microprocessors, which then direct the vehicle to act in certain ways 

Here is a glimpse at the incredible array of sensory technology that current Tesla models with the autopilot package are equipped with:

CameraForward – MainMaximum range 150 m (492 ft)
CameraForward – Wide SpreadMaximum range 60 m (196 ft)
CameraForward – Narrow SpreadMaximum range 250 m (820 ft)
CameraSide – Forward LookingMaximum range 80 m (262 ft)
CameraSide – Rear LookingMaximum range 100 m (328 ft)
CameraRear View – MainMaximum range 50 m (164 ft)
RadarForward-FacingMaximum range 160 m (524 ft)
Ultrasonics (Sonar)All-aroundMaximum range 8 m (26 ft)

(Source:  Tesla – Official Website)

With its arsenal of strategically mounted cameras, radar, and sonar, Tesla vehicles that are outfitted with the full autopilot hardware and software upgrades are on the cusp of full self-driving capability.  

Replacing the sensory capabilities and thought processes of a human driver is a herculean task, but here’s how Tesla aims to do this:

  • Cameras – There are a total of eight cameras mounted around the body of Tesla vehicles. The front cameras work in unison with the radar system to provide a comprehensive “picture” of everything happening in front of the vehicle, while the other five cameras cover the sides and rear. The various camera angles provide all detection ranges, from wide (to detect traffic lights and road signs) to narrow (to detect far-off objects).
  • Radar –Tesla’s radar system can “see” more than 500 feet in front of the vehicle. Unlike the vehicle’s eight cameras, its radar is not affected by conditions such as fog, snow, and other potential hazards.  The radar is the primary sensory component of the autopilot system.
  • Sonar – To complete the artificial sensory package, the sonar system (“Ultrasonics” in Tesla-speak) provides a full 360-degree range of object and motion detection all around the vehicle, out to a distance of 26 feet away in any direction.  The sonar provides valuable object-detection capabilities for lane changes, collision avoidance, and object detection in blind spots.

(Source:  TechRepublic)

The endgame of Tesla’s autopilot functionality is the white whale of the automotive industry:  fully self-driving vehicles.  Until regulatory restrictions permit what is sometimes referred to as Level 4 (high automation) or Level 5 (full automation) operation, the autopilot assistive features (currently regarded as Level 2 – Driver Assistance) will continue to make everyday driving tasks easier and safer.  (Source:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

Tesla’s Headlights are Fully Automatic

One of Tesla’s design philosophies is to provide features that seamlessly perform various functions on behalf of the driver, based on real-time driving conditions.  

For the automatic headlights, which are a standard safety feature on all Tesla vehicles, this means:

  • Turning on all exterior lights whenever the vehicle is driven in dim or low lighting conditions and turning them off in brightly lit conditions
  • Automatic headlights are the default setting for exterior lights, meaning that even if they are manually turned off, they will revert to automation the next time the vehicle is started
  • Not only do the automatic headlights turn on when needed and without driver intervention, but they also turn off should the driver neglect to turn them off, conserving valuable battery power
  • The exterior lights include:
  • Headlights
  • Taillights
  • Side marker lights
  • Parking lights
  • License plate lights

Additionally, all current Tesla models include automatic high beam as a standard safety feature, as do older models with second-generation autopilot hardware, thanks to Tesla’s autopilot 2.0 software update.  

The automatic high beam is a popular auto-function among Tesla drivers, who appreciate the vehicle’s self-adjustment from high beam to low beam and back:

  • If the automatic high beam option is turned on in the control settings by the driver, whenever the high beams are engaged, and any light source is detected by the Tesla, the high beams are automatically switched to low beams
  • Once the opposing light source has passed and is no longer detected, the low beams automatically switch back to high beams to brightly illuminate dark roads
  • The primary purpose of this feature is to protect other drivers from the excessive brightness of Tesla’s high beams

(Source:  Tesla Model S North America Owner’s ManualTesla Model 3 North America Owner’s ManualTesla Model X North America Owner’s Manual)

Reported Tesla Headlight Malfunctions

With such a lofty goal as completely autonomous, driverless operation, there are bound to be a few technical glitches along the way.  Even some of Tesla’s autopilot functions are fairly ambitious in scope, with driver-assisting features that require advanced, cutting-edge technologies, such as:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Collision avoidance
  • Self-navigation
  • Auto-summon

Substituting a driver’s senses, skills, and road experience with Tesla’s onboard sensors, cameras, and microprocessors is an ambitious task that can easily expose flaws in the hardware and software.  Problems relating to the automatic headlights have been documented by more than just a few frustrated Tesla owners.  

Chief among these is that the vehicle turns on the headlights even in seemingly bright conditions.  Some frustrated Tesla owners have complained that their headlights always seem to be on, leading to concerns regarding excessive headlight lamp wear and unnecessary use of precious battery charge.  While some have pointed the finger toward faulty components, others have blamed software glitches.  (Source:  Tesla Owner Forum)

Fortunately, in the latter case, software issues can be quickly and easily resolved through periodic updates like those that resolve bugs in smartphone apps.  Beyond fixes, Tesla plans to activate more self-driving features by “pushing” them to autopilot-enabled vehicles.  (Source:  Electrek)


Driving a Tesla is more than just a means to get from Point A to Point B.  It is also more than a status symbol.  It is a statement of how you view technology related to the world you live in and the role it plays in your life.  For now, technology will turn on your headlights for you, but tomorrow it may take you for the ride of a lifetime.

Tesla Discounts:


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.

Recent Posts