Is the Tesla Autopilot Worth it? Here’s What You Need to Know

The technology many of us have been waiting for is on the horizon: a fully autonomous self-driving car. Tesla’s Autopilot is the boldest step we have seen a car manufacturer take to making this futuristic accomplishment a reality. However, while Tesla’s Autopilot is a breakthrough, it may not satisfy the expectations many eager consumers want out of a self-driving vehicle. Is it even worth the cost?

If you are looking for a vehicle that can ease the hassles that come with driving, the Tesla Autopilot is a great and intuitive feature to utilize. However, if your desire is to be completely disengaged from your vehicle and the road, you may want to hold out until the technology further develops.

There is a lot to take in when determining whether the Tesla Autopilot is right for you. Read on to learn about these factors and ensure you make the right decision before committing to this investment. Tesla’s Autopilot is now standard, we’ll cover it’s current features and explain the difference with the optional Full-Self Driving package. Read on!

Tesla Autopilot Features

Tesla’s innovative technology undergoes constant rapid growth, and we see this with their Autopilot feature. If you are considering investing in a Tesla vehicle for Autopilot, you should know there are two current versions of this technology: Base Level Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Mode.

Let’s dive into the specifications of Tesla Autopilot’s two options and what kind of performance and key features you can expect from each one.

Base Level Autopilot 

While the Base Level Autopilot technology does not quite amount to the expectations one would associate with the traditional concept of an autopilot feature, it proves to be convenient and intuitive, nonetheless. 

Tesla promotes two primary features with their standard Autopilot: Auto Steer and a Traffic-Aware Cruise Control. 

Auto Steer

When driving on the highway, it is easy to become absent-minded and accidentally drift over to the neighboring lane. This generally results in needing to make a quick readjustment in your steering but can become a dangerous hazard that can potentially lead to a traffic accident. 

To prevent this common incident from occurring, Tesla has made auto-steering a primary function and highlight of their Autopilot feature. When you have autosteering enabled, your vehicle will ensure that you stay within your appropriate lane when driving. 

Traffic-Aware Cruise Control

Much like the cruise control system that can be found in almost any modern-day vehicle, the traffic-aware cruise control feature of the Tesla Autopilot will keep your car driving at a consistent speed. However, the technology of Tesla’s Autopilot also ensures that you keep a certain level of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.

To give you versatility and control over your traffic-aware cruise control system, Tesla has created the option to manually adjust the speed of your car, as well as the allocated distance you want to maintain between you and other vehicles. 

With that being said, you will find the autopilot feature is quite sophisticated and will make logical adjustments in speed and distance without you needing to make manual changes yourself. 

Full Self-Driving Mode

When Tesla announced their Full Self-Driving Mode, the prospect of having a fully autonomous car available peaked consumers’ interests and stirred quite a bit of hype. 

Unfortunately, this title has proved to be somewhat of a misconception. This feature did not deliver on the fully self-driving car that most of us have imagined since drivers are still required to pay attention to the road.  

However, the Full Self-Driving Mode has some incredible features that Tesla drivers will swear by, and the package includes the primary functions that come with the Base Level Autopilot. 

Navigate on Autopilot

This feature made opting for the Full Self-Driving Mode a no-brainer for absent-minded drivers and those who simply want to arrive from Point A to Point B without dealing with the tediousness of driving on the highway while having to check their navigation system continually. 

With the Tesla Autopilot, all you need to do is have a destination marked on your vehicle’s navigation system. The auto-navigate feature enables the vehicle to control your trip for your entire time on the highway.

That means the car is doing all the driving for you from the moment you hit the on-ramp to your exit point—including all lane changes and adapting to highway interchanges.

Street-Level Autopilot

Street-Level Autopilot allows Tesla vehicles to recognize and react to traffic lights and stop signs on the road.

While this is an entirely new feature in Tesla’s Autopilot technology and is still in a preliminary phase, the potential it will have as it further develops will be paramount to getting us closer to fully autonomous self-driving cars. Drivers who are looking forward to the day of never having to manually drive a car again are sold on the notion of a street-level autopilot.

Smart Summon 

If you have ever been blocked by a neighboring car due to a driver parking too close to your parking space, the Smart Summon feature may just be the highlight of the Full Self-driving Mode for you. 

So, instead of getting frustrated and dealing with the hassle of locating the owner of the vehicle or having to resort to awkwardly sliding in through the passenger or backseat of your car, simply open up your Tesla App and engage your vehicle via your phone to back out of the spot to your location—without ever needing to be behind the wheel. 

Of course, for safety reasons, this feature was intentionally designed to be limited to being used within a distance of 200 feet of your car. Smart Summon is also only available to be used within private driveways and parking lots.

Auto Park

No matter the longevity of your experience on the road, parking can be an absolute nightmare for many drivers. The Auto Park feature with Tesla’s Autopilot has made fitting into tight spots and parallel parking a breeze.

As you cruise through a parking lot looking for a place to park, your Autopilot will blink up with a notification letting you know it has found a spot. Once you are ready, put your car in reverse and simply press the parking button and let your Autopilot do the rest. So, say goodbye to the painstaking chore of having to park and repark into those tricky spots and let your Autopilot work its magic.

Note that while the series of sensors associated with Tesla’s Autopilot has proven to be very reliable for parking, Tesla still requires you to be fully alert and to monitor the system as it parks. 

Auto Lane Change

Changing lanes with the Tesla Autopilot has never been easier with their Auto Lange Change feature. This technology gives you eyes on the back of your head and enables you to make smooth lane changes with just an easy click.

To do so, you must have Auto Steer engaged and have Auto Lane Change enabled in your Autopilot system settings. Once you are on the road and want to change lanes, simply switch your vehicle’s turning signal towards the lane you wish to switch to.

This autopilot feature utilizes your Tesla’s cameras and sensors to make every lane change is efficient and safe.

Autopilot Highway Driving

If you are fed up with the monotony that comes with driving on the highway, the Autopilot’s Full Self-Driving Mode is the answer to this tedious aspect of your day. Highway driving is where the advanced Autopilot features truly shine and is perhaps one of the major deciding factors for converting manual drivers to Tesla’s vehicles. 

Here’s how Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Mode benefits highway driving:

  • Great for Traffic: Sitting in a traffic jam as you commute to and from work is made easy with the Full Self-Driving Mode. The slow speed and predictable flow of vehicles make this the opportune time to utilize this technology, as less attention will be required of you on the road, and you can take it easy on your commute. 
  • Consistent Straight Driving: A lot of our time on the highway is spent in one lane, making one continuous motion. Over time this can become quite boring and make driving feel like a chore—especially on long road trips. Engaging the Full Self-Driving Mode and letting it take over is an excellent way to take a break from the road and avoid the need to stop at rest areas frequently.
  • Avoid Missing Exits: We have all been there; now and then, you miss your turn and get sent on a journey to get yourself back on route. When driving with the Full Self-Driving Mode, your Tesla vehicle will automatically begin making lane changes and seeking your appropriate exit without you needing to take any action. 
  • Speed Limit Awareness: The Tesla Autopilot has the competence to understand what the speed limit is on the highway you’re driving on and will adjust the car’s speed on its own. You can also do this manually with the Autopilot engaged simply by touching the speed icon located on your Tesla’s monitor.

Whether you are a casual driver who simply doesn’t like driving on the highway or a daily commuter that has to deal with the chaos that occurs on the interstate regularly, the Full Self-Driving Mode is an easy solution to avoiding the make driving easier. 

Tesla Autopilot Safety Features

The most common misconception consumers have when considering the Tesla Autopilot is that they simply have to enable the autopilot feature and safely count on their Tesla vehicle to do everything else. 

What you need to keep in mind when you turn on your Autopilot is that it’s a driver assistant; the Autopilot is by no means a replacement for the driver. While in the future, we can expect this technology to advance to a point where it is sophisticated enough to reach this level of reliability, at its current state, using Tesla’s Autopilot needs to be approached with caution and the complete awareness of the driver. 

Tesla fully understands that the autopilot technology of its vehicles has not yet been mastered. So, to ensure that every time you hit the road and enable Autopilot, the company has installed a series of safety indicators to remind you of how to approach using the features.

These are the safety measures used by Tesla to keep your Autopilot experience safe: 

Both Hands on the Wheel 

Just as you drive manually, both hands must remain on the wheel with firm pressure while Autopilot is engaged. Tesla has implemented this feature to reaffirm that the driver is aware while the car is in motion.

If your Tesla senses that you don’t have both hands on the wheel while driving on Autopilot, the vehicle’s monitor will issue a warning to notify you of this. If you do not place your hands back on the wheel, your Tesla will take action by turning on your hazard lights, locking you out of Autopilot for the rest of the drive, and then safely bringing the car to a complete stop. 

Automatic Emergency Braking

Having the right reaction time in a dangerous situation on the road that involves using your emergency brakes can make all the difference between a safe stoppage and a severe life-threatening accident. 

No matter how aware and capable of a driver you may be, accidents and hazards often happen when we least expect them, which is why Tesla has initiated an emergency braking system that is automatic.

Tesla’s Autopilot relies on its cameras and sensors to continually scan for cars and other dangerous obstacles that can result in a collision.

Front and Side Collision Warning

Any safe driver will tell you always be aware of your surroundings when on the road. While our vehicle’s mirrors are customary and useful, they do not come without their limitations. 

When we check our mirrors, we take our eyes off the road and are not given the full scope of potential hazards around us. To mitigate the tendency of constantly averting your eyes from the road in front of you, Tesla has installed a Front and Side Collision Warning System into their Autopilot feature, which will notify you of any potential danger.

  • Front Collision: The Front Collision Warning will assess slow vehicles and vehicles that have completely stopped in front of you.
  • Side Collision: The Side Collision Warning will indicate when there is a potential impact to the side of your vehicle, such as an unaware driver merging into your lane.

Tesla’s Collision Monitoring System offers drivers the luxury of feeling confident and aware of their surroundings when on the road.

Obstacle Aware Acceleration

Unlike the Automatic Emergency Braking System, the Obstacle Aware Acceleration feature of the Autopilot deals with lowering your speed when driving in slow-moving areas. 

Having your foot ready to hit the brakes is a must for all drivers on the road. However, there are circumstances where something spontaneously appears in your path or the driver in front of you is sporadically using their brakes during rush-hour traffic.

A traffic collision can easily be avoided with the Autopilot’s Obstacle Aware Acceleration.

Blind Spot Monitoring 

When it comes to lane changes, there is no place more forgotten than your car’s blind spots. 

As you engage your turning signal, the Autopilot’s Blind Spot Monitoring system is scanning your surroundings and confirming there is no one in your blind spot. If there is another vehicle there, your Autopilot will give you a preventative indication to notify you of the hazard.

Lane Departure Avoidance

It is all too easy to lose focus when on the road and have the occasional lane swerve. A preventative measure to this common hazard was initiated in the Autopilot’s Lane Departure Avoidance feature. This will keep your car confined within the designated lane you are driving in by applying corrective steering.

When it comes to driving, there is nothing more important than your safety and the safety of everyone around you. The breakthrough features launched by Tesla’s Autopilot are just the beginning of eliminating the risks that come with driving. 

As sophisticated as these safety features are, your mandatory alertness and awareness of what’s happening on the road will be the most significant factor in preventing a potential accident.

Tesla Autopilot Cost

If you are on the market for a Tesla vehicle with Autopilot, the price point will vary depending on whether you want just the Basic Level Autopilot or the Full Self-driving Autopilot. 

The great news is that if you buy a Tesla model made from 2016 and up, the Basic Level Autopilot will come included in the vehicle free of charge. While earlier Tesla Models have had an autopilot feature, having even the Basic Level Autopilot before 2016 will not be possible due to Tesla’s hardware transition from their past partner, MobilEye, to their own private design. 

Since Tesla launched its own autopilot system, the company has announced that we can expect the Full Self-Driving to go up in price from $8,000 to $10,000 with the update this past April. As Tesla continues to further develop FSD, they have steadily increased the cost over the years. One thing many overlook however, is that Tesla Autopilot (which was a required option to purchase FSD) used to cost $2,500, but is now free. While FSD has gone up, you now save $2,500 with Autopilot now included.

Owners of Tesla models from 2019 and up can rejoice in having the Full Self-Driving Mode included in their vehicle automatically. However, future updates will require additional payments and installation.

Tesla Autopilot Advantages

It goes without saying that there are many intuitive and practical benefits of getting Tesla’s Autopilot. The features that this technology comes equipped with are crucial steps to creating a completely self-driving car and can prove to be very useful for all drivers on the road today. 

Let’s take a look at how drivers benefit from having a Tesla Autopilot:

  • Convenience: Regardless of driver expectations, the features that come with the Autopilot make driving a lot more convenient. Their technology is designed to take the mundane aspects of driving out of the picture and greatly assist with many hassles we deal with on the road. 
  • Less Stress: For many drivers, climbing into their cars and driving to and from work while stuck in traffic can be one of the worst parts of their day. So much so that many people arriving at work feel stressed out before their real day even begins. Autopilot helps drivers take the edge off their day by letting them have a less tedious journey on their daily commutes.
  • Easy to Use: To make this technology accessible to as many people as possible, Tesla has created an intuitive, hands-on Autopilot system that gives clear indications on the in-car monitor, sound and visual cues to respond to, and the versatility to make alterations to preferences in the Autopilot’s settings. Tesla also incorporates these settings and features of Autopilot in their user-friendly app
  • Safer: While the idea of not being fully in control of your car can seem intimidating, you may be surprised to hear that the Autopilot makes driving significantly safer. To put into perspective just how much safer it is to drive with the Autopilot, you should note that you are six times more likely to get into an accident with a manually driven vehicle.
  • Weather Proof: One of the primary concerns many Tesla owners had with the Autopilot was how well it would withstand extreme weather conditions. While Tesla encourages using the technology in ideal weather conditions, you’ll be happy to hear that the Autopilot runs just fine in snow and heavy rain.
  • Data Collection: The idea of being one of Tesla’s guinea pigs is not the most comforting feeling. However, all Tesla vehicle owners are used for constant data collection, which results in the company making updates and adjustments to their hardware and software. It is precisely this data collection that will push more enhancements to your Autopilot. 

The Tesla Autopilot has a lot of things going for it. While some people may not drive as routinely and benefit from these features, for many, it makes driving a whole lot easier—especially for those who are daily commuters.

Tesla Autopilot Disadvantages

With the Tesla Autopilot being a relatively new technology with lots of hopes for the future, it is not to say that it is by any means flawless. 

Many people who had big expectations for the Autopilot found themselves disappointed with the features, as they simply did not deliver on what they wanted most, which is a completely self-driving car. This drawback’s symptoms could have been mitigated simply by changing some of the terminology attached with the Autopilot, i.e., “Full Self-Driving Mode.

Another major drawback of the Tesla Autopilot is the cost you must pay to unlock the enhanced features that come with the Full Self-Driving Mode, as well as conform to the increase in price that came last year. For many people on the market looking to upgrade their Autopilot, the increase to $10,000 was too steep for them to commit to the investment. 

Users also complained about the risk factors that come with the underdeveloped Autopilot technology. Let’s take a look at some of these factors noted by Tesla users:

  • Poor Response: The most recent beta installment of the Tesla Autopilot is the Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control. Given its early development stages, this feature has been reported to have a poor reaction to signage and traffic lights on the road, either by making unnecessary stops or inadequately responding to awkwardly positioned signs.
  • “Smart” Summon: Some drivers using the Smart Summon have conveyed that the summon isn’t quite as smart as the name entails, with awkward wide turns that result in reversing during very straightforward parking procedures. 
  • Navigation Issues: While the Auto Steer Navigation system seems to work well in most situations, some users have reported that there have been situations where the Autopilot blatantly passes an exit during clear and non-hazardous driving conditions, which resulted in them having to make unnecessary changes to their route. 
  • Poor Parking: The benefit of an Auto Park feature did not come to the benefit of all, as at times the Tesla’s park job did not quite amount to the perfect park job advertised by Tesla.

While these drawbacks and risks do not appear to be overly common, they do occur. For those looking for an Autopilot that is error-free, you may want to weigh all the potential downsides paired with this technology’s current capabilities.

In Conclusion 

The Tesla Autopilot is not quite the autonomous, self-driving car we have all imagined years ago. However, while the technology for this feature hasn’t reached its peak, the potential is on the horizon and becoming accessible is inevitable. 

So, before committing to your purchase, make sure you reflect on all the benefits of having a Tesla Autopilot (or Full Self Driving), as well as all of its current limitations.

The bottom line is, if you are expecting to have a car that completely takes driving out of the picture, this may not be the best time to invest in Tesla’s Full Self Driving. However, if you aim to simplify casual commuting and remove many of the hassles that come with driving on the highway, you will find that investing in this technology could well be to your satisfaction. You always have the option to purchase later as well, although the cost will likely continue to increase from time to time.