Tesla Winter Driving Tips

Tesla Model X - Snow

If you are lucky enough to live in a part of the world that experiences all four seasons, you know how tumultuous winter driving can be. From the slippery snow to freezing car seats, to poor visibility to black ice, winter driving is no one’s favorite experience. So how does Tesla handle these undesirable driving conditions?

Tesla’s, especially those equipped with all wheel drive can perform quite well in wintery conditions. With colder temps however, electric vehicles tend to get less range than during warmer conditions. Tesla has added a few features you can take advantage of within the app, and we’ll also cover some other tips to maximize your range, and safety, during less than ideal driving conditions.

Electronic vehicles face a different set of challenges with cold winter weather than gas vehicles do. The more tech a vehicle has, the more that could potentially go wrong. This article will consider these specific challenges as well as advise you on how to best care for your Tesla model this winter season.

Know the Winter Challenges That Come With a Tesla

Most people do not like winter driving for a plethora of reasons. The snow and ice make driving on suburban roads a nightmare. The bad dream only gets worse when driving on the highway with more traffic at higher speeds. Tesla recognizes the problems electric vehicles have in winter and continuously tries to make the issues more manageable.

Before the 1980s, it was a common practice to go out to your gas-powered car in the winter and let it warm up in the driveway for 10 minutes or so to ensure the oil was not frozen and could lubricate the car engine properly. Today, this practice is totally outdated and utterly unnecessary in your fossil fuel car.

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, face a different set of problems and definitely benefit from preconditioning, or warming up the battery pack. The nice thing about Teslas is that you can turn on your car, prep the motor(s), and even defrost windows and mirrors remotely! With the Tesla app, the process is incredibly simple:

  • Open the Tesla app on your smartphone
  • Press to open the “Climate” section
  • Turn the feature on

By heating up the cabin interior, the battery will heat up as well. If you are able to preheat your car while it is plugged in at home, you will not waste any battery charge. Your car will also be nice and warm, inside and out, and ready to drive. The only downside is heating up your Tesla can take up to an hour.

To defrost windows and mirrors, the process is almost exactly the same.

  • Open the Tesla app on your smartphone
  • Press to open the “Climate” section
  • Press on the defrost icon

Use Scheduled Departure to Heat Up Your Car

If you want to save a little time in the morning before you head out to work or to an appointment, you can also use the Scheduled Departure feature. Your Tesla model will automatically start charging and preconditioning itself at the best time so you can be out on the road when you need to be. To use the Scheduled Departure feature:

  • Tap on “Charging” lighting bolt icon
  • Press on “Schedule” and punch in the time you want your car to be ready

Everything from using the radio to warming your seat to running the heater uses up your battery charge. On the other hand, your battery can be warmed up with driving, charging, and preconditioning your vehicle. To keep your Tesla model working in the best possible way, it is important to keep your battery charged and warm.

If your car is not properly heated before you use it, you will not be able to access all of the perks of having a Tesla vehicle. Cold weather can quickly decrease your battery charge and prevent you from accessing all the power storage. If your car battery is too cold, displayed with a blue snowflake on the touchscreen, your usage may be limited.

Cold weather also limits your access to regenerative braking and battery power. Regenerative braking is a remarkable technology that allows the forces involved in braking to recharge your battery. This is super helpful to prolong the driving time in your Tesla vehicle.

Know the Winter Difference Between EVs and Gas Vehicles

Thus far this article has touched on the general interior driving lifestyle of a Tesla owner, but another equally important ownership factor to consider is how the operator of an electric vehicle will have to change their driving practices in the winter.

Electric motors produce considerably more torque than your traditional gas-powered engine. This greatly influences how an electric vehicle will handle slippery roads. Luckily, Tesla has created technology to combat this inevitable factor and is constantly trying to improve the way Teslas’ onboard computers handle icy conditions.

Consumers have found that in recent years, the traction control system in their Tesla models manage the tires in such a way that the power transfer and power limiting technology prevents the car from spinning out on slick surfaces. 

This means that when the car senses itself losing control, the system is able to control the power output and limit the transfer of that power to the wheels so driving on icy roads is much easier. This keeps the wheels from spinning out and losing too much traction to propel the car forward.

Use Slip Start to Escape Deep Snow

Tesla also has a technology called Slip Start. This function allows the wheels to spin more freely and create more slip in the tires. You might think that this is the opposite of what you would want in a winter driving technology, but it is actually very helpful for snowy conditions.

Turning off the traction control with Slip Start helps the tires spin which comes in handy when driving in deep snow. High-performance off-road vehicles use a very similar feature to dig themselves out of loose gravel, sand, or dirt. 

Because the operator of the vehicle may not always be able to determine the rotation of their tires when trying to get out of a deep rut or snowy embankment, Slip Start technology assists in the feel of this process and ultimately makes it easier for the driver to feather the accelerator and use the tires to slowly dig the car out.

Consumers have found that this is also the best mode to spin cookies in, although this is not a recommended practice unless you are a professional driver, have plenty of experience, or are not worried about potential damage to your Tesla.

Avoid Using Self Driving Technology

A Tesla vehicle has tiny cameras and sensors located all around that communicate with the onboard computer to tell the car what is surrounding it. This technology is famous for being able to recognize everything around the car. 

  • Lines on the road
  • Oncoming traffic
  • Traffic lights
  • Road signs 
  • Bridges
  • Obstructions 

However, while this technology is incredible, it is far from perfect. This is especially true during inclement weather.

When the cameras and sensors are obscured by snow or ice, it is virtually impossible for the car to see what is going on outside the car. Therefore it is really unsafe to use the auto-pilot function to drive. Furthermore, when the roads are obscured by snow and ice, the self-driving technology has a hard time sensing where the lines are. The vehicle will often alert you that auto-pilot is not available at this time.

Unfortunately, there is not a perfect way to create optimal driving conditions in the winter. The best methods would include making sure the cameras and sensors are as clear and unobscured as possible and avoiding the auto-pilot function in the winter when snow and ice are on the ground.

Do Not Use Tesla Summon Technology In the Winter

The summon function on a Tesla turns the car on and, using a ping function, locates your phone. Your Tesla will attempt to traverse the road, parking lot, or other obstacles to come to you instead of you having to walk to it.

The idea behind the summon function seems so nice in the winter. Instead of having to walk through a slushy parking lot with your groceries, it would be so convenient to have your car just meet you at the front of the store. Unfortunately, the summon function only works efficiently and effectively about half the time, and even less in the winter.

The Tesla computer is programmed to recognize certain images and signs with the cameras and sensors onboard. With a nice blanket of snow over everything, the imperfect technology would have a hard time recognizing the street from the grass. You probably would not want your Tesla careening madly through the snow towards you.

Steer Clear of Park Assist

The park assist function is unfortunately in the same boat as the rest of the assisted driving team when it comes to winter driving. It sounds so nice to be able to sit in your car and let the technology do the work of guiding you into a difficult space, especially when parallel parking is required.

Park assist uses the same cameras and sensors as the summon function to guide the vehicle into a parking spot. Granted, like the other assisted driving features, this function gets a little hairier when the snow starts to pile up. It would not be ideal to ding your Tesla or damage a stranger’s parked car.

In order to work around the inability to use these helpful functions during the winter months, there are, of course, good driving practices that one can take advantage of.

Apply General Winter Driving Tips

With the winter often comes subzero temperatures, icy roads, and people new to driving in the snow. Although you have little to no control over these outside factors, there are several measures you can take to keep yourself and your car safe during this time.

Preparing your car for success in winter driving is imperative. It is recommended to invest in a coolant flush for your vehicle to keep the coolant from freezing and thereby overheating your engine. You may also want plastic floor mats for your car which helps limit internal humidity. This can help prevent a foggy, icy inner windshield.

As oil gets used and burned, it can lose its intended functionality. Depending on your vehicle, you may want to switch your oil over to a thinner viscosity which will help things run smoothly inside your engine. Check your owner’s manual before you do anything. If nothing else, getting your oil changed regularly works wonders for preserving your car.

Winterize Your Tesla

If you drive a Tesla, however, you are probably all too aware of how little you have to worry about fluids in your vehicle. Still, performing regular maintenance on your car, regardless of the model, is just good practice. No one wants to be hanging under a car in the cold, so preparing your car in the late fall is an ideal time to winterize your car.

Other ways to winterize your car include:

  • Top off your windshield wiper fluid and add some washer fluid
  • Create a winter emergency kit for your car and make sure to put non-perishable food, matches, a first aid kit, extra clothes, and a car tool kit inside
  • Install winter windshield wipers

Driving slow and steady is another good practice for the winter months. Someone compared driving on icy winter roads to pretending you are driving your grandmother, who is wearing her Sunday best, holding a large pot of hot and messy chili. You will want to stop and start slowly, and not drive too quickly to avoid any unnecessary spills.

Know Your Tesla’s Drivetrain Performance

Having front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive comes in handy when driving on slick roads and icy conditions. Tesla Models S and X now come standard with AWD. Older models were available as RWD with AWD optional. Tesla Models 3 and Y have RWD standard with the option of AWD. AWD is ideal for the winter as it can help prevent your car from spinning out or losing traction.

  • 2WD (front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive) — FWD is better for handling winter roads. The pulling motion from FWD is better to get you up an icy hill than the pushing from RWD. Tesla’s have always been RWD or AWD. Never FWD.
  • AWD provides the best handling in winter conditions and gives you the ultimate level of control.

The onboard computer in your Tesla model can also communicate with each individual wheel to determine how much power it receives. Smarter than your average fossil fuel vehicle, Tesla technology can recognize the feel of icy roads and can anticipate losing control. It adapts the power output accordingly.

Another investment you may want to make is a good set of winter tires. All-season tires are usually very good for daily use, especially with all the tech that comes on your Tesla model. Winter tires will only help give you more control and grip on the road this winter.

Purchase a Set of Winter Tires

Winter tires, or snow tires as they are also called, can be an easy way to prepare your car for the cold winter months. Winter tires can get really expensive, so it is important to know when you need them and what makes the cost worthwhile.

If you go to the Tesla website to order some winter tires for your vehicle, you will find that Tesla does not actually make their own tires. The brand and make of snow tires that Tesla recommends and sells for its models is the Pirelli Sottozero 3. But this pricey set of tires is not the only set of tires you should consider for your Tesla.

Brand and MakePrice for SetAverage RatingMileage 
Pirelli Sottozero 3About $9524.8 out of 5 starsAbout 33,000 miles
Bridgestone BlizzakAbout $5964.7 out of 5 stars12-15,000 miles
Yokohama iceGUARD iG52cAbout $5684.6 out of 5 starsAbout 118,600 miles
Michelin X-Ice Xi3About $4924.75 out of 5 stars36-40,000 miles
Firestone WInterforce 2About $6284.65 out of 5 starsAbout 213,000+ miles
Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRTAbout $5124.9 out of 5 starsAbout 63,660 miles

All of these winter tires come highly rated and it would be hard to go wrong with any one of them, but what is it about these styles that make them so good? A good snow tire will grip the road, even under icy and snowy conditions. It has specialized siping to redirect water away from the tire, and it will not get too hard or brittle in cold temperatures.

Snow Chains

Installing unapproved chains can cause damage to your Tesla. Check your owner’s manual to verify. For Model S and Model X, Tesla has tested and approved the Maggie Group Trak Sport chains.

Tesla Snow Chains

Depending on where you live, snow chains may be required to at least have inside of your vehicle. For us, if we ever head over one of the mountain passes in Washington state requirements change depending on the road conditions. There are times you have to at least have chains with you. At times, traction tires may be recommended or even required to be on the vehicle.

Even for AWD vehicles, Tesla states to only install chains on the rear wheels.

Vehicles Equipped with Air Suspension

For the Model S and Model X with air suspension, clearance is very limited. You’ll need to make sure your suspension is set to Standard and that Suspension Lowering is set to Never.

Get Studded Tires If Needed

All-terrain tires are designed to have extra traction to grip the road regardless of the weather conditions. They are just a good, jack-of-all-trades kind of tire. All-season tires are preferred for multiple surfaces, making them the ideal road trip or cross-country tire. 

Many people would rather go with a set of all-season tires than have to switch to snow tires. In most areas, all-seasons will get you where you need to go, no problem. That being said, if you frequently have to drive on less than optimal snowy roads during the winter, you might want to invest in a good set of snow tires and make the switch.

All tires have the tendency to slip on slick surfaces, but some handle the ice better than others. Very few people need studded tires since non-studded, aggressive snow tires will stay gripped to the road and get you from point A to point B in one piece. If you have to drive in extreme icy conditions, like over a lake, studded tires might be needed.

Know Your Siping

Siping on a tire is a series of precision manufactured cuts designed to push water and slush away from your tire, keeping you safe on wet roads. Siping was originally created for racing tires as protection against rain and wet roads. The nice thing is, the invention translates perfectly for snow tires.’

Siping can take an okay tire and turn it into a much more effective tire. In addition to increasing safety on wet roads, siping can also help keep your tires from overheating, stop your car faster, and even increase the life of your tire.

Snow tires already come with an appropriate amount of siping, but you can get more cut into your tires for a fee. If you want to add additional sipes to your original set of tires, this may help a little during the winter months. However, this compromises the life of your tire overall. This is why all snow tires come with siping already cut into the rubber.

Siping your all-season tires may save you money over purchasing a new set of snow tires, but if this could potentially decrease the mileage of the tire, you have to decide if you want to save money now or later. Overall, siping is there to help you start faster, stop more efficiently, and keep excellent traction under less than ideal road conditions. 

Keep Away From Snow Tire Resellers

All-terrain or all-season tires can get really hard under a certain temperature, which compromises how much the tire grips the road. Snow tires are designed to remain softer under a certain temperature which also helps improve their performance in the cold.

When looking to save money on snow tires, be careful when considering a gently used or pre-owned set. While they may be more cost-effective, their safety and longevity may be compromised unless guaranteed by a certified reseller of used tires. Here are a few things to look at when considering pre-owned snow tires:

  • Measure the tire tread depth using a penny. When the penny is inserted with Lincoln’s head upside down, the tread should come up to Lincoln’s head to be safe. If it does not, you should avoid those tires. 
  • Look for uneven balding. If the inside or the outside of the tire has uneven balding, you should avoid those tires. 
  • If the reseller is only selling a few tires instead of the entire set, this is not a better or less expensive deal for you. Putting mismatched tires on a vehicle will only compromise your steering ability. Avoid this set.

Tesla recommends checking with your local regulations to see if putting chains on your tires is required or even recommended. While chains can give you optimal grip in deep snow, many areas do not require this additional measure, and when chains are used but not needed, they severely impact the speed and efficiency at which your Tesla can run.

If you are wondering if snow tires are worth the investment, you have to consider how icy the roads in your area get and if your all-seasons will keep you safe. If you do not drive a lot during the winter and the tires on your car do a fair job, you might just focus on driving slow and steady, and only leaving the house as needed.

Utilize the Tesla SubZero Package

When you cannot avoid leaving the comfort and warmth of your own home, Tesla still has your back with their SubZero Package, also known as the Cold Weather Package. This package comes standard on all Tesla S and X models built after 2017. Unfortunately, it is not an option on the 3 and Y Models as of yet.

The SubZero Package includes all sorts of handy features for those that live in colder areas and locations that experience the winter season. To access these features in your Tesla:

  • Select “Controls” on your home screen
  • Tap “Cold Weather”
  • Select any and all of the features listed to turn them on

Many luxury vehicle lines will include heated seats for the driver and passenger. Tesla took it one step further and added heated seats for passengers in the back seats as well. 

The leather seats are not the only parts of Teslas that get heated up, though. The Tesla SubZero Package also warms side mirrors, windshield wipers, the steering wheel, and even the cameras that surround the vehicle. Not only is this package the top tier in luxurious driving, but it is also sure to keep you comfortable and safe in the snowy weather.

Final Thoughts

You have got to hand it to Tesla Motor Company. The company might have created a line of cars that were not well known for being great in the winter. However, they remedied that by investing a serious amount of time and technology into combatting the specific list of challenges electronic vehicles face in colder weather.

There are a lot of ways you can prepare yourself and your car for winter travel, but Tesla has done their due diligence to make the transition from fall to winter as seamless and painless as possible. Hopefully, this article informed you of a few tips and tricks to make operating your Tesla even more enjoyable.

If you implement these safe winter driving tips and make sure you have access to all of the cool technology Tesla has included with their cars, you should be one of the safer travelers on the road. That will be true whether the sun is shining or the snow is coming down.