Here’s How to Get Out of a Locked Tesla

Here’s How to Get Out of a Locked Tesla

There are ways to open Tesla doors on a vehicle without power, but they vary by model.

A recent Arizona incident in which a toddler was trapped in a Tesla Model Y vehicle until firefighters arrived is renewing concerns about the brand’s door locks. The woman, Renee Sanchez, told a local TV station that after she strapped her 20-month-old granddaughter into her Tesla for a trip to the zoo, she was suddenly locked out of the car without warning.

“My phone key wouldn’t open it. My card key wouldn’t open it,” Sanchez told the station. She said her granddaughter was scared and cried, but, “Oh my God, this could have been so much worse.”

Eventually, firefighters arrived and broke a window, and the child was upset but unharmed. The culprit was the EV’s 12-volt battery, which powers functions including the car’s automatic door locks. Tesla owners are supposed to receive multiple notifications before a battery failure like this, but Sanchez said she confirmed with Tesla’s service department that she never got those warnings.

A representative for Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Not just a Tesla problem

“Electronic door pops, or triggers, aren’t unique to Tesla — in fact, quite a few combustion cars have had them for years,” said Antuan Goodwin, CNET’s resident electric vehicle expert, who’s been behind the wheel of hundreds of EVs over the last 16 years.

“Additionally, the Tesla emergency door opener is almost ridiculously hard to miss — at least it is in the Model 3/Y,” Goodwin said. In fact, the first few times he drove the Tesla Model 3, he tended to use the emergency door opener almost exclusively, saying the regular handle was less apparent.

“Obviously, different folks will have different experiences, especially if the dealer pointed out the e-handle first,” he said.

Over the last few years, other Tesla owners have reported that when the low-power battery gives out on their car, they have been locked in or out of their cars, unable to operate it with their Tesla app or their RFID-enabled card key. It can be especially dangerous in extreme weather such as the summer heat of states like Arizona and Texas.

But disabled door locks are not among the issues Tesla has been dealing with in its frequent recalls. In fact, the company instead suggests Tesla owners use one of several methods to manually unlock doors in case that function loses power.

And Tesla’s not the only manufacturer with this problem. Newer Rivian EVs also have doors that can only be opened with a hidden manual release when the low-power battery is dead, just like other cars made by Cheverlot, Audi, Ford and BMW.

How to unlock unresponsive Tesla doors from inside

According to the owner’s manual on vehicles including the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, drivers and passengers who are inside the vehicle when it’s locked can access a manual release latch that’s located in front of the car’s window switches. The door release flips up to open the door.

Not all Teslas have a manual release for their rear doors, but those that do have a release cable hidden inside the door pocket under a plastic panel. On the rear doors for some vehicles, you need to remove a mat, pull a tab to release an access door and pull a manual release cable.

Of course, this isn’t an option if a small child is alone in a car and unable to access these door-release options, as was the case for Sanchez.

How to unlock unresponsive Tesla doors from outside

If you’re locked out of a Tesla and it’s not responding to requests to unlock the doors, the best option is to get power to the 12-volt battery, not unlike jumpstarting any vehicle.

The problem, however: No power means the Tesla’s front trunk can’t be opened with the app. In order to access the battery to give it power, you must get that hood opened, which involves accessing a manual release located in front of the car. According to Tesla, you can open the car’s tow-hook eye cover by pressing on the top right until its latch pops open. On some vehicles, two cables, red and black, are revealed and those can be directly connected to a battery or jumper cables for power, which releases the hood latches.

On other Teslas, however, like the Model S, the front trunk release is accessed in the wheel wells on both front wheels. Each side has a strap inside a covered compartment. The right side releases the primary latch, the left side releases the secondary latch for the hood. They must be released in the right order to open the hood. Once the front trunk is opened, you can access the 12-volt battery and use a charger or jumper cables to get power to the battery and unlock the doors.

Other options to open a locked Tesla

In an emergency, there’s always the option of breaking a window, as Scottsdale firefighters did for Sanchez. Amazon sells a variety of glass-break tools, including hammers, that can get through a window in case a car is submerged in water or in case a passenger or driver is unaware of how to manually open locked doors.

If you’ve ever used a service like Pop-A-Lock, you may know that you can sometimes call an expert to use an alternate method to get entry to a locked car. Some YouTubers have posted ways to get into a locked Tesla without a key, which involves moving the window and accessing the manual latch. Calling a local locksmith for help may be cheaper than replacing a broken window on a Tesla.

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