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Model S Won’t Start – Top 3 causes explained

It’s always when you’ve somewhere important to go that your car won’t start. It’s one of life’s inconveniences, there’s never a good time for your car to fail. But what do you do if your Tesla Model S won’t start?

Three common Tesla Model S no-start causes include:

  1. 12V battery fault
  2. Blank touchscreen
  3. Key fob fault

In this article, we’ll look at some of the common reasons why a Tesla Model S won’t start and what you can do to fix it.

Tesla interior

Tesla Didn’t Charge?

I know it may sound like the obvious answer but when you arrived home last (assuming that’s where you are now), did you remember to plug your car in for a charge? Maybe you weren’t the last person to drive it. Maybe you did remember to plug it in, but was there a power outage during the night?

All of these scenarios are possible but if you were the last to drive it, it’s unlikely that it would completely discharge overnight unless you were at the very end of your range.

It is more likely something else is at play here. Your Tesla’s 12V battery may not be holding a charge.

1 Battery Flat

If your battery is completely flat you can try giving it a charge. However, if you only have a 120V charger at your house, to be honest, I wouldn’t bother, I’d go straight to the jump (see below). 

If on the other hand, you have a Tesla Wall Charger (TWC) I’d certainly give this a try for 30 minutes or so. If not, there is a special Tesla procedure to follow to jump your Model S and that’s what we’ll cover next.

Accessing the Tesla 12v battery

If you can, go ahead and open the hood, for some, this may not be possible as the battery is so flat it hasn’t enough juice to even pop the hood. This content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. Not to worry we have the fix for that, but we’ll need to access the wiring and we’ll need a portable jump starter.

The process is as follows:

  • Locate the tow cover at the front of the car
  • Press the top right to release it and gently pull it towards you
  • Locate the two wires red (+) and black (-)
  • Connect your external power supply to the wires (Red to red and Black to black)

This will release the latches to your hood and you’ll now have access to the 12V battery under the hood. This action will not charge your vehicle but only open the hood.

Charging the 12v battery

Do not jump aka boost your car from another Tesla or a gas car. You can cause serious damage to your car or the other Tesla.

Tools needed – Portable 12-volt smart charger.

The charge process is as follows:

  • Locate – Remove the dust cover panel by pulling upwards, then remove the intake trim by again pulling it upwards.
  • Connect – connect the 12V power pack to the 12V battery (Red to red and Black to black)
  • Turn on – turn on the charger, it may take some time for the charge to be sufficient to charge the interior touch screen.

When the screen does finally light up, disconnect the charger (plug the charger out at the wall first). Replace all the covers and close the hood. Once your battery is responding, plug your car into the TWC or drive to the nearest Supercharger.

If you find that this is becoming a regular occurrence you may need to replace your 12-volt battery. Schedule a service at your local Tesla to make sure.

2 No Touch Screen Available

A touch screen that won’t enable is another common reason your Tesla S might not start. Tesla is a very complex machine with a ton of control modules all relying on software and just like our laptops or phones, they glitch from time to time. We can fix a Tesla glitch the same way we fix our iPhone glitch, restart them, and that’s what we’ll do next.

Reboot your Tesla

Restarting fixes a ton of kit, I know it sounds too simple, but it works because the software is programmed to self-repair, and restarting the computers forces the software to reboot.

The Tesla reboot process is as follows:

  • Shifter in Park
  • Hold down both scroll buttons on the steering wheel

This will activate the touch screen restart. The Tesla logo will appear on the screen and the process should be completed in under 3 minutes.

If this hasn’t worked, check out the power cycling below.

Perform Power Cycling

If the reboot hasn’t worked, or you are still getting a dashboard error, or perhaps your Tesla just appears to be unresponsive, then you will need to go one step further and complete the ‘Power Cycling’

The power cycling process is as follows:

  • Shifter in Park
  • Using the Touch Screen go to Controls – Safety and Security and Select Power Off

Your Tesla will begin to power down through the different onboard systems. Do not touch anything for at least 2 minutes.

After the time has elapsed, either open the door or press the brake. Your Tesla will wake up and the error messages will hopefully be cleared and your car will happily startup.

3 Key Fob Not Working

A faulty key fob is our final common cause of a Tesla S no start. As you know Tesla doesn’t use have a mechanical key. They are all keyless entry and keyless start.  Like all tech, it’s fantastic when it works, but when it doesn’t you wish you had the old technology.

When the fob fails the car won’t recognize that the key is present as you approach your car, as you know the handles should present themselves for opening.

If this sounds like your problem, all is not lost we have a hack.

Access your vehicle as follows:

  • Go to the passenger side of the car and place the fob at the bottom of the windshield on that side.
  • The car should jump into life but this can take up to 20-30 seconds to recognize.
  • You’ll need to retrieve your fob and bring it into the car with you.

Key Not Present Warning Message

There are certain places the key needs to be for the car to recognize its onboard. The cup holder is where Tesla recommends but anywhere in the center console is good.

If your car still doesn’t recognize the key, and you’re getting the ‘Key Not Present’ message, this is likely because your fob needs a new battery. The battery in the fob lasts approximately 5 years.

However, as fob batteries get low a warning message should appear on the dash, ignoring it will eventually leave you locked out of your car.

Changing Fob battery

The replacement batteries are widely available (CR2032 -Li-ion). And the replacement process will take less than 1 minute. The process is as follows:

  • Lift the flap on the fob (under where it says Model S)
  • Lift the old battery out and replace it with the new one (avoid handling the underside of the battery)
  • Replace the cover and you are golden!

We have just one more job to complete the mission and we cover that next.

Notify onboard system

We’ll need to notify the onboard system that we have a new battery fitted. This is even easier than the battery fitting process.

  • Go to your screen, Safety, and Security, at the Walk Away Door Lock click Off and On again.

This will allow the car to recognize the battery change. Your mission is complete, nice job!

You may find the following posts helpful:

How long do Tesla batteries last?

Will Tesla chargers work on other vehicles?

How long can a Tesla sit without charging?

Will a Tesla last 10 years?

Tesla not waking up (external link)