How to keep a Tesla in neutral for towing

For the average driver on the road, towing their car if they ever needed to is a simple and familiar option. But what about Tesla drivers? Can you tow a Tesla as you would any other vehicle? The answer is definitely no—and today we’re going to explain why that is, and what alternative options are at your disposal.

If you own a Tesla, the chances are that it hasn’t seen enough action to break down yet. These are well-designed and dependable vehicles that haven’t been on the market long. However, it’s always wise to prepare for the unexpected. So let’s get into how to keep a Tesla in neutral when you need to, and why towing it for any distance is a major no-no. 

Why Can’t You Tow a Tesla?

When the wheels of a Tesla spin, the car begins to actively generate electricity. When you are driving along normally, this is ideal as it ensures that the car uses the minimum amount of electricity overall at any given moment. However, when electricity generation is taking place, it is crucial that the car’s cooling systems are online and functioning so the car does not overheat.

Tesla’s manuals make a pretty stark warning in this area. Ultimately, transporting your vehicle by any method that will cause the tires to spin may lead to significant damage due to overheating. In extreme cases, some of the car’s components could even ignite, taking the option of towing your Tesla with its wheels down firmly off the table.

How Can I Tow My Tesla With Wheels Off the Ground?

To ensure that the wheels of your Tesla can’t spin during transport, there are a few options to choose from. The vehicle can of course be transported on a flatbed truck. Alternatively, wheel lifts and dollies can be used to ensure that all four wheels are off the ground and not making any kind of contact that might cause them to spin. 

Tesla recommends transporting their cars no further than 55km at a time if a flatbed truck is not available. They also advise towing the vehicle facing forward, with the front on the wheel lifts and the back on dollies.

If you own a Model X or Model S Tesla, it is also a must to activate Jack Mode before transporting your car. These two models are equipped with an air suspension system that automatically self-levels the vehicle, even when the power is off. When the car is being transported, failing to disable the air suspension might result in the vehicle becoming loose during transport, potentially causing damage. 

To disable the air suspension, tap Controls on your dashboard touchscreen, then Service, then Jack Mode. Also note that Jack Mode cancels when driving speed exceeds 4 mph (7 kph), so anticipate a slow ride to the repair shop.

Knowing How to Keep Tesla in Neutral for Towing

New Tesla drivers—or even veteran owners who are faced with their first breakdown—may well ask, does my car even have a Neutral setting? The answer is yes, it does, but it also has a special mode for when your Tesla needs to be towed.

This is known as Transport Mode. This setting keeps the parking brake disengaged, so your trusty roadside rescue professional can winch your vehicle into a safe towing position. While the car is in Transport Mode, this will be clearly displayed on the dashboard touchscreen.

To activate Transport Mode, first make sure the tires of your vehicle are chocked or it is otherwise secured. Next, ensure the vehicle is in Park and press and hold the brake pedal. Now, you can select Controls, then Service, and then Towing on the dashboard touchscreen. A message will pop up reminding you how to transport your Tesla correctly—and the importance of not towing it with the wheels down. Finally, with the brake pedal still compressed, you can press and hold the Transport Mode button until it turns blue. 

With a Tesla in Transport Mode, the vehicle will be able to roll freely, although the manufacturers recommend never moving it at more than a walking speed in this way. To switch the vehicle back out of Transport Mode, simply shift it back into Park.

To be able to put your car into Transport Mode, the Tesla will need to be able to detect a key, and it will need to have power. Note that if the car runs out of power while being moved, Transport Mode will be deactivated. If you have a Model Y or Model 3 Tesla and it is equipped with a low voltage Lead-Acid Battery, it may be possible to jump-start the battery and re-engage Transport Mode. But if you have lost power and the touchscreen is no longer working, self-loading dollies or tire skates become the only option.

If, as a Tesla driver, you are ever faced with the need to use roadside recovery or transport your vehicle, the best possible option is to contract a transporter who is familiar with the Transport Mode settings and technical specifications of Tesla vehicles. Depending on your policy, you may wish to confirm with your car insurer or roadside assistance broker that they are suitably qualified to retain your custom!