Jailbreaking Used Teslas Is A Thing Now

There are thieves and then there are Robin Hoods. We’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is the bad guy in this latest saga of new-age car drama. It seems that Tesla takes away electronic features some of its cars are equipped with. This happens when they are resold or end up with salvage titles after it’s written off by the insurance. Tesla is able to remotely update and upgrade any and all of its vehicles. It is one of the advantages of owning a Tesla. But what Tesla gives Tesla can taketh away. So it is that Tesla remotely removes certain features of its cars once resold or salvaged. 

Let’s say you buy a used Tesla that has Autopilot. That’s the controversial Advanced Driver Assistance System that allows the owner to give voice commands for certain functions. Jalopnik recently outlined an instance where a used Tesla was purchased with Autopilot. After a few days, Tesla remotely removed the software. When confronted about it Tesla said the Full Self Driving feature had not been purchased by the new owner. If the new owner wanted that software he/she would have to pay $8,000 for it.

Jailbreaking Teslas happens because it says there is no obligation to keep original software

Man sitting in a Tesla using the infotainment screen.
Tesla | Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The $8,000 charge is what the software costs new. What Tesla says is that it has no obligation to keep extra-cost software and features in a used Tesla. Until confronted with this we have always gone with the assumption anything installed on a vehicle when new stays with the car. Period. Now Tesla is countering that assumption.

Tesla claims it has been doing this for a long time. There have supposedly been instances when someone complains so much that Tesla backs down and gives them the software is removed. But it sounds like those instances are rare. If a feature has already been paid for then it’s been purchased. Tesla feels otherwise. What’s one to do?

Jailbreakers reinstall original software removed by Tesla

Tesla Charging
A Tesla car is charging in a charging station. | Getty Images

When this happens some owners look to find a Jailbreaker. That’s a person who can reinstall software taken back by Tesla. It’s a hack. Tesla has been known to remove functions like the $20,000 performance package for Model X as well as Supercharging. This is the ability of the car to use the Supercharger network for fast charges. Without the Supercharger network at your disposal, a key Tesla ingredient compromises the vehicle. It’s a marginalized Tesla.

Tesla is well aware of these Jailbreakers and has updated its software periodically to help combat them. But Jailbreakers are usually able to go back to their hacks in short order. The downside is that jailbreaking voids the factory warranty. If the used Tesla is also a salvage car the practice seems OK. But if it’s a newly purchased used Tesla then that negatively affects the value.

Sustainability means keeping as many Teslas on the road as possible

Tesla Charger
Tesla Charger | Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

From a sustainability perspective, one would think Tesla likes to see its used cars returned back to the road. It’s recycling. It’s also Tesla’s mandate to promote sustainability. If someone is able to purchase a total from an insurance company and then put it back on the road why doesn’t Tesla help in that process? Why won’t it promote that aspect of Tesla ownership? It seems like a missed opportunity to market a key mission.

We know that Tesla is trying to keep things like performance packages and self-driving software as ways to maintain your Tesla’s value. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even tweeted that the price of some features will be increasing substantially. When that happens some Teslas will actually increase in value making the vehicle an asset according to him. While we’re a little dubious about that, a Tesla without certain features is a stripped, cheap Tesla. Is having a bunch of cut-rate Tesla sedans really a good thing to have?