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Videos surfaced recently showcasing the Tesla Model 3 wading through flooded areas in China with minimal effort. Although in the past Elon Musk said Teslas can float for brief periods of time, there is no official “Tesla boat mode”. In fact, videos of Teslas floating in water as deep as a yardstick have circulated the internet since at least 2016. 

How Can A Tesla Float Unharmed?

tesla model 3 being built in shanghai gigafactory
Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai | Xinhua/Ding Ting via Getty Images

Internal combustion engines intake air and spew exhaust fumes in order to operate. An electric car has neither of these things. If an internal combustion engine submerges, it will intake water, which could complicate the compression stroke, leading to bent rods. What’s more, Model 3s made in China are apparently tested in high water levels. It’s a worthy development, as Shanghai frequently falls victim to extreme weather, including floods.

According to Musk, owners can drive submerged Teslas if they manage to rotate the wheels back and forth. This technique should inch the car farther through rising water. While off the throttle, the car should automatically creep forward, and if rotating the wheels renews the tires’ contact patch, the car can gain traction for a short period of time thus allowing the car to move.

Can a Tesla Boat Mode Exist?

photographers crowd around a model 3 in Shanghai
Photographers crowd a Tesla Model 3 | STR/AFP via Getty Images

A few years ago Musk mentioned in a tweet that Teslas can float in water for brief periods of time. Despite this statement, he was adamant that it’s not a recommended practice. Although Model 3s are sealed tight, a factory defect could allow water into contact with the lithium-ion battery, setting the car aflame.

Some owners reported their rear bumpers flying off after going through a puddle. A Tesla boat mode could be possible, where the suspension raises the car and activates a specific type of traction control, but don’t expect it anytime soon.

Car and Driver reported in early 2020 that some customers complained about water entering the footwells during a car wash. This was apparently due to a factory defect. Other owners reported water leaking through their Model X windshields, while others claimed their drive units stopped working from water damage. Given these claims, using a Tesla as a boat is not recommended.

Is The Tesla Cybertruck Waterproof?

Elon Musk reacts to smashed glass at the Cybertruck demonstration in Hawthorne, California.
Tesla Cybertruck Demonstration | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla Model 3’s Are Like Gremlins; Don’t Get Them Wet or Else

Musk’s infamous Twitter struck again in April 2020. The billionaire mentioned that the Cybertruck can wade deep enough to catch fish, and can float “for a while”. Given Musk and Tesla’s track record, these Tweets perhaps should be taken with several grains of salt.

What Happens if the Tesla “Boat Mode” fails?

Lithium-ion battery cells in cars are sealed tight enough to stop water from coming in. However, the water can still damage the wiring for the battery. The water can also damage the car’s wiring harness, but that can happen with any car. Just make sure it’s covered by insurance. Allowing the water to sit on the carpeting creates mold, and can lead to breathing problems and sickness.

In short, a “Boat Mode” is suspiciously absent from all Tesla cars’ laundry list of quirks and idiosyncrasies. However, if properly motivated by circumstance, a driver can inch their Tesla through relatively high waters, just like in China. According to Musk, Teslas can float for brief periods of time and have since 2016. He also recommends against testing this deliberately, with no cause other than amusement.