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an important note about the key fob and RF interference.

Discussion in 'Model S: User Interface' started by dtich, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. dtich

    dtich #P708

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    #1 dtich, Jan 21, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2013
    so, today i took an unplanned jaunt with a friend up into angeles forest here in southern california, needed a little head clearing and thought a windy mountain road in the clear afternoon sun would be just the thing. had a lovely drive and the car handled beautifully as expected. got to the top and turned the turn off to mount wilson hoping against hope that maybe the observatory would be open to visitors.. and this is where this story begins.

    for those of you unfamiliar with mt. wilson, the 5700' peak is not only home to a world class astro/solar observatory, it is also the relay point through the san gabriel mountains for a good portion of the los angeles basin's telecommunications. television, radio, private microwave, cell relay, municipal services like fire, police and forest, all use facilities on this peak to get their signals across the valleys; there are over 300 separate antennas on mt. wilson.

    as we wended our way onto the flat at the peak, we passed a car parked on the side of the road surrounded by a group of mostly asian guys who seemed very focused on some equipment on the hood. the car they were gathered around was blacked out with show card and black wrap, all logos and identifying panels covered from prying eyes... hmmm. we parked at a turnout right at the peak and after looking out at the vistas and exhaling for a while decided to go back and see what those guys were up to. as it turns out they were studying RFID* signal behavior for the car manufacturer whose identity was hidden under the blackout (later saw a little corner of something that id'd it as a lexus). as the guy operating the receiver scope and antenna was explaining what they were up to i said, 'oh yeah, i have one of those', he said 'what brand?', 'tesla' i say and walk up. he prompted me to hold my fob in the air and press the buttons. the signal showed up on his scope sure enough. he nodded and said, yep, not our frequency. good. i said can you grab this signal and rebroadcast it to get into the car? he said no, it's a rolling code system. i said, yes, i believe it is. also good.

    now the bad. the reason they were up there amongst all the myriad frequencies and antennas is to ensure their system was robust enough to function in such an RF polluted environment. oh. huh. uh... upon walking back to my car i discovered, almost as my spidey sense was tingling, that the car would not open. didn't recognize the fob. yeah. um. ok. that makes sense. so.. where do i put it when the battery is low.. the base of the passenger wiper blade. no dice. press buttons. no dice. left it there for a minute, still nothing. ugh. ok. friend, please call tesla roadside assistance while i walk around and try buttons at every spot around this car. no cell service. she started walking to see if she could find service while i tried every nook and cranny around the car, wheel wells, undercarriage, every window, etc... nothing. we did also walk to the RFID guys and ask if they were by chance broadcasting a strong signal on our freq and maybe the source of the trouble. no dice. they were only receiving. yeah, they said, LOTS of serious RF up here. why do you think we're testing here? right.

    they were nice enough to come check out the cool tesla that was now a dark brick on the side of the road. no manual key?, they ask. nope. where do you put it to get in when the battery dies, they ask. oh, right here, i point, but it's not working. they start clicking around the car too. my friend has gotten weak cell service and i walk over to her to try to get on with roadside assist and give them my vin, hoping again against hope that their unlock signal might make it through all the noise and make our day. just as i'm about to get connected with them i hear a shout and turn to see the lights on my car blink. wahoo! i run over and open the door, hanging up on roadside assist as i do (sorry guys).

    the sweet spot in this scenario turned out to be the top center of the rear windshield. about as far from the passenger wiper as you can get. don't know why. maybe it was a fluke, but i'd sure like a map of the antennas in the car at this point. i thanked the RFID guys and we all shared relieved chuckles in the fading sun. sitting in the car it did take a minute to get it to turn on, putting the fob in the cup holder right away of course--didn't take right away but eventually it did and we high-tailed it off that peak soon as i got it in gear, didn't want to chance any other mishap.

    so. short story long... (sorry), the dead fob sweet spot may not be where the manual says, and stay off mount wilson or anything like it. cars without manual keys are soft-bellied creatures in those rare environments. sorry to say anyone working at mt. wilson observatory needs to rule out getting a model s. at this point anyway.

    all's well that ends well however. on the way down we had a bunch of good laughs and headshakes just marveling at the coincidence of running into a group of guys testing exactly what ended up being our downfall on this outing.

    *i'm calling it RFID even though it's not exactly.. keyless entry radio fob systems. doesn't make a good acronym. kerfs. no.

    **and that's neither me nor my friend in that picture, before anyone starts making pot belly comments...

    photo 1-1.JPG
    photo 2-1.JPG
     
  2. cinergi

    cinergi Active Member

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    Wow. Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

    I wonder if there's an area up there that's strong enough to prevent the car from starting because it can't see the fob...
     
  3. dtich

    dtich #P708

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    it was pretty close to that as it was. really took well over a minute with the fob in the cupholder before it would respond. think it started with the 'fob not in car' warning still on the screen. i'm not going back to test it i'll tell you that! (although tm should.)
     
  4. mknox

    mknox Well-Known Member

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    I used to park in electrical sub-stations (for work) found I had to put my old car's fob right against the glass to unlock the doors. Lots of RF noise there too. My current ICE has a slot that you plug the fob into if the battery dies so you can start the car. Wonder if Tesla should consider something similar? There are lots of noisy RF environments out there. When troubleshooting some noise on our (licensed) Smart Meter network, we found some very odd sources. One was a gas station. They use RF to change the price on the big sign and their transmitter had gone haywire and was blasting noise. Not that we'll be taking Teslas into gas stations, but you never know where you'll find yourself.
     
  5. smd

    smd Member

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    While driving, I've had a warning come up that said something like "key not detected in car" while the car is moving. It's happened 3 times to me over 6 weeks of ownership. Twice it went away as I pulled my key out of my pocket. Another time it went away after pushing the lock/unlock button on my fob. I wonder if I was driving through a high signal area?
     
  6. mrcool1122

    mrcool1122 Member

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    I wish I had read this yesterday. Yesterday I drove up to Mt Wilson and had the exact same experience; the car locked up and shut down as soon as I got out, as if the key was nowhere near it. Nothing worked, and I didn't have cell service. So I had to walk a little bit to the payphone(!) near the observatory that I happened to know was there and called Tesla roadside service. I was vaguely aware that there was a spot to stick the key when its radio isn't working, but I couldn't remember where it was--but the Tesla guy on the phone said there was no such spot on the car! Weird.
    I had him wait 60 seconds after I hung up to unlock the car, so I could sprint back to it in time. I did get in, but then the car didn't want to turn on, even with the key in the cup holder. I mashed the brake pedal for a good minute or two before it turned on. The roadside assistance guy called my cell a little later and said "yeah...probably best to get out of that area and never come back."
    Which is sad, because I love going up to Mt Wilson to hike and enjoy the view.
    Made me wonder, though... as I was driving around the top of Mt Wilson, neither my cell phone nor the car seemed to have any cell service. Yet Tesla was able to unlock my car from afar. Does this feature work via satellite communication, I wonder?
    A scary experience anyway.
     
  7. shady

    shady Member

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    How come there is no cell service? Couldn't they get planning permission to erect a cell tower? :)
     
  8. dtich

    dtich #P708

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    well, at least good to know that tesla's remote control signals get through with all that interference. i was wondering about it. sorry you had to be that guinea pig.

    spread the word, mt. wilson no go for teslas. stay away from room 237.
     
  9. vcor

    vcor Member

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    Nope - 3G. They must have gotten a signal to the car.

    In various upgrades I've done, I've notice three FOB antennas - One in each side of the dash on the black plastic panel. I'd guess a good place to try to override RF interference is hold the key at the front-most portion of the driver's side door glass. Another antenna resides just behind the center of the rear bumper. There are also supposed to be two in the front, but I'm not quite sure where. There may also be a second rear antenna in the top of the hatch glass.
     
  10. MichaelS

    MichaelS Member

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    This is quite a story but not surprising. Glad everyone was able to get out of this situation.

    This reminds of an experience I had when I was driving my GM EV1

    i was on the 880 freeway in the East Bay (SF) when all of a sudden the EV1 died and the dash lit up like a Christmas tree.

    I pulled over and managed to coast to the top of an exit ramp. Tried restarting the car and it came up normally.

    I just happened to be a couple blocks from the dealer. Their diagnostic showed a communications error had occurred in the car's CAN bus.

    I thinking back where I was I recall a big rig next to me when the car died.

    What I think happened is that the truck driver keyed his dirty 1000 watt CB linear right when I was next to him.

    The problem never occurred again.

    Michael
     
  11. HawaNY

    HawaNY Member

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    My Wife and I have now had multiple times where we are unable to immediately get to our young kids as we go from front to back of car, get out groceries, etc, because the car has unexpectedly locked itself and won't open. We have the auto-lock feature turned off, and it has still happened. Ultimately, a call to Tesla or use of the app has always worked, but this is a serious issue that needs a better solution. A consumer product that allows itself to get between you and your kids has got a problem. We need some redundant manual key entry to eliminate this concern--something like the roadster, hidden underneath, would be fine.
     
  12. ModelS1079

    ModelS1079 Member

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    That is really odd. can't imagine that occurring. Please be sure Ownership is aware and let us all know how it is resolved.
    Option B - kids sleep in car.
     
  13. wycolo

    wycolo Active Member

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    RF energy propagation is always strange so keep trying all possible positions; moving just slightly can peak your signal over the other signals that blanket the area.

    Why not just leave car ON in PARK and leave door slightly opened? Or stick cardboard under hatch to keep it from latching. Then you can at least do some wandering about on the mountain top. I plan to 'hilltop' with the S whenever possible. Maybe find my old steering wheel lock.

    I climbed up Mt Wilson summer 1958 from 1000ft in Pasadena. Tried to hitch a ride but no luck, so had to hike back down. Made it back well before sundown. Summer of killer smog: clear but the 'pure sulphur' kind. Innocent times, before any concern about auto emmissions. [back on topic]
    --
     
  14. HawaNY

    HawaNY Member

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    yeah, thanks, will do. Each time we've called so far, there's been hope that we've now fixed it (4.2 update, turning off auto-lock, etc) but then it just happened again. This time key was left inside, the car locked unexpectedly, and we couldn't open, even though key was in cup-holder.

    Maybe there is some specific mistake in each case that is explainable and fixable, but its now happened so often that its clear to me that the value of some mechanical override would be very high.

    I'm the biggest fan of the 'cool factor' of the key as anybody. But after 4 Months of use, I'm convinced we need some mechanical redundancy here given the apparently inherent uncertainties surrounding interference, sensor strength and potential bugs in the software governing it all.

    Of course, I'm also a big fan of just letting the kids sleep in the car. :smile: Its nice in there, they should have no complaints.
     
  15. danubi1

    danubi1 Member

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    Thanks for the heads up!

    For the benefit of owners in San Diego. I've had similar FOB RF interference issues with my ICE cars at Mt. Soledad. This post is a reminder to be vigilant when I go up there in the Tesla. At least the ICE's had a manual override and did not rely on RF communication with the FOB to start the car.
     
  16. dtich

    dtich #P708

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    also try replacing fob battery.
     
  17. ggr

    ggr Roadster R80 537, SigS P85 29

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    Yes, indeed. Once I got locked out up there and didn't have my phone with me! I went back a week later to be sure that RF interference was the problem, and again had to use the phone to remotely unlock. It started OK, though, once in.
     
  18. Thumper

    Thumper Member

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    Just replaced our fob batteries yesterday. The fob was less responsive than when new. Old batteries 3.05v, new batteries 3.47v. Better but the car is currently less responsive at detecting fob and auto-presenting handles than when new. Could 4.3 be partly responsible? It is now sometimes difficult to get into the car even with a push on the fob.
     
  19. jerry33

    jerry33 S85 - VIN:P05130 - 3/2/13

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    This is something you need to contact owner experience about.
     
  20. gaswalla

    gaswalla P4201/85/airsusp/pano/19i

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    #20 gaswalla, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013
    A good friend (who I helped sell the Model S to) got stuck on Mt Soledad yesterday in his car.. Car would not turn on no matter where the key fob was placed. Called Tesla, they sent out a flat bed, moved the car 50 feet, and the car worked again. Tesla customer service stated it was a known problem at Mt Soledad (this is San Diego, La Jolla). Fellow SD Tesla owners: make note!
     

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