Tesla Model Y/3 heat pump issue in cold weather might not be fixable with just a software update



Canada’s extreme cold weather is taking a toll on some Tesla owners as the heat pumps are failing in extreme temperatures ranging from -30°C to -40°C. The affected Tesla vehicles are the Model Y and new Model 3s that have the heat pump rather than the old resistive heating architecture.

Not every owner of the Model Y and Model 3 is facing this issue. But since this is a safety issue in such harsh weather, Tesla has decided to take quick action and started working on a fix a few days back.

The issue was even escalated to the automaker’s CEO Elon Musk, “Fixing this is a high priority,” Musk tweeted during the weekend.

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This issue was first reported by the members of the Tesla Owners Club Saskatchewan (Canada). When the first instance of this heat pump failure occurred, Tesla Service Center in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan responded quickly and fixed the owner’s 2022 Model 3. But the issue re-occurred and the car had to be towed back to the Tesla service center within 48 hours.

The Tesla Saskatoon team posted the following response to the affected Model 3/Y owners of what they think the problem is and how it should be fixed:

The heat pump system actually has the ability to work really well, even in temps colder than -30C, because there are two loops that use compression and expansion of the refrigerant (going from liquid to gas to liquid) and those loops can produce heat, even in the extreme cold.

The Alaska team has been testing this in super cold, and it does work well. So fundamentally the heat pump can and will work in our climates.

One of the observed causes of a climate failure that has been diagnosed is the front air intake flap freezing open, and blasting cold air into the system when driving on the highway, which is preventing the heat pump system’s ability to work correctly.

The cold air passes by a sensor, and tells the climate system it’s failing, and then you get the famous error, and the compressor just stops. One of the things they’re potentially going to do with software as a quick win allows the compressor/system to keep working, even if the flap is not functioning properly. And of course, they’re trying to figure out how to prevent this in the first place.

Of note, the Tech recommended ensuring the black grill on the front of your car is clean and clear, as snow/ice build-up there can cause the flap to not open/close properly.

Source: Tesla Owners Club Saskatchewan / Facebook via Tesla Owners Online / Twitter.

Because the Tesla engineering team thinks this is an issue with the calibration of the heat pump expansion valve, it can be fixed via an over-the-air (OTA) software update. “Firmware fix to recalibrate heat pump expansion valve is rolling out now,” Elon Musk tweeted on the weekend.

But some new developments have taken place in the meantime. Tesla ethical hacker who goes by the name of “green” on the social media sphere has pointed out that it can actually be a hardware problem as well.

Green found out that these Model 3 and Model Y heat pumps are seizing in Russia as well. The following video was posted in a Russian Tesla owners club in which we can witness a seized heat pump struggling and making a weird noise in the process.

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By looking inside one of the heat pumps affected by extreme cold weather, some wear and tear was found in the parts of this machinery. This must have been due to the friction caused by the seizure and the pump trying hard to pass the liquid or gas through its chambers.

Green pointed out the wear pattern in the following tweets of the above video.

These pictures suggest that this might not be just a software issue. However, in my opinion, this friction of the parts should be preventable if the heat pump works normally in these harsh cold temperatures.

Tesla has already started to roll out the software update to fix this issue, the heat pumps not yet affected should be saved from this physical damage. The latest software version that contains the fix is possibly version 2021.44.30.7 that the owners from Tesla Saskatchewan have reported today.

The heat pumps that have been already been physically damaged due to this issue will need a hardware fix rather than a software update.

An AC compressor of a hybrid Honda car from the inside. Very closely matches the Tesla heat pump unit (depicts a non-damaged Tesla unit).
An AC compressor of a hybrid Honda car from the inside. Very closely matches the Tesla heat pump unit (depicts a non-damaged Tesla unit). Credit: speedkar99 / YouTube (full video below).
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How to deal with the issue

Tesla owners who have faced this heat pump failure issue have shared some suggestions to prevent this heat pump failure and what to do if you are stuck in an extreme cold weather condition with this problem.

Precondition in advance

Remotely precondition the car’s cabin and battery pack using your Tesla mobile app’s “scheduled departure” feature.

“Make sure to precondition the car before driving with “scheduled departure”, if it’s been sitting in the cold for a while. Set departure for at least 20-30 minutes in future. Doing this has solved our heating malfunction so far. Doing this actually pre-warms the battery, and gives the heat pump something to draw heat from. Been working for us so far,” Joshua Baker a Tesla owner from Saskatchewan shared this tip on the club’s Facebook group.

It is better to keep the car plugged-in while it is pre-conditioning to preserve the battery state-of-charge (SoC).

Reboot the car

For some owners, rebooting the car has given a temporary fix but in an emergency situation, this method can help you reach a safe destination.

To reboot a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y, Go to Safety > Power Off from the center touchscreen controls and set the timer to 2 minutes. Sit straight inside the vehicle so that you do not trigger the car to wakeup before the timer. After 2 minutes, open and close the driver side door to complete the process.

Call Tesla Roadside Assistance

According to the experience of the Tesla owners in such situations, Tesla Roadside is giving excellent assistance and towing the cars to the service centers. In some instances, the towing charges were also paid by Tesla, Inc. The automaker is also providing a rental car to have the owners reach home safely.

Stay tuned for constant Tesla updates, follow us on: 
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Video: How does an AC compressor of a hybrid car works.
Iqtidar Ali
Iqtidar Alihttp://www.teslaoracle.com
Iqtidar has been writing about Tesla, Elon Musk, and EVs for more than 3 years on XAutoWorld.com, many of his articles have been republished on CleanTechnica and InsideEVs, maintains a healthy relationship with the Tesla community across the Social Media sphere. You can reach him on Twitter @IqtidarAlii

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