Can I Drive a Tesla Without a Key? Don’t ignore this advice!

No one leaves home without their smartphone these days. Tesla has realized this and has adapted its cars accordingly. But the question is, do you need a key?

You can access and drive your Tesla without a fob or a card, but you need a smartphone and good internet access. It’s advisable to have the card as a backup.

In this article, we’ll look at how keyless driving works and common mistakes to avoid.

Tesla key fob
Infographic - Drive a Tesla without a fob

Driving without a key

Tesla is constantly updating and innovating its technology. Although many modern cars have keyless entry (Passive Entry), a key must be in your pocket or on your person.

Tesla has taken this concept to the next level by eliminating the need for the fob or the card to be present. But you do require a smartphone.

The process is quite simple, and there are two options available:

  1. You can pair your car to your phone via Bluetooth, which will allow auto opening and locking
  2. To use your Tesla app on your phone to open and drive

To Pair your Car:

  • On the touch screen, select the Bluetooth
  • Enable Bluetooth on your Phone
  • Search for your phone on the Tesla screen
  • Select the phone you wish to pair
  • Check that the numbers correspond
  • The pairing is now complete

To Use Your Tesla App on Your Phone:

  • Open Tesla App
  • Select Unlock – Are you sure? Yes
  • Entry to the car is now possible
  • Dash will then notify you that ‘Key Not Inside the Vehicle – Unable to Drive.’
  • In the app – Select the Keys Icon – this may require a passcode or Face ID
  • The car is now available to drive
  • You have 2 minutes to put the car in Drive

You can now drive your car as usual. Simple as that. All models now have this feature. Tesla is streets ahead of standard cars because all of its technology centers around connectivity.

Although Passive Entry is fantastic when your hands are full of groceries or children (or both!), you still require a key for most modern cars.

In the case of your Tesla, your phone is the key. As you approach the car, the Bluetooth will connect, and the car will open automatically. However, as shown above, it must be paired, and Passive Entry must be activated.

Phone Key Common Mistakes

We have concluded that using your phone to access and drive your Tesla is a great feature, but sometimes it can be more of a hindrance.

  • Your phone is flat
  • You have no internet connection
  • You need to Valet Park your car
  • You’ve left your phone in the car

Your phone is flat

We’ve all become obsessed with battery charging, from phones to EVs. Most of the time, people will have a charger in the car, but not always. So what do you do if your phone goes flat?

  1. On your way to your destination
  2. When you return to your parked car

On the way to your destination

Your phone should always be charged if you are using it for entry and startup. If you arrive at your destination and your phone is dead, you will be unable to lock your car, but more importantly, once you turn your vehicle off, you will not be able to restart it. You will need to recharge your phone or revert to a key card.

I wrote a post about Tesla access issues, which you may find interesting – Tesla X won’t open

Phone Flat On Return to Car

This, again, is a significant issue as you can’t enter your car but also can’t start the car. Options here are to try and find a charging station for your phone for a 10-minute boost to get it going. Or the alternative is if you have someone with you with a smartphone, you could use their phone to gain access and start your car.

They will have to download the Tesla app, and then they can log in to your account to gain entry. To be honest, it’s sometimes easier to just go and find a charger.

You Have No Internet Connection

This problem is probably the biggest concern. Although the world is much more connected than it was, there are always spots where the connection is nonexistent or intermittent.

No internet in underground car  park

If you are stopping anywhere along your route before switching your car off, check how many bars you have on your phone. If the connection is poor, I would consider moving elsewhere. Sometimes, a couple of hundred feet difference is all that’s needed.

Consider your surroundings; deep underground car parks are usually bad for connection and, equally so, heavily forested areas. So what seems like an idyllic pullover location may become a nightmare if you can’t restart your car.

You Need To Valet Park

People don’t think about this when they introduce the Phone Key to their routine. How can a Valet park your car without the key? You won’t leave your phone with them, so unless you have a fob or a card, you’ll have to find alternative parking. More and more places offer valet parking, so it’s an issue that needs some consideration.

You Leave Your Phone in Your Car

As I say, most people can no longer function without their phones. Even if you walk away from your car without your phone, it won’t be long before you realize and return to the car for it. We simply can’t live without our phones.

So what does that mean? In theory, it means that your car is unlocked and your key (phone) is in the unlocked vehicle. This is comparable to physical keys in the ignition of a regular ICE vehicle.

But it’s not as vulnerable as you might think because your phone is locked, and you have Pin to Drive activated.

Phone is Locked

Practically all phones today, both Android and Apple, have security functions to prevent unauthorized entry, either a passcode or Touch ID, or facial recognition. So without knowing this code, the would-be thief can’t access your phone and start your car.

But they can access the car, as it won’t have locked, so any valuables you have in the car may be gone on your return, including, I might add, your phone.

Pin to Drive

This is like two-step security. It is a four-digit passcode that must be entered on the touchscreen before you can drive. I highly recommend that you set up this option.

On the touchscreen

  • Controls – Safety & Security
  • Pin to Drive
  • Choose a 4 Digit Code

If you have this setup, it’s doubtful that someone can steal your car.

Who Can Access Your Car?

Tesla has the facility for more than one person to access a car. You can add five people to your account through your app.

  • On the Touchscreen or app
  • Select Car access
  • Select Add driver
  • Enter their name and email address

Once you submit the details, a confirmation email is sent to the added driver, and once they have created their Tesla account, access will be given to them for your Tesla.

What are the benefits of this? There are a couple of benefits: someone you know (wife, husband, teen child) might be stranded downtown, and having access to your car to return home is a great facility. All they need is their smartphone and internet connection to enter your car.

Or you may need to be collected from a meeting, the airport, or a night on the town. They can gain access to your car and come and collect you. Remember that they will always have access unless you remove them from your account.

Key Options for Tesla

Tesla Dashboard

There are three key options with every Tesla.

  • Phone Key
  • Key Card
  • Key Fob

The Phone Key is a fantastic innovation but only made possible by connectivity.

The Key Card allows authentication of phone keys and the ability to add and remove keys from the system. It won’t auto-lock your car but will open it and allow you to drive if your phone is dead.

The Key Fob is like a conventional car key. Pressing buttons will open doors and trunk and ultimately allow you to drive.

You must have at least one key option onboard to drive My advice is always to keep your Key Card in your wallet; you never know when your phone might have issues, be dead, or just have no connectivity. At least if you have the backup of a key card, you’ll never be stranded anywhere.

Here are a few common questions folks ask about Teslas:

I’ve written a ton on common Tesla issues, which hopefully you won’t ever experience, but if you do, we have you covered with these posts:

Check out the Tesla category page for a list of popular Tesla posts.

Check out the Tesla troubleshooting page for problem Teslas.

Check out the Tesla charging page for common Tesla charging problems.

If you are curious about other EV models, check out the EV FAQ category.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is a technical writer here at He's a Red Seal qualified Auto Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience working on Classic and Modern Cars. He's worked for GM, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Audi, and VW main dealers.

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