Tesla Model S Not Recognizing Key Fob – Here’s the top 4 reasons

It’s frustrating when your Tesla won’t recognize your fob. Don’t panic! We’ll have it fixed in a flash.

Top 4 reasons a Tesla Model S key fob won’t work:

  1. Key Fob battery dead
  2. Can’t locate the key
  3. Wrong key
  4. Update required

In this article, we’ll show you the top four reasons why your key fob is not working and what you can do to fix it right now!

Model S door open
Infographic - Model S Not Recognizing Key Fob

1 Key Fob Battery Dead

Is your key fob battery dead? This is my first go-to problem solver. The battery in your key fob is a standard CR2330, lasting up to 3-4 years. It’s like the batteries in your TV remote; we never really think about them, but eventually, they do run out. The battery can be easily replaced. You will need a new replacement battery and a small file.

  • On the underside of the fob, you can find a small opening
  • Slide a file (or sharp edge) gently at the crack
  • Lift the base off
  • Remove the battery
  • Insert the new battery+ side up
  • Avoid handling the new battery
  • Replace the cover

Your key fob should be back working. However, you will need to resync it in the app or through the touchscreen for it to register Passive Entry: opening and locking of doors.

  • Tesla App
  • Controls – Vehicle
  • Locks and Doors
  • Key Fob
  • Walk Away Door Lock
    • Need to Click Off and On
  • Unlock on park
    • Need to Click Off and On

How can my key fob be dead, I hear you ask? I just unlocked my car using the fob. Even though the fob battery may be dead, the fob will still open the car. The chips that are used in the fob are designed to work with or without a battery. It sends an encrypted code via radio waves. The car’s computer can read the information in the fob and lock and unlock your car.

You can actually still drive your Tesla with no battery in the fob as long as the car can detect it. This leads me to the next issue.

2 Can’t Locate the Key

I can’t locate the key is a dashboard error. If the key fob (or another key) is not in the car, you can’t start the car. But often, the key is in the car, but you continue to get the ‘Key Not in Car’ message.

This is because the key is in the incorrect place within the car. The key fob should be placed in the cupholder. (To me not a great location for a key!) The car should recognize that the key fob is present, and the message will disappear.

If the message is unclear, you can move the fob to the front of the console below the 12V outlet.

Key fobs can be disabled due to interference from devices of the same frequency, such as laptops and tablets. You may have to move them and try again to detect the fob.

3 Wrong Key in Car

Each key, be it a fob, card, or phone for your car, can be customized with a name to identify it on your touchscreen. To do this:

  • Controls
  • Locks
  • Touch the Pencil Icon to add a name

Each Tesla S can recognize up to 3 key fobs. If more than one person in your household has a Tesla, there is a strong possibility that you have picked up the wrong key.

If the key fob is unknown, you will get the ‘Key Not in Car’ message. You can check the fob in

  • Controls
  • Locks
  • + in the Keys section

Here you will find a list of all keys linked to the Tesla. The key fob in the car will be listed as ‘unknown’ and can’t be used until it is linked to the car. This is done by placing the fob behind the cup holder on the key reader. However, you can only add a key if you have a previously paired key with you to confirm this.

This makes sense. Otherwise, anyone with a Tesla key could take your car if your Tesla was unlocked. If the key is unrecognized, there is a high chance the key belongs to another car.

4 Hard or Soft Reboot Required

If you are positive that the key is correct and you’re still getting a message saying the key is missing, you may need to do a hard or soft reboot.

We are, after all, dealing with a large computer, and technology sometimes causes issues.

Hard Update

  • Put your Tesla in Park
  • Remove any auxiliary items that are plugged in i.e., phones, USB drives
  • Press and hold the Brake
  • Hold both scroll wheels on your steering wheel for 10-15 seconds
  • The touchscreen will go black
  • Tesla Logo will appear
  • When everything is back fully, your key fob will also be recognized

Soft Reset

  • Shift into Park
  • Remove any devices
  • Hold both scroll wheels on the steering wheel for 10-15 seconds
  • The touchscreen turns black
  • Tesla Logo reappears
  • Everything will once again be available

The difference between a hard and soft reboot is the holding of the Brake. Some think you can do a soft reboot while driving, but it is not recommended by Tesla. You are, after all, rebooting the screen and should not be distracted from the control of your car in any way while driving.

Software updates are sent all the time by Tesla wirelessly. Your key fob not working could be just because a reboot is required.

Alternatives to the Key Fob

All Model S cars come with 2 Key Fobs and Key Cards, but you can also activate your phone to become a key. So what are the differences?

Key Fobs are used to open and lock your car and also to allow the car to drive.

Key Card

The alternative to a fob is a Card. A Key Card is similar in size to a credit card. It allows you to add or remove phone keys, and importantly if your phone is dead, you can still open your car and drive with the card. Place the card at the exterior center pillar of the driver’s side to unlock, and you can drive by pressing the brake within 2 minutes of entering the car. If it’s longer than 2 minutes, simply place the card in the wireless phone charger area in the center console.

The key card will not automatically lock or unlock your car as you approach or walk away.

Key cards are handy for Valet Parking as you can put your car in Valet Mode and give the valet the card. This limits their speed and locks the glove box, trunks, and any personal information on the touchscreen.

Phone Key

Where would we be without our smartphones? It’s safe to say very few people leave the house without their phones. Tesla intuitively realized this and added the capabilities of the key to its app. By pairing your phone to your car via Bluetooth you can use your phone to lock/unlock and drive your car.

That said, the tech is not without issues; I wrote a post about one such issue here – Model S won’t forget Bluetooth.

Other issues, such as power loss is an issue also. If your phone loses charge, you cannot restart your car once you stop unless you have a card or fob with you.

It’s always best to have a backup. Your Tesla is incredibly hi-tech. The computers are constantly monitoring what is happening within your car. Be it a key fob or card, or phone, without one of them on board, your car won’t move.

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 troubleshooting page for problem Teslas.

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

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

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

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is a technical writer here at EVjuicedup.com. 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.

Recent Posts