How Do Tesla Door Handles Work?

Tesla’s flush door handles are show stoppers, but they’ve proven to be quite a headache for the company. Why are they so controversial?
Written by Elaine Duvet
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Feb 11, 2022
View of a white and black Tesla Model X door from the inside
It’s no surprise this futuristic vehicle incorporates complex technology right down to its door handles. With a flush design,
Tesla
door handles reduce aerodynamic drag and detect movement with automated sensors.
For an
eco-friendly
vehicle, this interactive entry to your car may seem luxurious, but it doesn’t come without controversy. Tesla is known for an ongoing battle with its door handles, but can they really be blamed for auto-related deaths?

There are different ways to get inside a Tesla

Did you know there are multiple types of Tesla door handles? Let’s take a look at how some recent models function.
Though at first, you can’t see the handle, the
Model S
mid-size sedan senses when its driver approaches the vehicle. A light touch on the door handle pops it out, and if no one enters the car, the handles automatically retract. To push the handles back out, simply press on them and wait for them to be elegantly presented once again.
The
Model 3
compact sedan has a much simpler design. The handle is on a pivot and doesn’t “present itself” to passengers like the Model S. To get inside, press one side of the door handle with your thumb, and watch the other side elevate for an easy grip. The
Model Y
follows suit. 
The Model X also has a flush finish, but when the handles are pushed, the door springs open on its own. And when you press on the rear door handle, the Model X wing doors rise up like when dropping off a celebrity at a red carpet premiere. It’s currently the only Tesla that has automatic opening and closing doors featured on its premium package.

Are the sleek handles functional or are they just a gimmick?

It's hard to ignore the attention to detail on these vehicles, but are these complicated mechanisms reliable? 
The engineering of these sophisticated doors puts them at high risk of failure, and even Tesla owners don’t want to shell out large amounts of cash for a replacement. Even back in 2015,
Consumer Reports
noted that broken door handles were the most common problem for the Model S.
It’s also important to remember that these vehicles rely on a 400V main battery as their life source. If not charged in time, a secondary 12V kicks in temporarily. But if the 12V dies, good luck getting those Tesla doors to open.

Why are people calling Tesla door handles controversial?

The “key” to Tesla’s innovative door technology is the car’s ability to sense the presence of the key fob before entry. If the car can’t detect the fob or the Tesla app on your phone, it may prove to be problematic in emergencies. 
According to
Industry Week
, a man was unable to be pulled to safety from his Model S because of the door handles. Driving a leased Tesla, 48-year-old Omar Awan got into a
car accident
on a south Florida Parkway. 
After he slammed into a palm tree, a police officer was unable to open the doors to help, because the handles were retracted. A wrongful death lawsuit claimed that due to the “inaccessible door handles,” there was no other way to rescue Awan from the burning flames inside the vehicle. 
However, we don’t know if the motorist tried to unlatch the manual release from the driver’s seat, or what other factors were at play. As far as escaping a Tesla, models with tempered glass windows will shatter with force. And doors with laminated glass will crack, which allows the glass to be kicked out or pulled in. 
Tesla’s steel frame doesn’t allow for the “jaws of life” to extract someone from their vehicle, but that doesn’t mean the car is a death trap. The carmaker’s
website
has first responder information for each of their models along with extensive
electric car
safety guidelines. 
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National General
Allstate
AAA
Aig
Chubb
ClearCover
CSE
Dairyland
DirectAuto
Elephant Auto Insurance
Kemper
Libertymutual
Gainsco
Mapfre
Mercury Auto
Metromile
Nationwide
Plymouth Rock
Progressive
State Auto
Safeco
Travelers
Metlife
Bristol West

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