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Monday, December 5, 2016

Tesla's Cabin Overheat Protection Could Prevent The Worst Day of Your Life

One of the great features of Tesla vehicles is that they get over-the-air software updates. These updates fix bugs, add features, and occasionally improve zero-to-60 times. Recently, there was a major upgrade to the software in Tesla's vehicles. This update was version 8.0.

Many new things were introduced in v8.0. For this story, we are going to focus on just one of them, the "Cabin Overheat Protection" feature.

Cabin Overheat Protection first introduced in Tesla SW 8.0
This feature is designed to keep the temperature in the cabin at a level where children or pets accidentally left in the car do not die.

If the temperature in the cabin is over 105F/40C, then the overheat protection activates to reduce the temp. The system will ventilate the cabin and (if needed) turn on the air conditioning to keep the temp below 105F.

It should be stressed that this a fail-safe feature; it is intended as a precaution only. It is *not* meant so that now you can intentionally leave your children or pets in the car unattended. The feature only works if there is adequate charge in the battery pack.

Cabin Overheat is Not for Horrible People

Mike Wehner wrote a story at the Daily Dot that was titled "Tesla's Cabin Overheat Protection is Designed for Sh*tty people". The title was later changed to "Tesla just added a feature specifically for horrible people".

This seems like an obvious attempt to cast anything from Tesla in a negative light. Wehner's own article admits "if this feature manages to save the life of a child—or a family pet—it's worth Tesla's time to implement," but that is not how the story's clickbait, anti-Tesla title(s) is/was worded.

Wehner is right about one thing, this feature could save lives. In 2015, I was working at a major high tech firm and they had (and still have) charging stations in the employee parking lot. This is where our little EV community would occasionally meet for lunch and discuss our cars and the latest EV happenings. These were my friends, my coworkers, my fellow EV drivers. On a warm spring day in 2015, a tragic and unintentional accident happened near that little corner of the parking lot where we occasionally gathered.

One morning, a father was supposed to take his 6-month-old daughter to daycare after a doctor’s appointment. She fell quietly asleep as they drove and he forgot that she was in the car. The father drove past the daycare, drove to work, parked near "our corner," and went about his normal workday. He stayed at work the entire day without realizing that he had left his baby girl in the backseat.

At 5 p.m., his wife called to arrange daycare pickup when he realized what had happened. He raced out of the building. When he reached the car, the baby didn’t appear to be breathing and her lips were blue. He called 911, attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful. Police later estimated the temperature inside the vehicle was 116F.

Notes about the above story. All of the above information is from public news sources; I don't have any inside information. I didn't know the father. Second, the vehicle that the baby was in was not an EV. It does not particularly matter what type of vehicle the baby was in, no vehicle at that time had overheat protection. I only mention this because rereading my comments above about "our corner" of the parking lot made it sound like the baby was in an EV. The vehicle just happened to be parked near the charging area.

I don't often charge at work, but I have often wondered if I had happened to have plugged in on that day, would I have seen something or if we'd had one of our EV lunch gatherings that day, might it have turned out differently. To this day, if I am walking through a parking lot and I see a baby seat, I look in the car, just to make sure that little seat is unoccupied.

This was not the only tragic death like this one in that year or this year. Wehner's article quotes a Pediatrics study that says 693 children have died of vehicular heatstroke since 1998, with 32 of those deaths occurring as of their publishing in 2016.

Over Heat Protection Should Be In Any Vehicle That Can Support It 

Wehner's solution seems to be to simply tell people to not leave babies or pets in cars. Or if you do, to revert to name-calling. This is not a solution. What Tesla is offering is a solution. I hope that as more manufacturers add larger battery packs to their vehicles that they all offer this safety feature. The Chevy Bolt is coming to market soon. GM could and should add this feature if they haven't already. Tesla has not patented overheat protection and they are not trying to prevent other automakers from using it.

Every vehicle with more than 200 miles of electric range should have cabin overheat protection.

Wehner and I agree that if this feature manages to save the life of a child—or a family pet—it was worth Tesla's time to implement. We don't agree that it is just a feature for horrible people. Mistakes happen. Some people are absent-minded or others have stresses that can cause lapses to occur.

The father in the above story is a perfect example. He had no malicious intent. After an investigation, no charges were brought against him. If more cars had overheat protection, lives would be saved. If his car had overheat protection on that day, he would have had a horrible scare and would have found a cranky baby in his back seat. What was undoubtedly the worst day of his life, could have instead turned into a diaper change and maybe a trip to the hospital for dehydration treatment.

Sidebar - Cabin Overheat Really Works, I Inadvertently Tried It

Given the tragic event discussed above, this sidebar is just about a different and comparatively mundane event. I include it only to demonstrate that I've played with the overheat feature.

Recently, I inadvertently enabled overheat protection, no children or pets were involved.

On a cold rainy day this fall, I had the windows of my new Tesla tinted. After the installers were done, they said I could not roll down the windows until the tinting film had cured to the glass. Since it was a cold wet day, they recommended that when I arrived home and the car was in the garage, that I should run the heater on high to accelerate the curing. (Not something they could recommend with a gas car, well at least not the 'in the garage part'.)

I drove home with the heat on and when I was home, I parked, went in the house, grabbed my smartphone, launched the Tesla app, and turned the heat on high. With the windows up, the temp quickly shot up to 109F. I turned off the heat, thinking this would keep the cabin warm for hours.

A few minutes later, I grabbed my phone and it showed a cabin temp of 80F. What happened? I knew about the overheat feature, but I assumed that would only cool it down to 105F. Well, not exactly. The feature is designed to keep it below 105F. In this case, there was cool night air around the car. This allowed the system to quickly vent the warm air from the cabin and draw cool ambient air into the car. This quickly brought the temp down from a blistering 109F to a comfortable 80F.

So I turned the heater back on high but this time I turned it off at 95F. The tinting film cured and the windows look great.


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