Tesla’s Sentry Mode keeps a sleepless eye on your EV when you’re not there to watch over it. The program uses your vehicle’s cameras to monitor the surroundings in all directions. If it detects something suspicious, the computerized Sentry “wakes up” and starts filming.
If someone actually breaks in, the vehicle’s Sentry Mode goes all-out to sound the alarm. As long as it has some battery charge remaining, a Tesla can defend itself and any of your possessions inside far beyond the level offered by a traditional car alarm.
People often like the protection Tesla’s Sentry Mode gives to their possessions and expensive EV. The system hasn’t been without its problems, however. Besides the occasional glitch preventing it from working at all, Sentry Mode can switch on unnecessarily.
A passerby or a bush moving in the wind can trigger its video recording. Tesla updated Sentry Mode, giving users more options and finer control, in November’s 2022.44.2 update. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What Is Sentry Mode?
Tesla designed Sentry Mode as a security system installed in all new Tesla EVs. Owners can choose to switch on the anti-theft and anti-vandalism system or turn it off whenever desired. The system uses the vehicle’s cameras and other sensors to detect movement near the vehicle or physical contact with its exterior.
The Sentry program remains in a low-energy “Standby” mode when no movement or contact is detected. If the cameras pick up movement within three to four feet of the EV, or something touches its exterior, Sentry Mode enters an Alert state. The vehicle flashes its headlights to indicate that it is recording.
Sentry Mode constantly films the EV’s surroundings even when it’s on standby. While in Standby mode, it only keeps the most recent 10 minutes of film and erases everything recorded before that. Once it becomes Alert, it starts saving video rather than erasing it.
It stores the previous ten minutes plus whatever it films during Alert as a Sentry clip, recorded on an SD storage card. The film may also be sent over a Wi-Fi connection directly to Tesla for recording and storage.
The system keeps Sentry clips until the owner erases them, or it completely fills the memory card. Once the card is full, Sentry Mode starts overwriting existing clips with new ones, starting with the oldest saved clips.
If someone forces open a door or breaks a window, Sentry Mode goes to its highest status, “Alarm.” The security system activates a loud car alarm, flashes the headlights, and plays dramatic organ music at high volume. The EV sends an alert to the owner’s smartphone app to notify them of the break-in.
Other Details about Sentry Mode
Tesla owners can turn Sentry Mode on or off using the touchscreen, Tesla app, or voice commands. Users access the program through the touchscreen by following Controls> Safety & Security> Sentry Mode in the menu.
Sentry Mode drains about one mile’s worth of charge per hour while it’s on Standby. It uses more electricity when it switches to Alert mode and even more when it goes to Alarm mode. Some owners dub this “vampire drain.”
Tesla included a failsafe so Sentry Mode can’t completely drain an EV battery. Sentry Mode switches off when the battery charge falls to 20%, preventing a dead battery but also shutting off all protection.
While many Tesla owners find Sentry Mode highly useful, at least for peace of mind, it does have some possible downsides. For years, Tesla hasn’t offered adjustable sensitivity. Elon Musk tweeted about adding adjustable sensitivity several times in 2020 and 2021.
Tesla failed to take action at that time, however, leaving the security system at its default sensitivity. Musk’s tweets, like many of his promises, became another case of the “boy who cried wolf” in some peoples’ view.
Quite a few users have found Sentry Mode to be oversensitive. The system sometimes activates every time someone walks nearby or the wind stirs nearby trees, bushes, or grass. Small animals like birds or the owner moving around in the garage can also trigger Sentry Mode filming. In some cases, people report Sentry Mode switching on and off hundreds of times in a single 24-hour period.
Constant changes from Standby to Alert condition because of sensor sensitivity have several downsides. The EV flashes its headlights when it goes on Alert. People find this light show annoying and disruptive at night if Sentry Mode gets activated many times.
If the owner needs to look for a specific video recording, sifting through multiple large clips stored on the card can be tedious. Sentry Mode switching on dozens or hundreds of times, such as in a busy parking lot, drains the vehicle’s battery faster. As noted, the system uses about one mile of charge per hour when it’s “passive” in Standby mode.
Flashing lights and video recording greatly increase electric usage, and a full-blown alarm uses even more power. Constant false positives can drain the battery much faster than expected.
What the 2022.44.2 Update Does
Tesla released its 2022.44.2 update in November, and it has since been installed in over 89% of compatible EVs. The update adds new functions to Sentry Mode, along with several other small tweaks to vehicle software.
Tesla owners can now elect to disable “Camera-Based Detection,” so the vehicle stops using its cameras to detect and record movement nearby. Users change the settings through the menu entries Controls> Safety> Sentry Mode> Camera-Based Detection on the touchscreen.
Once camera-based detection is disabled, the Tesla EV uses intrusion sensors and tilt sensors only to activate the Alarm state. This means Sentry Mode responds only to someone breaking glass (intrusion) or something hitting the vehicle violently (activating the tilt sensor).
Tesla’s engineers clearly intend for this feature to eliminate the many false positives in some situations. Examples include parking in a busy parking lot or parking garage, where dozens or hundreds of people may pass close by per hour.
Rain also sometimes activates the Alert state, or even the Alarm state, needlessly by appearing as motion in front of the cameras. A user can now disable the cameras in a crowded area or a storm to avoid multiple Sentry clips or alerts. Of course, less intrusive forms of vandalism, such as spraying paint on the vehicle, could go undetected.
The other Sentry Mode update lets the Tesla owner adjust the length of Sentry clips. The user navigates to this with Controls> Safety> Sentry Mode. A small pane with “Sentry Mode Clip Length” appears on the screen with “plus” and “minus” buttons flanking the current clip length (for example, “10 min”). Tapping the plus or minus buttons increases the Sentry clip length in one-minute increments.
Other Changes in Update 2022.44.2.
Tesla’s programmers added several other changes to the EV’s functioning in update 2022.44.2. One of these uses the EV’s external cameras for a very different purpose than filming possible thieves or carjackers.
The company calls the feature “predictive seat-belt tensioning.” The vehicle’s computerized “brain” uses camera and sensor input to predict an imminent crash or collision with this new system active.
When the EV detects a crash, it automatically tightens its seatbelts before the accident happens. All other current systems only tighten the seatbelt in the split second after the crash, based on sensing the impact.
Tesla’s new system uses the cameras’ visual input to start the tensioning earlier. This ensures the vehicle occupants are already held securely in place before the EV makes physical contact with the other vehicle or obstacle.
Elon Musk remarked, “we can actually see that a collision is about to occur with 100% probability before it actually happens.” The company presented a graph of data showing the visually triggered seat-belt tensioning results in the occupants experiencing much less acceleration in a crash.
Possible Bugs in the Update
While the update is mostly positive, some sources found a few possible bugs lurking in the programming. These bugs may or may not affect a Tesla depending on its software, electronics, and hardware. Tesla technicians will also likely stamp them out quickly in the following updates.
According to Tesla Info, some of the known bugs include:
- Reduced battery heating effectiveness from charging preconditioning.
- Occasionally inaccurate outside temperature display, possibly accompanied by tardy automatic defogging.
- Sentry Mode disabling Camera-Based Detection by default, though it can be switched on as normal through the touchscreen controls or app.
The New, Improved Sentry Mode
Many Tesla owners will probably consider the newly updated Sentry Mode an improvement over the old version. However, the company still has plenty of room for improvement. Users suggested for years that settings enabling different sensitivity or proximity options would make the system more useful.
A sensitivity setting might enable changing the length of time needed to detect a threat near the EV before it leaves Standby. If the system ignored movement lasting only two to three seconds, for example, most parking lot “false alarms” would stop.
Physical contact with the car, such as breaking a window or opening the door, would obviously override such an option. Customers also propose a proximity setting. Tesla Sentry Mode currently reacts to movement within three to four feet. The option to cut this to 12 inches could give users a straightforward tool to avoid many false positives.
Tesla designed the 2022.44.2 update as a significant upgrade to Sentry Mode. Users can now fine-tune their EV’s protection much more than they could before the change. However, it’s clear Sentry Mode hasn’t yet reached anything close to a final form. Tesla’s software engineers will probably continue evolving their security system, adding more features to make it more flexible for different users’ needs.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©canadianPhotographer56/Shutterstock.com.