Server errors plague app used by Tesla drivers to unlock their MuskMobiles

CEO blames 'increased verbosity of network traffic'


Some Tesla owners who fancied going for a spin on Saturday, or simply driving home, may have been unable to do so after the cars' companion app reported server-side errors.

Teslas don't use conventional keys to unlock and get going. Instead they require the presence of a wireless fob or key card, or an authenticated mobile phone app that talks to the electric vehicles over Bluetooth. This is apparently easier and/or more convenient than a key, or something. Heck, everything's better with radio waves, right?

The app also provides some remote control over the vehicle's features. Drivers who tried to connect their app to their ride over the weekend to remotely unlock and start their cars reported that the software couldn't do the job and instead produced server error messages. That means they may have been locked out of their vehicle.

If the app was already connected to the vehicle, or the driver had their fob or key card on them, they could get in and start their vehicle as usual. If not, then: sad times. Here's a complaint summing up the situation:

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk personally replied with the following information:

Measures like, maybe, letting people open their cars with keys? Just a suggestion.

Tesla appears not to have made any other public statement about the incident, and no longer has a PR department so we can't ask directly.

The automaker put its support forums behind a registration-wall earlier this year, and owning a MuskMobile is a requirement for entry. Your correspondent is therefore unable to explore any official missives. Tesla's Twitter account is silent on the matter, and the electric car biz doesn't bother with Facebook. The exact nature of the outage is therefore hard to divine.

Which leaves us trying to guess at what a combination of server error 500 and "increased network verbosity" might mean.

One clue us that The Tesla app was updated on November 18, to version 4.3.0 on iOS and 4.2.3-742 on Android.

Outage-tracking site downdetector.com observed the Tesla outage on Saturday – a couple of days after the app updates dropped – and The Register can find no reports of stuck MuskMobiles immediately following the app upgrade. It looks like the app is off the hook as the source of network verbosity.

Error 500, defined by the World Wide Web Consortium as an internal server error, occurs when a service runs into "an unexpected condition which prevented it from fulfilling the request."

Might Musk's tweet therefore suggest that something related to Tesla's authentication of app users was tweaked to be more verbose and effectively DDoSed Tesla's own infrastructure? We can only speculate.

Whatever the cause, it was swiftly fixed. Downdetector indicates the outage ended after around four hours, leaving drivers back behind their electrified wheels and the rest of us wondering if CEOs responding to tweets is the new best practice for tech support. ®

Editor's note: This article was revised to make clear that if the app can't connect, there are other means to unlock and start a Tesla.

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