How to Solve the Tesla Smell Bad Problem

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If you’re driving your Tesla, you may notice a strange smell coming from the car’s AC system. The odor might resemble burning plastic or burning rubber. Sometimes, it can be quite off-putting.

Find out why the AC in Tesla vehicles may give off such an awful smell and what you can do to prevent or eliminate it.

Table of Contents

    Why Tesla’s AC Smells TERRIBLE

    Before you can understand how to fix the smell in your Tesla, you need to know the reason. The culprit behind this unpleasant odor is usually bacteria and mold growth. The warm and moist environment inside the AC is the perfect breeding ground. 

    You should know that this issue isn’t unique to Teslas. It can occur in any vehicle’s AC system. However, the unique design of the Tesla air conditioning system may worsen things. Unlike traditional cars that have a dedicated fresh air intake vent, Teslas rely on air circulating within the cabin. This means that the system recycles the air, which can cause a buildup of pollutants. 

    In turn, that causes foul odors.

    Some Tesla owners believe that the synthetic material in the seats and interior contributes to the smell. The material can emit volatile organic compounds which can produce an unpleasant odor.

    Consequences of the Odor

    Fortunately, the odor itself does not pose any direct health risks. Nonetheless, breathing in mold and bacteria for an extended period of time can cause respiratory issues. It may also worsen allergies. You and your loved ones could start coughing and sneezing anytime you’re in the vehicle.

    Another obvious consequence of the odor is discomfort. There’s nothing pleasant about sitting in a car with an obnoxious smell. Both the discomfort and health issues make the odor problem one you should address the right way.

    An air freshener or disinfectant spray might make the car smell better. But it won’t address the real problem. For that to happen, you need to be more proactive.

    How to Fix the Foul Problem

    There are two ways to remedy the smelly AC issue. First, you could take it to Tesla for a service. The service should cost about $150. But if you don’t want to bring in your vehicle, you can solve the problem on your own. For a DIY repair, you can expect to pay between $50 and $70.

    Ready to fix the problem on your own? Here are the steps you need to take to get rid of the smell in your Tesla’s AC:

    Turn Off Climate Control

    Before you start working on your vehicle, you should turn off the climate control system. Although there is some slight variation in this process, it’s simple in all Tesla models. The climate controls are at the bottom of the screen display. In Model Y, the default setting is Auto. You can tap to adjust the temperature and hit the power icon to shut it off.

    If you’re not sure how to turn off your car’s climate control, you can learn how to do it by reading your owner’s manual. It’s a simple process that takes the push of a button.

    Remove the Air Filter

    The next step is for you to remove the air filter. On the Model Y, there are air filters that keep out dust, pollen, and other debris. You can look for an online video on replacing the filter, or follow these simple steps:

    • Move the front passenger seat fully back
    • Move the floor mat
    • Use a clip pry tool to release the clips covering the footwell cover and instrument panel
    • Support the footwell and disconnect the electrical connectors
    • Take out the T20 screw that connects the cabin filter to the HVAC module
    • Move the cover
    • Fold the top cabin filter tab up and the bottom cabin filter tab down
    • Hold the tab on the top filter and pull out the filter
    • Hold the tab on the lower filter and pull the filter up and out 

    Use Klima-Cleaner to Clean the Air Intake

    After you remove the cabin filter, you should clean the air intake. You need something strong, like Klima-Cleaner. The product removes pollen, dust, and nicotine. More importantly, it’s water-based and won’t cause any damage to the vehicle or the AC.

    Dry the Evaporator/Filter Compartment

    Before you put in the new filter, you should dry the compartment. This is easier than you might think. To dry it out, simply walk away and let the compartment air dry.

    Install a New Air Filter

    Next, it’s time to replace the filter. If you haven’t already checked the size of the new filter, now is the time to do that. Make sure the new filter is exactly the same size as the old one. If it’s too small, it won’t work well. 

    After you confirm the size, place the lower filter into the HVAC module. Then, place the upper filter above the lower one. Fold in the tabs and screw in the T20. Tighten the screw to 1.2Nm, and then reconnect the electrical connectors. Replace everything else, and you’re ready to go. 

    Turn on Climate Control

    As a final step, turn on the climate control system. You should be able to enjoy an odor-free ride. If the smell persists, bring it to your local Tesla dealership. There could be another issue causing the odor.

    Can You Prevent the AC Odor?

    There’s not much that you can do to prevent your Tesla from experiencing the smell problem. Whether the odor is a result of the seats, the recycling air, or bacterial growth, you can’t take any preventative action. 

    Our Verdict

    If it smells like burning plastic or rubber, either clean the air intake yourself or bring it into your dealership.

    Additionally, remember to change out the cabin filter every two years. With a little effort, you can enjoy an odor-free vehicle for years.

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