Tesla Offers ‘Full Self-Driving’ Feature as a Monthly Subscription

If you must have it, CR recommends the subscription at $199 a month over buying it for $10,000. We evaluated an earlier version and found it fell short of "full self-driving."

Tesla Model 3 Photo: Tesla

Tesla has introduced a new subscription plan for the driver assistance package it calls Full Self-Driving (FSD). For $199 per month, owners of some Tesla vehicles will be able to access what the automaker describes as a “suite of more advanced driver assistance features” that are designed to work under a driver’s active supervision, including automatic lane changes, active parking assistance, and traffic light and stop sign recognition. Owners can also buy the suite of features for $10,000. Despite the feature’s name, no commercially available self-driving cars currently exist. 

Tesla is the latest luxury automaker to add feature subscriptions, following in the footsteps of BMW, Cadillac, and Porsche, which all have started offering the option for drivers to pay a monthly or yearly fee to use certain features, instead of paying up front to own them. From streaming services to computer software, monthly subscriptions have proliferated in recent years, leaving some consumers with significant monthly charges.

Tesla Model 3
A screenshot from Tesla's website showing what the FSD subscription plan offers.

Source: Tesla.com Source: Tesla.com


But with Tesla’s FSD package, consumers hoping for a “full self-driving“ experience will be disappointed, says Kelly Funkhouser, head of connected and automated vehicle testing at CR. We test-drove a version of FSD last year and found that it fell short of its promise, and early reports of latest beta FSD software from owners suggest that true self-driving may be years away. And even Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that the current Summon feature—which the automaker’s website claims can send your driverless Tesla to “come find you in a parking lot” with the push of a button—is “mostly just a fun trick.”

"We don’t know when—if ever—FSD will truly allow a Tesla to drive itself,” Funkhouser says. With that in mind, she says that Tesla owners who want to try out what FSD can do might want to opt for the subscription instead of paying $10,000 to own the feature. Tesla’s website shows that a monthly FSD subscription can be canceled at any time, so it appears that unhappy consumers won’t get trapped in a long-term contract. Although an up-front purchase may cost less than a subscription in the long run, Tesla owners also should consider that the one-time purchase won’t transfer to any new Tesla they buy. It probably won’t transfer to a new owner of their vehicle, either—so it might not benefit resale value.

“FSD isn’t like buying a software license for, say, computer software, where you can transfer it to another machine,” she says. Paying for Tesla’s FSD software up front might not translate into higher resale value when it’s time to trade in or sell, either, because FSD does not transfer to subsequent owners in most cases.

Subscriptions can have drawbacks if they involve changing technology, says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at Consumer Reports. Unlike extras such as power seats and sunroofs, which are permanently part of a vehicle, the software you subscribe to is at the mercy of the manufacturer—whether it’s Tesla or another car company. “Just as automakers can use over-the-air software updates to give your car a new feature, they can also take it away,” he says. “It’s critical for all car companies to be honest about their features and to treat consumers fairly—and for officials to hold them accountable.”

A recent reply from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to a tweet about FSD.

The FSD subscription plan follows years of promises from Tesla that its vehicles will be fully self-driving—including last year when Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that paying for FSD up front would be an “investment in the future.” Musk said in 2016 that all new Tesla vehicles would already have all necessary hardware to drive fully autonomously, and he predicted that a hands-free cross-country trip would be a possibility by 2017. In 2019, Musk told attendees of Tesla’s Autonomy Investor Day that he felt “very confident” predicting that autonomous Tesla “robotaxis” would be available by 2020. None of these predictions have come to pass, underscoring the risks in paying for an unreleased feature.

In May, the California Department of Motor Vehicles put Tesla “under review” for public statements that may violate state regulations prohibiting automakers from advertising vehicles for sale or lease as autonomous unless the vehicle meets the statutory and regulatory definition of an autonomous vehicle and the company holds a deployment permit. 

Tesla Model 3
For now, FSD is available for purchase up front.

Source: Tesla.com Source: Tesla.com

Like Tesla, GM also charges a monthly fee to use its Super Cruise driver assistance feature. Although it currently offers features similar to Tesla’s FSD’s, at $25 per month after a free trial (or less, depending on which level of OnStar subscription owners have), the cost of Super Cruise is a small fraction of what Tesla owners will pay.

FSD subscriptions are available on all Tesla vehicles with hardware version 3.0. Earlier hardware versions will require an upgrade that costs $1,000. Owners of Teslas with the now-discontinued Enhanced Autopilot package will pay $99 per month for the FSD subscription.

Head shot photo of CRO Cars CIA editor Keith Barry

Keith Barry

Despite my love for quirky, old European sedans like the Renault Medallion, it's my passion to help others find a safe, reliable car that still puts a smile on their face—even if they're stuck in traffic. When I'm not behind the wheel or the keyboard, you can find me exploring a new city on foot or planning my next trip.