Tesla updates auto-park feature after Consumer Reports raises safety concern

How to 'summon' a Tesla
How to 'summon' a Tesla

Tesla has fixed its new automatic parking feature that Consumer Reports says posed a safety concern.

"Summon," a new feature that Tesla rolled out to its cars last month, will park your car or pull it out of a parking spot with the click of a button. Summon works on Model S or Model X cars, and it can be turned on from the Tesla app. You don't need to be in the car when you're summoning your Tesla.

Tesla (TSLA) says that Summon will improve road safety, because the car's sensors will detect obstacles in its path when pulling in and out of a parking spot. The feature is also more convenient than parking a car yourself, because it allows you to fit your Tesla into a tight space that wouldn't let you open the doors wide enough to get in and out of the car.

But Consumer Reports found in its testing that Tesla's sensors had blind spots that missed some objects that were narrow or positioned low to the ground. The test car struck a bicycle and a duffel bag, and Consumer Reports even damaged the car's wheels while using the Summon feature.

tesla summon parking
My gym bag!

You have to be within 10 feet of the vehicle to use Summon, and the car will pull in and out of parking spaces at a very slow speed. So ordinarily, a blind spot in the car's sensors wouldn't be a problem: When using Summon, you'd most likely see if the car were about to hit something, and you'd have plenty of time to stop the car.

But there was a crucial flaw in the design of the Summon feature: Prior to Tesla's fix, you could summon the car from your key fob, and you didn't have to be constantly holding the button down on the fob or app to keep the car moving. That means if you dropped your keys, accidentally hit the button or closed the app, the car could start driving on its own -- for up to 33 feet.

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Consumer Reports said Tesla's update has limited the Summon feature to the smartphone app and requires you to keep your finger on the button to engage it. The key fob will no longer be able to summon your Tesla.

"Consumer Reports surfaced valid concerns that we've already built fixes for, continuing to make Summon and our vehicles better," a Tesla spokesman said.

Because it's unlikely that the feature would pose a problem, Consumer Reports called it a "relatively low safety risk -- but an unnecessary risk."

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