Tesla’s regenerative braking technology (regen) has come a long way since the older days where hybrid cars boasted of regenerative braking every time you pressed on the brake pedal. In recent years, drivers of Tesla models had two choices when setting the strength of their Tesla regen: “Low” or “Standard.”
Interestingly, and quite controversially for many, Tesla took away the “Low” option, leaving people only with the stronger “Standard” regen option. What does that difference mean? Can you turn off regen at all? How does it work and is it beneficial to your Tesla driving experience? These are the core questions that we will aim to answer in today’s blog.
What is Tesla Regenerative Braking?
Tesla is not the only EV to make use of this innovative technology, but it is one of the best-known and attractive features that draws people to Teslas when they drive. The regenerative braking (shortened to “regen”) is an interesting system whereby the driver releases their foot from the accelerator and the Tesla’s motors will spin backwards to help slow the car.
This means that the car can be slowed without the driver having to press on the brakes. Having said that, we should be absolutely clear here when we also point out that Tesla regen is absolutely not a substitute for braking altogether. What it does do, as the name suggests, is allow the reversed motors to recapture some of the kinetic energy from the car and transfer it back into your main Tesla battery.
Does this mean that Tesla’s regen can continuously be charging your vehicle, allowing you to double your range? The technology isn’t quite that advanced yet, but in its current state, what it can do is to offer some considerable slowing effect on the battery’s drain. This may have some minor positive impact on your overall range, but right now it’s not significant enough to be called a “range extender.”
There are some people who have demonstrated on YouTube that riding the regen system down a long hill can actually show an extension in range:
While such demonstrations usually do deliver some additional miles or kilometers on the displayed battery range, they don’t typically hold up once you return to normal driving conditions. In addition, unless you are able to allow the Tesla to ride on its regen downhill for a long period of time, there’s no way you could make those kinds of small gains mean anything.
What’s the Difference Between “Standard” and “Low” Mode?
OK, so Tesla’s regen can’t yet turn your Model S or Model 3 into a perpetual motion machine, but the regen braking clearly has some value which we will cover in more detail further below. First, let’s look at what were (but now no longer – see below) the usual settings/options when it came to regenerative braking on a Tesla.
On your central infotainment touchscreen, you have to go into the settings screen and then choose the “Driving” section to see where the regen options are located. In the original configuration, there were two options, “Standard” and “Low.” The difference was found in the strength of braking that they offered to the driver.
Those drivers who don’t want to feel a very powerful automatic braking effect can select the “Low” mode. In this setting, when you remove your foot from the gas pedal, you start to slow and the effect is clear but not overly pronounced. It might not quite bring you to an absolute stop either, so it requires the driver to be more vigilant and ready to achieve the final stop by using the brake pedal.
The “Standard” mode is a lot more powerful an effect, offering faster braking even from increased speeds. In “Standard” mode, you have further options, too, as to how you want the regen to impact the car overall. The three further brake-related options are “Creep,” “Roll,” or “Hold.” The first one will allow the car to inch forward once you release the brake if you’re holding it in place. Roll will let physics do most of the work, and Hold means that regen will bring you to a complete stop and keep you there.
You can best see the difference between “Low” and “Standard” modes by simply driving a Tesla up to a Stop sign. In “Low,” you are almost certainly going to have to also apply the brakes in order to be sure that you get to a complete stop by the time you reach the sign. In “Standard” mode, the effect can be so strong, that you might actually find yourself accelerating again so you can get to the right position stopped by the sign.
What Happened to “Low” Mode?
This is the interesting news that emerged in October 2020 to say that Tesla had, for some reason, removed the option for “Low” mode, leaving on the “Standard” option for drivers. Most people actually prefer the power and efficiency of the “Standard” mode, and it undoubtedly helps them to feel somewhat safer when they’re driving along. A small but vocal minority, however, strongly disagreed with this decision.
The core question at the heart of today’s blog was “Can You Turn Off Tesla Regenerative Braking?” The answer to this question was technically no, but you could reduce its effects very significantly by setting into the “Low” mode. Neither “Low” nor “Standard” is a substitute for regular braking, but “Low” was at least a way to make the sensation much closer to pure regular braking.
By removing this option, Tesla have left people who prefer to manually brake with what they may see as an overly sensitive automatic braking system in their Tesla. As we said above, the difference is very significant and it can be hard for some who favored “Low” mode to make the transition.
What are the Pros and Cons of Tesla Regen?
Above we’ve talked a lot about how the system works and the two modes that were used in harmony until one was removed last year. Now that it seems Tesla drivers have no option in the strength of their regen, we should consider the pros and cons of the “Standard” system.
- Enhanced Safety – There’s no doubt that the additional support of the regenerative braking system makes for a safer ride overall. Rather than having to switch between two pedals, it allows braking to begin as soon as the driver’s foot is off the gas pedal. There’s certainly an advantage there.
- Regained Power – The reversing motors channel energy back into your car battery. While this doesn’t exactly increase your range, it does slow your consumption and allows for a more efficient drive and will allow you to get much closer to the maximum estimated battery range as displayed. Under normal circumstances, you’d have to account for the realities of driving that mean the predicted remaining range gets somewhat reduced.
- Reduce Wear on Brakes – The regen system dramatically cuts down on how much you need to press on the brakes, especially when driving at low speeds and without any risk of sudden braking needs. This greatly reduces the amount of wear and tear on your brakes, which in the long term saves you money on brake pad replacement and the risk of damage to your brake rotors.
- Can Cause Distraction or Complacency – When you rely on the regen system, there’s always a chance — as with other Tesla features like Autopilot — that you can become somewhat complacent and distracted. If you are convinced after 100 attempts that the system will always bring you to a complete stop (because that’s what you’ve set up) then you are not ready for any eventuality where your estimation of distance or the power of the regen is incorrect.
- No “Low” Mode Means It’s Too Keen – For those who favored the previously available “Low” mode, the “Standard” mode is too aggressive in its braking and can get quite tiresome as you have to keep accelerating to get to your actual stopping point. Many find this an unpleasant driving experience, which brings us to the next point.
- Can Make Your Ride Jerky – The feeling of using regen can be a lot like just constantly stopping and starting. The ride can start to feel jerky as regen is slowing you down but you are having to press on the gas to get a bit more distance. That mini “conflict” between the acceleration and the braking won’t always make a very comfortable ride.
Conclusion: Tesla Regenerative Braking – Are the Changes Good?
While it appears that regen was always a technology that was at work, the previous system did have the option to lower it. It’s now not only not possible to turn it off (as was always the case) but now not even to lower its effects. If you find it hard to adapt to the presence of regen, then your Tesla driving experience could get rougher for at least a while as you strive to adapt your driving style to suit this new regen reality.
There is perhaps one more condition to consider, however, and that is the effects of colder temperatures that get below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It is reported that below this temperature, the battery is unable to receive any charge. This is why you have to heavily precondition your Tesla (or any other EV) before you take it out. It seems, too, however that the cold weather and cold battery also impacts the efficacy of regen.
So, perhaps the only way to turn off the regen feature on your Tesla is to ensure that you keep it on ice? That of course is not a viable option for those who want to limit or switch off the regen features. Its benefits are not without weight, however, so perhaps more people will get used to the change and come to appreciate the regen feature.