Is Model S drivetrain waterproof?

Is Model S drivetrain waterproof?

Hi, everyone

I'm new on this forum but follow Tesla's news for a while. I have a question about a drivetrain. I hope someone can answer. As the topic, I want to know if Model S' electric motor waterproof. I'm quite sure that it can withstand car wash and running in the rain perfectly. But can it run on flooded road?

Fuel car can run in shallow water as long as it's not too high. If so, water could get into tailpipe and engine and destroy everything inside. And for purely electric car, in theory, if motor and battery are waterproof, it can run even when totally submerged. How high a water Model S can run through?

Hope you understand my question.

Volker.Berlin | November 7, 2011

There is no public data available for the Model S but it would come as a great surprise if the Model S wouldn't at least live up to the Volt's standard, which is pretty high:

"Do Electric Cars Make You Worry About Toasters in Bathtubs?"

Here is a related tongue-in-cheek article:

"Myth Busting Electric Car Myths: Yes, You Can Use a Car Wash"

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 7, 2011

Thanks, Volker.

I don't worry about car wash though. It's quite typical. :)

Volt testing is interesting. I'm not concern much about electrocute. But, at least, Volt could run through considerable height of water. So I assume that Model S could do the same. And electric car could run through water as long as driver isn't drowned. :P

jbunn | November 7, 2011


It's not a good idea no matter what you are driving. Tires full of air float in the water, and even if the battery itself does not float, it weighs significantly less under water. Secondly the wet road causes the now lighter car to lose traction. Finaly, moving water, even slowly moving water can put thousands of pounds of pressure on the vehicle. These three things combined can easily sweep a car off the road in surprisingly shallow water. People die each year doing this.

Be very carefull.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 7, 2011

Thanks for the advice, jbunn.

I don't want to intentionally drive into water, not for fun, of course. I couldn't help asking since there is a chance that I would have to drive in that condition.

You saw news about flood in Thailand, right? I know Tesla doesn't have office here but I'm really interested buying Model S. It's a superb car.

Leofingal | November 7, 2011

@Chaiyawut I think there is surprisingly little news of the flooding here in the US. I am really not sure why not. I've been following it since we have customers and plants in Thailand, but without actively searching for updates my normal "world news" sources seem only interested in the Greek financial crisis and the mid-east. I hope things are improving for you!

Brian H | November 8, 2011

If the flanges on the rear wheels are angled properly, you should be able to drive amphibiously. With large twin rooster tails!


Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 8, 2011

@Leofingal Thank you for your reply. You have customers and plants in Thailand? What company you are working for?

@Brian H Sorry but I don't understand what you were trying to say. Driving amphibiously sounds interesting though. :)

gjunky | November 8, 2011

@Chaiyawut: I think Brian meant (jokingly) you can use the turbine wheels of the Beta like the propulsion of an old paddle boat, assuming the car would float of course.

Vawlkus | November 8, 2011

I vaguely recall someone saying that a Tesla car is fine provided the water level does come past 1/2 way up the tire. Can't put my hands on a link, can't remember if it was the Roadster.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 8, 2011

@gjunky Haha. I see. Considering flood in Thailand, it would be good if we have transforming car that can switch between road mode and water mode. Futuristic vehicle indeed.

brianman | November 8, 2011

Tesla S "Water Sport" option

My5bAby | November 8, 2011

Great question.

I was asking a friend about this very subject recently. My concern about the model S is not the drivetrain but the location of the battery and the fact that it is designed to be, "swapped out easily". I'm not worried about being electrocuted or fires but I am concerned about irreparable damage to what may be the most expensive and delicate part of the vehicle.

I wonder how useful comparisons to other EVs or Hybrids (including the Roadster) would be given that their batteries are located much higher relatively to the wheels and passenger compartment and are not designed to be removed.

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William13 | November 8, 2011

The battery engineer at the factory event answered this question. He said that everything is sealed. No concerns beyond the standard float off, damage interior, or eventually seep into something. It is not a submarine or boat. Do not test the car this way.

Mycroft | November 8, 2011

How 'bout skiing? Can we take it skiing? That flat bottom should come in verrry handy! :-D

Leofingal | November 8, 2011

@Chaiyawut: I work for Corning, my division has a small plant outside Bangkok, but my group has several customers in the area. We are hoping their families and plants are OK and will be able to recover from the flooding quickly, but the news indicates that the flooding will be there for a long time. Good Luck!

My5bAby | November 8, 2011

William 13

Thanks ! I really should have attended 10/01/11 :-(

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Timo | November 8, 2011

Just to mention, this waterproofing does not require extreme flooding, just heavy rain in place where water has not enough "escape routes" (too much water for street rain water systems to handle). This can cause short term flooding in the city streets (few tens of minutes).

This happens quite regularly here, about once a year at least. That water rarely gets into buildings, but cars parked at the streets can be in rather deep water for several minutes.

For that reason Model S needs to handle that kind of situation more than just seconds.

William13 above says that everything is sealed, I hope that means water doesn't get in the battery connectors even in prolonged period of time being underwater.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 9, 2011

@My5bAby As far as I know, battery is one of the strongest part of Model S. It helps improve passenger cabin structure and safety. Also it helps lower center of gravity of the whole car, improve driving performance and safety, less body roll, for instance.

@William13 I don't think anyone would be silly enough to test the car like that. It's just a concern.

brianman | November 9, 2011

Maybe they should loan/give one of the test vehicles to Mythbusters. I'm sure both parties would have an excellent PR payout on doing some of their typical tests on it.

Some of the stuff on the forum would be more than enough to fill a show:
- what's the impact of hauling a battery on the drag/efficiency/range
- where could/would you attach a tow hitch and how is range impacted
- does the range improve if you remove the 3rd (and 2nd) row(s) of seat
- should the turbine wheel polarity be opposite on the left/right side of the vehicle for performance, or is there positive effect in not doing so
- how far under water can you drive it before it stalls
- how far under water can you drive it before something shorts or otherwise becomes a human hazard

Brian H | November 9, 2011

Given that the Mythbusters' motto and raison d'etre is "Let's blow some stuff up!", I'm not sure that's a good ideer.

My5bAby | November 9, 2011


I agree, Myth Busters does not always take things to the breaking limit. I've seen a fair number of things/myths that were reviewed and proven to be true/accurate. I also think it would be a win win for both the show and Tesla.

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My5bAby | November 9, 2011

Chai Kee

Structural strength is not synonymous with waterproof.

Timo | November 9, 2011

Answer to for how deep that car could be driven before it stalls is as deep as you can keep the tires connected to bottom. If you crash it into swimming pool and it stays upright (as it should thanks to very heavy battery at bottom) you could just wait until it reaches the bottom and drive it to shallow end before exiting the car.

That would require that battery pack is truly waterproof though. If it isn't then there is real concern of getting electrocuted by very high power ~500V system.

I just recently saw a Mythbusters episode where they did a bit more realistic version of sinking car. Apparently normal car goes belly up in deep water, which makes escaping from it a lot more difficult. I wonder if that happens in Model S too.

I'm guessing it has something to do with air pocket shape in passenger compartment and tires being in practice flotation devices, and buoyancy of the air in those could still turn the car wrong way up. Low profile tires and heavy battery at bottom helps for that for Model S.

Nicu | November 9, 2011

Timo, if you would use just a little bit your "scarily smart" brain, you would know that either water fills (at least partially) the car or you float (hint: 66 cubic feet of storage ~ 1.86 cubic meter and the density of water is around 1kg / l, 1000l = 1 cubic meter, car weights less than 2t, 1t = 1000kg - now even a 6 year old could solve the puzzle, somebody get me a 6 year old !). No effing way to drive like a crazily crazy child on the bottom of the river unless you use diving equipment while driving (at least one would have some problems with the pedals LOL).

Brian H | November 10, 2011

The battery needs a couple of MHD jets on the bottom. Then you could surf over whatever water you encountered!

Nicu | November 10, 2011

I also think the doors are so thick because Elon wants to surprise everyone with retractable wings, so his electric plane will land among us sooner than everyone suspected :p (powered by the turbine wheels, of course ... only that it will fly sideways because they are not mirrored :D )

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 10, 2011

@My5bAby It was you who concerned about battery damage and how useful it is with lower battery location. I just pointed about its spec.

stephen.kamichik | November 10, 2011

If flooding in your area is a problem, buy a boat.

Volker.Berlin | November 10, 2011

@stephen.kamichi, it's not funny. Read the news.

Brian H | November 10, 2011

Nicu, you are technologically preverted. But funny!


My5bAby | November 10, 2011

Chai Kee

Once again I have been inadequately precise. I was not concerned about physical damage due to mechanical trauma, I was concerned about damage to the battery due to water intrusion secondary to submersion.

However it appears that despite the fact that the battery could be, "quickly swapped out". It is nonetheless adequately sealed.

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Ramon123 | November 10, 2011

Of course the Tesla motor works under water - it is located right where the differential would live, a few inches above the road, so its going to get enormous amounts of water, regardless of whether one is driving in knee deep water or not. The electric pump motor for a gas powered car is immersed in the gasoline in the tank, as an example of an electric motor that lives its entire life immersed in a liquid. And the battery pack is watertight already since it is cooled by water being pumped thru it for cooling. Lose your fear of water and electricity - you already are driving a car that often has electrical parts submerged as you drive thru flooded streets.

Denis Vincent | November 10, 2011

I've given some thought to the possibility of the Tesla Drivetrain/Battery being applied to various nautical vessels, sail boats, water ski boats (Ski Nautiques), small lake fishing boats. The battery would make for an ideal ballast, no exhaust to contend with (for the skier), no smell of diesel, no oil in the bilge, no annoying engine noise and since these vessels have limited run times, range would not be a factor.
Ideal for Catamarans, perfect solar panel/wind generation vessels, and when under sail, "regen" could be managed through a reverse transmission propeller if the battery needed recharging. (The French built Catamaran by Fontaine Pagot would be an ideal candidate).

Brian H | November 10, 2011

Very interesting. I wonder how many other applications of a rigid flat hi-capacity battery pack people could come up with ... ??

Volker.Berlin | November 11, 2011

@Denis Vincent, there is actually a swiss company that specializes in boats like that (but they do not use Tesla's drive train):

News article (German),1518,785101,00.html

Manufacturer's website (English)

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 11, 2011

@My5bAby I see.

@Ramon123 I see your point but water and fuel is really different in this matter. You can use oil as liquid cooling for PC (with mainboard totally submerged) but you cannot use water. It's the same for electric motor. That why it's needed to be sealed.

Denis Vincent | November 11, 2011

@Volker.Berlin Really appreciate your connectivity! Lake Como must be abuzz with these beauties, now if only Tesla could get into the game....As for Ocean crossing and cruising sail boats, the concept of a rechargeable(solar, wind, regen), electric engine and huge power supply for on board electronics \logistics, makes for compelling considerations. Needless to say, not having to refuel would be a huge plus. In any case, I think Tesla has its hands full, and if they can deliver on the Model S, there are going to be a lot of seriously happy customers. I beleive that they have done a spectacular job of catering to our demands. In trying to be everything to everybody, there has been a recognizable effort on their part to design/engineer changes and add options that address many of the concerns that have been voiced in these forums, for example; Ground clearance, optional adjustable suspension; Roof rack, available option; Family sedan, 7seater option; Performance(kick ass), Sport option; Panoramic roof, infrared reduction coating; Center console, ??optional?? I fully expect that when they deliver on the final product, it will live up to most, if not all our reasonable expectations!

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 11, 2011

@Denis Vincent The only limitation is 300 miles is the farthest range, for now. It's more than enough for daily drive but insufficient for an infrequent longer trip.

Model S is sure not luxury car but absolutely premium, for those who needs to be distinguish and stylish. It's like someone who prefers VW Beetle over luxury cars.

Model S is superb in every way.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 12, 2011

Or is it considered luxury?

Timo | November 12, 2011

There is entire thread discussing just that: What makes car luxury?

I think it is luxury if they get the interior right for production version. Currently it somehow.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 12, 2011

@Timo I saw the thread you mentioned. It's difficult to put Model S into specific category. But I'm certain, luxury not, it's truly premium car for many reasons. Need to see the real production version to determine exact category.

Timo | November 12, 2011

I hope Tesla makes waterproofing test like Volt does, except they actually leave the car in so deep water that battery pack is completely submerged for hour or so. Maybe a 24hour to be sure that it really is waterproof. Considering that PEM, engine and battery pack are all liquid-cooled none of those should be in danger, but I'm less confident about connectors considering that battery pack is designed to be swappable. If it passes that test, then it should be drivable underwater.

option: scuba gear, fins and propellers to go submarine. Cost: $10k

Denis Vincent | November 12, 2011

@Timo The next James Bond Car will no doubt be a Tesla S 007.

Chaiyawut Keereeto | November 12, 2011

As I said before, transformable car with road mode and water mode would be perfect.

Nicu | November 13, 2011

The first flying submarine was born sometime during November 2012 in a Tesla forum. RIP

David70 | November 13, 2011

I'm hoping the adjustable air suspension will lift the car enough that you can drive it through water two feet deep. ;).
Is that how you do a smiley face on this site?

brianman | November 13, 2011

Three questions come to mind:
(1) What's the minimum speed to keep a water skiier up?
(2) What's the minimum water depth to keep a water skiier up?
(3) Can both (1) and (2) be achieved with an S for more than 1/4 mile?

brianman | November 13, 2011

Partial answers to (1) and (2) courtesy of web-surfing...

(1) < 14 mph
(2) < 4 ft. (some reports of < 2 ft. by boat briefly)

stephen.kamichik | November 13, 2011

TM should offer a propeller option. It could be install on a "power take-off" from the differential/gearbox. Think of it-a modern day amphibicar.

Brian H | November 13, 2011

Nah. MHD since it's already electric! Two jets, for steering.