XM does not work, no solution available

XM does not work, no solution available

I'm generally quite happy with my S, but one thing is a real annoyance: the XM radio does not work properly.
Worse yet, it does work in the repair shop. It seems that XM has "boosters" in metro areas, so the shop -- in Boston -- has a great signal, but out in NH where I live the signal is variable.
The symptom is that the audio stops the moment the signal drops below full 3 bars. 2.5 bars is enough to make it drop out. Also, very strangely, almost every drop comes with a short hissing sound. To me that means the radio designers don't know what they are doing, because digital radio should never do such a thing.
In any case, on my drive home I get dropouts along a main road, every time a truck drives by or I pass even modest size (2 story) buildings. And once I get on the back roads, the radio is essentially dead; the simple presence of trees kills the signal.
My wife has a BMW with Sirius. It too shows variable signal strength. The difference is that it doesn't drop as much, and more importantly, the audio doesn't go away until the signal drops all the way to zero bars.
I've had the car in the shop a couple of times for this. The latest answer from the shop is "this is how it works" and "for the next project, the factory is planning to design a fix of this issue". Not exactly a good story. And my notes to the factory have not been answered, which is rather unusual.

Is my experience unusual? Have others seen XM issues like this? Have your been fixed? It's irritating to have paid substantial money for the feature, plus substantial additional money for the XM subscription, and not get the service I paid for. | August 14, 2014

While it would affect the good looks of the car, perhaps what the Model S needs is a small, external antenna for G3 and satellite. | August 14, 2014

Perhaps you can capture some video of your problem and use that to document the issue and escalate the issue up to the regional level.

I also found the "static" noise amusing since its digital radio. I actually think its designed that way--after living with the car for a while, I find the music > static > music transition less jarring than the music > silence > music transition in prior cars and it provides you a clue as to why the music just went away, so your eyes stay on the road.

O | August 14, 2014

I don't have XM radio, but does it have a displayed signal strength indicator? The 3G indicator in the top status bar is for the 3G cell signal and has nothing to do with XM radio. So a "3" bar cell signal has no relation to the signal the XM radio gets.

XM radio is line of site to the satellite, so if there is anything blocking it, you may loose the signal. Perhaps Tesla can add a larger data buffer or boost the antenna signal as a future improvement.

johncrab | August 14, 2014

I have XM in my Prius and it has a rooftop antenna assembly. In some places I lose signal even with that setup. Some channels just have horrible sound quality and I think the static has more to do with the point of origin than the receiver.

All in all, I'm not at all impressed with their in-car offerings. I listen to 3 channels and that's about it. They have a lot more which I can get via the iPhone app. The sports channels have no way (that I have found) to know what if anything is on them. Most are just empty space. After iTunes Radio was launched, my XM enthusiasm waned and I did not order it in my MS.

Here is one set of notes from 2012 about XM signal drops, so it's not a new issue.

AmpedRealtor | August 14, 2014

I don't have an XM subscription, but thought I'd check to see what happens when I select XM.

With my garage door open, I get three bars of signal and can hear the sample/demo. Three bars is 100% full signal according to the signal display on the XM screen. When I close my garage door, signal drops to one bar and audio disappears.

Is this how XM normally works? Also, the quality of the sample/demo music is quite bad. The quality available through Slacker and TuneIn, as well as HD radio, is quite superior in my opinion. You would probably get a better result if you found the same programming sources through Slacker or TuneIn.

Paul Koning | August 14, 2014

The signal indicator I was talking about is the XM one, which shows in the Media app. TeslaTap is correct, the 3G indicator at the top of the touch display is separate from that.
Yes, satellite is line of sight, and I expect to lose signal when in a deep valley. I don't expect to lose signal just because there is a tree. And I certainly don't expect to lose audio when the signal drops only slightly but it still strong enough to register 2 or 2.5 bars.
Yes, hiding the antenna while still having it work is a challenge. It's a solvable challenge; there are dozens of solutions. I remember being quite pleased when I first found out that Tesla was doing this, because it shows ingenuity. But nice design like that is valid only if it WORKS.
I like my model S because it's very different from regular cars AND it works. Difference that doesn't work is bad; difference that works and especially that adds value is a great thing. Part of the job of Tesla's engineers was to make sure the antenna works before choosing that design. If they had stuck with the original notion ("no XM unless you have a glass roof") I could have accepted that. If they had said "XM on solid roof involves an external antenna" that would have been ok, too. Building something that doesn't work and not fixing it is what bothers me.
The interesting thing is that GPS, and cellular data (for the map display and for Internet radio) work very well. They drop out only in very deep valleys. So part of the puzzle is that all these things have hidden antennas, but only one of them has this premature dropout problem.
As for the noise on dropout being intentional -- I suppose that's possible. If so, I still maintain my judgment; an engineer who thinks that is a desirable "feature" is not one I would hire.

Andercam | August 14, 2014

Take is as a sign to drop XM! This company has the worst customer service of any company in existence. I started using Slacker when I got the "S", and bye-bye XM forever!

Roamer@AZ USA | August 14, 2014

XM uses a line of sight connection to a single Satellite in the southern sky. Unless a local rebroadcaster is in operation anything that blocks the signal will cause it to drop out. The antenna location will make no difference if the line of sight signal is blocked. Works like satellite TV. Line of sight.

GPS works from an array of satellites and at any given time is receiving signals from multiple satellites in different directions from the receiver. GPS needs at least three satellites to establish position. More satellites more accuracy. It is not uncommon to have seven or more satellites providing a link.

Cellular connections are, well cellular.... As you travel you are connecting to ground based cell towers that are constantly handing your connection off between towers. Drive into an area without towers or have the signal blocked in a limited coverage area and your call gets dropped.

I actually have the opposite problem from what you describe. In the wide open desert areas of the Southwest XM stays connected with little problem. Cell towers are a different problem. Cell signals constantly drop off as I move between cell towers located far apart out in the open desert.

So for me, in the wide open expanse of the desert Southwest, XM stays connected but cell signals are unreliable.

All this has little to do with the vehicle antenna. All my vehicles experience the same results.

XM could be improved by delaying the play and storing the signal so you don't experience the drop off of the live signal. So there is an engineering way to improve the experience but it would require saving and delaying the station play.

johncrab | August 14, 2014

The latest info I have is that XM is still using their Boeing 702 elliptical orbit satellites or at least one of them. They've launched two geosynchronous orbit birds made by Loral but last word was that one was an in-orbit spare until the last Boeing bird is retired. We may have even reached that point.

Satellite management is easier with the new Loral birds but coverage is not as good and can be spotty. They have been slow to build out the needed 800+ terrestrial repeaters to augment the 180 they had to support the Boeing birds. The effect when built out will be to have the same coverage they have had in the past by adding another 600 repeaters to fill in the gaps and low signal areas.

What we're probably looking at is an early retirement of the Boeing birds which had shorter than expected life due to fogging of the solar panels, cutting life from 15 to 6 years and an incomplete build-out of terrestrial repeaters. This means if you are closer to the equator and in wide open territory, you should be fine. If you are north and in hills and tall trees, heavy clouds, etc., this could be a problem until the repeater network is more robust.

AmpedRealtor | August 14, 2014

My garage faces south, so closing my garage door would block the line of sight and kill the signal. That makes sense! :)

Seeing as they would probably use their best bandwidth for their sample/demo broadcast on channel 1, I must say that it sounded as bad as an overly compressed MP3. I don't think I could listen to XM on a regular basis, as the quality seems so inferior to what is available over 3G.

PaceyWhitter | August 14, 2014

If you know anyone else with an MS and XM it might be worth it to see if they have the same problem to determine if this is an antenna design problem or a problem with your car.

SeattleSid | August 14, 2014

I've found the XM signal in my MS drops out a little more frequently than it did in my Acura, traveling the same routes. So I assume it's antenna-related. OTOH, as has been suggested above, I find myself using internet radio always, except in those rare places where there's a stretch of poor 3G coverage.

David Trushin | August 14, 2014

Tesla could fix this one with a software update if they would provide the siriusxm internet app the same way they provide slacker and tunein.

david | August 14, 2014

I have the exact problem as you including the hissing. I am in California north of San Francisco. On I5 all the way up to Canada I have very little trouble but where I am and on the Oregon Coast where many trees are, I have drop outs more than half the time. I also had it in for service but with little help. Everything else about my S is wonderful. I am due for a one year service and I was hoping they had a fix.......Hang in there we have to be persistent........Dave

AmpedRealtor | August 14, 2014

Don't Sirius and XM have companion smartphone apps? If so, might another solution be to stream it from your smartphone over the car's Bluetooth?

triss1 | August 14, 2014

I have XM in my MS and rarely have the problem the OP described. I do lose signal sometimes, but it usually returns very quickly. Dropouts have never been a significant problem, and I would say they are no more frequent than in my other cars. I live in the Chicago area.

SCCRENDO | August 14, 2014

XM is pretty good in Socal. Note some slight dropoff under freeway underpasses, particularly when going under a 5 or 6 lane highway slowly. Also noted some dropoff driving through the tall trees of Oregon.

Pungoteague_Dave | August 14, 2014

An app would not solve my problem as our house/farm has no cell phone service.

I find that the XM reception cuts out 50% of the time along our rural tree-lined roads, and near virtually all tree stands to the South along highways. Driving the same routes in our XM/Sirius-equipped F-150, Boxster, or BMW motorcycle we have no drops at all. However, all of those vehicles have small external antennas. Elon apparently didn't want to sully the MS exterior, so we are stuck with inferior satellite radio service. Perhaps sanity and reception quality will prevail in the next iteration.

Brian H | August 15, 2014

Ya, he wouldn't even go for a cute little shark-fin. Purist. Another case of the perfect (skin) being the enemy of the good?

karmamule | August 15, 2014

There's a reason XM and Sirius had to merge: there weren't enough people who liked the product to support two companies. I tried Sirius for one year in one car, and the merged Sirius/XM service more recently and both times was underwhelmed and quickly fell back to using Spotify et al instead.

I'm rather glad Tesla didn't compromise appearance or CD just for satellite radio.

Paul Koning | August 15, 2014

The internet media services are no help for me. The programs I want to listen to don't appear there. And some of the alternatives come up with "high bandwidth connection required".
Streaming smartphone -- well, I don't have a smartphone. And if I did, that would come out of my data allowance. That might cost less, or more, than XM, I haven't looked.
Nice looks are good. But that's not a valid excuse for having a poor antenna; the design of flat antennas that work well has been a well understood field for at least 50 years. (See "patch antennas" and "slot antennas".)
I don't accept that Tesla's XM receiver works only at 3 bars, nothing less. That makes no sense. Especially since other cars have satellite receivers without that defect. And beyond all that, it's wrong to claim to offer a feature that doesn't work, and to do nothing about it when people complain, not even reply.
It sounds like I should cancel XM, and pressure Tesla for a refund on that option.

beun | August 15, 2014

The XM is my Tesla is not any worse than in the Lexus LX460 which has a sharkfin on top of the roof. If it is that bad there may be something wrong with the antenna or the cable.

The "hissing" noise when the signal drops out is actually a designed in feature and is called "comfort noise". I have worked on these systems in the past and the reasoning is that people are used to radio creating noise when the signal drops out and even although digital radio doesn't do it on its own (it actually would be way worse). The signal is muted and the noise switched in when the bit error rate exceeds the maximum capability of the error correction.

AmpedRealtor | August 15, 2014

@ Paul,

You may have a tough battle asking for a refund. XM is included in the ultra high fidelity audio upgrade. You can't decouple that one feature from the additional speakers and other goodness offered by the audio package.

If you have a cell signal, you can install the Sirius/XM app on your phone and stream it from phone to car. That will give you the Sirius/XM content you want, but via a more stable and higher quality cellular network connection. | August 15, 2014

I wonder if Tesla could work with XM to offer it over the 3G connection? Tesla might charge a small extra fee, but I doubt it would use any more bandwidth than Slacker. It might even be a profit center if they get a portion of the XM fees for acting as a redistributor.

My guess is while possible, the software team has so much on their plate right now, it would be a very low priority project.

Paul Koning | August 15, 2014

XM over the builtin 3G link would be very attractive.

Beun, thanks for reporting that you see Tesla perform the same as Lexus with external antenna. But do you observe dropouts as much as I do (outside cities)? Or do you continue to have audio even at 2 bars?

Interesting about the "comfort noise". I question the sanity of whoever came up with that "feature" much less the name for it. I want it off, and it doesn't look like they let me do that. I've never run into any other digital radio that works this way and I would like to keep it that way. For example, Sirius doesn't have that misbegotten design.

david | August 15, 2014

I found the iPhone app for Sirius/XM and it works great in my office. I don't even have a signal for Verizon right now but I do have it plugged into my computer while charging. I will unplug it later and see what happens. It also worked when I did have a signal from Verizon a ways from my house........Dave

David Trushin | August 15, 2014

Glad there is an echo on this thread.

beun | August 15, 2014


I haven't taken the car yet outside of the city and to be honest I haven't even looked at the bars, actually I haven't even found the bars yet. When switching over from the Lexus to the MS I found that I get the dropouts (at underpasses) at exactly the same location and no additional dropout anywhere else. I will have a look at the number of bars.

Paul Koning | January 27, 2015

Getting back to this after a while...
I noticed that XM is no longer offered in new cars unless you get the glass roof (which I don't have and don't want).
I also noticed that XM seems to work slightly better with the latest software (6.1). I may be imagining things. It's still not acceptable, but it's not quite as absurdly broken as before. If it's better, I wonder what was changed.
I still don't understand why Tesla doesn't create a good antenna. "Slot" antennas are a type that works in metal surfaces, so that would allow them to have a good quality antenna without requiring a glass roof.
Meanwhile, I think that some of the programs I look for might exist on various TuneIn channels after all. I found a Metropolitan Opera I wanted on "Bartok Radio 3" (Hungarian classic music station) :-) So it looks like that will help, at least to some extent. XM via the cellular data link as a standard offering would be better, though. Especially since I paid for XM and feel entitled to get what I paid for.

David Trushin | January 27, 2015

I am finding that just about all my favorite stations are available on tune in now. I hardly ever use xm onside my house and only for a few stations in the car. Satellite radio is very prone to dropping when obstructed. That's why they have booster stations. Also, hissing is sound as well as noise. noise cancellation won't eliminate hiss if it is the only sound coming through.