Model S Ride Height / Clearance

Model S Ride Height / Clearance

After seeing the recurring questions about the ride height of the Model S and given that there is no quantitative answer yet, I decided to set out to determine an estimation based on what we have seen so far.

The way I measured ride height was by measuring distances in photos from Tesla's gallery. I needed a point of reference -- something that I could determine the actual size of so that I could determine the scale of the object and estimate the size of other objects at the same depth in the image. For that, I decided to use the wheel's lug pattern. It's a five-bolt pattern of which there are several different sizes. Specs are listed here: The question was which one is it? Some of those lug patterns are much more common than others. I can't say I guessed correctly for sure, but the value I chose was 5x100 (or 5x4.0 in inches). My reasoning was that:

  • It made the wheels come out to nearly exactly 20" in diameter which several sites have sited as the wheel size.
  • It is the smallest of the five lug bolt patterns, so if anything my estimations would be too small, not too large.

The pictures I used to measure from were and I first measured using the silver / grey car that is at an angle and only measured near / around the front passenger wheel to avoid messy perspective calculations that could be wrong depending on the setup of the camera that took the shot. Then I measured the picture of the maroon car (most likely the prototype many of us have seen in person). I measured each car independently, establishing scale for each on separately.

Problems with this method:

  • I made several estimations / guesses, so numbers are likely off -- especially if I misjudged the bolt pattern.
  • These are all alpha or prototype cars and ride height may change.
  • Sub-pixel measurements were made and that will induce a margin of error. Where I included digits after the decimal point, they're not worth anything.

Tools used:

  • The images from the links above -- download the original from the link above the image.
  • Inkscape to load the images and take measurements at a sub-pixel level (I just drew a line while recording how many pixels long the line was)
  • A calculator to determine scale and to scale up measurements from their pixel values to inches

Feel free to remeasure and contradict my results -- I don't claim to be an expert. Also, before you respond saying that this method is wildly inaccurate, you're right -- it is. It's only meant to give us a better idea of the clearance than we had before.


Silver Car
Maroon Car

Lug pattern
45 pixels
22.4 pixels

Scale used
11.25 pixels = 1 inch
5.56 pixels = 1 inch

Wheel size
220 pixels / 19.6 inches
111 pixels / 20 inches

In front of front wheel
Couldn't see well enough
30 pixels / 5.4 inches

Behind front wheel
53 pixels / 4.7 inches
25.4 pixels / 4.5 inches

Base of door near hinge
80 pixels / 7 inches
39 pixels / 7 inches

End of door near midpoint between wheels
N/A (perspective)
45 pixels / 8 inches

Volker.Berlin | September 21, 2011

Your estimate for the "Clearance behind front wheel" aligns nicely with the 4.46" that Tesla has published here:

Which makes your other numbers even more plausible. I would not give anything to the Maroon Car alone, it's really just a show car, but the fact that your estimates align pretty well for both cars lends additional credibility.

Larry Chanin | September 21, 2011


I know that there has been a lot of concern voiced regarding the low ground clearance. How big of an issue is this really? Aren't there a number of other luxury sedans that have similiar or lower ground clearances? Would an adjustable suspension help, and do we know whether Tesla has any plans in this area?



mwu | September 21, 2011

It could be an issue to people who frequently drive in areas that have bigger changes in slope over short distances. My current car does not have any problems with this, but it used to be lower than it is now (my suspension is adjustable). Before I raised it from its previous setting, I did bottom out a few times. At the lowest, my car was probably about as low (maybe lower) as the Model S, however the car also is not nearly as long as the Model S.

I think the Model S high enough that it's not really a deal-breaker for most people, but it is certainly something to keep in mind while driving and definitely something to know before a decision to purchase is made. The biggest concern for most people would be steep driveways and large speed bumps.

Some people were also worried about the curb clearance for parallel parking. However, with around 8" of clearance towards the end of the door, I don't think that would be a problem except with crazy-tall curbs.

The main focus of the post was to get some numbers out there, even if just estimates so that people can have an idea about what to expect until we have more concrete numbers.

Ad van der Meer | September 21, 2011

Before doing a lot of brain exercise, you just might want to wait for the oct 1 event and hope somebody brings not just a camera but also a measuring tape.

Timo | September 21, 2011

@Volker.Berlin, mwu I agree with you. It really started to bug me that I don't see the ground clearance being that small in that video with Roadster and Model S together, and your figures match better with my impression of the vehicle.

Schlermie | September 21, 2011

I basically agree with Ad van der Meer. Especially with all the ongoing changes, the only way to get a reliable measurement is to measure the latest model at the Fremont plant Oct 1. However, this is a fun academic exercise, so I just wanted to contribute one of several measurements I made when I was at Santana Row a few weeks ago. The span of the side windows from back to front is 72". Maybe you can use that to help validate some of your other numbers.

Side Window Span

mwu | September 22, 2011

@Ad van der Meer, My original post makes it sound like I just up and did the work before posting, but I actually performed the work a while ago and just had it sitting in a text file for a while. I was cleaning up my computer, found the file, and decided to post the data. I did this work before the Oct 1 event was announced. If I hadn't done the work already, yes, I would be waiting for the Oct 1st event before doing that work. Besides, I don't find doing a little mental exercise an annoyance. It's quite the opposite for me as a software engineer actually.

@Schlermie, From your picture, it looks like the measurement was from silver trim to silver trim -- going right over where the side view mirror is. If I do that, I get about 400 pixels which converts to 71.9 inches. That's pretty close.

However, If I measure the clear window segment -- from after the side view mirror to the beginning of the tinted area at the back, I get 313 pixels which comes out to 56.3 inches.

I'm not sure which way you had measured the exhibit. One thing to consider for accuracy is that my scale calculation was based on the bolt pattern on the wheels which is a small distance. That isn't as much of a problem measuring the distances under the car because they are also small distances. However when using the same scale calculation created from a small distance to determine length of a much larger distance, any error will be multiplied many times.

Schlermie | September 22, 2011

@mwu, My measurement was from silver trim to silver trim, as you described, so your 400 pixel translation to 71.9 inches is pretty dang accurate.

jackhub | September 22, 2011

In the FAQ on the Model S, Tesla lists the ground clearance as 4.46".

Timo | September 22, 2011

Question is where they measure that lowest point. If it is for example between rear tires caused by engine protection then it is way less vulnerable spot to hit speed bumps/steep slopes than middle of the car. It might be the front of the car which goes lowest. That could hit the curb if driven too close in parking, but usually wont hit the speed bumps and slopes because front tires start to lift front before it hits the ground (front tires are not too far back). If it is the middle of the car where batteries are then those slopes might be a problem.

Volker.Berlin | September 23, 2011

Right, Timo. What we actually want to know, is not ground clearance.

"Ride height (ground clearance or simply clearance in British English) is the amount of space between the base of an automobile tire and the underside of the chassis; or, more properly, to the shortest distance between a flat, level surface, and any part of a vehicle other than those parts designed to contact the ground (such as tires, tracks, skis, etc.)."

What we actually want to know are "Böschungswinkel" (usually different for front and rear) and "Rampenwinkel". But what is that in English?



(let's hope the img tag works as expected...)

Klaus | September 23, 2011

Boeschungswinkel = slope angle/degree
Rampenwinkel makes less sense in english but the picture says it all.

Klaus | September 23, 2011

Maybe traverse angle.

mwu | September 23, 2011

Front angle is about 25 degrees
Back angle is about 28 degrees

From the diagram, it looks like rampenwinkel is measured using the midpoint between the wheels along the chassis as the vertex with the top portion of the angle coming from the back wheel lining up with the midpoint and the bottom portion of the angle coming from the front wheel lining up with the midpoint. Using that method, the rampenwinkel measurement is about 12 degrees.

The last angle comes out so low because despite the ride height not being all that small, the distance between the wheels is fairly long.

BruceR | September 23, 2011

Approach, departure and break over angles are what we call them in the off road vernacular.

Approach Angle-The approach angle is the angle drawn from front of the tires to the front bumper. The greater the angle the steeper the ledge you can go up to without the bumper hitting the ledge before the tires. If the front bumper sticks out too far it will hit the rocks before the tires have a chance to crawl up. And going down steep ledges the nose will bury in the ground before the wheels reach level ground.

Departure Angle-The Departure Angle is measured from the back of the rear wheels to the rear bumper. If the rear bumper sticks out too much the rear will drag in the dirt when going up ledges and drag against ledges after going down.

Break-over angle-The Break-over angle is the smallest possible angle when measured from the wheels to the underside of the vehicle. If the break-over angle is too small then as your vehicle crests the top of the ledge the vehicle will bottom out on the edge of the ledge.

Volker.Berlin | September 24, 2011

Here is the data for two cars that are remotely comparable to the Model S. @mwu, I think your estimate for approach angle and departure angle are way off, they cannot be correct.

Jaguar XF
Approach: 14.6 deg. (unladen), 13.4 deg. (fully loaded)
Departure: 16.9 deg. (unladen), 14.0 deg. (fully loaded)
Ground clearance: 140mm

Aston Martin Rapide
Approach: 8.9 deg.
Departure: 18 deg.
Ground clearance: 138mm

(Source: Email request to manufacturer)

mwu | September 25, 2011

Very possible -- it's all from an image and I don't like how I had to measure angles.

Timo | September 25, 2011

Model S has quite round front and back ends if you look at them from above, it lies a lot in the pictures unless you get a picture directly from side and preferably closer to the point you are measuring.

mwu | September 26, 2011

I can't see anyone getting down on the floor and measuring all these angles at the event... but some nice clear pictures of the clearance could give us a better idea as to what the angles truly are.

Volker.Berlin | September 26, 2011

May I suggest that someone just brings his portable laser scanner and creates a digital 3D model? That would help a LOT! :-D

mwu | September 26, 2011

Lol, yea, or even better I bet Tesla already has 3D models -- maybe they'll share :)

Brian H | September 27, 2011

The example above is a Suzuki offroad miniSUV, so it's designed for lots of clearance. Completely different from a sedan.

Brian H | September 27, 2011

correction: mini truck, of course. Similar frame to its older Pilot(?) models.

Brad Holt | September 27, 2011

Pretty sure they were just using those visuals to explain what the angles measure.

David70 | September 28, 2011

Right. And another important point is how close the lowest point is from the axles. If it's 4.x within a foot of the axles and at least 6 inches everywhere else, it probably won't be a problem.

MTriantafelow | September 30, 2011

"The optional air suspension automatically responds to speed and road conditions. As Model S accelerates, it lowers the vehicle for optimized aerodynamics and handling. Lower or raise Model S using the touchscreen to unload cargo when parked."

That solves that problem.

Brad Holt | September 30, 2011

Where was that from??

clea | September 30, 2011

new features page has been added

David70 | September 30, 2011

Neat. I wonder how expensive that option will be.

William13 | September 30, 2011

The specs now say 6 inches unladen ground clearance. This was my report after the Detroit show. I hope it is enough for the snow in South Bend Indiana which averages 72 inches a year.

Volker.Berlin | October 1, 2011

Air suspension sounds real cool (and useful, actually), I hope it's not another 10k on top. William13, where did you find the 6" unladen ground clearance number? That sounds much more useful for everyday driving than the former 4.46" number, but I'd like to see an authoritative source.

Kallisman | October 1, 2011


Ride height is mentioned under Model S -> Facts, Scroll down to Vehicle.

Timo | October 1, 2011

Model S has an unladen ground clearance of approximately 6" (154mm).

That's what it says. Sounds good. Features -page is also very good, it even shows interior in night and in day, which is better than I expected.

I get an impression that some of the engineers there read these forums and listen our opinions, even that they do not write here. Everything I have been worried about has been addressed somehow.

Volker.Berlin | October 1, 2011

I get an impression that some of the engineers there read these forums and listen our opinions, even that they do not write here. Everything I have been worried about has been addressed somehow. (Timo)

Or maybe they are just bright people with a healthy dose of common sense and quite a bit of knowledge about what the state-of-the-art is in other cars. :-)

Nicu | October 1, 2011

@Volker.Berlin - that's exactly what I thought too all the way. That's why I mocked over worried people and those who propose "bright ideas" to Tesla engineers (like solar panels on or around the car, trailers, wind mills to produce electricity, boat functionality, small jet generators, eestor batteries etc.)

Timo | October 1, 2011

@Volker.Berlin, it could be both. They listen what people say, and are bright people with enough common sense. Also Alphas have been running for some time now, all oddities and things that they have not thought thru have come up by now. One perhaps being that "night mode" of the interior.

@Nicu, "boat functionality". What's that? I can remember all of the others, but not that.

Nicu | October 1, 2011

There was someone who suggested that there may be a problem in Model S gets into 50cm (1.5 ft) of water or if you drive it into a small river.

Brian H | October 1, 2011

Hm, yeah, reminds me of a joke TV show with the tag line, "Will it sink or will it float?" Followed by dramatic direct experimentation.

If it floats, and the flanges on the rims are large enough, and angled properly, maybe it will double as a powerboat???


psirnes | October 1, 2011

Can someone with access to the reps at the Freemont Factory visit check if the 6 inch clearance is for the 19 or 21 inch wheels ?. Here in Norway ground clearance will be important both with respect to winter conditions and bad roads in the mountains.

mwu | October 1, 2011

Generally when they offer different sized wheels on a car, they offset the difference with different tire sizes. On my Jetta, there were like 3 different wheel size options, but after adding the tires on, it all came out to the same total diameter (or within a millimeter or so). They do that so they don't have to reprogram the odometer for every different wheel you put on it.

Timo | October 1, 2011

@nicu, that someone would have been me. I have got twice in situation where road was flooded and turned in a small river. (thunderstorms). Just this year alone there has been two strong enough rainfall here that many parked cars were deep enough that entire lower half of their tires were underwater, some deeper. It isn't uncommon phenomenon for cars to get quite deep water.

Battery is the lowest point of the car so it goes underwater in just 25 cm of water. IOW it needs to be waterproof, connectors and battery. Motor isn't much higher either.

That has nothing to do with boats, so I guess you were being condescending or just plain stupid there.

wtrask4 | October 1, 2011

They said that the car could be submerged up to nearly the top of the motor unit and function safely... So nearly 20inches. The battery pack completely submergible

Brian H | October 2, 2011

Once you're floating, gun the wheels and the rim flanges will act like propellers. :)

Volker.Berlin | October 5, 2011

Here's the updated data as on display on a huge poster during the Beta event Oct 1st-3rd:

Tesla Model S
Approach: 11.5 deg.
Departure: 13 deg.
Ground clearance: 145.3 mm

With these numbers, the Model S definitely errs on the low and sporty side, but it should still be a reasonable and usable car.

For comparison:

Jaguar XF
Approach: 14.6 deg. (unladen), 13.4 deg. (fully loaded)
Departure: 16.9 deg. (unladen), 14.0 deg. (fully loaded)
Ground clearance: 140mm

Aston Martin Rapide
Approach: 8.9 deg.
Departure: 18 deg.
Ground clearance: 138mm

(Source: Email request to manufacturer)

txjak | December 17, 2012

It would seem that they have removed the ride height "fact" from the Facts page:

It may be somewhere, but it would be nice to know what the ride heights are for the air suspension settings:

  1. Very High
  2. High
  3. Standard
  4. Low

Countdown to Feb. 14, 2012
(Feb 14, more or less)

Volker.Berlin | December 17, 2012

From an email by Walter Franck (Tesla Motors) to brianman, via:

Dynamics on how the active air suspense will handle when corning is to be announced, but I can expand upon the height levels. Manual Adjustments are as follows:

  • Normal height = 6”
  • High Level 1 = 0.90” taller; When the vehicle accelerates above 19 mph, the clearance adjusts back to Normal height.
  • High level 2 = 1.3” above Standard and can be used for ascending a steep driveway or fording deep snow. Clearance reverts to High Level 1 above 10 mph.
  • Low Level = 0.79” under Standard; Active Air Suspension will automatically lower the vehicle for highway driving to improve aerodynamics. Low Level is also accessible from the touchscreen for loading/unloading of passengers. When the vehicle begins driving the clearance adjusts back to Normal height.
  • The suspension will also self-level the car. For example if you load a lot of weight in the trunk the vehicle will remain level.
WolfenHawke | December 17, 2012

What is really cool is that once you choose the height you want (see @txjak listings), when you start from off it is at that height. If starting at very high, it goes to high at 5mph, and to standard at 20mph. So you ride at normal height but start high. This works well for my problem driveway. When you shut off and start again, it repeats.