12V battery question

12V battery question

Sorry if this has been asked elsewhere.

Does the main battery pack keep the 12V battery charged for as long as there is power in the main pack?

I'm planning to install at least one dashboard camera into my Model S. In "normal" cars there is always the risk that the 12V battery will be drained if the camera runs continuously and draws current for an extended period (days) when the engine isn't running. It is possible to use a device like this to avoid the problem, but on the Model S does the problem essentially go away?

mrspaghetti | 24 septembre 2012

I assumed there was not a separate 12V battery in the Model S, just an outlet configured to deliver 12V from the regular battery. That would make a lot more sense than having a separate one.

nickjhowe | 24 septembre 2012

There absolutely is a 12V battery - it works the lights, instruments, etc.

Volker.Berlin | 24 septembre 2012

I found this note on page 25 of the owner's guide which seems to imply that there is a 12 volt auxiliary battery:

"CAUTION: If the Battery’s charge level falls to 0%, you must plug it in. If you fail to do so within a month, you can permanently damage the Battery. This damage is not covered by the warranty. If the Battery falls to a critically low level for an extended period of time, it is not be possible to charge or use the vehicle without jump starting or replacing the 12V battery. If you are unable to charge the vehicle, contact Tesla."
(emphasis mine)

Volker.Berlin | 24 septembre 2012

Another paragraph on the same page:

"NOTE:When the low-power consumption mode is active, the auxiliary 12V battery is no longer powered and may go flat within 12 hours. In the unlikely event this occurs, you may need to “jump start” or replace the 12V battery before you can charge. To do so, contact Tesla."
(emphasis mine)

These are the only two mentions of the 12V auxiliary battery throughout the entire owner's guide. No hint on where the auxiliary battery is located to how it can be accessed to "jump start or replace" it.

nickjhowe | 24 septembre 2012

Thanks Volker. I saw those too. I inferred from the words that the battery will draw down from the main power pack until the main power pack depletes, but I wanted to check to see if anyone could confirm.

mrspaghetti | 24 septembre 2012

Ok, fair enough. I guess there must be good engineering reasons to have a separate auxiliary battery.

Sudre_ | 24 septembre 2012

WOW. I wonder if the 12 volt battery helps to prevent the main battery from catastrophic failure. That would be good to know that if for whatever reason (jail time :-) you can't charge your Model S that all you may have to buy is a 12 volt battery and labor.

Either way. If installing a 12 volt electronic device it would be highly recommended to use a cut off device for when the voltage gets low. That would be true in an ICE too. I ruined a car battery long ago and stranded myself because I didn't use one. Never again.

I didn't look closely at the one you linked but they make them with timers and/or low voltage cut off. I recommend both.

Teoatawki | 24 septembre 2012

The 12v battery runs the onboard electronics and lights. The battery must supply the voltage for the handshaking with the charger. So, if it goes flat, you can't charge the pack.

Volker.Berlin | 25 septembre 2012

Which brings up the question (also asked in a Model X forum thread) if the 12V battery can be used to jump start your friend's (or wife's) ICE. If so, how? And if not, why not?

Volker.Berlin | 25 septembre 2012

To clarify: "How?" as in "Where is it located and how can it be accessed to apply the jump-start cable clamps?"

ddruz | 25 septembre 2012

If you are looking at the car from the front, the 12V battery is located to the left rear of the frunk and is inaccessible. Here is a link to a thread with pictures:

Volker.Berlin | 25 septembre 2012

ddruz, thank you for posting those pics! Very interesting. Are you positive that we are looking at a Model S there? As far as I can tell, it might as well be a Model X. Not sure if that makes any difference wrt my question, though.

ddruz | 25 septembre 2012

Volker.Berlin, I don't check the Model X forums either here or at TMC and I originally downloaded the pics from one of the forums.

jerry3 | 25 septembre 2012


The 12V battery is way to small to power a starter motor. If it's a real emergency, you can do it the Prius way:

1. Take the keys from the other vehicle's driver and keep them with you.

2. Hook up the 12V batteries in the normal way being very sure to get the polarity correct (otherwise you're buying at least a 100 amp fuse.

3. Leave the batteries connected for 15 to 30 minutes depending upon how dead you think the other battery is. Be sure the donor car is in READY mode.

4. Disconnect the batteries.

5. Give the keys back to the other car's driver.

Step one is the most important one here because if the other driver has the keys there's a very good chance he will try to start his car while the two are connected. That's basically Russian roulette with five loaded chambers.

Timo | 25 septembre 2012

The 12V battery is way to small to power a starter motor.

Size doesn't tell everything. A motorcycle battery can jump-start a car, and those are a lot smaller than car batteries. Unless a car is a truck of some kind that requires 24volt system.

jerry3 | 26 septembre 2012


Small in terms of amp/hours, not small in dimensions.

Timo | 26 septembre 2012

jerry3, You have specs for that battery? All I have is few pictures and a lot of assumptions.

jerry3 | 27 septembre 2012


Nope. All I have are assumptions as well.

jerry3 | 27 septembre 2012

Also based on the posts about the Roadster 12V battery.

Timo | 28 septembre 2012

That makes them "educated guesses" which is better than what I have.

Brian H | 28 septembre 2012

Heck, 8 1½V D cells in series gives 12V. The battery could be really puny.

cerjor | 12 novembre 2012

While the Li ion batteries reportedly only lose 1% of their charge per month, what about the 12V battery? If I don't drive my ICE for a couple of months, the battery may go dead because of the clock and other stuff that is on all the time. What happens in the model S?

jerry3 | 12 novembre 2012

The large battery charges the small one.

jbunn | 12 novembre 2012

Well, there is no "starter motor", but I'd guess the 12 vdc battery is there to open the doors, allow you to light the panel, and power the electronics so you can charge the main battery. I was honestly hoping to never see a 12 volt battery. But a big 12 volt makes sense in that it can still unlock the car and power the systems in an emergency.

jerry3 | 17 novembre 2012


Me too. The 12V battery seems to be the bane of EVs and hybrids. However, I hear that Telsa produced the first Roadsters without a 12V battery and had to change back for reasons I'm not certain of. So apparently the problems with them are less than the problems without them.

nickjhowe | 5 mars 2013

For the curious, I just found out that the battery on the S is a 12V, absorbed glass matt35Ah battery that is slightly (20%?) smaller than a 'normal' car battery.

c.bussert67 | 6 mars 2013

There is a separate 12V battery used for powering all the standard 12 accessories used in standard cars. Nothing new. But the reason you can't get anything going if the main pack dies is because it powers all the contactors and relays that engage the 12v battery. So without the main pack you lose connection to the 12v batt as well, even if it is healthy.

nickjhowe | 6 mars 2013

@CnJsSigP - the issue is the other way around - if the 12v dies you can't charge the car. The 12v (not the main pack) holds the contactors open. If the 12v dies it isolates the main battery pack, and you are SOL.

c.bussert67 | 6 mars 2013

D'oh! You're right, Nick. I was just uh, ahem, testing you... and you passed!

nickjhowe | 6 mars 2013


deinspanjer | 6 mars 2013

Actually, that emergency responder training video shared some interesting details about the 12V electric system.

The 12V is responsible for maintaining the relays that enable or disable the high voltage battery circuit. If the 12V cables are cut, the relay is stuck in an open state preventing any of the high voltage batter power from going into the system.

Rescuers are trained to look for this type of disconnect on a hybrid or electric vehicle and cut it before they attempt to extricate someone.

PatriciaS | 24 mai 2013

My 12V battery says it's dead, and the car cannot be driven, it won't even turn on or go into gear. I have only had the car since January, have only a little over 1300 miles on it, and I am deeply disappointed in Tesla's response. It's Memorial Day weekend, and they can't send a flat bed tow truck out to get it until Tuesday. The only good thing is that it's in my garage at home. I shudder to think what would happen had this occurred while I was out on the road, parked in a parking lot, and suddenly found myself stranded.

Why, when the car is plugged in every night does the 12V battery not also charge? Why did the 12V battery fail after only 5 months of use? Why does the 12V battery not charge when the car is being driven?

Nick, I unplugged the car, since you say it won't charge the main battery if the 12V battery is dead, so I guess I am, as you say, SOL.

DouglasR | 24 mai 2013

You might be able to call Roadside Assistance and get them to take it to a Service Center, but they probably still won't get it back to you until Tuesday.

ajamison | 24 mai 2013

If you guys watch the safety video Tesla did for first responders to an accident involving the Model S it talks in depth about why there is a 12v battery and how to disconnect it should you be bold enough to attempt it.

WARNING the above video includes violent acts of fire fighters destroying a beautiful Model S you have been warned.

ajamison | 24 mai 2013

and By disconnect i mean cut the wires. This video is also great to watch because the guys doing it talk in depth about how the electrical drive train works

Brian H | 24 mai 2013

I believe it's possible to piggy-back a good 12V by connecting to the "posts" behind the nose cone.

There was a supplier issue with a batch; I expect you got one of those.

Solarwind | 22 avril 2015

Our 4 month old SP85D took a crap today. I was going to brag about no problems but that went out the window. Went to start to give demo drive and car said 12V battery low, car cannot be driven, and would not start. Couldn't find the jumper post in the manual or on the car until I got the tip from Brian. (first smart thing I've gotten out of Brian, thanks)
Checked the voltage and it said 12.1 on the post called SC twice and they don't want me to charge or touch anything for days. Said they would call back tomorrow.
If this is the same problem it looks like the issue is still there. | 22 avril 2015

Yikes. Hope you have a 2nd car (I don't).

12.1 volts sounds a bit low. Usually it's in the 13 to 14.5v window. This could be the 12v battery, the DC/DC 12v charger, or contactor not working. Let us know the resolution.

Solarwind | 22 avril 2015

SC called back late in the day and rented us a car locally. They are sending up a truck from Salt Lake to pick up our car on Monday. Salt Lake is only about 500 miles. They said from the diagnosis that the contactor had failed and the car had to go to the SC for repairs.