Who hasn’t stood in the doorway of a restaurant or grocery store during a torrential rainstorm and dreaded the walk out to their car? Every one of us has dreamed at some point for a magic button that would allow us to summon our car to us, rather than pushing through crowds, heat, cold, or rain.

Tesla must’ve seen our dreams. In September of last year, Tesla introduced Smart Summon for all its cars built in 2016 or later. Smart Summon brings your car to you or another predetermined location. In the process, it will avoid and stop for obstacles in the way. You can summon your car from up to 200 feet away using an app on your smartphone. But before you get too summon-happy, there are a few things you need to know about the feature.

Does it Work?

Sometimes. The reviews on Smart Summon are mixed. While some owners have had successful “summons,” others have ended in collisions with curbs, shrubbery, garages, and even other vehicles. When Consumer Reports tested the feature, they found it to be “glitchy.” According to their report, “Smart Summon can exit a parking space, turn and start moving toward a vehicle owner, and negotiate around stationary objects. It can also detect and stop for pedestrians and slow down if it senses cross traffic.” However, it also warned that it only works as well as it can detect its surroundings. It’s really meant for private parking lots, but even when used in this setting, the car acted confused.

What Are its Limitations?

Smart Summon isn’t fully automated and only works when conditions are perfectly right.

  • If you don’t have access to GPS, you cannot summon your car.
  • It won’t work on hills. If the car detects that the grade is more than 10%, you’re out of luck.
  • You have to keep your thumb on either the “Come to Me” or “Go to Target” buttons until it reaches you, or else the car will stop moving. Removing your thumb from the button won’t stop the car immediately, either; you can’t count on instant braking to avoid an accident.
  • Smart Summon doesn’t recognize or stop for things that may be “very low” or “very high.” You could end up running over curbs and into low-hanging branches. Tesla sensors also have problems identifying obstacles on either side of the car.
  • Once your car stops for an object, you have to restart Smart Summon to get it going again.
  • The slow stopping feature can be an issue in an unpredictable environment, i.e., a place where there is heavy foot traffic or animals. The slow reaction time is a liability in most public areas.

How Fast is It?

Smart Summon has a maximum speed of 6 mph. And while such a slow speed is good when it comes to avoiding pedestrians and other vehicles, it’s also achingly slow when you’re the person waiting for your car. Coasting on your shopping cart across the parking lot will at least feel faster.

In addition, the Smart Summon feature doesn’t always choose what seems to be the shortest path to you. It’s frustrating to see the car meander from point A to Q, Y, Z, and then B, when a clear path from A to B appears to be obvious.

How Much Does it Cost?

According to John Cartwright, the author of the TechAU article and a Tesla Model 3 owner, the price tag for the Full Self Driving system that includes Smart Summon is a whopping $8,500.00. That’s a high price tag for technology with reliability issues and limitations. The purchase just ends up turning you into a beta tester for Tesla. You’re paying for the privilege of field testing this new feature. Shouldn’t Tesla be paying you?

Who is Liable for Damages?

You are. While you’re using Tesla’s technology, what happens while you’re using Smart Summon is your responsibility.

Conclusion

The thought of pushing a button on your phone to call your car to you is tantalizing. It’s easy to conjure visions of how cool you’ll look with your car coming to you without a driver. How impressed your friends will be. Who doesn’t want to have that James Bond moment? However, the feature is not a toy, and its limitations and liabilities are incredibly important considerations to make before you purchase it.