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Relying on Tesla’s car unlocking app left one Model S owner stranded

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One Tesla owner's ordeal shows connected cars don't always make our lives more convenient.

The owner of a Tesla Model S recently found out that even the most convenient modern-day tech features have limitations. Ryan Negri was left stranded in a remote location about six miles away from his home when the smartphone application that replaces his electric sedan’s key couldn’t connect to the internet.

Negri explained he headed out in his Model S on a Saturday morning to take pictures of the snow in the mountains. He downloaded the company’s official app, like many Tesla owners, so he was able to unlock and start his car without the key. He made a quick stop, exited the car, and locked himself out. He couldn’t unlock the doors because there was no cell phone service in the area where he was parked. His phone was unable to load the Tesla app, and his car was unable to receive instructions.

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A person Negri was with ran about two miles until she found service. She was able to call a friend who picked her up, drove her to grab the keys, and took her back to the stranded Tesla. With the key in hand, Negri started the car with no fuss and drove home.

Stranded 6 miles from home, 2 miles from cell service; our Saturday morning. The thought was to go for a quick drive to take some photos of the freshly-fallen mountain snow. Having only my phone in my pocket, I unlocked and started the car with it, and we left. 6 miles down the road we decided to turn back, but before that, had to adjust Mozy & Millie’s car bed, so I exited the vehicle…bad idea. Need to restart the car now, but, with no cell service, my phone can’t connect to the car to unlock it. Even with cell service, the car would also need cell service to receive the signal to unlock. @amymnegri, the hero she is, started running to reach cell service height. After about 2 miles she reached signal and called a friend for a ride to the house to grab the key fob. The key that will always be with me (now) when I drive that car.

A photo posted by Ryan Negri (@ryannegri) on

“The key will always be with me (now) when I drive that car,” Negri said after the ordeal.

The issue isn’t specific to Tesla cars. Premium and luxury automakers are increasingly replacing the conventional key with a smartphone application that often lets motorists lock, unlock, start, and locate the car in a parking lot. The feature will trickle down to more mainstream models in the coming years as technology spreads. Negri’s story suggests manufacturers still need to educate customers on the ways to use — and not to use — the app.