The Stark Reality of the Tesla Steering Wheel Weight and Similar Products

By Zac Ludicrous •  Updated: 12/07/21 •  6 min read

Disabling or “hacking” safety features is a behavior hardly limited to Tesla drivers. After all, Top Gear is practically famous for turning off the traction control whenever possible. 

When it comes to Autopilot, there are certainly plenty of hacks that keep those electronic nannies at bay. Autopilot Buddy, the infamous steering wheel weight, is one of them. 

This particular device, sold for a few hundred dollars, marketed itself as a solution to constantly grabbing the steering wheel while the Tesla was in Autopilot. Since the system only used a pressure, or weight, sensor, the Tesla steering wheel weight would mimic the weight of your hand, tricking the safety system into thinking you were right there behind the wheel. 

To be fair, people were using common household objects to achieve the same effect. From oranges and ankle weights to whatever else had enough weight to tug on the steering wheel, Tesla owners found a way to allow Autopilot the full responsibility of its namesake. 

But the big question remains: Is tricking Autopilot into thinking you’re still in the driver’s seat by using a steering wheel weight a safety concern or simply a harmless way to keep the nagging computers at bay? 

Autopilot in Context

Autopilot is one of many programs manufacturers implemented in moving toward a self-driving vehicle. BMW, Ford, GM, Subaru, and many others have different systems, each of which uses cameras to monitor the driver. Many of these systems require much more than weight on the steering wheel to keep an artificial eye on the driver at all times.

However, tricking Tesla’s Autopilot feature came under fire in a recent Consumer Reports study, and the consequences are certainly hard to ignore. 

While steering wheel weights in themselves are not necessarily a safety hazard, tampering with the function of a safety system could have very real and ugly consequences in certain cases.

Consumer Reports’ Tesla Steering Wheel Weight Study Findings

With plenty of press concerning crashes and Tesla’s Autopilot feature and rumors of the validity of the Autopilot Buddy, Consumer Reports studied the Tesla steering wheel weight trick. 

With their test Model Y unit, they successfully duped the Autopilot function into thinking the driver was behind the wheel the whole time. 

Spoiler alert: There was no driver there, only a steering wheel weight. 

The study didn’t end up in a crash, but Jake Fisher, the senior director of Auto Testing at CR, advised that “anyone who uses Autopilot on the road without someone in the driver seat is putting themselves and others in imminent danger.” 

In fact, recommendations were so strong against the steering wheel weights and similar products that the California company that sold Autopilot Buddy was ordered by the NHTSA to stop producing and selling them. The company’s caveat was that the products were only “designed for closed track use,” but the safety risks involved remained. The Autopilot Buddy was discontinued in the United States.

Though the Autopilot Buddy is no longer for sale, there are still other devices like it on the market. The same risks involved in using the Autopilot Buddy stay with those products as well.

The Basic Premise of Tesla’s Autopilot Function 

Understanding the risks inherent in the Autopilot Buddy requires a closer look at the software itself. 

Created as an “advanced driver-assist suite,” Autopilot includes adaptive cruise control, speed limit sign recognition, and automated lane-keeping and steering. With this function, the driver’s hands can be removed for a short period of time, mimicking the feel of a self-driving car. 

However, Autopilot and Full-Self Driving modes “must be used by a fully attentive driver.” While new models have a camera system installed, it only monitors driver inattention. 

Even in its most sophisticated form, Autopilot only achieved a Level 2 status, which describes a partially automated system as determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Fully self-driving cars are classified in Level 4, which has yet to be accomplished by any automotive brand.

The Fine Print: Deflection of Liability 

One of the features most websites that sell Tesla steering wheel weights have in common is an asterisk. This leads to the fine print at the bottom of the page, which declares “The product is auxiliary in nature, please pay attention to road conditions to avoid accidents,” or “The buyer declares not to use this product on public roads and he/she is aware that the seller is not responsible/liable for the consequences of the incorrect use of the product.”

Then again, some websites are blatant in their disregard for safety. These websites explain exactly where to place the steering wheel weight, even suggesting a multitude of devices you can purchase to mimic the results of a steering wheel weight. 

While it’s certainly not illegal to place an orange on your steering wheel to fend off those incessant warnings, it’s not necessarily the best choice when it comes to driving safely on the road.

The Impact of Tesla Steering Wheel Weights

With the Consumer Reports’ study in mind and the dawn of self-driving cars further off than we might think, products such as the Autopilot Buddy or similar certainly have a strong draw. Multitasking could take on a whole new level with the ability to commute to work without having to fight through rush-hour traffic. 

Then again, streets are filled with people-driven vehicles, not those controlled by artificial intelligence. The mistakes we make as drivers, and even our split-second decisions (good or bad), demonstrate our ability as human beings to anticipate and react without the need for computing time. The best situations, however, are a collaboration between man and machine, where logical thinking complements an open mind. 

We also live in a society where owning a Tesla stems from the same basic right to freedom of speech and expression. The choice ultimately lies in your court: Do you purchase and use an Autopilot-hacking device? Or will you consider the consequences of such a decision and choose differently?

Zac Ludicrous

Mechanical engineer by profession. TSLA shareholder before the hype. EV enthusiast all day long. Zac enjoys learning about the future of battery technology, autonomy, and EVs. He considers Tesla Model 3 the most important vehicle of the 21st century -- and is in a quest to improve the ownership experience of every Model 3 owner he possibly can.

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