My Tesla Model 3 stinks… Literally

Tesla Service Technician Vehicle

My 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range has been dogged by two issues in the last few months. One large, one small. I’m going to talk about the small issue in this post, and the larger one in later post. The small issue that has plagued me since about May of this year? My Tesla Model 3 stinks. Yes, it stinks. Literally.

Now, for clarification this stench has been fixed, and wasn’t that big of a deal. But it’s an oddity I’ve never dealt with before on any of the 15 other cars I’ve owned over the last 20 years, so I figured it was worth documenting.

So the odor my Model 3 was emitting was mildewy/moldy in nature, and was only present when initially cranking up the air conditioner. The smell started to appear around May intermittently, and by August, it was a pretty strong odor that persisted for the first few minutes of running the air conditioner 100% of the time.

After some googling on the issue, it became apparent that it is quite commonplace for Model 3s to exhibit this behavior. What happens is that moisture builds up on the coils behind the cabin air filters. That moisture doesn’t dry, and after awhile, starts to get moldy. The fix was pretty simple – purchase some cleaning foam, remove the air filters, spray the coils, let them dry, and reassemble. Total cost of foam and replacement air filters comes in at around $66.

In my googling there were many accounts of Model 3 owners who got Tesla to pay for this ‘service’ (under warranty, of course), so I figured I’d give it a try myself. I scheduled a service appointment thru the Tesla app, and waited for the appointment.

A couple of days before the appointment I received a notification from a service advisor thru the app that the issue was a cleaning of the coils and replacement of the air filters, and that it was not covered under warranty. Total spec’d price of the ‘service’ was $137. So about double the cost of materials needed to perform this service myself. Since I was tired of hearing my wife complain about the odor, and short on time, I acquiesced and agreed to pay for the service.

On the day of service the technician arrived right when he was supposed to. I met him in my driveway, described the problem to him, and asked him if there was anything I could do to mitigate this problem from recurring. His response was that you can cut the air conditioner a few minutes before you turn the car off, giving the moisture time to dry before the car would sit in a cool garage. While the repair itself wasn’t cheap, I do have the peace of mind that if the smell returns within 6 months, Tesla will perform the service again at no charge.

Now, if you aren’t inclined to pay Tesla to perform this work, you can do it yourself. It’s what I would call a Level 1 repair. You have to take apart some panels on the passenger side to get to the air filters, and disconnect a cable. But otherwise, it’s a pretty easy repair. There are several videos on YouTube showing you how to do it.

Of course, you’ll need the proper foam and replacement air filters. Those can be purchased at Amazon, using the links below.

XTechnor Tesla Model 3 Model Y Air Filter HEPA 2 Pack with Activated Carbon Tesla Air Conditional Replacement Cabin Air Filter

Lubegard 96030 Kool-It Evaporator and Heater Foam Cleaner

One other thing to note – the air filters in my Model 3 were pretty nasty for only being 9 months old. In other cars, I would replace the cabin air filters about once every 12 months. The Model 3 might require replacing the filters a bit more frequently. Of course, your mileage may vary.