Tesla Dashcam USB Drive Setup with Sentry Mode and Music

Tesla Front Windshield Camera
Tesla Front Windshield Camera

One of the first things a new Tesla Model 3, Model Y, S or X owner usually asks is how to set up the Tesla Dashcam USB drive and how to use that same USB for Sentry Mode. All new Tesla vehicles have cameras around the vehicle that can record from various angles while driving or parked, great for extra security when if you want to record video footage from an accident (dashcam) or suspicious behavior near your parked car (Sentry Mode).

Until recently, it wasn’t as easy simply plugging in a USB drive. Now Tesla allows you to format a blank USB drive under Safety & Security in your vehicle’s Settings.

That said, if you’d like to have more control, for example, to partition the drive for both footage and music, we’ll show you how right here. Let’s dive in!

Compatible Vehicles

Tesla Dashcam and Sentry Mode work with vehicles with AP 2.5 or greater that were produced after in late 2017 (see A1 vs AP2 vs AP3 for more).

Also, be sure your Tesla software update is current (V10 or higher).

Tesla USB Ports & Compatible USB Drives

The Front Tesla USB Ports

In addition to charging your phone and other devices, the front USB ports in a Tesla can transfer data (the rear ones are for charging only).

Tesla Model 3 Front USB Ports
Tesla Model 3 and Model Y Front USB Ports

Specifically, the front USB ports work with the following types of data features:

  • Dashcam – The Tesla Dashcam continuously records footage from multiple cameras while you are driving but will only save the last 10 minutes if you press the dashcam icon (more on that later).
  • Sentry Mode – Sentry Mode on a Tesla watches your vehicle using its multiple cameras while parked and will automatically record any suspicious activity it senses.
  • Music – You can store your own MP3 music on a USB drive and access it from the Music menu when you plug in your USB drive.

Since there are a limited number of front USB ports, some people use one USB drive for all of the above (Dashcam and Sentry Mode normally use one drive, and Music another). We’ll get into that below.

Fast USB Drive Needed for Dashcam & Sentry Mode

The first thing you’ll want to get is a fast USB drive that can handle A LOT of read / write cycles. One of the biggest problems Tesla owners encounter with the Tesla Dashcam feature is using drives that are too slow or can’t handle the amount of reading and writing activity that the Tesla Dashcam pumps out. So, you’ll want fast and robust USB devices like the choices below.

Recommended Tesla USB Speed

The Tesla USB speed should be 4 MB/s or higher, HOWEVER, it must be able to sustain that rate for long periods of time, which is where most typical USB thumb drives fail, even if they say they are faster than 4 MB/s, which most are. Hence the reason we only recommend USB drives and Flash Cards designs for high read/write cycles for long periods of time.

We tried a USB stick, like this one as recommended by Tesla for music, which is rated for high speed and worked fine just for music, but when used for Dashcam it began failing after a couple months, giving us the following error message:

“Some clips not saved – USB too slow for Dashcam. Use USB drive that writes at 4 MB/s or higher. error code: MCU_w068”

Therefore, we recommend you stick with the ones below.

Recommended Tesla USB Drive Size

Secondly, you’ll want something with a lot of space (at least 128 GB or more) since both the Tesla Dashcam and Sentry Mode can eat up a lot of memory, especially since they record from multiple cameras at once. There’s currently no way to see how full your drive is so Dashcam and Sentry mode will just suddenly stop working, so it’s better to use a larger drive that needs space cleaning less often.

Our Recommended Tesla USB for Dashcam and Sentry Mode

Below we’ll outline the options that we recommend for Tesla USB drives that work with Tesla Dashcam and Tesla Sentry Mode.

Tesla Dashcam USB Drives - SSD and Flash

Our Recommended Tesla Dashcam: USB SSD Drive

The most robust (and favorite) option for most Tesla owners, especially Model 3 owners, is to use a USB SSD Drive. This Solid State Drive (SSD) is similar to the drives found in most laptops today but instead can connect to a computer via USB. The current favorite is the Samsung T7 drive:

Samsung T7 SSD Drive (Amazon)

While it’s larger than a USB flash drive and reader, it can be hidden under the Model 3 or Model Y compartment or under the Model X or S center console using a USB C cable like Tesla provides in this kit.

Other Option – Flash Memory Card with USB Reader

The second most popular option is to use a Flash Memory Card with a USB reader. Flash memory cards are meant to be written to and read from on a high-frequency basis, especially now with 4K digital video cameras. Again, Samsung makes a great flash card here and there’s also a small reader you can use to go with it. This is a great option is the SSD drive above is too bulky for you. This setup can directly and neatly plug into your USB port with no extra space needed.

Samsung PRO Endurance 128GB (Amazon)

SanDisk MobileMate USB 3.0 microSD Card Reader (Amazon)

Avoid – USB Thumb Drives for Dashcam

Avoid using USB thumb drives, even if they say they’re high speed. The biggest issue is that they wear out quickly and over time, you’ll get error messages.

That said, USB sticks, like this one are OK for Music if you use a separate USB drive, but not for Dashcam and Sentry Mode since they don’t hold up well over time.

Where to Put the USB Drive

Model 3 and Model Y USB Bay

The Tesla Model 3 and Model Y have lots of room by the USB ports where you can add things like additional USB hubs or other devices. If you want to keep your Model 3 or Model Y center console as neat as possible, check out the Jeda USB Hub, which is very popular.

Model S and X USB Bays

For the Model S and X, there’s less room to work with. You can either plug the smaller flash card reader directly into the open USB ports or buy a cable like the one that comes with the Tesla Model S/X Quick Connection Phone Dock (pick USB C) and hide the SSD drive under the center cubby area.

Formatting the USB Drive in Your Vehicle

As of the 2020.12.16 Tesla software update, you can now format your drive directly in your vehicle under the Safety & Security settings.

Formatting the USB Drive using a Computer

Tesla requires a special PC format called FAT32 for the USB drive, which we’ll explain how to format below.

Additionally, if you want Music on the same USB drive, you’ll want to partition it into two virtual drives. That’s a bit more advanced than just formatting the drive, but you’ll save having to use two USB drives and two USB ports: one for Dashcam and Sentry Mode, and one for Music.

Formatting the USB Drive on a Mac

On a Mac, use the Disk Utility app to format the drive. If you want to partition the drive for Music, follow the steps in the Partition section instead.

Tesla Dashcam USB Drive Format on MacOS
Format on MacOS using Disk Utility
  • Plug in the USB drive
  • Open Disk Utility
  • Select the USB Drive (double check it’s the correct one!)
  • Click the Erase button and use the following settings:
    • Name: TESLA (or MUSIC)
    • Format: MS-DOS (FAT)
    • Partition Map: Master Boot Record
  • Press Erase (if it fails at first, try again).
  • Once complete you will see the TESLA drive mounted on the desktop
  • Open the drive and create a new folder called “TeslaCam” (exactly like that, no quotes).
  • That’s it! Plug it into one of your Tesla’s front USB port and you should see the Dashcam icon appear shortly. For more on Dashcam, see below.

Formatting the USB Drive on a PC

On a PC, it’s a bit trickier for format (ironic, since FAT32 originated on PCs). Here you’ll need to download a utility for format a large USB drive as FAT32. The most popular one used by the Tesla community is this one:

http://www.ridgecrop.demon.co.uk/index.htm?guiformat.htm

Once you download the app, follow these steps (e.g. with a Windows 10 PC). If you’re not comfortable with these steps, enlist the help of someone who is, or watch the video below.

Tesla Dashcam USB Drive Format on Windows
Format on Windows using GUIFormat.exe
  • Plug in the USB drive
  • Open formatting app downloaded above and ensure your USB drive is selected (double check it’s the correct one by looking at the drive letter and size)
  • Leave the Allocation unit size to default
  • Change the Volume Label to TESLA (or MUSIC)
  • Press Start
  • After it’s completed, you’ll see the new drive on your PC
  • Open the drive and create a new folder called “TeslaCam” (exactly like that, no quotes).
  • That’s it! Plug it into one of your Tesla’s front USB port and you should see the Dashcam icon appear shortly. For more on Dashcam, see below.

Using Tesla Dashcam

Once you plug in a properly formatted FAT32 with a TeslaCam folder in the root (top) directory, Tesla Dashcam will automatically activate and start recording from the front-facing camera, side cameras (left and right repeaters) and the rear facing camera.

Turning Tesla Dashcam On and Off

When you insert the USB drive with the TeslaCam folder, you’ll see the camera icon appear at the top of the touchscreen in the status bar with a red dot to indicate it’s recording. Pressing and holding the dashcam icon will pause recording (so you can remove the drive, if needed).

Tesla Dashcam Icon States
Tesla Dashcam Icon States

Saving Tesla Dashcam Footage

Normally Dashcam will continually record the last 60 minutes footage from surrounding cameras (but overwrite anything older than that). If you want to record videos, you do so by pressing the Dashcam icon and it will save the last 10 minutes of footage.

Viewing Tesla Dashcam Footage on a Computer

To view Tesla dashcam video clips, insert the drive into your computer and open the TeslaCam folder. In there you’ll see three subfolders:

  • Recent Clips – the last 60 minutes of dashcam video
  • Saved Clips – Manually saved video clips
  • Sentry Clips – Sentry Mode video recordings

You can simply view these files with your favorite video viewer (note each camera is a separate file). You can also view dashcam video clips on your smartphone, but it’s a bit more advanced (see below).

Using Tesla Sentry Mode

Tesla Sentry Mode
Tesla Sentry Mode

As with Tesla Dashcam, Sentry Mode requires you to have a properly formatted FAT32 with the TeslaCam folder in the root (top) directory.

Turning On Sentry Mode

Once you plug in the USB drive, go to Controls > Safety & Security > Sentry Mode to activate it. Note that Sentry Mode only works if your vehicle has more than 20% battery remaining.

Sentry Mode Active States

There are three states to Sentry Mode:

  • Standby – the vehicle monitors the surroundings using its cameras
  • Alert – the vehicle detects a threat and displays Sentry Mode on the screen and saves the last 10 minutes of footage.
  • Alarm – if the vehicle senses a major threat (like Window breaking), it sounds an alarm for 30 seconds, records the last 10 minutes of footage and then returns to Standby.

Sentry Mode On-Screen Alerts

If an alert was triggered, you’ll see a note that says “3 Sentry Mode Events” (or similar). This is usually nothing to be concerned about and is generally people walking near the car. You can also set Sentry Mode to avoid turning on at Home, Work and/or Favorites.

View Sentry Mode Video Clips on a Computer

Finally, to retrieve the footage, you insert the USB drive on your computer, open the TeslaCam folder and then the Sentry Clips folder. There you’ll see the raw video files. You can also view Sentry Mode clips on your smartphone, but it’s a bit more advanced (see below).

Playing MP3 Music on a Tesla with a USB Drive

Whether you use a separate USB drive for music or partition the Dashcam / Sentry Mode drive, you still need to format it as FAT32, using the same instructions as above, but naming the drive MUSIC, for example, instead of TESLA.

There is no need to create a “TeslaCam” folder on your music drive. You can simply place the MP3 music into the root folder of the drive, but most people organize it into folders since you can browse those folders from your Tesla vehicle.

Viewing Video Clips in Your Vehicle

To view Sentry and Dashcam clips in your vehicle, ensure it’s in Park and click on the Dashcam icon. You’ll then see a dropdown menu allowing you to launch the Viewer. This is, by far, the best way to view footage and cycle through the various cameras.

Advanced: Viewing Video Clips on a Smartphone

You can view both Dashcam and Sentry Mode video clips on an Apple iPhone running iOS or Android phone if you have the right adapters and apps.

Adapters

This will depend on your setup and phone, but you’ll need to have an adapter that can connect your phone to the USB drive. Connecting to Android devices is fairly straightforward, but people have had trouble connecting to iPhone (given the connector’s power consumption messages).

Here are some adapter examples (we haven’t tested all these adapters personally so let us know if they do or don’t work). Again, the Apple connections are typically the trickiest.

Apps to view dashcam and Sentry Mode footage:

As mentioned previously, if you want a more plug-and-play solution for your smartphone, also check out the Roadie for Tesla product.

Advanced: Partitioning for Music

If you’d like to store your MP3 music on the same drive to save USB ports, you can partition the drive to include a music partition. Partitioning a drive essentially splits to the USB drive into virtual drives, one for the Dashcam / Sentry Mode and one for Music. This takes more effort than formatting a single volume, but can done by anyone generally comfortable with more advanced computer tasks.

If you don’t want to partition your drive, you can buy a simple USB Thumb drive like this one to store your music in the other USB port (or buy a USB hub for additional ports).

Partition Steps for Windows PC:

To partition the drive in Windows (e.g. Windows 10) use the Windows Disk Management app to create two NTFS partitions and then format those partitions using the FAT32 formatting app above.

Tesla Dashcam Partition for Music on Windows
Tesla Dashcam Partition for Music on Windows

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

  • From the Windows start menu, type ‘format’ into the search box and choose “Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions”. This will bring up the “Disk Management App”
  • With the USB Drive inserted, you should one of the Disks as the Removable with the size correlating to the disk size.
  • Right click on that disk in the white space area (be sure it’s the right one!), and select Delete Volume.
  • Then right click again in the disk white space area and select, “New Simple Volume”.
  • This will bring up a Wizard in which, as the first step, you specify the volume size of your first partition (can be any size you want, e.g. for Music). It will then assign a drive letter (like E), click Next.
  • On the next screen in the Wizard, choose:
    • File system: NTFS
    • Allocation unit size: Default
    • Volume label: MUSIC (for example).
    • Be sure Quick Format is checked
    • Press Next. Then click Finish.
  • You should now see two partitions on the drive in the Disk Management app. The one you just created and another, unallocated partition.
  • Next right click on the unallocated partition and do the same, except leave the size as the default suggestion and change the volume label (e.g. TESLA).
  • You will now have two drives (MUSIC and TESLA) that you can format using the downloaded formatting app as noted above.

Partition Steps for Mac:

To partition the FAT32 drive on a Mac you’ll use Disk Utility and first partition using Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and then switch the partitions to FAT32.

Tesla Dashcam USB Drive Partition for Music on MacOS
Tesla Dashcam USB Drive Partition for Music on MacOS

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

  • Open Disk Utility
  • Select the USB Drive
  • First press the Erase button to erase the drive using Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and Scheme: GUID Partition Map. Note, it may produce an error at first, try again.
  • Then create the partitions by clicking the Partition button.
  • Set the size of each partition and name them (e.g. MUSIC and TESLA). Be sure to leave the most room for TESLA, where Dashcam / Sentry will be stored
  • Set each partition to Format: FAT32 and press the Apply button to partition and format
  • You’re done and should see two drives on your desktop, MUSIC and TESLA.
  • Don’t forget to create the “TeslaCam” folder on your TESLA drive.

That’s it. If you’d like to see a video of someone setting it up, check out this one:

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Feedback

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