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The most common Tesla Model S problems
A survey by the UK’s long-running automobile publication, What Car, found nearly 38% of Tesla Model S buyers experienced problems during ownership [What Car]. Some of the most common trouble areas are the electric drive motors, door handles, interior trim, touchscreen display and suspension.
The Tesla Model S has an electric motor (all-wheel drive versions have two motors) integrated into a drive unit with the inverter and gearbox. Although the concept sounds good on paper, there are many complaints of the drive unit failing early on – and being replaced multiple times.
Typically, the issue starts with a whining or grinding noise under acceleration. Further down the line,the problem may progress, resulting in vehicle stalling and other drivability issues.
Even automotive website, Edmunds, experienced the issue with its 2013 model year test vehicle. During the publication’s possession of the car, journalists experienced problems that resulted in the drive unit being replaced four (yes, four!) times under warranty.
The problems startedwith the infamous whining noise, which began at just 11,000 miles [Green Car Reports]. Tesla replaced the drive unit in an attempt to address the concern.
And it helped – but just for a bit. With just 8,000 more miles on the odometer, the Model S died on a freeway on-ramp. The car rode a flatbed to the dealership where it was determined that the drive unit had failed once again.
With a fresh drive unit sitting between the wheel wells, the Edmunds team decided to take the Tesla on a cross-country road trip. The car made the trek, but shortly after reaching its destination, a “milling noise” was heard coming from the powertrain. Shortly after, Tesla installed yet another drive unit in the car.
All in all, the Edmunds test vehicle had four drive units in under 30,000 miles. Granted, the car was a 2013 model, and the drive units seem to have improved since then, but it’s still something to consider if you own (or are thinking about buying) a Model S.
The door handles found on the Tesla Model S are innovative and– above all else – really cool. When the handles aren’t needed, they retract to improve aerodynamics; when the door needs to be opened, they pop out for easy access. Or at least that’s the idea.
Sadly, many owners complain of the handles failing early on. In fact, in its survey of 1,278 Model S cars built between 2012 and 2014, Consumer Reports found 31 with lock and latch problems.
Although that may not seem like a high number, Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at CR said, “These are unusually high problem rates,” he added. “The average problem rate for locks and latches is less than one-half of 1 percent for each of the model years 2012 through 2014[Green Car Report].”
On the NHTSA website, one owner writes, “The right rear door handle became non-functional when attempting to open the car from outside the car. After service by the manufacturer (Tesla), the door handle became exteriorly functional, although to a decreased amount compared to optimal performance, but was left in a state of inoperability from the interior of the car [NHTSA].”
The door handles, though really cool, are also overly complex. When a driver approaches the Model S, the key fob sends a signal to the car over the data network. The vehicle then sends a message to the four individual computers located inside each of the door handles. In turn, the computers activate a motor that pops the handle out. A trio of micro switches tells the system what position the handle is in and when to move it in or out.
So, why exactly do these space-aged door handles fail? In some instances, it seems the car’s proximity sensors don’t recognize the key fob. Other times, the micro switches, wiring, a motor or a door computer may be the problem.
Here are some actual complaints logged with the NHTSA about the Tesla Model S Door Handle Problems:
WE HAVE HAD THE CAR (PURCHASED USED WITH 24K MILES) FOR 7 MONTHS AND HAVE NOW HAD TO HAVE A SECOND DOOR HANDLE REPLACED. WHEN BROKEN, THE DOOR HANDLES WILL PRESENT BUT NOT OPEN. THIS CAN BE DANGEROUS WHEN IN BAD WEATHER OR NEIGHBORHOODS. BECAUSE THESE ARE ELECTRIC SELF PRESENTING HANDLES, THEY COST $800 WHEN NOT COVERED BY WARRANTY (OURS STILL ARE). APPARENTLY THIS IS A VERY COMMON PROBLEM WITH OTHER TESLA OWNERS HAVING TO REPLACE MULTIPLE DOOR HANDLES. THEIR IS CLEARLY A FLAW IN THE DESIGN OF THESE DOOR HANDLES THAT TESLA HAS NOT RECTIFIED. FORCING CUSTOMERS TO PAY $800 FOR OUT OF WARRANTY DEFECTIVE DOOR HANDLES SEEMS UNREASONABLE.
A car with a base MSRP of over $75,000 should be rattle-free. But many Model S owners complain of an unnerving symphony of noises emanating from the car’s interior panels.
One such individual is Tyler Martin. Martin, who owns a 2016 Model S, made a 25-minute YouTube video documenting his problems with the car. The laundry list included, among other issues, insistent rattling from two of the doors. A Tesla technician fixed the problem, however, soon after, Martin noticed the passenger door trim coming off [Jalopnik].
On the Tesla forum, one owner proclaims, “I have got my new S 100D built March 2017. I have more and more rattles from the dash, windshield and posts. It is very disappointing, for a car of this magnitude ! Only 1500 miles. Also an important air leak from the driver window has been fixed. Just found another one from the triangle window of the passenger side [Tesla].”
Tesla maintains that the car’s electric powertrain is exceptionally quiet, so subtle noises are more noticeable than in an internal combustion-powered vehicle.
Perhaps the Model S needs some type of active noise cancellation that drowns out interior squeaks and rattles, as well as road noise. Elon Musk has teased about adding a feature that would adjust the car’s stereo system volume in response to wind and road noise. Though so far, nothing has materialized [Teslarti]
The Tesla Model S comes with a massive, 17-inch touchscreen display sitting prominently in the middle of the dashboard. Indeed, the device is an eye-catching piece – but unfortunately, it’s also known for being problematic. Owners complain of issues like yellow lines through the screen, as well as the much bigger problem of complete failure.
On Reddit, one owner complains, “This is getting ridiculous. My 2014 S touchscreen failed in August, took a month to replace and I got the car back in September. When I got back from holiday travel in the first week of Jan (car had been sitting idle for 2 weeks, but in my garage plugged in), the touchscreen had died. Now, less than three weeks later, the touchscreen has failed yet again. Once they replace it, that will be the fourth unit in a few months.”
“Worth noting that both of the replacement units thus far have been refurbished units, which could explain why they fail so quickly. I’m going to insist that Tesla install a new unit this time, because this is getting out of hand, and it would be completely unacceptable for them to install yet another refurbished unit only for it to fail within a matter of weeks/months. At this point, I feel like I kind of deserve a complimentary upgrade to LTE with a new unit…[Reddit]”
Tyler Martin, the owner who made the 25-minute complaint video, also had problems with his touchscreen display. Like many others, his car developed a weird yellow line through the center of the display.
Of the problem, Martin said, “In my mind, Tesla’s core competency is their technology. And that 17-inch touchscreen is the embodiment of Tesla’s technological prowess. If the car is built poorly enough that simple things are routinely failing, then is it such a stretch to worry about what the long term viability is for the major mechanical components?”
As high-tech as the Model S is, there are still many traditional parts found throughout the car. For example, the control arms – suspension components that allow the wheel to move up and down – have a design that’s similar to most other vehicles. The problem is, the control arms (also called fore links) on some Model S cars “may not meet Tesla strength specifications” [NHTSA], according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
On the NHTSA site, one complaint reads, “The contact owns a 2016 Tesla Model S. While driving approximately 5 mph, the front driver side wheel seized and the vehicle came to an immediate stop.The failure occurred without warning. The vehicle was towed to Tesla Service Center (457 Pleasant St, Watertown, MA) where it was diagnosed that driver and passenger side link assemblies were defective and needed to be replaced.”
According to the Daily Kanban, Tesla released a technical service bulletin (TSB) in March of 2015 that indicates that “greater free play than expected” can develop in the suspension’s steel ball joints, which can damage the aluminum control arm [Daily Kanban].
There have been rumors of Tesla requesting owners sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for repair of the suspension components. Though, the automaker maintains it only occasionally asks for a Goodwill Agreement when services are provided above and beyond what’s required by warranty [Teslarti].
Here are some actual complaints logged with the NHTSA about the Tesla Model S Suspension Problems:
THE LEFT FRONT FORE LINK BALL JOINT SNAPPED LIKE GLASS DURING NORMAL DRIVING. LUCKILY I WAS GOING AT RELATIVELY LOW SPEED ON A SIDE STREET. THIS ALLOWED THE SUSPENSION TO ALLOW THE WHEEL TO SLAM INTO THE FIREWALL AND IT LOCKED UP CAUSING THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE VEHICLE TO HIT A CURB. AS AN ENGINEER THIS SCARES THE DAYLIGHTS OUT OF ME, AS IF IT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED ON A HIGH SPEED HIGHWAY TURN, THE RESULTS COULD HAVE BEEN DEADLY. EVEN WITHOUT AN UNDERSTANDING OF ADVANCED METALLURGY, IT’S CLEAR THAT A HARDENED STEEL BALL JOINT SHOULD BE STRONGER THEN THE SURROUNDING ALUMINUM ALLOY PARTS ON EITHER SIDE THAT IT ATTACHES TO. IT LOOKS LIKE A GLASS ROD HIT WITH A HAMMER. THIS SAME THING HAPPENED TO ANOTHER 2014 IN OUR FAMILY ABOUT A YEAR AGO, AND I CHALKED IT UP TO RANDOM FAILURE. BUT NOW 2 FAILURES?
THE SUSPENSION HAS COLLAPSED ON ALL 4 WHEELS. THE FRONT WHEEL HAS BEEN SMASHED TO PIECES. THIS IS NOT A ONE OFF EVENT. THERE IS A CLEAR PATTERN OF FAILURE. PLEASE INVESTIGATE.
Will the quality of the Model S improve?
Earlier “beta versions” of the Model S were more troublesome than the late model variants, sure. But the car continues to slide up and down the Consumer Reports recommendation list. In 2018, Tesla as a whole dropped to third-worst in reliability on CR’s Annual Auto Reliability Survey. Meanwhile, the Model S fell to below average.
“While the Tesla Model S appears very similar physically to the car that launched 6 years ago, Tesla has made many significant mechanical and software changes over the past few years. Just as we’ve seen with many other manufacturers, major changes and updates can cause reliability to slide. It can take a year or two for carmakers to work out the kinks with new technology,” said Jake Fisher, director of Auto Testing at CR. “Making air suspension and all-wheel-drive (AWD) standard in the 2017 model has added more complexity and more things that could potentially falter [Forbes].”
In other words, although some of the original kinks have been worked out, new ones may be on the horizon.
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