All cars have issues, and sadly Tesla is no exception. We set out below what we believe to be the most common issues with the cars and just as importantly, how Tesla are responding to the problems.
Tesla used to pride themselves on offering exemplary customer service, today the situation is more complex. The staff are usually willing to help but delays of up to 3 months to get an appointment, the denial by Tesla on certain issues citing 'within tolerance' and the refusal to accept and address some significant design defects are now all too common. Not all owners suffer from problems, some cars will be fine and some owners have a lower expectation or greater tolerance to issues, but we feel Tesla are leaning on the goodwill of Tesla owners too much at times.
As an example, Tesla are also publicly pushing out certain messages like the million mile battery/car while in the background have reduced the warranty provision on car batteries from unlimited mileage to a fixed mileage and moreover the exclusion of range losses from degradation calculations caused by software updates. For balance, Tesla now do warrant a degradation figure on all new cars sold, however we still feel marketing hype and the commercial contract are heading on opposite directions.
A large number of the earlier 85 batteries are now have significant issues with Tesla reducing the available capacity of these significantly. Owners have reported as high as 50 mile range reductions leaving the cars with a working range of 170 miles or less. This is done through a software update by limiting the voltage the battery cells can charge too and thought to be in response to an increased fire risk although Tesla claim they only make changes to the software to extend the battery life. Tesla gave no warning they would do this, and not all 85 and early 75 batteries are hit by it, but many are and it is not easy to see which. This is not the only case where Tesla are making changes to the cars via software updates which are to the detriment of the owner with the goal of pushing issue to outside the waranty window.
There is a related problem that the maximum charge rate on any rapid charger including superchargers. Some owners or earlier cars are now charging at a maximum rate as low as 60kw when previously they may have exceeded 100kw. The overall charge rate profile also seems to have been charged for all cars and while there is some increase in short term 'headline' charge rates on later models, the overall time to charge has been getting longer due to a quicker reduction in charge speed as the battery fills up. Regenerative braking has also been reduced significantly when the battery is mildly cold with cars taking longer to reach full regenerative performance in the winter in many countries and supercharging performance is similarly requires the battery to be in a more optimal state to achieve the fastest rates.
The 90 battery pack, especially the early ones, have been known for some premature failures although these will all have been sorted now. They also suffered from some early degradation which was higher than normal and almost reverted these models to the capacity of an 85. They also suffered from some supercharging throttling. Not all 90 batteries were affected by this, and by the time the facelift MS came out and the MX was launched, the issues had been resolved. Owners of older cars still need to be mindful of the issue.
These combined issues can hamper long distance travel quite significantly requiring more charging stops and slower charging. Tesla largely deny these things are an issue and when issues are reported they run a remote diagnostic and tell owners the cars are working as expected. The two issues are known as #batterygate and #chargegate
The large central screen on is called the media control unit or MCU for short. This is one of Tesla's supposed strengths and the car captures extensive information while in use by the MCU. This information is used for a range of things but in general it's helped improve the product, diagnose issues and capture evidence in the case of abuse. Unfortunately, the very thing that is meant to be improving the product has been a design weakness.
The MCU uses eMMC flash memory and if this is updated too often it can eventually fail rendering the whole MCU useless. As the memory was been written to constantly, this is exactly what happened on cars with the earlier MCU1 screens.
It's unknown whether the later MCU2 also has this issue fixed but as it has a much larger memory buffer and Tesla have now reduced the amount of data it logs it's unlikely to ever reach the point where this becomes an issue for the owner. It's the older cars with MCU1 where this is an increasingly common issue with the car and likely because the failure is related to usage and time. Tesla are currently not accepting this as a warranty issue or defective product design even though this is on a par with the Apple Battery. To find out which version a car has see our guide to find out what hardware versions a Tesla has.
The MCU memory issue is not the only issue with the MCU. A very common problem is the appearance of a yellow band around the edge of the screen. It's caused by the glue behind the screen failing and while the screen will require replacing, it still generally functions ok. Tesla originally replaced the screens but found these developed the fault again. They now have a technique with a UV light which manages to change the colour back with reasonable (not always perfect) results. Whether the fix lasts is still unknown.
Quite a few owners report the heating element failing. They hear a loud pop in the cabin and the heating then stops working, the heating matrix has failed. It's such a common issue with Tesla cars, service centres are now holding stock of the part and the fix is relatively painless taking a few hours under warranty. Primarily a MX issue although it does occur especially on facelift MS cars too.
Tesla are not accepting this is a design defect and if the failure occurs out of warranty they will charge you for the fix.
Model S door handles have been a long-term irritant for owners with some owners having had the door handles replaced multiple times. They typically fail in one of 3 ways. They either fail to present, fail to return or when pulled, fail to open the door. Tesla have recognised the issue and have revised the part multiple times. The problem is so prolific, we've created a guide to the Tesla Model S door handle detailing the different failures and listing what parts you need to repair the door handle.
Tesla refuse however to acknowledge the part is a design defect and should be either recalled or replaced even when out of warranty.
Tesla cars are heavy and the suspension can take some punishment. A number of faults can occur.
On full lock, in reverse, the front suspension pops apart and collapses. The car is un-driveable. Tesla have argued with a number of owners that they must have hit a pothole or otherwise damaged the suspension, but the failure scenario is all too familiar. Try to avoid full lock and reverse if possible, especially when it's cold and the suspension bushes are cold and more brittle.
Under hard braking, the front suspension arms have been known to simply sheer. Tesla again deny the problem saying any weakness will have been caused by accident damage.
This is an issue that occurs to many cars with led lights. Moisture gets in and eventually the light unit can fail. Depending how bad, Tesla will consider replacing under warranty, but if it's just a very small amount and only some of the time, it's just mild condensation. If the light seems to fill up with water beyond a quarter of the height, then its clearly not draining and is an issue.
The Cinch motor is the mechanism that locks the Model S trunk and can fail. There is no easy fix if you experience a cinch motor failure, and the fault typically results in the car thinking the trunk is open even though it is partly closed and as such you can't open it and you can't easily lock the car. The work around to lock the car until you can get it repaired is to simply lock the car from the driver's seat with the driver's door open via the big screen (click on the padlock). It's inconvenient but not as inconvenient as leaving the car unlocked.
The steering has a universal joint that is relatively exposed and over time this can seize up making the steering feel very strange, reduces the self centring nature of the steering and in extreme conditions can make the steering almost impossible to turn. With Tesla's stance that these cars need extremely limited servicing this issue will not be addressed as part of periodic maintenance and probably should be. The issue can be fixed relatively but given the potential safety related nature of steering issues we would much prefer this to be a maintenance item, something Tesla won't recommend.
The Model X suffers from some of the same problems as the model S, primarily because it shares many of the components. The common issues are:
The Model X was launched after the 85 battery packs and most of the 90 battery pack issues had been resolved by the time the MX was launched. The Model X does however some issues unique to itself
The rear doors of the Model X can play up. Tesla reduced the sensitivity of the safety mechanisms early on to address the situation where the car was not level, but the door sensors which have to see through the door skin can fail preventing the door from being opened.
The rear doors of the Model X when open and its been raining can let in water. This tends to be a new car issue where the seals have been installed incorrectly and need to be refitted. These seals may also fail over time and require replacement. Its not a big job, more just an annoyance.
The rear doors when closed have a bump stop that over time has worn through to the metal. Tesla have evolved the design over time to reduce this, and how noticeable the problem is varies by car colour. There is no real cure although some paint protection film in the areas may help to reduce the wear.
The model 3 was a new platform and Tesla seem to have learnt from a number of the previous issues, however they have also introduced some new ones. Most of the Model 3 issues are factory issues and not ones that develop over time so the owner or a good condition car is likely to run into fewer problems over time, however getting a car in good condition can be harder than it should be because of Tesla's stance.
Of the previous faults, the light condensation problem is the same on the Model 3.
There are fairly significant and widespread alignment issues with the trunk, frunk, doors and even fixed panels which Tesla dismiss as within tolerance. Some owners have taken to adjusting panels themselves, especially frunk and trunk to get an even panel gap on each side as optically the car can look twisted.
The paint is thin on the Model 3 in part because production has been constrained by the paint shop. The paint can also suffer from run marks and sanding marks and a number of car detailers refuse to touch Model 3 cars if following an inspection they are concerned. Some have reported that paint simply lifts off when using masking tape, trying to remove a paint protection film or even a slightly enthusiastic use of a jet wash.
A number of Model 3s are experiencing the rear glass of the car cracking requiring replacement. There is typically no impact damage and the failure is thought to be a stress fracture from body flex in use.
Tesla typically deny the issue is the car is more than a few weeks old.
This is one of the most serious concerns you could possibly have with a car. In the UK an owner found his steering wheel nut was missing and the steering wheel literally came away in their hand. Thankfully this was an exception. But rear seat belts not being bolted into place have also been discovered and undercover panels with missing attachments. We'd class this as a general rushed state of build and the problem can occur anywhere on the car. Tesla have built many Model 3 cars and few cars suffer from this problem, but it is still a concern when picking up a new car.
The under tray was originally a material that once wet would disintegrate. When cars in wetter climates started having the problem Tesla tried to pass the problem back saying the drivers had driven through water. They now have an improved part they will fit upon failure but it is still unclear whether Tesla will always accept this is a warranty matter.
The under tray is not the only panel to suffer when driving in water. The rear bumper on a number of cars has come off the car while driving in water and Tesla are now starting to accept that this may be a design issue. Driving on wet roads is thought not to be a problem unlike the under tray, the problem seems to be when driving through deeper standing water. Unlike the under tray issue, it is not clear whether there is a fix for this problem, or whether the two are somehow related where a failing under tray allows water pressure to build up behind the bumper.
The model 3 seems to suffer from leaks especially into the trunk. These usually relate to badly installed seals, a problem Tesla have also experienced with the Model X.
As of Oct 2020 it is too early to really understand the typical issues with the Model Y although many of the issues found on the Model 3 still seem to occur on the Model Y. While some have reported improvements in the car design, the build quality still seems to be suffering.
In addition to model specific issues there are issues that related to the technology that is common across all models.
This is probably the most significant and dangerous issue with autopilot beyond driver abuse. The car can simply brake hard and unexpectedly while driving along. There have been some well publicised fatal accidents with the car failing to detect obstacles in the road, the first being Joshua Brown driving underneath a lorry that had pulled across his path. When designing AI and Machine Learning type systems, the challenge is always to balance the false negatives and false positives. The choice can be between thinking there is an obstacle in your path and taking avoiding action even when there isn't or to ignore a real obstacle because you are not 100% sure. It seems Tesla are now erring on the side of accepting false positives and as a result a shadow across the road may get interpreted as an obstruction and cause the car to brake until the car is sure it isn't or the driver takes over. This is of course very unnerving and the longer it takes the car to realise all is well, the more the car has braked and the more likely the car may be hit from behind. There is no answer until Tesla improve the cars capabilities.