I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.
Original story here. A quick recap: Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker contacted Tesla CEO Elon Musk regarding a dead battery in his car. Drucker’s car died after he left his Roadster parked, without leaving it plugged in for two months. The vehicle subsequently died. The car was towed to a Tesla service center and a technician determined that his battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000. Drucker sent an angry letter to CEO Elon Musk admonishing him for poor customer service.
– The Tesla “bricking” story broke on the blog of Michael Degusta. Degusta and Drucker have a long history as business partners. This was not disclosed. I contacted Degusta, who said he would put me in touch with an owner who has had their car “bricked” (he did not say if it was Drucker or one of the other four affected owners) and refused to put me in touch with the Tesla service manager who claimed that, among other things, Tesla was tracking vehicles by GPS without the owner’s consent. I was reluctant to take those claims at face value – now they can’t be independently verified. On Degusta’s blog, he discusses an owner of Roadster #340, who parked his car in a temporary garage, sans charger, while his home is being renovated. This is consistent with Drucker’s emails to Tesla – but also consistent with Drucker at best not following the protocol outlined in various documents (obtained via Green Car Reports) and the Tesla Roadster’s manual, or at worst, being negligent. Drucker’s Roadster wouldn’t have the Tesla GSM connection that can alert Tesla to low battery charge conditions. Those were only installed after the first 500 Roadsters were produced. Degusta makes a big stink about the GPS tracking of the Roadsters, but is on record claiming that, and Degusta is unwilling to back that claim up beyond anecdotal evidence.
– A copy of the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual (covering the Tesla Roadster S and Roadster 2.5. Link is at the bottom of the page for you to peruse yourself), states in numerous places that owners are not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. Doing so, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery, and such damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement. This is spelled out in numerous places in greater detail throughout the manual. Scans of these pages are available in the gallery below. In addition, there is an agreement which owners must sign at the time of purchase that has the owner acknowledge the responsibility of maintaining a proper battery charge, and that any damage that results from negligence in this area is not covered under warranty. Degusta’s complaints that the “Battery Reminder Card” handed out to owners during servicing don’t contain adequate warnings of the consequences are also misleading, as the consequences are spelled out in the aforementioned documents.
– The Tesla Roadster’s battery, unlike those in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, is made up of 6831 “consumer commodity cells”, basically laptop or cellphone type cells that combine to make up the battery pack. These batteries use Cobalt Dioxide chemistry, which is the most energy dense, and prone to decaying with time as well as use. This is not the case in the Volt or Leaf, which use different chemistry. In addition, the “state of charge” used by the Tesla pack is different; when a Tesla range indicator displays “zero miles”, it could have 5 percent of the battery life left. If the car is then parked without charging, it may drain to zero, leaving the car “bricked”. A Volt, on the other hand, may actually have one half to one third of the battery pack’s life left upon displaying “zero miles”; it only uses 10.4 kW out of its 16kW battery. Exact figures for a Tesla battery weren’t available, but are said to be much higher.
-It’s theoretically possible to revive a “bricked” consumer cell via slow trickle charging, in the same way that a dead iPod or laptop can be brought back to life if left to charge for a very long time after months of not being used.
So, we know for sure that it’s possible for a Tesla to “brick”. Tesla has admitted it in a statement, but also seems to have provided ample warnings that it could happen and that it can easily be prevented. These measures, along with the structure of the warranty agreement, leads us to believe that a product liability lawsuit is highly unlikely (a former auto industry lawyer we spoke to agreed, though cautioned that California’s Lemon Laws were the most liberal of any of the 50 states).
Of course, Tesla could have replaced the battery pack in good faith (and maybe had Drucker and the others sign an NDA agreement that also absolves Tesla of any responsibility for the pack’s failure), but for some reason, they didn’t. In the gallery below, we have scans of the manual. You can read the manual for yourself here.