Tesla Doesn't Want You to Work on Its Cars

Bozi Tatarevic
by Bozi Tatarevic
tesla doesn t want you to work on its cars

Tesla Motors has been proud to state its focus is on selling cars and not trying to make profit from their service centers — but the real world results prove otherwise.

I stumbled on a thread where a Tesla owner with a failed part was able to purchase a replacement from the EV manufacturer. However, and this is key, Tesla would not supply instructions for installing it.

Tesla’s direct sales structure and independent nature allows it to bypass almost all regulations and agreements currently in place relating to service information and repair software. These regulations and agreements exist to allow owners and independent shops to have the same information and diagnostic tools as dealers so they have the ability to perform repairs properly on their own.

Tesla wants no part of it.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass a “Right To Repair” law in 2012 with 86 percent of the voters supporting the measure. The law requires motor vehicle manufacturers to provide the same diagnostic and repair resources to owners and independent shops as they would their franchised dealers. Many manufacturers already provide this information via service manuals and websites where access can be purchased.

The law also requires manufacturers to provide diagnostic tools for purchase. The manufacturers have provided access to purchase factory diagnostic tools or pass-thru devices which allow the same functionality in order to repair vehicles.

At first glance, Tesla appears like they are complying by the law as they have a service information website that allows owners and independent shops to purchase timed access. When I attempted to access the website and purchase one hour of access for $30, I was unable to proceed as the website only allows purchase by Massachusetts residents and shops.

My first thought was that the website was setup only to comply with the Massachusetts law, but I quickly found out that Tesla was not providing access to diagnostic software on the website, which is a requirement of that law.

The wording of the law defines a dealer as “any person or business who, in the ordinary course of its business, sells or leases new motor vehicles to consumers or other end users pursuant to a franchise agreement and who has obtained a class 1 license pursuant to sections 58 and 59 of chapter 140 and diagnoses, services, maintains or repairs motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines pursuant to said franchise agreement.” Tesla Motors operates a wholly-owned subsidiary in Massachusetts know as Tesla Motors MA which holds a class 1 license but does not have a franchise agreement since it is owned by Tesla Motors. Since there is no franchise agreement in place, it appears that Tesla Motors MA cannot be identified as a dealer in this law and, therefore, would not have to meet the requirements to provide service information and diagnostic software.

A lawsuit where the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association sued Tesla Motors MA and Tesla Motors Inc. to stop them from selling cars in the state provides more clarity on the definition. The lawsuit was based on a law that allowed franchised dealers to sue manufacturers for unfair selling practices. Tesla ultimately won the lawsuit as the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided that the dealers did not have a case as the law did not allow franchised dealers to sue unaffiliated manufacturers. One important piece of the judgement pertained to the definition of franchised dealers. The judgement included the following statement:

First, although the parties do not address this point, it is not entirely clear that the plain language of § 4 (c) (10) applies to the defendants’ conduct and renders it unlawful, as the plaintiffs contend. They maintain that § 4 (c) (10) prohibits a manufacturer such as Tesla, directly or through a subsidiary such as Tesla MA, from owning or operating in the Commonwealth “a motor vehicle dealership” selling its own line make of automobiles. “Motor vehicle dealership” is a term defined in c. 93B as:

“any person who, in the ordinary course of its business, is engaged in the business of selling new motor vehicles to consumers or other end users pursuant to a franchise agreement and who has obtained a class 1 license pursuant to the provisions of [G. L. c. 140, §§ 58 & 59]” (emphasis added).G. L. c. 93B, § 1, inserted by St. 2002, c. 222, § 3. Because neither Tesla nor Tesla MA is engaged in the business of selling new Tesla motor vehicles in Massachusetts “pursuant to a franchise agreement,” there appears to be a question whether Tesla’s business model involves the operation of a “motor vehicle dealership” within the meaning of c. 93B, § 4 (c) (10), and therefore whether, by its literal terms, the proscription of § 4 (c) (10) applies to the defendants at all.

The judgement put an emphasis on the clause “pursuant to a franchise agreement” since Tesla does not hold such an agreement in the state and couldn’t be considered a motor vehicle dealership. Even the highest court in the state is not able to label Tesla as a dealer, so it appears that Tesla and anyone else who has a similar sales structure can skate by and not follow the “Right-To-Repair” law.

It appears that Tesla has setup the service website for Massachusetts to look like they are providing the required information and voluntarily following the law. However, since they are not providing diagnostic software and tools, they are only following some portions of it. This seems to go against the Tesla Code of Business Ethics and Conducts that states in Section 1: “Obeying the law, both in letter and in spirit, is the foundation on which this Company’s ethical standards are built.”

Massachusetts may have been an isolated case as other states were considering “Right-To-Repair” legislation of their own and may have caught on to the Tesla exclusion if that legislation was given a chance. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts law ended up being used as the framework for “Right-To-Repair” agreements nationwide.

In order to prevent costly fights in each state, the aftermarket part and repair associations drafted up voluntary agreements with the two largest automotive manufacturing associations. The agreement between the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (now known as Auto Care Association), Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers was signed in January of 2014.

This new agreement cancelled all pending legislation and stated that the provisions, which include making a standardized diagnostic interface available to owners and independent shops, would go into effect with model year 2018. The agreement is a huge win for independent shops and owners as it will allow them access to proprietary software functions at a cost.

Tesla got away scot-free on two fronts when it comes to this agreement.

First, since they are not a member of either of the two automaker groups that signed the agreement, they do not have to abide by it. Second, since the agreement was based on the Massachusetts law, it still included a franchise agreement as part of the description for a dealer in the agreement, so even if Tesla joined an alliance they would still be exempt.

This is great news for Tesla and their $600 a year maintenance plans as it will force owners to come back to their service facilities for repair. Owners will be stuck taking their cars to Tesla service centers since even replacements of door handles require a firmware reinstall using the Tesla software.

Tesla declined to comment, but Aaron Lowe of the Auto Care Association was more than happy to speak. His organization is one of the biggest proponents of allowing consumers and independent repair shops access to work on vehicles and was involved in the law and agreement discussed above. He confirmed that the 2018 national agreement did not apply to Tesla and that the automakers that did sign the agreement have to provide a standardized cloud solution for diagnostic software.

Tesla has advertised themselves as an open company that wants to advance electric vehicle development and released patents in order to assist others in developing EVs. The open patent policy has also done Tesla a lot of good in boosting their image and brand loyalty. Some Tesla owners are defending the automaker by stating it should not release service information as it may help others reverse engineer Tesla’s product and ruin its image if someone were to, let’s say, cause a fire from performing a repair on their own. Service information is not going to help another automaker reverse engineer any Tesla product. Instead, they are more likely to buy a car and tear it down to see what’s inside. I believe our right to own a vehicle includes repair and precludes any right Tesla might have to boost their public image.

I thought about paying the $30 for one hour of access by putting in a Massachusetts zip code. However, a Youtuber who did something similar and shared some information with his viewers is apparently being sued by Tesla, so I decided against it.

On that note, Tesla is significantly more expensive than any other automaker when charging for service information. The Audi Service subscription allows 24-hour pass for $35, or a monthly pass for $250. This pass gives you access to service information along with with diagnostics and vehicle reflash software if you are an independent shop. Tesla, on the other hand, charges $100 for a 24-hour pass and $350 for a monthly pass for only the service information.

Tesla should be required to follow the path of the other automakers in providing service information and access to diagnostic software so owners and independent shops can repair their cars.

Maybe the industry groups I spoke with will take it up.

[Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0]

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  • NMGOM NMGOM on Oct 22, 2015

    Unlike the Model S, the upcoming Tesla Model X SUV will not live up to expectations nor be competitive with ICE SUV's that will also cost about $80K. Maybe that's why Elon said it's a little "crazy" to build this SUV. Why? Because battery-powered electric motors cannot sustain a high KW-output against a severe load for very long: the battery can't handle this mode without overheating and draining rapidly. It's no wonder that Tesla likes 0-60 acceleration for its sedan; its performance was "DNF" (overheating) around VIR when tested against comparable ICE cars (don't remember the number of laps). The test would be this: take a top quality ICE vehicle like the GMC Yukon Denali and load it with two passengers and 1,000 lbs of gear PLUS tow a 6000-lb boat with trailer. Do the same with the Model X. (That's Class-3 towing specs, alleged to be available for the Model X, but a Tesla engineer said it will do over 9,000 lbs.) Now use the new standard test (J2807) for other vehicles with these loads and tow-weights, and run them up Davis Dam Hill-climb**, a 12-mile length averaging a 5% grade. The rules are no overheating, no limp-home mode, and no speeds under 40 mph once that is achieved. Measure average speed and time to complete the run. Then do it with both again. And again: three times. Conditions: air-conditioner on full; no refueling; no recharging; no time lapse between runs. Let's see what happens... --------------- ** Here are some links that deal with new pickups doing this test, which is not exclusive to pickups: 1) http://special-reports.pickuptrucks.com/2015/01/2015-annual-physical-davis-dam-towing.html 2) http://special-reports.pickuptrucks.com/2011/08/2011-heavy-duty-hurt-locker-davis-dam-grade-climb.html --------------- ========================

  • NMGOM NMGOM on Oct 22, 2015

    According to today's "Autonews Now", Consumer Reports no longer recommends the Model S: http://www.autonews.com/article/20151021/VIDEO/310219962/autonews-now-ferrari-zips-onto-wall-street?cciid=email-autonews-annow =============

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