By on April 18, 2017

Snowstorm/Tesla Motors Club forum]

Earlier this month, we detailed the plight of a Toronto-area man whose newly delivered Tesla Model S 90D — a six-figure vehicle boasting cutting-edge technology — arrived from the factory with a sizable crack in the A-pillar.

Because the A-pillar forms part of a one-piece aluminum side member, the defect represented a structural fault that couldn’t be ignored. It wasn’t the kind of PR Tesla wanted, especially as it ramps up production (and stock value) ahead of the Model 3 launch, and it certainly wasn’t something a first-time owner and admitted Tesla fan wanted to find.

After airing his story on the Tesla Motors Club forum, the owner provided TTAC with updates on his vehicle’s status.

The owner, who goes by the name Snowstorm on the forum, acted quickly after finding the Red Sea-like crack. Though he ran into some attitude from his delivery specialist early on, the crack was obviously a manufacturing-related imperfection, not a fault of the new owner. So, after a some back-and-forth with his local Tesla service center, it was off to the certified body shop for his Model S.

And, in the body shop it remains.

Image: Snowstorm/Tesla Motors Club forum]

“Right now, the car is at the local certified body shop,” the owner wrote on April 9th. “They just completed their evaluation and sent his assessment to Tesla engineering to determine how to fix this. The manager says if it is up to him, he’ll repair it rather than replace, as a replacement will be very invasive.”

That potential remedy rubbed the owner the wrong way, as he doubted the side member was capable of actually being repaired. After telling the service manager he’d like to have a new car built, he was told to wait to hear his options.

The next day, the owner received his wish.

“Dustin, the regional service manager here contacted me and said they’ll rebuild my car,” he wrote. “I don’t know how the logistics will work out due to the lease, [and] government rebate applications. The price and options are also different now for the Model S.”

At this point, the owner claimed he felt confident in the process, adding the Tesla team has been very accommodating. He returned to the online vehicle configuration page to help rebuild the new Model S, as there were options he neglected to check off the first time around.

Yesterday, more news from our Torontonian Tesla owner:

I’ve just send in my request for a re-build yesterday to Dustin who is now working with his team to figure out the logistics of how Tesla will take my vehicle back, build a new one and transfer the lease. I was planning to add the rear facing seats since I now have an extra child. The pricing structure has changed quite a bit since I last ordered mine 6 months ago and just changed again, so I am in uncharted territories on that now.

Eventually, an uncracked Model S will return to the owner’s driveway. Still, he wonders about what caused such a significant crack in the A-pillar, and how it passed under the noses of quality control inspectors at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory undetected. So far, no answers.

(We fielded several emails from auto industry employees who pointed to the stamping process as the logical source of the defect, but that’s up to Tesla to confirm.)

“My original car is still in the Toronto area body shop according to my app, but Dustin said they’ll be shipping it back to the factory for examination,” the owner wrote. “Hopefully, the original build process is well recorded so they can see what/who missed this and prevent this from reoccurring.”

If the owner hears anything from Tesla on that front, we’ll dutifully pass the information along.

[Image: Tesla Motors Club Forum]

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34 Comments on “Owner of Tesla With Cracked A-pillar Gets Action, But No Answers...”

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Yeah, that is probably the best outcome. I don’t think I’d buy another one based on this and all of the other stories of lax QC at Tesla, but frankly if you want this sort of vehicle they are sort of the only game in town and if they made the owner happy good on them.

  • avatar

    Isn’t the Tesla Factory the old NUMMI facility? Maybe the building is just cursed.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes the plant was crap in the 60s and 70s but the cars built there during the joint venture seem to have been nothing short of awesome in their build quality (Wife’s 2005 Vibe as evidence.)

      The only “curse” on the place is that GM was dumb enough to think that by doing the joint venture they would get some sort of secret sauce out of Toyota that they could just slather on everything and “POOF!” Toyota levels of quality for GM products!

      • 0 avatar

        My 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was built at the Fremont plant and exhibited no problems for seventeen years. The third owner now has it and it is still running fine.

        • 0 avatar

          The Fremont Plant had a reputation for drug use and recreational intercourse during the 60s and 70s. I’m glad you got a good one.

          • 0 avatar

            @PrincipalDan: “The Fremont Plant had a reputation for drug use and recreational intercourse”

            Interesting. Is that written up anywhere on the net? I totally believe it. I can confirm there were plenty of hidden away places in that plant where you could slip away pretty easily for some privacy with a co-worker. I’m curious if it happened in any of the places I suspect.

            At the Arlington TX plant, I used to sometimes take short cuts across the roof and I’d find booze bottles up there. There were ladders and hatches to access it and it was a good way to get around the plant fast. I suspect that was the place to go for any extra-curricular break activity.

            The most stoned workers I ever saw was the Tarrytown NY GMAD Plant. Numerous workers and it was obvious. The place was this darkly lit hell hole. None of the nice bright lighting that you’d get in the newer plants.

          • 0 avatar


            It’s mentioned in passing in the link above. Harvard Business Review had an article about changing the plants culture as well.


      • 0 avatar

        No kidding. My wife had a NUMMI-built ’92 Corolla that she bought new, and it was pretty solid, with the exception of the GM parts on it, like the Delco alternators, and the the inside door handles, that were a bit fragile.

        We sold it with 160k on the clock, to a friend, for her 16yo daughter. The daughter rear-ended someone and totaled it a month later. I’m still bummed, 14 years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually all of the cars built at NUMMI (after it became a joint venture) are fine vehicles, and many are still on the road. Corollas, pontiac vibes, toyota matrices, and geos. I’d go as far as to say that NUMMI cars were some of the best built GM cars when they came out. It was both Toyota’s worst and GM’s best factory concurrently.

    • 0 avatar

      This American Life had a nice little show on the Nummi plant. Recommend giving it a listen.

  • avatar

    This is a complete common sense fail. Regardless of which car company churned this out, if I took delivery of a car with this type of problem, there’s not way in Haiti I’d have a “Thank you sir, may I have another” moment. That’s some serious Kool-Aid being ingested.

    I don’t care how great the brand is. If that type of structural integrity/safety issue made it through the QC phase and no one caught it, I wouldn’t have much confidence in the company making said product.

    • 0 avatar

      How many Teslas on the road have cracks from the factory I wonder? If it isn’t in a place that can be seen outside, most people would have no idea until the car crumples in a crash.

    • 0 avatar

      “This is a complete common sense fail. Regardless of which car company churned this out, if I took delivery of a car with this type of problem, there’s not way in Haiti I’d have a “Thank you sir, may I have another” moment. That’s some serious Kool-Aid being ingested.”

      And this is where you’d let your prejudices outweigh your logic. Anybody, and I do mean ANYBODY would first determine how the factory would resolve the issue. In this case, the factory has decided to replace the defective one with a brand-new one–not even just one fresh off the assembly line but rather custom-built to order. That’s the sign of a company that, at least for now, cares about its customers and its own reputation. Far too often have we seen where any of the others will only go so far as, “We fix this one or you choose another one off the lot.”

      A crack like the one shown is almost certainly a one-off that may have come from either a defect in the aluminum during stamping or the expansion of a crack during the assembly process from having a too-sharp corner in the stamping process. Either way, the factory getting it back is a definite chance for the company to analyze and re-design to eliminate a re-occurrance of the defect.

      • 0 avatar

        Every Tesla is “custom-built to order”. There aren’t any “off the lot” to choose from, even if they wanted to.

        (Frankly, I wish more auto brands would build like this, but for supply-chain reasons, they don’t.)

      • 0 avatar

        “And this is where you’d let your prejudices outweigh your logic. ”

        You mean where I’m prejudiced against a car making it through production, QC and delivery and no one noticing this structural flaw?

        BTW, if this story was about BMW, Honda, Ford, etc. my reaction would be the same. Poor qc is unacceptable. Maybe your expectations are different than mine are.

  • avatar

    I worked in a Chevy Dealer in the 90s. We would occasionally get a Geo Prizm with Toyota badges or with a Coroala owners manual in the glovebox, but nothing like a cracked body panel.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    A friend of mine recently went through the lemon law process with his model X, which Tesla took back last month. He says he would never consider their product again, after once being a big time Tesla kool-aid drinker. It will be interesting to see how the product’s perception changes once nearly every American knows a person or two with a Tesla.

  • avatar

    For some reason I thought this happened on a Model X. The fact that it happened on a car as old as the S is frightening.

  • avatar
    Todd Faber

    No worry’s my fellow Americans. I am a die maker born and raised in the great automotive capital here in Detroit. I resently have been hired by Tesla to bring my expertise out to California. I believe Tesla has something that the big 3 are missing. My hat comes off to everyone involved in making another great American car company.

  • avatar

    I don’t know much about stamping aluminum, but it’s difficult to think this was a “one and only” type failure, unless some random material defect in the blank was the cause.

    • 0 avatar

      “… unless some random material defect in the blank was the cause.”

      Not an impossibility when you consider the stamping and forming process. Something as simple as a squared corner instead of filleted one could have made this crack possible due to a material weakness, which then expanded during the assembly process. The paint on the crack as shown demonstrates that it formed while the body itself was being assembled and may have been overlooked by a human QA inspector (human error) or a camera may have glitched as the frame piece passed through its scanning area. If this is only one (out of some 200,000 built, I’d hardly consider it noteworthy at least until more such cracks are detected.

  • avatar

    How many cracks this size or larger but hidden by sheet metal are out there right now in Teslites’ daily drivers?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I would have suggested that the crack developed during transit from the factory to the customer, but the paint inside the crack proves otherwise.

    I think the answer is found in this statement:
    “Still, he wonders about what caused such a significant crack in the A-pillar, and how it passed under the noses of quality control inspectors at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory undetected.”

    Human inspection is notoriously unreliable, and this has been demonstrated through many industrial engineering studies. Machine vision inspection would have caught this flaw. (Ironically, machine vision is just a static version of Autopilot.)

    While it is statistically possible – especially given Tesla’s relatively low volume – for a flaw like this to pass undetected through a long series of inspectors and/or handlers (delivery drivers, for instance), such a mistake may never happen again in a year.

    Here’s an example: If an inspector accurately catches 80% of a particular flaw, 35 inspectors in a row would still miss 1 flaw every 3,000 units, which is about how many Model Ss were built in March. Add another 9 inspectors, and 20,000 units (about a year’s production) have to get through before 1 flaw does.

    In reality, more inspectors doesn’t make the process much better, and can even make it more flaw-prone if each inspector believes the others will catch errors.

    This is why robust design, appropriate simulation and testing, and automated assembly are better than what was done in the past.

    Tesla should be keenly interested in this obvious fault, and will take steps to prevent it. Their factory is as automated and modern as any, and the Model 3 line promises to be even better. But it makes one wonder what *invisible* bugs lurk inside their cars.

    BTW, the owner isn’t necessarily entitled to know *why* his car came this way. Tesla is handling it like a champ, IMO, and determination of the root cause will take some time after opening an 8D study:

    The root cause, by the way, isn’t that Inspector 7 missed this one.

    Try to get another car company to build you a new customized car. American Honda stonewalled me for 2 years on my Odyssey’s issues, until I unloaded it after winning in lemon law court.

  • avatar

    Clearly and undoubtedly a stamping process defect that had to travel the full length of the Tesla plant from body build in BIW (industry speak Body In White. The next really obvious question is do they not have any inspection processes? Not like this wasn’t sticking out like a huge sore thumb. Shocking for a so called “high end” manufacturer.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    Even if it got missed in-plant it’s hard to believe that the guy who washed it during pre-delivery failed to notice it, or noticed but failed to report it to store management. There’s nothing like hand washing a car to spot body/paint defects. Then again, maybe they don’t hand wash but put it through a machine, or maybe it’s a case of the emperor’s clothes (i.e. nobody wants to see the problem).

    Side issue: I wonder how much water got to places it shouldn’t while being washed!

  • avatar

    Responding to the clickbaity headline:

    does this guy DESERVE answers? What answers is he looking for or deserve? Why would he deserve answers?

    “Huh, it’s broken, sorry, we’ll take it back, please choose another off the shelf.” Your local hardware store does this every day, and somehow we don’t have people “demanding” or “deserving” answers as to why that widget was broken inside the packaging.

  • avatar

    With a pay scale of $17 to $21 per hr., you might have a workforce that is closer to the Chevy truck plant in terms of motivation. That and worker complaints about the lack of mechanical lifting and assembly assist machinery, common in other plants, leaves me wondering about the professionalism of Elon Musk’s management team.

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla’s robots are its “mechanical lifting and assembly assist machinery”. In fact, said robots do the vast majority of the work, which is their purpose.

  • avatar

    My mistake. The article refers specifically to long hours, low pay – especially for a job in the Bay area, and unsafe working conditions. Also all workers are required to sign an overly broad non-disclosure agreement on hiring. The big picture here indicates that management isn’t using the Toyota system as a model, at least for quality control. This is, at least, ironic, but it appears that they are improvising as they go, and the workers are picking up the slack.

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