By on April 5, 2018


It’s been said that the true test of Tesla’s “affordable” Model 3 won’t be the car’s production rate — it will be initial build quality. A slower than predicted production ramp-up is already a reality for Tesla and its hundreds of thousands of reservation holders, but, as the automaker reaches beyond the existing group of well-monied brand diehards, glitches and reliability issues will pose a larger threat to the brand’s reputation.

With the Model 3 now coming off the Fremont assembly line in larger numbers (though not as large as predicted), it seems we have a recurring quality issue, if you want to call it that. Many Model 3 owners — who, for obvious reasons, are not longtime Model 3 owners — are taking to the internet to report a strange problem that leaves their car dead in the water and in need of a tow.

Just take a look at this thread on the Tesla Motors Club forum. Started on Tuesday by a Model 3 owner in Napa, California, the string of responses is eye-opening.

“Was backing out of our driveway and when I shifted from R to D warnings came up telling me to pull over, and not to drive,” the original poster writes. “I was on a steep hill pointed down, and the car just barely moved. It would not shift into N to allow me to freewheel it down to where I could be off to the side. The warnings then said that if I exited the vehicle, and locked it, then unlocked it and reentered it, that might clear it up. No such luck. It felt to me like it was locked into ReGen.”

Roadside assistance could not get the vehicle into the EV equivalent of running condition, so it was towed to a Tesla service center 50 miles distant.

An L.A. Model 3 owner immediately responds with a similar story. This poster took delivery of their vehicle on March 23rd:

I go to drive it this morning and I see a flashing message on my screen that alternates between ‘Rear motor disabled’, ‘Car may not start’, and ‘Car needs service’. The car wouldn’t start at all. It tells me that the problem may be fixed if I exit the vehicle and enter again, so I do that, but it does not fix the issue. I call Tesla and the lady on the phone has me reboot the car, but that also does not fix the issue.

While the owner claims the mystery glitch hasn’t caused him or her to fall out of love with the car, the comment prompted another response — this time from an Altadena, California owner:

It happened to me first night with the car as i was pulling into the garage and repositioning. Switched from reverse to drive and as soon as I pressed the accelerator the car put the motor in protection mode and behaved as the [original poster].

Doing the suggested steps as the OP and nothing. Two button, and two-button-brake reboots did not help, either Since the car was halfway in the garage and it was midnight, I figured I should put it in tow mode and push it in and deal with it in the morning. After I put it in tow mode, and on a “IT Crowd” “have you turned it off and on again?” whim, I decided to take it out of tow mode by stepping on the brake. The fault cleared and I was able to drive it around with no issues.

This poster was not able to replicate the warning messages after the car received an over-the-air firmware update (4.9), leading to the conclusion that a “bug” in the as-delivered firmware was/is the culprit.

On Wednesday morning, a Model 3 owner from northern Virginia posted the following:

This just happened to me this morning. Did all the same steps as OP and then Tesla sent out a flatbed. Currently at Service Center. I’ll update on what they tell me as well. I did read on another thread that it could be the 12v battery. I guess we’ll see. Also, I’m on firmware 2018.10.5

Later that morning, from an Orlando Model 3 owner:

Wow and I thought it was just me. This exact thing happened to me last week. Was driving on a local road going 25 mph and all of a sudden the car just stopped with the same messages, rear drive disabled and pull over. I tried the reboot, get out of the car and back in, etc. and nothing worked. Tesla came and towed it, gave me a loaner, and about a week later it was fixed. They replaced some fuse and the entire drive unit. Sure hope this isn’t a sign of more than just a couple bad drive units…

All of these owners took delivery of their vehicles within the last seven weeks or so. As some await a service center diagnosis, the forum posters then entered into a discussion of whether software or hardware was to blame, without a clear answer.

Tesla Model 3, Image: Tesla

One owner called attention to a post from February 17th, where another owner reported the same vehicle behavior and related messages, followed by other strange quirks (like the car not “going to sleep” after being parked). As we’ve come to expect from online discussion boards, one Tesla fan chastised the owner, claiming legitimate discussion about vehicle problems might feed the “trolls.” (This didn’t go over well with many of the others.)

While the owner in this case initially suspected the car’s 12-volt battery, the actual cause was more extensive. “The drive unit DID in fact fail which they say caused the DC converter to malfunction,” the poster wrote following an update from Tesla Service. “The new drive unit arrived today and they will be replacing that and then testing the DC converter to see if it charges the 12V battery.”

The L.A. poster quoted earlier eventually learned the afflicted vehicle would need a new drive unit and fuse.

Late Wednesday, this post appeared on Reddit’s Tesla Motors page, describing an identical experience with a Model 3 just two weeks after delivery.

What does this all add up to? If it remains a problem experienced by just a handful of owners, well, not much. An anomaly that came and went. But, as even some of the TMC forum posters stated, this many identical issues in such a relatively small number of vehicles is enough to raise a red flag. Early initial quality proved to be a serious issue for the Model S and X. And, while later updates can indeed fix an early problem, automakers — going back decades — have discovered you can only make a first impression once. Ask Ford and Chevrolet about that.

Last month brought a CNBC report, based on sources within Tesla, that the automaker’s February production slowdown stemmed from the need to “rework” roughly 40 percent of Model 3 parts, raising the spectre of quality issues in early builds. The defect rate was high enough to keep production levels suppressed, one Tesla engineer claimed. Tesla denied that any of its employees were doing rework on any production vehicles. Quality control is rigorous, the company’s spokesperson assured the media outlet.

If this devotion to quality control is the same one that let a Model S with a clearly torn A-pillar slip by last year, then we don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t also take the company’s word with a grain of salt. Even a small one.

Tesla needs the Model 3 to make the company money and cement its status as a viable automaker for the masses. There’s still hundreds of thousands of reservation holders out there, many of then holding a voucher for a $44,000-plus Long Range model, and delivery delays are arguably more likely to cause them to back out than stories or online posts about quality issues. I could be wrong about that. Still, as a fledgling company pushes the volume ceiling past any previous level in a bid to get a new product to buyers ASAP, it only makes sense to be on guard for quality issues.

We’ll keep an eye on this. It’s likely some of the more fanatical Tesla devotees will accuse us of piling on an automaker that’s just trying to make the world a cleaner, safer place, as if we don’t also write about Ford Fusion steering wheels coming off in drivers’ hands, or Hyundai Sonatas that turn into convertibles, any number of Fiat Chrysler products with dangerous rollaway issues, and so on and so forth. Oh well.

There’s no checks rolling in from GM or Big Oil around here, nor do we cash in by referring people to a certain automaker.

[Images: Tesla]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

74 Comments on “Tesla Model 3 Owners Are Complaining Their Cars Mysteriously Conked Out...”

  • avatar

    That bespoke handmade quality really shines through.

  • avatar

    While I have long been interested in having an EV instead of an increasingly complicated ICE car, having to reboot my car does not appeal.

  • avatar

    Hahaha, what a POS. There’s nothing inherently wrong with electronic vehicles, but Tesla seems to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I’ll stick with the traditional car makers who are integrating electronic drivetrains with other proven components. I have no desire for my car to act like a first generation, second tier piece of electronics. Too bad, I’d really like Tesla to succeed.

  • avatar

    Why is my work’s LED monitor in the center of my car? Subtly telling me something Tesla?

  • avatar

    Substitute “Impala” for “Model 3,” and this subject would have a WHOLE different tone.

    No one would tolerate this for even a second. That anyone does, tells the story: people are stupid.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    One moving part and it doesn’t work.

    Sign me up.

  • avatar

    So you’ll “keep an eye on” the Tesla Reddit page, while the others you “reported on” were recalls issued by the manufacturer.

    Never mind that you completely forgot to troll the forums and report on Hyundai owners that were having cars with the 7 speed DCT disabled and stalling in intersections due to software causing the car to go into neutral, or transmission overheating warnings in stop in go traffic.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I wonder why they don’t go troll the Alfa Romeo forums where plenty of far more ridiculous things regularly get reported on Giulias. And FCA has been building cars far, far, longer than Tesla has so I don’t get why Tesla is expected to suddenly be able to achieve Lexus build quality while FCA gets to churn out unreliable cars even after over a hundred years of supposed production improvements.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Haste makes waste.

    I have no regrets about cancelling. My former Leaf was trouble-free, even if the battery aged poorly.

    • 0 avatar

      When did you start to notice battery degradation in the Leaf?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        It was a 2012 (first gen), whose batteries turned out to be especially prone to degradation.

        In 3 years and 26k miles, it lost 15%, and it began right away. I got it in September, and of course the following winter was tough on range.

        But slowly, I began to realize that by next fall the range was down about 6% – who really notices that? Out of 60-65 actual miles of range, that’s only 4 miles, and you attribute it to imprecise monitoring or weather, etc.

        It became obvious after a while that it was simply degrading, but not at the rate which triggered a warranty replacement. By the time I parted with it, it was down to maybe 50-55 usable miles in good weather, and maybe 36 miles in the harshest of winter.

        But the car was 100% reliable. The nav system was lousy, and I got a flat tire once.

  • avatar

    I trust Tesla about as far as I can throw Elon Musk, which isn’t very far.
    I rememeber reading of the fragile disappearing door handles that cost $1000 plus labor to replace and I can just see those things getting frozen and breaking after the warranty period is over. I also will never buy an electric car that has such inferior battery engineering – we’ve seen how easily it ignites and incinerates its cars – using cheap, thin walled laptop batteries that were NEVER designed to be strung together by the thousands to power a car. Chevy Bolts do NOT catch on fire , mainly because their batteries packs were propely engineered.
    And Tesla bragged about its semi-autonomous driving and how they were going to drive coast to coast last year, and now we learn just how inferior and dangerous their autopilot is and, I suspect, their distracting dashboard touchscreen as well. I predict both will be banned by the safety boards.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed, but only in part.

      Tesla battery fires have resulted exclusively from high-speed accidents in which the car is demolished. A similar wreck in any gasoline-powered car would result in an explosion rather than a relatively slow fire.

      There was an early accident in which a Model S pack was punctured by a trailer hitch that it ran over, and the car slowly burned to the ground after warning the driver to pull over. Immediately after, Tesla fitted their packs with an armor plate to protect against such punctures, and demonstrated it by driving over cinder blocks and similar obstructions.

      The selection of the 18650 laptop battery (not really an off-the-shelf cell from Panasonic, but close enough) was genius, IMO, because Tesla didn’t have to reinvent the battery as a startup company. Their packs are well-documented to have less degradation (very little, actually) than any other mfr.

      Having said that, Tesla also chose a higher density cell than anyone else (I think), which helps with range. The Nissan Leaf flat pack cell won’t catch on fire even if you puncture it with a screwdriver – it *is* somewhat safer. The Bolt battery is likely similar, but to be fair, there are only a few thousand Bolts on the road vs a quarter million Teslas.

      As for Autopilot – it’s flawed, to be sure. But it’s not Level 4 or 5, so as a Level 2 system it doesn’t even have to work.

      The Model 3 screen is one of the reasons I cancelled my reservation. I agree that it’s a safety hazard, and frankly my eyes are probably not sharp enough to read it.

      • 0 avatar

        Gasoline cars only explode in movies. Stop spreading this myth that gas cars explode. They don’t. Plus, this myth costs lives. Bystanders are scared to even approach a wrecked gasoline car because of fear it’ll be like Hollywood and it’ll “explode.”

        This myth likely cost Paul Walker his life. That was a high speed accident, right? But nothing exploded in his accident. Bystanders were all scared to approach and get Walker out the car. An autopsy showed signs of smoke inhalation. In other words, he was still breathing after crashing. If someone actually pulled him out before the fire got out of control, he might still be here today. There was a solid few minutes before the fire engulfed the car. Nothing exploded suddenly.

        But no, thanks to Elon, gas cars inevitably explode immediately upon impact.

        Elon and Tesla: killing people, one at a time.

      • 0 avatar

        ” The Bolt battery is likely similar, but to be fair, there are only a few thousand Bolts on the road vs a quarter million Teslas.”

        The Bolt battery pack is similar to the Gen 2 Volt battery pack in construction and chemistry, it’s just a lot bigger.

        Interestingly, there are over 30,000 Bolts on the road in the US and Canada (per GCBC), or about 50% more than there are Lincoln Continentals. Also interesting, Chevy has sold ~150k Volts, and Nissan ~123k Leafs. (Leaves?) We’re getting some fairly good data on EV/HEV pack safety.

  • avatar

    In other news Toyota Primus engine stops in the middle of freeway. Big deal.

  • avatar

    Toyota does not know how to make cars.

  • avatar

    @ SCE to AUX

    The Model 3 has a new battery cell, the Panasonic 2170, not the old 18650. It’s bigger.

  • avatar

    I really wonder if their mobile phone / personal computer approach to validation, release and continual update is going to work in the automotive business. OTOH I’m guessing the service techs at the Tesla field locations are going to cash in on some serious overtime this summer.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d really like to see an article on how Tesla is expanding their sales and service operation in anticipation of multiplying their sales 5x. I’ve read nothing. Per my Tesla owning friends, the service facility they use in MA hasn’t changed a bit.

      And yes, they have had this issue multiple times with their Model 3, and are getting a whole bunch of major components replaced. Quality! I think they took delivery of their new Model S this week, will be interesting to see how much better it is than the 3yo one it replaced. Which was, IMHO, a complete disaster of a car. I’m not even sure the British could make a car that bad in their heyday.

      • 0 avatar

        re: “I’m not even sure the British could make a car that bad in their heyday.”

        FWIW, my ’67 Austin-Healey 3000 is nearing 200K miles and running strong (albeit with a rebuilt engine/gearbox/OD). It’s only stranded me once in 140K miles of ownership, when a replacement water pump blew its rubber bellows.

    • 0 avatar

      I wish other manufacturers would adopt the over the air software updates. The technology that comes packaged in a car gets real old real fast.

    • 0 avatar

      If glitches result in potentially life threatening situations like a car stalling in the middle of the road, probably not

  • avatar

    2018 Tesla: the technology of a 1908 Baker Electric, the reliability of 1978 Jaguar, the build and material quality of a 1988 Lada, and the profitability of 1998 Truly the best of the worst of all time.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Glad to hear that a software update might clear it. Wonder what happens if the car doesn’t find a wifi spot where it decides to break down. Do I have to flash it with an USB stick?
    Joking of course, I knew we lost to Skynet when my first Android phone needed a firmware update. On the battery.

  • avatar

    Soo… Microsoft built a car and called it a Tesla?

    “…In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

    1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

    2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

    3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue.

    For some reason you would simply accept this.

    4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

    5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.

    6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light.

    7. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.

    8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

    9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

    10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.””

  • avatar

    Can you say….Hubris?

  • avatar

    “They replaced some fuse and the entire drive unit.”

    You just have a cold. But while you’re here, let’s do that open heart surgery.

  • avatar

    Chevy is making an excellent vehicle called the volt. And people prefer this??? to each his own. i get that the tesla is a great looking future tech mobile…………..i’ll stick with tried and true tech.

    • 0 avatar

      *And* the Bolt. But, the Silicon Valley crowd sneer at anything from the Big 2+1 – Detroit is so yesterday. But Detroit has been building cars for about 120 years, and are way down the learning curve when it comes to engineering and building cars.

      I’m sticking by my prediction that Tesla will be out of the car business by the end of 2010.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.


  • avatar

    In retrospect, it will be “obvious” that Tesla was doomed. The clock is ticking.

  • avatar

    My question is not about Tesla. It is about people. Who wants to drive this. I understand “electric” part. I don’t understand LCD monitor part and price. The ergonomics horrible. It would be cool to have a normal car driven by electric motor that costs under $30K. But for $50K and less there are so much better choices. Civic Si (with its funky digital crap) is half price. And money you save will buy way more gas.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the single touch screen has advantages … but they are mostly advantages for Tesla, not for customers.
      1. It looks different, and therefore is “future”.
      2. It is cheaper than designing and building proper gauges and buttons.
      3. It is easily adapted to LH and RH drive vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Aircraft have multiple LCD screens for operation. This is so the information available on each screen represents and/or is related to groups, systems, operational info, etc.

        In a car you would have your main screen present the basics, speed, power consumption, trip computer, etc. A second screen might have power managment and other system management etc. A third screen would be the “home entertainment and comms”.

        These are also backed up by analogue gauges giving basic info in lieu of a failure so you can still have a greater chance of functioning.

        what I find odd is the lack of redunancy and other integrity checking systems on Tesla vehicles. The “auto pilot” system should have a dual secondary system continually rechecking the data from the primary system searching for discrepancies.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a driver’s car through and through regardless of the ergonomics of the ultra sparse interior. Everyone I know whose driven a Tesla has loved it, and we’re talking about folks who owned plenty of great sports cars. My friend who owns an M3 and previously owned a 911 and a LC500 just switched to a P100D for his daily (but keeps the M3 around for track days). I met plenty of folks who regularly did track days who now own a Tesla.
      The build quality and reliability are crap, I’ll give you that much but much like there are folks who were willing to deal with garbage italian reliability to drive Giulias you’ll find people willing to put up with it for Teslas. And for what it’s worth Tesla is improvng.

      • 0 avatar


        you just prove the point. Tesla is bought by those who already have M5, MB or whatever. They go like, oh, let me get this toy. It is not car bought by people who say, I need a car to go to work, shopping, visit relatives in Kentucky, etc. Tesla is just “another toy”. Not a main transport. And you called it a “driver’s car”? Then where is the manual gearbox? hahahaha

  • avatar

    I admit I haven’t done that much research on the Model 3, but, that’s their instrument panel? A screen from a Best Buy laptop in the center, so you have to look over to the center to see how fast you’re going? Or does it have a head-up display?

  • avatar

    They Tucker-ed themselves out on their own.

  • avatar

    Now we know where alone the unemployed ex Lucas staff went to work….

    If you want a reliable electric car buy a Jaguar because those people don’t work there anymore!

  • avatar

    Quality issues with the Model 3? Who didn’t see THAT coming…

    • 0 avatar

      This car should be most reliable – it has no pars. A computer and electric motor

    • 0 avatar
      jonnyanalog is having continuous issues with the touch screen on their car. This is what happens when you rush cars into production to hit a BS number and use labor from other assembly lines who have no clue about the build sequences, etc. Tesla may hit their production numbers but their quality will suffer greatly which will cause them to hemorrhage cash to cover warranty costs and piss customers off when cars are stacked up waiting for parts at understaffed dealers.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Car won’t start? Replace drive unit.

    Sounds like a recipe for going out of business.

  • avatar

    What I find particularly disturbing is Musk’s self-appointed “right” to Beta-test the driving-assist software of his vehicles while risking the lives of his cars’ owners and others on public highways.

    In my opinion, recent deaths directly attributable to this not-ready-for-prime-time feature amount to criminal negligence resulting in death. Mr. Musk should personally be charged, as he is the one directly responsible for this cynical and reckless behavior – along with the regulatory officials that allow this dangerous practice. Like GM, Ford, Toyota, etc., he should prove, beyond a reasonable level of certainty, that these new features are safe before setting them loose on public roads.

  • avatar

    All of this and more! From a company allegedly valued more than Ford.. please.
    Tesla deathwatch time. Oh wait, that’s already started..

    • 0 avatar

      Ford, where quality is job one.I just noticed your Fiat avatar. Now that’s a company that produces quality.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, vs Tesla, they are.
        In fact, if you think, Fiat Chrysler are pretty good quality vs Mahindra, 20 Chinese makes, Russian cars, etc. Basically, they may be not a Toyota-quality but pretty respectable over the larger picture (beyond 5 brands)

  • avatar

    I rented a Model 3 for a weekend. Mechanically, it worked fine. But the software part of the machine was a disaster. Radio coming on full blast repeatedly. AC running while we’re at dinner and scrubbing 20 miles off the range. Nav that would go back three hours and zoom in and out in a stuttering fashion. And the stripes that appeared on the screen.

    That all took place from 10 am Saturday to 7 pm Sunday.

    And that’s not to mention the impenetrable shifter or the awful seats or the console covers that wouldn’t stay closed or weird clompy ride (uncomfortable, and I’m used to a 911 which is no limo).

    • 0 avatar

      I work in software, and product in the industry has gotten progressively worse in the past decade or so. Yet everything is gaining a software layer, even things which don’t need them. Funny that.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • stuki: For most, as in 51%, of uses, you are likely very right. Many, at least in more rural areas, buy trucks...
  • stuki: Those who can, build. Trucks with competitive utility. At competitive prices. While those who...
  • stuki: Problem is: Anything as complicated as a competitive modern vehicle takes 50 years, and a million iterations,...
  • Old_WRX: Lou_BC, “but there are more on the right that tend to be more politically and religiously...
  • MRF 95 T-Bird: The NV200 was selected by the TLC as the official NYC taxi to replace the Crown Victoria however there...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber