A Buyer's Dismay: Tesla Reportedly Removes Features From Used Model S
I’m a broken record when it comes to consumer protections. Environmentalism may be more fashionable but the green movement has already amassed a sizable army in the current year. Someone needs to be watching out for Joe Customer because companies are stepping up their game. While we’ve often focused on data privacy, right-to-repair laws, and the hidden perils of subscription services, ownership rights also deserve a bit of attention because they’re all sort of interconnected.
As products become increasingly digital, it’s becoming fuzzy as to who actually owns something. In previous decades, someone wanting to outfit their computer with the latest software meant they had to go out and buy it. Now you can simply download stuff over wifi, with no need to have the physical copy cluttering up your desk. But this convenience factor has ramifications. A subset of the video-game community is up in arms over backwards compatibility and the ability to truly own their purchases. With games and movies beginning to occupy internal storage almost exclusively, they’ve grown concerned that companies will attempt to force them to repurchase old games on new platforms to turn a quick buck.
Why is this being explained to you on a car website? Because the automotive industry may be about to engage in similar practices. Jalopnik recently published an account of a man buying a secondhand Tesla Model S, only to see it stripped of thousands of dollars in features.
The article withheld the purchaser’s name, but said the car was bought from a third-party dealer on December 20th of last year. Due to some screen yellowing, the 2017 Model S had been auctioned by Tesla in accordance with California’s lemon laws. When the dealer bought the car at auction from Tesla on November 15th, it was decked out with Enhanced Autopilot and Tesla’s Full Self Driving Capability (though it should be said that particular FSD suite doesn’t offer any autonomous capabilities, just the promise that they’ll be added later). Combined, those options would represent an $8,000 premium on a new car. But the person who owns the Model S says it no longer has either feature.
Tesla conducted a remote audit of the vehicle on November 18th and decided to remove those features during the next software update. But this doesn’t appear to have ever been disclosed to the dealership, who sold the car believing it to be equipped as the accompanying documentation specified.
The final owner didn’t find out about any of this until January when he took the car in for repairs — some suspension work, a fresh air filter, and a new media control unit — listed in the disclosure statement that were never made. This also resulted in his car getting the latest software update, which trigged the removal of both Autopilot and FSD.
Reaching out to customer report, yielded the following response from Tesla:
Tesla has recent identified instances of customers being incorrectly configured for Autopilot versions that they did not pay for. Since, there was an audit done to correct these instances. Your vehicle is one of the vehicles that was incorrectly configured for Autopilot. We looked back at your purchase history and unfortunately Full-Self Driving was not a feature that you had paid for. We apologize for the confusion. If you are still interested in having those additional features we can begin the process to purchase the upgrade.
And we’ve come full circle. Tesla doesn’t appear to believe buyers have ownership of the features on a secondhand car. Both Autopilot and the FSD suite come as one-time purchases, making this a vastly different than simply canceling someone’s satellite radio subscription. Someone paid thousands of dollars extra when this car was new and you had better believe those features played into the final auction price and subsequent sale.
Jalopnik reported that the poor bastard that is now stuck with the car attempted to outfox the automaker by contacting a Tesla Used Vehicle Sales Advisor to ask if Autopilot and FSD would be removed from a used vehicle. Curiously, they said the company would not … even though it did.
The dealer that snagged the car from auction has since reached out to make it extra clear that both features were fully functional when it purchased the car from Tesla, even though that was never really in doubt. But they did remember there being a sporadic notification that the car’s autopilot had been upgraded after a software update. At the time, it was assumed the situation would be ironed out and the issue was addressed with its current buyer prior to sale.
However, the dealer also explained this wasn’t the first time a secondhand Tesla has seen it features curiously vanish. “I sell dozens of Teslas a year, and sold my father in law a Model X P90D with ludicrous speed package. 60 days after the purchase of the car, Tesla removed his ludicrous speed package,” they said. “Upon complaints to them they said he never paid for it. We have video evidence and multiple pictures of the vehicle with it. They even removed the line under the P90D. I am still shocked at these acts.”
Tesla’s message boards have similar accounts, often with the discussion devolving into everyone asking what the point of FSD even is, and Jalopnik’s article is loaded with documents showcasing everyone’s general sense of confusion. If you’re the sort of person who worries about digital ownership, or just wants to keep advanced tabs on the auto industry’s changing business practices, it’s worth a read.
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