A Buyer's Dismay: Tesla Reportedly Removes Features From Used Model S

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.

[Image: Tesla]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
2 of 105 comments
  • 285exp 285exp on Feb 10, 2020

    The time for Tesla to brick the features was when they took possession of it, not after they unloaded it on someone else. If they did not disclose that those features weren't included in the auction price, and that they were going to remove them at some future time, then they misrepresented the vehicle to the dealer, because he priced his bid accordingly. So, either this was disclosed to the dealer and he did not disclose it to the buyer, so the dealer should pay to have the fee to have them reactivated, or it was not disclosed, and Tesla defrauded the dealer, and Tesla should reactivate the features at no charge.

  • Cprescott Cprescott on Feb 10, 2020

    I hope Tesla is sued out of business by customers who bought a second hand car which had the original owner actually to pay for the "options". With Tesla's logic, anyone who bought a used car with a sunroof should have it covered up with the sunroof removed because the second owner didn't pay full price for that option - or with upgraded factory wheels - reduced to the smallest metal rims that came as STANDARD equipment. Tesla must be punished. Their arrogance is outrageous and must be sued to stop with the games they play. This company is poorly managed and is so arrogant as to make any other company (like Apple) seem absolutely understanding in comparison.

  • Bd2 First, this was totally predictable. 2nd, Genesis already does have hybrids in the form of a 48V mild hybrid, but more performance oriented (supercharged and turbocharged), so not really helping with regard to fuel consumption. 3rd, Hyundai's hybrid systems don't really help as there currently isn't one that would be suitable power-wise and the upcoming 2.5T hybrid system would have to be heavily reworked to accommodate a RWD/longitudinal layout. 4th, it seems that Genesis is opting to go the EREV route with the GV70 the first get the new powertrain.
  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .
  • Lou_BC Backing up accidents are one of the most common causes of low speed accidents. You'd think sensors and cameras would help.