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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
a buyers 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.

[Image: Tesla]

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.

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.