Tesla Investigated Over Touchscreen Failure Complaints

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday it has launched an investigation into Tesla’s Model S. Frequent complaints have arisen of the vehicle’s media control unit going on the fritz and knocking out the vehicle’s touchscreen.

We’ve seen several outlets minimize the issue by suggesting gaps in Tesla’s Autopilot should be seen as more pressing. Apparently, many see potentially faulty touchscreens as small potatoes. But we can’t agree; not when they happen to operate the brunt of the car’s auxiliary functions, and we’ve heard reports of this very problem for years. If you need a refresher course, we covered the matter extensively in the fall of 2019. The gist is that the embedded Multi-Media Controller (eMMC) on MCUv1 units seem to be overworked. Constantly logging data is tough on the system, and this setup didn’t appear to be capable of handling the high load, resulting in flash-memory wear.

This leads to all sorts of problems. At first, owners may only notice the system being less responsive — like a worked-to-death computer. The entire display will eventually brick itself, however, resulting in a blank screen you cannot interface with and the complete loss of some of the car’s most important features. That includes one’s ability to recharge the vehicle, in some instances.

According to Reuters, the NHTSA says the preliminary evaluation covers around 63,000 units from the 2012-2015 model years and comes after the agency received 11 complaints claiming premature failure of the media control unit due to memory wear-out.

From Reuters:

Tesla used the same unit in 159,000 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles built by Tesla through early 2018.

The memory control unit uses an Nvidia Corp (NVDA.O) Tegra 3 processor with an integrated 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device, NHTSA said. Nvidia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The flash devices have a finite lifespan based on the number of program or erase cycles, NHTSA said.

Failures resulting from memory wear-out “are likely to occur after periods of progressively degraded performance (e.g., longer power-up times, more frequent touchscreen resets, intermittent loss of cellular connectivity, loss of navigation),” the agency said.

Safety concerns revolve around cars losing their display for rear-facing cameras (now required by law) and consumers complaining it’s impossible to defog windshields with the center console inoperable. Fortunately, the NHTSA said the failure does not affect vehicle-control systems. However, we doubt anyone would spend more time driving around in a busted Model S with these kinds of issues more than absolutely necessary.

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

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.

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jun 24, 2020

    eMMC is embedded Multi-Media Card, not controller. Controller is just part of MMC. MMC defines I/O protocol command sequence. SD card (whch is only standard that survived memory card wars) is based on MMC with added ancient security protocol and encryption that become obsolete long time ago.

    • See 3 previous
    • Mcs Mcs on Jun 25, 2020

      @mcs actually, I meant 3990x and an AMD TRX40.

  • NigelShiftright NigelShiftright on Jun 24, 2020

    Hey, at least Matt gets it right that the item was -not- a noose. Over at J*l*p**k (Automotive News As Reported By Oberlin Sophomores) they're saying "Hey, some deplorable planted a noose in that garage TWO YEARS AGO and NASCAR just let it sit there!" I am not making this up.

  • El scotto I look forward to watching MTG and Tommy Tuberville when the UAW comes to their states.
  • El scotto Vehicle company white collar (non-union) engineers design the parts and assembly procedures. The UAW members are instructed on how to install the parts. Engineers are also in charge of quality control. The executives are ulimately responible for the quality of their products.
  • Chris P Bacon I don't care either way, the employees have the right to organize, and I'm never going to buy a VW. But.... It would be interesting if the media (HINT HINT) would be able to provide a detailed look at what (if anything) the VW workers gain by unionizing. There will be dues to pay. How much? I bet the current policies, pay and benefits mirror other auto companies. When all is said and done an the first contract signed, my money is on the UAW to be he only ones who really come out ahead. That leads into my next comment. Once a union is voted onto the property, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Even if the membership feels the union doesn't have their best interests in mind, the hurdles to get rid of them are too high. There were a lot of promises made by the UAW, even if they don't deliver, they'll be in Chattanooga even if the membership decides they made a mistake.
  • 1995 SC How bout those steel tariffs. Wonder if everyone falls into the same camp with respect to supporting/opposing them as they did on the auto tariffs a few weeks ago. Doubt it. Wonder Why that would be?
  • Lorenzo Nice going! They eliminated the "5" numbers on the speedometer so they could get it to read up to 180 mph. The speed limit is 65? You have to guess one quarter of the needle distance between 60 and 80. Virtually every state has 55, 65, and 75 mph speed limits, not to mention urban areas where 25, 35, and 45 mph limits are common. All that guesswork to display a maximum speed the driver will never reach.