By on June 24, 2020

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]

 

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52 Comments on “Tesla Investigated Over Touchscreen Failure Complaints...”


  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Innovative!!!
    But of course, no recall.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    What others are complaining about as “faulty touchscreens” really comes down to the typical issues of any automotive electronics… extreme interior temperature shifts from 120°F+ to sub-freezing over the course of a year with daily swings as much as 50°F warm to cold causing solder joints to soften and then solidify, causing cold solder joints that eventually crack, causing the electronics to them become unstable, buggy and ultimately to fail totally. This is NOT a matter of design fault but rather of normal conditions that develop over years, normally showing up between three and eight years of use, depending on location.

    There is absolutely nothing about being overworked–most people use their laptop computers FAR more extensively and usually need to replace them for similar problems just as frequently. These complaints are coming from people who simply don’t know how these devices are made and blame the manufacturer for faults that they have no control over. Since these issues are Model S only, I expect the majority of the complaints are on cars five years old or older.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      NAND storage does wear out and laptops don’t hit it nearly as hard as the car does logging and overwriting then logging again on its memory. The car is writing hundreds of MBs per day. You may want to reread the Fall 2019 article linked in this one.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        This. A laptop will have hundreds of GB of storage and aren’t rewriting entire sections constantly and have overhead “spares”. Even with all that said, a gaming laptop might use up those spares in as little as five years if the drive is undersized or near capacity all the time.

        A typical nand can be written between 3000 and 10,000 times depending on the type and quality used. Think flash drive and enterprise SSD. If Tesla is using a USB flash drive piece, they screwed up big time. 8Gb is not a lot of storage space.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No this isn’t that, and it really isn’t about the touch screen itself. It is, as the article stated the fact that Tesla used cheap memory storage that has a finite number of write cycles. Then they used the crap out of it, logging data that isn’t needed for vehicle operation, as they used buyers as unwitting beta testers. That is the real reason for Tesla’s over the air updates, they knew the software wasn’t ready and they couldn’t afford to do proper testing.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “What others are complaining about as “faulty touchscreens” really comes down to the typical issues of any automotive electronics”
      “for faults that they have no control over.”

      Maybe making a giant touchscreen as the main (in some cases only) UI for vehicle functions isn’t a great idea then. I think manufacturers have control over the design of their products.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        When I watched the SpaceX Dragon crew launch I thought that same thing: touchscreens as the only controls? Seems crazy! They do have some backup buttons but clearly this is the way forward… for better or worse. There doesn’t seem to be anything to stop this kind of UI from taking over. I guess these engineers watched too much Star Trek (Next Gen) and not enough Star Wars ;)

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @ajla: “I think manufacturers have control over the design of their products.”
        — but they don’t have control over the conditions in which they’re used.

        Have you ever done any electronics work of any kind? Have you ever soldered a circuit board? Solder is a conductive metal allow that melts at temperatures around 150° to 170° and softens noticeably at temperatures around 120°-140°. Daily heating and cooling can weaken the connections and then temperature drops to freezing and below can pull those connections apart–literally breaking the metal. Normal operating conditions usually don’t stress these connections as much as the environmental conditions wherein a car may sit for significant times under open sun and winter cold. After all, not everybody has a garage within which they can protect their cars from those temperature extremes.

        There’s a reason most electronic devices state a range of recommended operating temperatures with an only slightly wider range of non-use storage temperatures.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “Normal operating conditions usually don’t stress these connections as much as the environmental conditions wherein a car may sit for significant times under open sun and winter cold.”

          Agreed. So why make a central touchscreen the main UI for a car?

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @ajia: What else would you use? If it’s electronic, it’s going to be sensitive to such. The only way to prevent it is to ensure a strong mechanical connection as well as the solder joint and the way electronic devices are assembled today using wave-soldering techniques, such mechanical connection is impossible and significantly more expensive in parts and labor costs, not to mention significantly larger, due to using older technology (but much hardier) wire-lead components instead of surface mounted ‘chips’ as small as the head of a sewing pin you get in your collar when you buy a new shirt. That’s why military ‘hardened’ devices are so bulky and expensive. They also tend to use a solder that can handle higher temperatures and are less susceptible to such broad environmental conditions.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          “Allow” should be “alloy”.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          “Daily heating and cooling can weaken the connections and then temperature drops to freezing and below can pull those connections apart–literally breaking the metal.”

          While this is true, there are various materials and techniques to mitigate this in automotive applications. This is part of the reason an ECU will cost over a grand in spite of having often less computing power than a raspberry pi.

          soldered circuits have been in automotive applications for decades. Heck they have been used in vehicles operating in space, the moon and Mars for decades.

          You have to use materials and parts up to the task. Tesla isn’t blazing any trails here…automakers have been doing this for decades. It seems Tesla failed here. They should fix it.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @Art Vandelay: You do know that Tesla doesn’t build those displays themselves, don’t you?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @vulpine I see. So should Mustang owners with broken manual transmissions drop their lawsuit against Ford and instead sue Gertrag or is this “take it up with the supplier” bit a unique point of view we save for Tesla?

            Typically the onus is on the automaker to fix issues like this. They then take it up with the supplier. We don’t apologize for any other automaker when something like this happens so I can’t see why Tesla would get a pass. It is a bad design whoever’s fault it is…but as a customer, my relationship is with the automaker and that is who is expected to remedy it. Whatever they do in their relationship with that vendor is on them.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “Solder is a conductive metal allow that melts at temperatures around 150° to 170° and softens noticeably at temperatures around 120°-140°. ”

          Huh? Try 360 degrees Fahrenheit to 460 degrees Fahrenheit for solder to melt. I do a lot of electronic circuit building. I also run equipment (typically computers) at some extreme temperatures these machines are just fine. In fact, for one computer the manufacturers recommended temperature for operation is 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, that’s operating and I’ve done it. In fact, just yesterday. My milspec devices are spec’d at -67 degrees Fahrenheit to +257 degrees fahrenheit. Milspec plastics can handle 400F and higher for long periods of time.

          Any environmental fatigue problems I’ve had have been component failures. Not sure if I’ve ever had a solder failure.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          That very much depends on the solder. I have several rolls of silver solder that melt in the 350F – 450F range. Of course, it costs more.

          But this issue with Teslas is actually well-documented – it’s the crappy storage they used, not anything to do with solder joints or the environment. They simply chose the wrong part for the job. And of course, being Tesla they charge a fortune to fix it.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Does it fail at a noticeably higher instance than such interfaces in other makes of vehicle. I am inclined to think yes if only for the fact that such failures in Ford, GM, or FCA vehicles would be beaten to death on this site (as the Sync 2/MyFordTouch rightfully was) but that is anecdotal.

      You can hate on touchscreens, but that isn’t relevant. The question is “Are these failing at a rate higher than industry standards?” and “do those failures constitute a safety problem?” That is really the only relevant issue. There is evidence to suggest that the configuration with respect to the memory and high read/write cycles is less than an optimal configuration and that the screen itself may not be up to the normal standards for automotive applications..

      Tesla is a real car company. When real car companies screw up like this they get called to task to fix it. Shilling aside from the usual suspects, there really isn’t much to see here. They will fix it or they will blow the customers off and there will likely be a lawsuit. Neither is out of character for any of the major automakers depending on the circumstance.

      In the EV forums however, There will be blood lol.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The touchscreen isn’t really that relevant to this – it’s just that the whole unit that includes the touchscreen fails when the storage fails.

        I predict the Tesla Fanbois will blow this off as the price of being first.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      There is absolutely hardware that is up to performing in those conditions @Vulpine. Military vehicles have been touchscreen affairs for some time and such failures outside of Joe bashing his or her kevlar or rifle butt into the screen are rare. Even other carmakers mostly get this right. Tesla failed to spec hardware that was up to their intended purpose (or the vendor failed to meet their spec…not really sure which, but somebody blew it). They need to fix this.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      Solder joints don’t “soften” in automotive electronics because if the temperatures at circuit boards ever reached 300F or above you’d have Other more pressing issues to worry about. Electronics fail usually because they’re designed with inadequate margin – a one amp transistor used at 800mA or a 35V electrolytic cap with 30V on it.
      This is a design problem that Tesla won’t own up to.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @Imagefont: I gather you missed my statement where I said I repaired an electronic control by merely re-soldering all the connections. Don’t even try to tell me it’s impossible.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Curious…anyone know what it costs to have these parts changed out at the Tesla service depot? I’m guessing it’s not like buying a 19 inch Insignia tv at BestBuy for 67 bucks..

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      If out of warrantee I suspect there is someone out there that will solder new NAND into place cheaper to “rebuild” the unit.

    • 0 avatar
      Xanderain

      About $2400 last I heard. Might be a little less.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        $2400…that’s gonna crimp the profitability of those robotaxi fleets….

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @Xanderain: It’s $1,699.95 at my local independent Tesla shop. They’ll root the car as well so if it happens again, they can remote log in and diagnose any future issues. They say it’s an issue on the S/X up to Feb. 2018 and recommend getting the work done before it fails.

        https://evtuning.com/collections/model-s-pre-facelift-electrical/products/emmc-repair-upgrade-for-model-s-and-x

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Are people really allowing third parties to install remote backdoors into their vehicles? This sounds like just a terrible idea.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “Are people really allowing third parties to install remote backdoors into their vehicles?” Yeah, that was my thought, although I know these guys. It could be that a wired connection is needed. I don’t think they could get through Tesla’s network, so I’d assume a wired connection.

        • 0 avatar
          Xanderain

          That’s where I got mine done. That is the Electrified Garage’s website.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @indi500fan: I would expect anywhere from about $600 to $1200, or about the price of a large iPad to iPad Pro.

  • avatar
    Xanderain

    Electrified Garage can de-solder the emmc chip, put a bigger one on, and most importantly, turn the logging off. Mine failed last month, and I sent it to them for repair. Definitely cheaper than Tesla, as I would have just gotten another (likely refurbished) unit that would eventually fail again anyway. It baffles me why they could not just remotely turn off logging in an OTA update.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Beat me to it.

      That this problem has spawned a cottage industry which fixes it is a shame.

      I suspect all the logging has to do with Tesla’s insatiable thirst for data, probably in support of AutoPilot development.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I don’t get the level of logging they are doing. Figure out what you need, and toss everything else. Every so often, just upload the log and delete the old one. The logging is probably for motor and battery performance. They still seem to be tuning those pieces. Coincidentally I’m writing low-level motor drivers at the moment, so I’m familiar with what they are doing.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I have only seen that level of logging in instances where an issue is being debugged and/or someone forgot to turn off debug mode. This is the only instance that I have seen it in a production vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          It doesn’t matter if you delete the old log. It’s the writes that are the problem. The part they choose has a very finite and too low number of writes before it fails.

          I actually work in storage and deal with this sort of thing in the real world. Big enterprise storage devices actually have write counters to measure and report this wear, and the drives get replaced proactively based on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I will say, in Tesla’s defense that many other makes have cottage industries built around repairing, upgrading and adding modern functionality to in vehicle infotainment, granted it is usually on much older vehicles.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Vulpine writes: “This is NOT a matter of design fault but rather of normal conditions that develop over years, normally showing up between three and eight years of use, depending on location.

    There is absolutely nothing about being overworked–most people use their laptop computers FAR more extensively and usually need to replace them for similar problems just as frequently.”

    Only throwaway laptops use eMMC flash storage, which is designed for light duty use due to its limited write/erase cycle tolerance. Tesla is using the equivalent of drugstore $4.99 flash memory sticks in a mission critical application, and it’s failing.

    Your claim of people needing to replace their laptops for similar reasons is arrant nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Exactly. I have server farms happily humming along on solid state memory for years on end. It was however very expensive enterprise grade storage. The drives were not remotely inexpensive, however if you want a bunch of read/write cycles on solid state memory, you have to pay to play.

      And while I have had failures in memory cards for phones and flash based USB sticks, not once have I had an actual designed for the purpose solid state hard drive fail in any computer…and those are simply decent quality consumer grade drives…not the enterprise grade stuff I see professionally.

      whatever the case (someone speced this logging after the fact and it didn’t factor into the hardware design, or they just cheaped out), there is most definitely solid state memory up to this task and again, failures of devices actually designed for these purposes are rare. This is equivelent to running a virtual machine off of a 10 dollar USB stick. It will fail. Always. You are way out of the design spec for that memory at that point.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Supposedly the MCU2 units have the issue fixed.

        I recently sat down and benched my SD cards. One of my devices was complaining about the speed of a card. Huge differences especially with the write speeds. The goods ones cost about 2 to 3 times more than the slow ones, although the cheapest was faster than some of the name brand mainstream cards. Afterwards, I ordered a bunch of the expensive ones. You can’t even tell from the packaging. They print the read specs on the package, but say nothing about the write.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Solid state hard drives use media intended for the high number of read/write cycles that use in a computer will require as well as having functionality in the firmware to ensure that all of the media is used in an even fashion. Hopefully the used that sort of media in the new versions.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’ve had plenty of early consumer SSDs fail (and got boned once by an early fibre-channel enterprise SSD failing at a particularly inopportune moment – no data loss but the resulting RAID rebuild brought the system to it’s knees and caused a ton of outages due to latency), but it’s usually the drive controller that fails, not the flash itself. A typical consumer would be hard pressed to use up the write life of a drive with a single computer.

        But in my enterprise world we are replacing early SSDs all over the place because they are approaching their planned write lifespan. Takes five years or so typically, but I’ve had a few users nuke them in relatively short order. Which is why they make Write-intensive SSDs ($$$$$) and Read-Intensive SSDs ($$$) But the stuff has improved to the point that even most enterprise users don’t need WISSD anymore. And of course the simple fact that it is so much cheaper you can just overprovision the heck out of it to increase the write limit. That 3.84TB drive might have 6TB of flash in it…

        Agreed – Tesla choose the cheapest crap flash for this, and then overused it. Dumb.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @NeilM: I wasn’t even talking about the memory; I’ve been talking about electronics in general, as used in ANY vehicle or computer. The extreme temperature swings will affect those electronics and something over 25 years ago I spent a couple hours pulling, re-soldering and re-installing an AC control unit that used the fluorescent digital display because it would intermittently blank out the display and shut down the unit… where knocking on the control head with my knuckle could bring it back online. After re-soldering it, I never had another moment’s trouble with it. Having it replaced with a new unit would have cost me $600 plus labor.

      With that personal experience, I expect that the display problems in the Tesla are practically identical.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        “With that personal experience, I expect that the display problems in the Tesla are practically identical.”

        No it not. The Touchscreen isn’t failing, it is the computer not responding to it because it has literally lost its mind. Replace the worn out memory and it works again.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @Vulpine:

        Not sure why you persist with the ‘bad solder joints’ theory, when the known-and-proven root cause is memory wearout.

        Thermal fatigue and aging of solder joints is a well-known issue that must be managed on everything from consumer electronics to spacecraft, but that’s not the problem here.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          We shall see. Because I think that “known and proven” is an assumption.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            The only known fix for this issue that isn’t a new assembly from Tesla is replacement of the memory. Additionally new ones use better memory so I am going to go out on a limb and say it is in fact the memory.

            there is a separate issue with some touchscreens involving yellowing, but that is not linked to this issue.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    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.

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