NHTSA Upgrades Safety Probe Into 159,000 Tesla Vehicles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
nhtsa upgrades safety probe into 159 000 tesla vehicles

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it would be upgrading a probe into almost 159,000 Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles relating to touchscreen/memory issues that could result in a failure to comply with federal standards.

U.S. regulatory mandates stipulate that modern vehicles be required to have rear-camera displays to aid drivers traveling in reverse. The expanded investigation has tripled in size and now encompasses 2012-2018 model year Tesla Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles, which may be eligible for a recall if the NHTSA sees fit.

While we cannot look into the crystal ball and make predictions, the failure rate of certain production runs seems rather high. According to Reuters, regulators noticed “failure rates over 30 percent in certain build months and accelerating failure trends after 3 to 4 years-in-service.” The problem appears related to ongoing issues with Tesla’s multimedia control unit (MCU) using Nvidia Corp. Tegra 3 processors. The automaker is subjecting them to a wild amount of data logging until they effectively burn themselves out — we’ve covered the company’s flash-memory problem at length if you’re interested.

From Reuters:

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

Some complaints said failures could result in loss of charging ability and that other safety alerts could be impacted. One driver said he could not clear fogged windows because he could not change climate controls.

In total, NHTSA said it has reviewed 12,523 claims and complaints about the issue, which would impact roughly 8 percent of the vehicles under investigation.

Tesla said it has received 2,399 complaints and field reports, 7,777 warranty claims, and 4,746 non-warranty claims related to MCU replacements.

Many complaints said Tesla requires owners to pay to replace the unit once warranties expire.

It’s a rather serious problem but the major issue for the NHTSA is that it effectively causes the vehicles to be at odds with the legal vehicle standards that require backup displays on all vehicles. While Tesla’s rearward-facing cameras haven’t gone anywhere, it’s of no use if it cannot be displayed on the center screen. The company has launched numerous over-the-air updates to remedy MCU burnout but it will be up to regulators to see if the changes have done enough to avoid a recall.

[Image: Jag_cz/Shutterstock]

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  • 18726543 18726543 on Nov 17, 2020

    So...if you own a vehicle with a factory rear view camera and it for some reason stops working, will it fail a state safety inspection? It's always been the rule that if an exterior light exists on a vehicle, it must light (assuming it's DOT approved). If a camera exists on a vehicle, must it operate?

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 18, 2020

    Tesla owners who have paid $$$ for MCU replacements ought to be compensated by Tesla, but it will probably require a class-action lawsuit. This is one reason to avoid a used Tesla - you could be looking at a sudden $500-1500 repair.

    • See 1 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Nov 19, 2020

      @sgeffe That's probably part of the reason for the constant contact the cars are in with the mothership. I'm sure they designed it to brick when/if this contact is lost.

  • 2ACL I think it's a good choice. The E89 didn't get respect due to its all-around focus when new, but it's aged well, and the N52/6HP combo is probably more fun and capable than it's given credit for.
  • Wjtinfwb I can hear the ticking from here...
  • Daniel Bridger When y'all going to learn that nothing is free?
  • MrIcky This vehicle had so many delays, then a poor launch, and then the recalls- but I look at the recall for lugnuts and I wonder if you can miss the torque spec on those, what else did you miss? This car just seems very first gen to me. I'm glad it's out there. I like competition in this space, but I'd wait until the refresh on this one. Just one too many things.
  • Jalop1991 "Toyota and Daimler merging..."Wait--another merger of equals?