By on November 17, 2020

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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13 Comments on “NHTSA Upgrades Safety Probe Into 159,000 Tesla Vehicles...”

  • avatar

    I rented a relatively early Model 3 for a short time. The car was great to drive – electrics are fun. But the touchscreen and software were a MESS. Unbelievably buggy. We got to experience the stereo comes on a full blast for no reason (the fix: reboot the car) defect. It kept is AC going while we had dinner – came back to a freezing cold car. The nav thought we were where we were hours before.

    All in a short 24+ hours. Astounding they’d released a product that was such a mess.

  • avatar

    You know what doesn’t wear out? A rear view mirror. I can look at it as many times as I want, and that won’t affect it one bit. It remains a functional mirror.

    Funny how that works.

  • avatar

    “Tesla’s memory control unit (MCU) using Nvidia Corp. ”

    A quick correction. MCU stands for Media Control Unit. Not “memory”. The problem is with the Tegra 3’s embedded Multi-Media-Card (eMMC). Plenty of third parties offer better replacements than what you’d get from Tesla. In fact, you can get plenty of other Tesla upgrades from the aftermarket now.

    • 0 avatar

      Nvidia engineers looks like lack NAND memory experience. Flash memory exists over 30 years and its properties are not a mystery.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the issue is more Tesla’s fault than Nvidia. Space Karen does an insane amount of logging. I’m not so sure it’s needed. I’m currently using Micron 64-layer triple-level cell (TLC) 3D NAND technology on my host processors. On the high-performance side is HBM2 DRAM at 460 GB/S with proprietary/custom processing. Hoping to upgrade to HBM3 next year.

        • 0 avatar

          It is the lack of discipline or bad design or both. Log starts small and then grows uncontrollably because after every bug fix developers add more and more lines to log. By default log has to be basic with options to expand if certain class of defects are investigated.

  • avatar

    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?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      Are there any Model 3 features that are disabled when the vehicle is sold, so that the next owner has to pony-up again? I thought they were doing that with Autopilot, at least until they got caught!

      • 0 avatar

        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.

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