New Tesla cars are falling apart. Company says drivers are to blame – Rolling Stone

Pictured is a series of Model Y electric vehicles during the start of production at Tesla "Gigafactory" on March 22, 2022 in Grünheide, southeast of Berlin.  - The US electric car pioneer Tesla has received the green light for this "Gigafactory" in Germany on March 4, 2022, paving the way for the start of production shortly after an approval process marked by delays and setbacks.  (Photo by Patrick Pleul / POOL / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK PLEUL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Patrick Pleul/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

An alarming report published by Portal on Wednesday details how electric vehicle maker Tesla evaded responsibility for failures of parts it knew were defective, including suspension and steering systems. The investigation comes shortly after a recall of 2 million Teslas to add safety guardrails to the cars’ Autopilot functions – the capabilities of which CEO Elon Musk greatly exaggerates – as well as a study showing that Tesla drivers had the highest accident rate of any car brand in the country over the last year.

Portal journalists reviewed thousands of Tesla documents and revealed how the company identified design flaws but routinely made customers pay significant deductibles to fix those very problems. The outlet reported that tens of thousands of drivers have experienced steering and suspension problems on newer cars due to these faulty parts. In one incident, the right front suspension of a 2023 Tesla Model Y carrying a driver carrying his wife and young daughter burst because he was cornering too slowly. The owner had bought the car the day before.

“If we were traveling on a highway at 70 miles per hour and that happened, it would have been catastrophic,” the driver said. He explained that he had lost “complete confidence” in the vehicle due to the damage, which Tesla refused to pay for, and claimed that “previous” damage was to blame. The company has often cited vehicle “abuse” or “abuse” to deny claims for vehicle repairs under warranty.

In another accident, a low-mileage 2020 Model 3 was destroyed when a front wheel “fell off while traveling at 60 mph in Autopilot mode,” according to a technician report. In addition to wheel assemblies and suspension connections, Tesla was also aware of the ongoing failure of drive axles and steering racks, which in turn caused failures in the power steering that owners said put them in immediate danger.

A driver claimed that when his power steering failed after going over a speed bump, a Tesla service manager said a connector was likely corroded as he drove the vehicle through a car wash. He said the employee further told him that Tesla is “not a 100-year-old company like GM and Ford” and that it hasn’t “worked out all the bugs yet.” (Nine Tesla recalls since 2018 have involved steering and suspension repairs.)

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Engineers have redesigned certain parts several times to fix patterns of early malfunctions and have confirmed in internal communications that the problems originated at Tesla. But former service managers and technicians told Portal that Tesla pressured employees to impose repair costs on drivers to save money. A manager in Norway – where Teslas are hugely popular and customer complaints about new cars are commonplace – said he had been forced to take a stand against the policy of blaming owners for perceived prior damage, calling it “nonsense”.

In China, under pressure from regulators there, Tesla even recalled a part known to cause suspension failures. However, the same part was not recalled in the US or Europe, and claims continued that “driver abuse” was the reason for the suspension breakdowns. Service employees were instructed by the company to highlight “vehicle misuse” when evaluating vehicles and to claim that the damage was caused by “driver hitting the curb” or “other excessive impact.”

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating a suspension connection in the Tesla Models S and X since 2020, Portal reported, and opened another investigation into the power steering failures in July. This year, the agency has received a much higher rate of complaints about suspensions and steering from Tesla customers than from drivers of Toyotas or GM vehicles – which make up a larger share of the U.S. market.

Musk, who is rarely afraid to attack critics or media outlets that portray his companies in a negative light, was unusually quiet about both the Autopilot recall – which required a software update that left some Tesla owners very unhappy to the bombastic findings from Portal. The bad news comes just ahead of what could be a difficult year for the company as it tries to ramp up production of its long-delayed Cybertruck and struggles with slowing demand for electric vehicles. Additionally, some Tesla models are expected to lose a $7,500 tax credit due to new electric car subsidy requirements, which could make them less attractive to buyers.

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Still, Tesla has a history of surviving brutal economic conditions and enjoys a fan base seemingly willing to overlook mistakes. And no matter what else comes out, Musk will likely continue to claim that his cars are among the safest ever built.

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