Despite knowing about chronic "flaws" and "failures" for many years, Tesla reportedly blamed drivers for glaring defects like collapsed suspensions and breaking axles. In some instances, wheels literally flew off the electric vehicles at highway speeds.
As Reuters reports, tens of thousands of Tesla owners have had the suspension or steering of their vehicles — even in practically brand new ones — fail in recent years. Newly obtained documents show how Tesla engineers internally called these incidents "flaws" and "failures."
Nonetheless, some of the documents suggest technicians were told to tell consumers that these failures weren't due to faulty parts, but the result of drivers "abusing" their vehicles, which highlights the EV maker and its CEO Elon Musk's infamous way of handling customer complaints.
Case in point, the news comes after Reuters revealed back in July how Tesla created an entire dedicated team to suppress driving range complaints. The carmaker has been accused of making up "rosy" range numbers that often don't reflect the real-world range.
Over the years, Tesla has refused to acknowledge suspension and steering problems when reporting to US regulators. Instead, it has attempted to shift the blame on its customers, who were often forced to pick up the tab after being hit with out-of-warranty repairs.
None of this bodes particularly well. Tesla is already in trouble with regulators after having to recall over two million vehicles in the US earlier this month due to its Autopilot driver assistance feature being too prone to "driver misuse."
But Tesla's problems with its vehicles run far deeper than that. In one particularly glaring incident, a "front wheel fell off" a 2020 Model 3 with less than 15,000 miles on it, "while driving on Autopilot at 60 mph," according to documentation obtained by Reuters. It's unclear if the driver ended up being forced to pay.
A different driver interviewed by Reuters, whose brand-new Model Y's suspension collapsed while driving down a road with just 115 miles on the odometer, was told he was that he was on the hook for the repair.
"I was like, ‘Bloody hell, how can metal just snap like that when I know for sure the car has not hit anything?’" the driver Shreyansh Jain told the news agency.
Jain later sold his Tesla after losing "complete confidence in the car."
Prior to the incident, Tesla had already recorded thousands of similar suspension failures in cars sold in China between 2016 and 2020.
While the part was later recalled in China, it's still not recalled in the US and Europe despite persistent failures. The company maintains these failures were the result of "driver abuse" to have them fall outside of the purview of their warranty.
Yet the dangers are real: with a collapsed suspension, drivers lose most control over the vehicle. According to one auto safety advocate who spoke with Reuters, the scraping metal could even start a fire in the battery compartment.
Unlike Tesla's major Autopilot-related recall earlier this month, which was addressed with an over-the-air update, Reuters' latest report suggests the company has plenty of other part failure-related issues that won't be able to be fixed with a simple software patch.
And that's not to mention the company's tendency to blame the driver when a brand-new vehicle's suspension collapses while driving down the road.
Could all of these incidents really be chalked up to user error — a recent analysis of 30 car brands found that Tesla drivers have the highest accident rate out of all of them — or is Tesla trying to stem the bleeding and keep repair costs down amid rising costs?
Regardless, the damage has already been done, with much trust in the brand being lost.
"It defeats the purpose of the high speed if you’re afraid that your front wheels are going to fall off if you accelerate quickly," Tesla owner Trace Curry, who's had to pay over $10,000 to keep his 2016 Model X on the road, told Reuters.
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