Tesla Blamed Customers for Failures of Defective Car Parts

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An alarming report published by Reuters on Wednesday details how the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla has shirked responsibility for the failures of parts it knew to be 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 features — whose capabilities CEO Elon Musk tends to grossly exaggerate — as well as a study showing that Tesla drivers had the highest accident rate among all auto brands over the past year.

Reuters journalists reviewed thousands of Tesla documents revealing how the company tracked design flaws but routinely made customers pay substantial out-of-pocket fees to repair those very issues. Tens of thousands of drivers, the outlet reported, have experienced steering and suspension problems in newer cars due to these faulty parts. In one incident, a 2023 Tesla Model Y carrying a driver along with his wife and young daughter blew its right-front suspension because of a slow turn. The owner had bought the car the day before.

“If we were on a 70-mile-per-hour highway, and this would have happened, that would have been catastrophic,” said the driver. He explained that he “lost complete confidence” in the vehicle because of the breakage, which Tesla refused to pay for, claiming that “prior” damage was to blame. The company has often cited “abuse” or “misuse” of vehicles in order to reject claims for repairs on cars under warranty.

Another accident saw a 2020 Model 3 with little mileage wrecked when, according to a technician’s report, a front wheel “fell off while driving on Autopilot at 60 mph.” In addition to wheel assemblies and suspension links, Tesla was also aware of the persistent failure of drive axles and steering racks, which in turn caused power-steering outages that owners claim put them in immediate danger.

One driver alleged that when his power-steering failed after he drove over a speed bump, a Tesla service manager said a connector had likely been corroded when he took 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 “hasn’t worked all the bugs out yet.” (Nine Tesla recalls since 2018 were for steering and suspension fixes.)

Engineers redesigned certain parts several times to address patterns of early malfunction and acknowledged in internal communications that the problems originated on Tesla’s end. But all the while, former service managers and technicians told Reuters, Tesla pressured employees to foist repair costs onto drivers in order to save money. A manager in Norway — where Teslas are enormously popular and customer complaints about new cars a common occurrence — said he was forced out for taking a stance against the policy of blaming owners for supposed preexisting damage, describing it as “bullshit.”

In China, Tesla even recalled a part known to cause suspension failures under pressure from regulators in the country, but did not recall the same part in the U.S. or Europe, continuing to claim that “driver abuse” was the reason for collapsed suspensions. Service staff received instructions from the company to point toward “vehicle misuse” in their evaluations of cars and claim that damage was the result of drivers “hitting a curb” or “other excessive strong impact.”

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

Musk, who rarely hesitates to lash out at critics or media outlets that portray his companies in a negative light, has been uncharacteristically quiet about both the Autopilot recall — which requires a software update that has some Tesla owners very unhappy — and Reuters’ bombshell findings. The bad news comes just ahead of what could be a tough year for the company as it tries to scale up production of its long-delayed Cybertruck and contend with slowing demand for electric vehicles. On top of that, some Tesla models are slated to lose a $7,500 tax credit under new qualifications for electric car subsidies, which could make them less attractive to buyers.

Still, Tesla has weathered brutal economic conditions in the past and enjoys a fanbase seemingly willing to overlook any mistakes. And no matter what else comes out, Musk is likely to continue claiming that its cars are among the safest ever made.

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