Tesla knew some of its parts had high failure rates but reportedly blamed drivers anyway

Reuters published an explosive investigative report Wednesday chronicling Tesla’s alleged patterns of deliberate neglect and shifting blame onto customers for parts failures. The damning exposé accounts the Elon Musk-led company’s alleged long-running tendency to claim vehicle owners had engaged in “driver abuse,” charging them for repairs over failures caused by parts the company discussed internally as being flawed. The issues are often related to suspension and steering. Externally, Tesla’s portrayal of the problems has ranged from flat-out denial to partial acknowledgment.

Several accounts in the story document Tesla owners who were told their car’s issues stemmed from prior damage or driver abuse. In some cases, they had just bought the vehicles:

One of the drivers Reuters interviewed, Shreyansh Jain, suffered a suspension collapse in a 2023 Tesla Model Y he had owned for less than 24 hours. When the automaker told him a lower control arm separating from the steering knuckle caused the failure, he expected Tesla to cover the repairs. A service rep who inspected the car said they found “no evidence of any external damage,” as revealed in a text message. 

About a week later, Tesla sent a letter to Jain, skirting blame and citing “a prior external influenced damage to the front-right suspension” as the cause.

Jain said he was the only person to have driven the car on its first day of ownership, and he hadn’t had an accident before the suspension failed. “I was like, ‘Bloody hell, how can metal just snap like that when I know for sure the car has not hit anything?’” he said to Reuters. Three months later, the repairs were complete, and Jain paid a $1,250 deductible (with his insurance covering the rest). He says his rates then spiked dramatically on another car he owned.

A blue Tesla Model Y electric vehicle sits on stage in a 2019 event. Elon Musk is seen behind it, speaking to an audience from a profile view relative to the camera.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk stands behind the Model Y at its 2019 unveiling.

Cincinnati surgeon Trace Curry paid $110,000 for a 2016 Tesla Model X. He replaced the SUV’s control arms twice, once covered by warranty and a second time at his expense. After the warranty ran out, Reuters reviewed invoices showing Curry paid around $10,000 for failed suspension and drive-axle parts. Then, in 2018, he replaced the front half shafts (under warranty); he replaced them again (at his own cost) for $1,500.

Reuters’ investigation suggests Tesla knew that many of the parts that required replacing in Curry’s Model X — control arms, suspension and front half shafts — had high failure rates.

Andrew Lundeen was driving his wife’s 2018 Model 3 in August when the car’s power steering failed while driving over a speed bump. The Santa Rosa, California, resident told Reuters a Tesla service manager told him a power steering connector had corroded — and attributed it to a car wash, which the employee cited as a known problem.

Lundeed paid $4,400 out of pocket to replace the steering rack and a wiring harness, allegedly thanks to his bold decision to visit a car wash. “This is the only car I’ve ever heard of where a car wash can damage the wiring,” he told the Tesla manager. Lundeed described the employee as saying, “All I can tell you is we’re not a 100-year-old company like GM and Ford. We haven’t worked all the bugs out yet.”

A Tesla Model 3 sits in a rural driveway in front of a fence.
Tesla’s Model 3
Photo by Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

The investigation also documents Tesla’s can-kicking and inconsistent responses to part recalls in different regions. For example, the company’s engineers identified the aft link, part of the suspension, as having snapped in several incidents while owners drove at low speeds (similar to Jain’s account). A former Tesla employee “with direct knowledge of the matter” told Reuters that between 2016 and 2020, Tesla “resolved” around 400 aft link complaints in China — either through in-warranty repairs or through “goodwill repairs” if they were out-of-warranty.

The Musk-led automaker delayed a recall for four years, only agreeing to one after Chinese regulators applied pressure. The country’s State Administration for Market Regulation described a “risk of accidents” as part of the rationalization.

However, despite global reports of failures, Tesla never recalled the part in the US and Europe. The company told US regulators the problems resulted from “driver abuse.” Reuters also viewed a 2019 “talking points” memo urging service centers to blame “vehicle misuse,” like “hitting a curb or other excessive strong impact,” as the culprit. “Abuse” and “misuse” are conditions in the Musk-led company’s contract, giving the automaker leeway to reject in-warranty repairs for incidents it labels as such.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating Tesla since 2020 for the fore link (a suspension part) in Model S and X, and it began looking into power steering failures in the 2023 Model 3 and Model Y in July. Reutersnearly 5,000-word report is worth a read, especially if you’re a Tesla owner who has paid for repairs out of pocket. The NHTSA will likely find it an equally compelling read.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

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