Tesla issues its largest recall ever, voluntarily, over faulty Model S steering

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Tesla said Thursday it was recalling a huge number of its Model S sedans around the world over a power steering issue. It told customers in an email that it was a proactive move and none of the company’s other vehicles were affected.

The automaker said 123,000 Model S vehicles built before April 2016 were affected. No injuries or crashes have been reported in connection with the problem. Before today, its largest Model S recall was when 90,000 of the vehicles were affected in 2015 by a faulty seat belt. And last year, it recalled 53,000 Model S and Model Xs over a parking brake fault.

In the email, Tesla said it had, “observed excessive corrosion in the power steering bolts,” but that the problem was most prevalent in colder climates where road salt is used.

“If the bolts fail, the driver is still able to steer the car, but increased force is required due to loss or reduction of power assist,” Tesla wrote in the email to customers. “This primarily makes the car harder to drive at low speeds and for parallel parking, but does not materially affect control at high speed, where only small steering wheel force is needed.”

Tesla said owners do not need to stop driving their cars if they haven’t experienced any problems. The company said it would inform Model S owners when a retrofit, which is estimated to take an hour to install, is ready in their area.

The recall comes as Tesla prepares to report its quarterly deliveries, of which many eyes will be on how many Model 3s have ended up in customer hands so far this year. While that car is still ramping up production, the automaker now has another NTSB investigation following a recent fatal crash in a Model X.


I guess Elon has more to worry about than his Facebook pages.

At least people have one less place to complain about these issues now.

How does Tesla’s recall frequency compare to other companies?

Good question.

Most of the cars I have owened have had recalls. 4 different ones/cars for rust related potential failures.

According to this survey recalls are between 50% to 180% of cars a manufacturer makes.

Sorry survey won’t link. Just Google for auto recall rates, lots of articles on it.

0 recalls on my 2010 Ford Focus SES. Great stuff. Late generation model year.

Seems like it is having a lot of rear door lock problems- either failing to open (trapping people inside), or not latching properly so they open while driving.

I think you bring up a good point. Not all recalls are created equal. I feel like a steering related recall or a seatbelt recall are more of the major variety.

Did you read the story? If a bolt fails which hasn’t happened ever like in a billion miles you loose powersteering. Which you know pretty much nobody even had a couple of decades back.

As far as recalls goes this one is nothing. The bolt manufacturer pays for the material and Tesla has their own mechanics doing the work instead of paying others a minimum of $200 to do it like all other manufacturers has to.

Still more major than a cosmetic issue. Yes I read the story. The probability of it being dangerous is very low but what if, say, this failure happened right at the moment somebody was trying to make an evasive driving maneuver? A sudden change in steering responsiveness at the wrong moment could be deadly.

I am in no way saying this will break the bank for Tesla, but am simply saying that comparing the sheer number of recalls between cars is not really a meaningful statistic.

Power steering mainly helps at low speeds to doubtful it would cause an accident even in your extremely circumstantial situation

Can confirm. Above 40 mph the steering in my 1983 truck is pretty much the same as my 2010 Fit.

Unless it’s been massively undersold, the issue doesn’t seem particularly major even though it relates to steering. It’s not a complete failure or anything like that. Also doesn’t sound like there’s been a single incident.

Seems relatively minor and something most people would have sorted out during a routine service.

Considering half the industries makers just had issues around Tamara bags potentially shooting shrapnel into people’s faces, this seems really small fry.

I agree that this pales in comparison to the airbag recall, but you basically validate my point that comparing the number of recalls is basically meaningless. I am not saying that Tesla’s is the most severe, but it is also not as mundane as most recalls I have been subjected to.

Just as a comparison, my 2007 Matrix has four recalls affecting it, two of them Takata airbag related. My 2010 Honda Fit has five recalls, most of them for airbags. Given that both of these cars/makers are renowned for their reliability, it seems like Tesla is doing fine.

Aside from this recall, a 2015 Model S only has one other recall that I found on Cars.com, the seatbelt issue that the article mentioned.

Oh, and my old 2003 Corolla had 10 recalls, and that doesn’t even list a known problem where the headlights would turn themselves on in freezing conditions, resulting in a dead battery.

So that’s a 9 year gap between your 2003 Corolla and the 2012 Model S, in 9 years how many more will the Tesla have and what difference do you feel the total number makes?

what difference do you feel the total number makes?

I don’t, number isn’t a terribly useful metric. OP was specifically asking about Tesla’s frequency of recalls versus other brands. I was looking up my own cars as a comparison point. Also anecdotes are fun: I’ve got a 35 year old truck that apparently had issues with frame rust in the eastern states. Out here on the west coast though it’s totally solid.

If you want to compare severity, this is relatively low. Power steering going out will be an inconvenience, but is unlikely to cause an accident. Probably less dangerous than the subset of 2010-2012 Priuses where the passenger airbag could deploy without warning because of a bad weld.

Voluntary recalls usually earn a company some amount of goodwill from buyers, or at least temper the damage, especially with all the GM bullshit still fresh in everyone’s mind. Tesla’s stock is far more heavily affected by Model 3 delays than a recall over bolt corrosion.

there are three total recalls of the S mentioned in the article

Can you really count the Takata airbag issue against the car manufacturer? That one is on Takata. A steering issue is 100% attributable to Tesla and its engineering team.

The Model S, also, has a relatively low production volume. They’ve only produced a little over 200,000 vehicles in five years (2012-2017). The 2007 Corolla Matrix shifted 300k+ that year alone.

Considering their limited range, I’d seriously wonder about how many road hours their fleet has accumulated. (They claim one billion miles driven, which sounds impressive, but they equates to an average of 5,000 miles per car.) Fewer driving hours results in a longer lead time to discover flaws not revealed during the engineering and testing phases. That Matrix was a cheap, entry level gas-driven commuter car that I guarantee has driven many multiples of Tesla’s in that time period.)

I just don’t think the scale Tesla is working on is equivalent and the flaws they’re finding are much more significant.

Oops, old figure. It’s five billion or 25,000 per vehicle. Not a terrible number, but most common number of miles driven per year is 12,000. While five billion sounds great, that’s over a five year period and over the entire fleet of S and X models. Wanted to correct that before I was accused of using old data (which I did.)

That one is on Takata. A steering issue is 100% attributable to Tesla and its engineering team.

Depends on the specifcs we don’t have. If Tesla specified a bolt that was susceptible to corrosion, that’s on them. If the supplier was flaky, that’s on the supplier, though Tesla still has to handle the recall.

I used to work for an engineering company. We had supplier problems all the time, particularly with orders of fasteners. One of our products very specifically needed non-magnetic screws. These were specialized, very expensive screws. Even after fighting the supplier (and switching) we had to go over every batch with a magnet to pull out the bad items.

So while the problem is ultimately Tesla’s, this isn’t necessarily different to Takata providing faulty products.

Can you really count the Takata airbag issue against the car manufacturer? That one is on Takata. A steering issue is 100% attributable to Tesla and its engineering team.

You can put a little bit of the blame on the manufacturers… I remember reading an article about airbag maker that was a competitor to Takata, they tried to make airbags with the same technology and found it too volatile to be safe and that’s what they told GM, Ford, etc… but automakers didn’t care because Takata was cheaper and stopped buying from that company (which I think went out of business rather than use the same technology/chemical to make cheaper airbags to compete).

Honda even tested the bags and two of them exploded in testing, but they shrugged it off. A bunch of the car manufacturers were aware for airbag issues, but spent years doing a cost benefit analysis of the cost of such a massive recall versus the settlement made due to injuries/deaths attributed to them (22 deaths).

Google "car manufacturers knew takata airbags" to read more articles on it.

It’s disingenuous to count multiple times a recall for the same issue (takata airbag). Also, the substantial volume and price differences make these comparisons silly.

I’m just grabbing the numbers off the website. I provided the link to my source so slow your roll on calling it disingenuous.

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