Tesla’s high-end Model S sedan and Model X SUV are currently the subject of a federal investigation to determine the overall stability of the vehicles’ touch screens. For those who have not been inside a Tesla vehicle, they do not feature a gauge cluster or digital dashboard like most vehicles: instead, all information about the car is presented on a central touchscreen.
That central screen’s reported tendency to fail has led to an analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, with nearly 159,000 vehicles falling under the probe. The issue is sweeping enough that the NHTSA could recommend a recall if the screen failure is found to be widespread.
The engineering analysis is the step that the NHTSA takes before it formally compels an automaker to recall a vehicle. This investigation centers on the 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X patterns, and, namely, their tendency to have touchscreen failures after prolonged use.
According to the NHTSA, touchscreen failures in Tesla vehicles can lead to issues like the loss of the rearview camera, disabling access to defogger functionality, and affecting the signals that accompany the Autopilot feature. Since Tesla’s vehicles rely on their central screens for numerous system functions, failures in the screen are much more impactful to the overall performance of the vehicle than in some other models.
The NHTSA reports that Tesla has recorded upwards of 10,000 requests by owners to replace the main computing unit that powers their vehicles’ touch screens. In a press statement, the NHTSA writes “The data show failure rates over 30% in certain build months and accelerating failure trends after 3 to 4 years-in-service.”
The agency concedes that the company has released over-the-air updates to help combat some issues with screen failures. However, they have also charged customers for replacement MCU parts when vehicles are out of warranty. This could be waived if the NHTSA requires the company to issue a recall.
Tesla does not operate a public relations arm of their business, and, as such, the company has issued no public statements regarding the federal inquiry into their vehicles. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has been quiet on the topic, as well.
Tesla’s electric cars are very popular among enthusiasts, though the company has drawn criticism in the past for safety issues relating to the Autopilot system and the central touchscreen controls. This investigation is the latest in a long line of safety concerns over the popular electric vehicles.