The popular luxury car brand Tesla is something of a status symbol. With an eccentric creator, a sky-high price tag and a slick all-electric drivetrain, Tesla vehicles command some clout in the right circles. It’s because of this that a recall of the brand’s vehicles is so odd; their normally sterling reputation taking a hit is something owner Elon Musk often works to avoid.
However, hardware failures can and will happen with anything as complex as a car. On Thursday, Tesla was asked to recall thousands of Model X and Model S vehicles for issues that could create a hazardous scenario and could even cause crashes.
The vehicles are being recalled over failures in their touchscreens. The devices can have their central memory units become corrupted, which results in the touchscreen ceasing to function. This issue affects Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles made from 2012 to 2018. Notably, Tesla themselves didn’t initiate the recall; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contacted the company in a formal letter to request the recall.
The company has until January 27 to respond to the NHTSA’s request. Tesla has contended that it has issued over-the-air updates to the cars in question to help mitigate the issues in question. However, the NHTSA has stated that these updates were insufficient to address their concerns with the failing memory units.
In some vehicles, the loss of the touchscreen would be frustrating, but not necessarily dangerous. In Tesla’s vehicles, however, many of the car’s critical functions are handled via the touchscreen. The speedometer, the battery indicator, controls for heating and air, the chimes that indicate autopilot functionality and more are all governed by the touchscreen.
As such, any Tesla vehicles that have lost their screen functionality are considerably more dangerous to drive than a functional vehicle.
The central memory unit in these vehicles is an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor. This inexpensive and easy-to-program chip is a favorite of programmers, but the model seen in the Tesla vehicles has a fatal error. Should the flash memory be filled, it will cause the unit to fail, resulting in a complete shutdown of the central screen.
While it takes a considerable bit of use to fill the flash memory of the CPU, it’s something that can occur after a vehicle has been used regularly for several years. Tesla is expected to comply with the NHTSA’s request to recall the vehicles. If they don’t, they could face considerable fines and other disciplinary action.