Tesla Model S Drivetrain Woes: 50 Cent Fix Will Take Over From Drivetrain Replacement

Having your car in the shop for repair work is never pleasant, even if it the repair work is being carried out under warranty.

Tesla, like its Silicon Valley cohort Apple, often goes above and beyond the call of duty when carrying out repairs, swapping out entire components to keep customers happy.

Tesla: Awesome service?

Tesla: Awesome service?

A case in point is Tesla’s current policy of replacing the entire drivetrain on customers’ Model S sedans when they experience a drivetrain failure, something unfortunately and publicly experienced by Edmuds.com not once but four times during nearly two years of ownership.

Yet Tesla says it’s about to change the way it solves this particular problem with its cars — foregoing the expensive practice of replacing entire Model S drivetrains for customers and fixing fault ones with a new part worth 50-cents.

As GreenCarReports detailed last week, drivetrain failures in  Tesla Model S cars are quite a common problem. In fact, the drivetrain problems experienced by Edmunds have been shared by a small number of other Model S owners, around the world, with one owner reportedly on their sixth drivetrain.

Speaking a few weeks ago at the Q2 earnings call, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla’s approach — replacing the drivetrain of affected cars under warranty at an estimated cost of $15,000 per case — was more about customer satisfaction than anything else.

“Our optimization was customer happiness. And so we knew exactly what to do. We just wanted to give people their car back right away,” he said.

Like Apple’s famous ‘be awesome’ policy, where Genius bar technicians and store managers are allowed to replace or repair equipment that may fall outside of the terms and conditions of its warranty just to keep customers happy, Tesla was replacing the drivetrains on customers’ cars to keep customers happy and perpetuate its good image.

Tesla's new solution to drivetrain failure is to fix drivetrains with a 50 cent shim.

Tesla’s new solution to drivetrain failure is to fix drivetrains with a 50 cent shim.

It seems to have worked too, with the majority of affected Model S customers happy at the level of service they’ve received, even after the second or third drivetrain replacement.

Yet Musk says many of the cars which have suffered from drivetrain failures are are early production vehicles, produced at a time when Tesla admits it had quality control issues at its Fremont factory. With those quality control issues eradicated, Tesla’s attitude towards warranty repairs can now change too — and it has a far cheaper solution: a 50 cent shim that can be easily inserted into the drivetrains of affected cars in order to fix the problem.

Just like Apple, when there’s a reproducible, reliable fix, it makes good business sense to use it.

As a consequence, Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer J.B. Straubel says Tesla will now aim to fix the drivetrains of affected cars quickly and effectively, turning round customers’ cars in short order to enable them to continue using their Model S without a long wait for an entire drivetrain replacement.

Although it might not be as grandiose as an entire drivetrain replacement, Tesla, like every other automaker, is learning how to quickly, cheaply, and effectively replace faults with their vehicles after they’ve left the factory.


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  • Dennis Pascual

    Luckily, I have yet to experience this Drivetrain issue. Granted, I have experienced a Drivetrain issue when I predominantly drove an ActiveE… As a shareholder, I appreciate Tesla finding a much more cost effective solution to its problems and hope that as the product matures, the more reliable the vehicle and it’s repairs will be.

  • Esl1999 .

    Tesla will, eventually, move away from the gimmicky, concept car features and start to live in the real world. Tesla’s ideas collide with the “brick wall” of the real world. Here are some examples:nRETRACTABLE DOOR HANDLES. Too many downsides here. Give credit to Mercedes for coming up with the best, overall, handle design for safety and convenience. At least, Tesla was smart, enough, not to use pop-up headlights.nDEAD 12 VOLT= ALL WINDOWS LOWERED. REALLY?!? This is so obvious that I’m not going to bother.nONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR ALL YOUR CONTROLS. At least, the glove box still works if the main screen fails. C’mon guys, you need a redundant screen or something.nI’m still rooting for Tesla, but WOWs can turn into frustration when things don’t work out as they should. Hopefully, the Model 3 will be devoid of these issues.

    • PWJ Bishop

      No, transmission shim requires disassembly of the gearbox, itself sandwiched between inverter and motor – both water cooled too remember.nnnYes, buttons are obviously better than touch screed stuff in any car – how are you supposed to keep your eyes on the road at all times?nnnThe door handles are fun and elegant – lets hope they prove reliable and don’t freeze up. Car could be improved by the addition of disappearing windscreen wipers, though.

      • calabiyau

        “keep your eyes on the road at all times” looks to not be necessary any more. The new Tesla autopilot systems take care of that issue. Might as well watch tv on that huge screen.