Plug-in car sales continued to rise in 2014, punching past 100,000 cars for the first time.

Is Tesla Right to Insist it Inspects Rebuilt Salvage Cars Before it Reactivates Them? #YouTellUs

It’s a story of excitement, of hope, and ingenuity. As story of how one man bid $50,000 for a wrecked 2012 Tesla Model S Signature Series electric sedan at a salvage auction in an attempt to be one of the lucky few with an all-electric car capable of 250 miles per charge, supercharging capability, and of course, that wonderful 17-inch touch screen display.

Should wrecked cars be inspected by the manufacturer before being allowed back on the road?

Should wrecked cars be inspected by the manufacturer before being allowed back on the road?

But when Tesla Motors said that it wouldn’t reactivate the insurance write off without the new owner signing a Liability Release Form authorising Tesla to inspect the repaired car at one of its service centres and have final say if repairs carried out by a third-party garage under the new owners’ orders were up to its high standards, it became a story of dashed hopes, lost money and as some fans have put it, Orwellian behaviour.

As our friends over at GreenCarReports explain, San Diego resident Peter Rutman purchased the Tesla Model S signature series — one of the first 1,000 Tesla Model S cars ever made — in a local salvage auction with the intent of repairing and ultimately retitling the car. At less than half of the price the car would have sold for brand new, it seemed like a win-win scenario.

But the car, which was damaged so badly in an accident that the insurance company declared it a total writeoff, wasn’t the kind of car that required a few licks of paint and a new wheel to fix.

It needed $8,000 of repairs, which Rutman paid a local garage to carry out rather than a designated Tesla Service Centre.

When Rutman approached Tesla to ask for his car to be reactivated — presumably after the drivetrain was disabled as part of the accident– Rutman was told he’d need to give Tesla final say on the repair and roadworthiness of the car.

Rutman declined and then approached his local Television station, claiming Tesla was treating him unfairly.

Initially, Rutman’s story was the only angle shown, with the local news station reporting his “$58,000 Nightmare” with Tesla. Here at Transport Evolved, we’re familiar with one other instance where someone who purchased a salvage Tesla faced difficulties obtaining the necessary parts needed to bring the car back to roadworthy condition.

But as we’re sure you appreciate, every story has two sides. Since Rutman’s story has aired on his local Television channel, Tesla has released an official statement on the story, detailing Tesla’s position on the story and reiterating that its first duty is to vehicular safety.

Safety is Tesla’s top priority and it is a principle on which we refuse to compromise under any circumstance. Mr. Rutman purchased a vehicle on the salvage market that had been substantially damaged in a serious accident.

We have strong concerns about this car being safe for the road, but we have been prevented from inspecting the vehicle because Mr. Rutman refused to sign an inspection authorization form. That form clearly states that in order for us to support the vehicle on an ongoing basis, we need to ensure the repairs meet minimum safety standards.

Regardless of whether or not the car passed inspection, Mr. Rutman would have been free to decide where to conduct any additional repairs and to leave with his vehicle. There was never any threat to take away his vehicle at the inspection or any time thereafter and there is nothing in the authorization form that states or implies that we would do so.

Additionally, Mr. Rutman opted to have his vehicle repaired by a non-Tesla affiliated facility. We work with a network of authorized independent repair facilities to ensure our safety standards are met. It is also worth noting that Mr. Rutman is not on any “blacklist” for purchasing Tesla parts. 

While we do sell certain parts over the counter, we do not sell any parts that require specific training to install. This is a policy that is common among automakers and it is in place to protect customers from the risk of repairs not meeting our safety standards.

From an observer’s perspective, we’re intrigued by both the story and the reaction surrounding it.

Due to the nature of high-voltage battery components and proprietary drivetrain systems, we can see the importance of ensuring those working on a car are trained to work with high-voltage drivetrain components when dealing with repair work which directly involves said components.

On the other hand, we’re also ardent supporters of the freedom to modify and repair our own devices, be they a car or a consumer electronics device.

Other automakers, like Nissan, require repairers are fully trained in electric vehicles before working on electric cars.

Other automakers, like Nissan, require repairers are fully trained in electric vehicles before working on electric cars.

Yet repairing a car like the Tesla Model S is somewhat more complicated than carrying out a traditional service on a gasoline vehicle or even working on many basic electronic devices. For Tesla, protecting the safety of its customers, and presumably its reputation, is paramount.

But by insisting it has final say in which vehicles can be used and which cannot, Tesla also risks creating its own monopoly on repair and service, something we’ve already started to see with other plug-in vehicle brands where only authorised dealerships will work on them.

What do you think? Do Tesla owners have the right to work on and repair their own cars, or should Tesla be allowed to be a gatekeeper to keep potentially dangerous written-off vehicles from going on the road again?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below, and let us know which you think is correct.


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  • Matt Beard

    The thing that concerns me is that the document Tesla asked him to sign had clauses asking him to agree that Tesla would never sell him or any non-approved repairers any spare parts (not even a light bulb) and that effectively all future work of any kind could only be done by a Tesla approved workshop.

    • WeaponZero

      That is just an acknowledgement, this is hinted where it mentions Tesla will not sell parts to a non-certified repair shop despite him not being able to sign documents on behalf of other entities. So that statement is more of an acknowledgement then a legal binding restriction. nnnTesla is not required to sell him any parts to begin with due to it being a salvaged car. So it is not like his situation changes to begin with.

  • vdiv

    “Yet repairing a car like the Tesla Model S is somewhat more complicated nthan carrying out a traditional service on a gasoline vehicle or even nworking on many basic electronic devices.”nnThis is a double-edged sword. EVs have been sold with the premise that they are much simpler than their gasoline counterparts. Modern gasoline cars have a lot of electronics as well. The beauty of electronics is that they can self-diagnose and calibrate so as far as repairs are concerned it’s a matter of swapping a module.nnIt seems that both sides here are not communicating openly. Why is the salvage owner not trusting Tesla (yet bought a car made by them)? What does he have to lose if Tesla takes a peek? On the other hand why is Tesla not mitigating this mistrust? Why are they not disclosing that the Model S is not just a car, but it is a car bundled with and undelible from a service?

    • Robert Slackware

      PERMANENT loss of his car. the release lets them blacklist him from ever getting any parts. nWould you let a roofer re-shingle your house if he was allowed to decide if it is worth it, and if he decides it isn’t can ban you from ever buying shingles again so you can never fix your roof?

      • vdiv

        That’s nonsense and Tesla knows it. It only pertains to this car. Tesla will not sell parts to anyone without a Model S anyway. BTW the same thing applies with Chevy and the Volt.nnHis car is already lost, he bought a paperweight for $58,000 or whatever. If he wants it working he will have to find a way to work with Tesla. There is no reason for them to be unreasonable and at the same time they seek to protect the company and the brand.

  • WeaponZero

    The guy is free to modify the car and make it work. It is not like it is magically deactivated, he needs parts. Tesla is under no obligation of selling parts to a salvaged car and to an unlicensed person. Because if something goes wrong they risk taking the legal re-precautions.nnnThis situation will be less of an issue in the future when more 3rd party parts hit the market.nnI personally don’t see how he repaired the car for 8k to be road worthy and willing to bet he is worried that if Tesla finds the car not in good enough conditions, the state inspectors would decline to allow him to take the car on the road.

    • Robert Slackware

      see even you understand it isn’t about a release for them to inspect, they are going to go around his back and collude with the state to not let him drive it.nIf he already fitted the laser and rail guns It would be stupid to let them see it. they are so far up the gooberments butt they would tip off the criminals to pass new laws outlawing the mods. That is the ONLY useful thing about the car, enough juice for mobile weaponry that is useful, and not banned.

    • CTMechE

      But that’s the thing – he claims it *is* deactivated, and the car will not charge or drive without Tesla re-activating it, software-wise.nI can see that Tesla doesn’t want to sell parts or provide any warranty or support for a car that may be improperly repaired.n But from what I can tell, even if he finds all the parts and gets it mechanically fixed, the car will still not function without Tesla, and I don’t think any third party can control their proprietary computer system.

      • WeaponZero

        He makes it sound that way, but in the video (on sandiego 6) It is not “deactivated”. It is very clear the car is working. When the guy says he needs Tesla to switch on the “brain” he is talking about the battery of the car. He doesn’t know how the battery charging system works and wants Tesla to fix it. nnnIt is NOT software, NHTSA regulations require a physical disconnect of the battery in event of a major crash. You need special tooling to do that.

        • CTMechE

          Ah, the video doesn’t work on my work browser…nA physical automatic disconnect for the battery is a crash requirement, but it doesn’t have to be contained within the battery pack, nor does it have to be proprietary or require special tooling.nThe presence of a physical disconnect doesn’t mean that Tesla doesn’t *also* have proprietary battery monitoring system electronics in their battery packs that only they can control. Even if the automatic disconnect is repaired, it may still not work without Tesla’s re-activation.nDon’t get me wrong, I think the guy’s an idiot for expecting Tesla to work with him on his terms. But it would be nice to know if there really is proprietary stuff in a vehicle (or battery pack) that simply will not function without the manufacturer allowing it.nIt’s easy for Tesla to say “we will not compromise on safety” rather than say “We designed the vehicle so that nobody else will be able to get it to work again without our help.”nUntil someone has the cash to dismantle a Tesla battery and find out what’s inside, we won’t know for sure.

          • WeaponZero

            Pretty sure it is not software because in the video the guy got software running, he just can’t get the main battery pack running. Which is most likely due to the physical disconnect. The physical disconnect is not uncommon in batteries, have you ever had a lithium ion battery completely die on you? The reality is a lithium ion battery rarely dies, almost impossible. What usually happens is the sensor dies or the sensor triggers a physical disconnect on the battery. The only one who can restore the physical disconnect is the manufacturer due to tooling.nnnAlso, on TMC, a person who wants to use the Tesla battery for in-home off grid power bought one and is taking it apart with pictures and everything.

  • nuocmam

    In general, with an increased number of flood-damaged and salvage cars, it’s hard for innocent consumers to know what that shinny car they are looking at. Specifically, Tesla is right to make sure a Tesla car is safe and does not pose dangers to the public.

    • Robert Slackware

      then why don’t they ask him to sign a paper that just says they will check it for safety. instead of one that will blacklist him if they feel like it.nno different than kommifornias gun laws, the crooks in the police department will not issue a carry permit unless you are a car poses danger to the public ALWAYS. an earthquake could throw it onto a passing school bus. it is not telsas job or responsibility to make the people of kommifornia safe. If it was they would let him buy the parts as a jury rigged tesla is going to be MORE dangerous.

  • Robert Slackware

    he doesn’t WANT tesla to support the car, he wants the part to FIX it.nIt doesn’t matter what tesla says about the cars safety, the STATE is the only one that matters when you register it.

  • Robert Slackware

    He should BUY a new tesla, then order his part, then RETURN the new piece of junk. everybody is happy again.

    • 123abc

      They will still not sell you parts. They will want you to take a picture of the car and the vin #. If the insurance company declares the car a total loss, it is a dead car for them. They will never sell parts to that vin # and if you bring it to their service center they will not touch it.nnI’m a used car dealer and recently purchased a salvaged Tesla. The car has very light damage on it absolutely no frame damage. If I could buy parts the car would be fixed in a day, not counting paint work. My dealership deals with a lot of salvage cars and has its own body shop that is equipped to do aluminum repair additionally we rebuilt a lot of volts and leafs. Still Tesla will not sell any parts to me, or even program or sell me a key for the car! GM and Nissan are more than happy to sell me parts and give me 35% discount.nnThe only way I could get the car fixed if I take it to their certified repair shop, tesla will sell parts to their certified body shop. I have seen what kind of body work that shop does and I know that we can do better. This is a big problem because it puts alienation on trade. They are telling me where to take my car.nnBy making it harder for people to get parts Tesla is going to make the cars less safe. A person who buys a rebuilder knows cars or is in the business if they will not be able to get parts they will jerry rig it making it unsafe. Trust me they are not going to just let the car remain a $50k paperweight. They will make it kind of work pass the state inspection and sell it to a person who is not as knowledgeable but wants a cheap Tesla and thanks to Tesla you will have a hazard on wheels.

  • CTMechE

    People seem to be focusing on the issue of replacement parts and support from Tesla – but to me, Tesla’s response is suspiciously silent on Rutman’s claim that the car is deactivated, and only Tesla can “flip the switch” to turn it back on.nI get that a vehicle, for safety reasons, powers down in an accident. Volkswagen’s fuel pumps shut off when airbags deploy. I’m sure other vehicles have similar protective features, but I don’t think any of them are proprietary or entirely under the control of the manufacturer.nSo the question remains: does a crashed Tesla have a software shutoff that ONLY Tesla can re-activate? No third party? Because that’s what concerns me.nWhat stops any other carmaker from installing a proprietary ECU/control computer and holding a vehicle hostage, requiring a waiver and inspection, just so they can protect their own liability? Even if I, as a vehicle owner, am willing to source my own independent repair parts & labor, and accept a voided warranty, I’ll be damned if I have to ask “mother may I” from my carmaker in order to re-activate a vehicle I legally own.

    • WeaponZero

      Not software, hardware. NHTSA requires the battery have a hardware disconnect. of the battery which requires specialized tooling to fix.

    • Jim

      Catch 22. nHe bought a paperweight at a salvage auction that looks like a Tesla Model S. He is not a vehicle owner. He is a large paperweight owner. He does not have a standard vehicle title.nnAsk the state he lives in if he has a car that is legal to drive on the street? I bet they say it’s not even registered yet. Again proving it is currently just a paperweight.nnIn one major sense you are right. Don’t purchase a Tesla at a salvage auction unless you need a really large paperweight or you are a really good hacker.

  • Jim

    Cars should be required to be inspected by some authority that understands the particular car before being put back on public roads once they are salvaged. Some states already require this not to mention yearly or biyearly safety inspections.nnIn this case with a Tesla I don’t think too many inspection facilities would know what they are looking at so it would have to fall on Tesla or a Tesla certified shop. I would say the same thing for a Volt, Leaf, and similar cars. If the battery shut down after an accident there is probably a reason for it.nnShould Ford or GM be required to reset an inertia switch for a fuel pump for free? What do you think a Ford dealer would do if they accepted the request and found a hole in the fuel line? They would not reset it. Then the guy could claim the Ford dealer put the hole in the fuel line. That’s why waivers exist.nnIf you seriously think about it and watch any Tesla fire video, would you really want to turn on the high voltage battery without an inspection of said battery?nnThe car in question is NOT fully repaired and just hooking up a 12 volt battery charger to run the peripherals does not mean the car is repaired. That’s like saying a Mustang is repaired because the stereo works yet the engine won’t start. That is exactly why fools like this guy should not buy cars at auction. He bought a paperweight that looks like a Tesla Model S at auction and has NO clue what it would take to get it running. It is not Tesla’s responsibility to repair the car for him for free or supply anything to repair the paperweight. This guy should have done his research first.nnTesla has obviously sold him parts because he has already fixed the cosmetic issues with the car so that whole part of the interview is a lie about not selling him parts. At a minimum his statement is deceiving. I can understand why they won’t sell him parts for a 400 volt battery. His family will sue Tesla after he kills himself with it and he refuses to sign liability waivers.nnFinaly, There is nothing stopping this guy from making this car go except his lack of computer skills and proficiency at hacking. No one without those skills should even dream about buying one of these cars at a salvage auction. Funny that no hacker has purchased a salvaged Tesla…… and complained.

  • Jack


  • Jack

    What utter bollix. If you repair or modify your car and it causes damage or injury you are liable not the manufacturer. No case has ever been successfully brought against a carmaker for this – it defies common sense. Sounds more like Tesla wants a monopoly on repair so they can charge what they want. And turning off your car if you don’t comply is outrageous. What happened to the free market? We obviously need new legislation to stop this. It would also be reasonable to require a manufacturer to stock and offer spare parts to the market and not to discriminate between purchasers. Wake up America this is planned obsolescence in an even more evil form.

  • Robin Mac

    But would this gonna hell in sell my wrecked car

  • Dom Smith

    The thing that concerns me is that the archive Tesla requesting that he sign had provisos requesting that he concur that Tesla would never offer him or any non-affirmed repairers any extra parts (not even a light) and that adequately all future work of any sort could just be finished by money for car.

  • xavier cornelis

    i, xavier cornelis, bought a tesla roadster sport a while ago in usa and shipped it to belguim…..repaireble salvage title…..i drove the car when it arrived in belguim…..charged the battery a few times……ordered and bought 6000 us dollar of parts in tesla tilburg….started the repairs…..and then suddenly they, tesla in paolo alto , de-activated the car , and its a dead thing eversinds…..tesla is not honest about what the policy of the company is about…….its the belgian car inspection that will dicide if the car is allowed to drive on the roads here, and not tesla……i own the car….i payed for it, and i think its a crime to de activate other peoples belongings……basterds

  • Georg IV

    Rebuild a Tesla to a hydrogen-electric car
    I am thinking about buying a second hand Tesla and rebuild it to a hydrogen-electric car. I have tried to drive a Tesla S and it feels like a very good car. But, why should such a car take more than 3 minutes to refill and have a weight more than 2100 kg?
    If I remove the heavy storage battery and replace it with a hydrogen tank, that can take 6-8 kg Hydrogen, and a fuel cell, I suppose I will get the same functionality as the battery-electric version + longer driving range + faster and easier refill + better acceleration due to lower weight. I also expect the fuel economy to be improved, especially if I drive in countries where battery-electric car owners have to pay for the power themselves (unsubsidized), and the grids are fed by expensive renewable power. I suppose I will get no support from Tesla, but as long I can get the car approved by authorities, I think I will be ok.

    Does anyone have experiences around this issue, or have anyone seen other discussions regarding more radical rebuild of Teslas?

  • Georg IV

    I am thinking of buying a second-hand Tesla and rebuild it to a hydrogen-electric car. I have tried out Tesla S and it is a very good car to drive. I plan to remove the heavy storage battery and replace it with a hydrogen tank that can take 6-8 kg Hydrogen and a fuel cell. I suppose I then will get the same functionality as the battery version as well as longer driving range, faster and easier refill, and better acceleration due to lower weight. Does anyone have experience with more radical rebuilding of a Tesla?

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