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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