Consumer Reports Suffered Notorious Tesla Model S Door Handle Failure — But Repair Was Quick, Painless

Since its first publication in 1936, U.S. consumer advice group Consumer Reports has become known for its fair and impartial consumer advice on everything from household consumables through to appliances, gadgets and even cars.

Is the Model S honeymoon over for Consumer Reports?

Is the Model S honeymoon over for Consumer Reports?

Indeed, earning Consumer Reports’ praise is something of a gold standard for any firm looking to market its products at discerning buyers. Consequently, it takes a lot of hard work to earn Consumer Reports’ praise, and even more to keep it.

That’s something Californian automaker Tesla Motors knows well, having earned consistent praise from Consumer Reports for nearly two years for everything from its overall best vehicle award to its service and aftersales support and its reliability. During that time, Tesla’s Model S luxury electric sedan has even managed to attain the highest ratings of any automobile tested by the consumer group to date.

[Our] $127,000 Tesla Model S P85 D, with the fancy retractable door handles refused to let us in, effectively rendering the car undriveable.Consumer Reports

But last week, Tesla’s outstanding reputation with Consumer Reports hit a bit of a bump when Consumer Report’s latest Model S test car — a recently-purchased Tesla Model S P85D — suffered an embarrassing problem which meant the Consumer Reports team were unable to drive it.

The automatically retracting door handles — one of the many high-tech trademark features of the Tesla Model S — refused to work.

A faulty door handle caused a temporary cessation to Model S fun.

A faulty door handle caused a temporary cessation to Model S fun.

“A new car shouldn’t have problems when you’ve owned it for less than a month,” wrote Consumer Reports last week. “Yet Consumer Reports’ brand-new $127,000 Tesla Model S P85D, with the fancy retractable door handles refused to let us in, effectively rendering the car undriveable.”

According to the publication, the car had just over 2,300 miles on the clock and was just 27 days old when it developed this particularly annoying bug. While the problem is well-documented among Tesla Model S owners as one of the key points of failure for the luxury electric sedan, it appears the Consumer Reports test car only developed a problem with its driver-side front door. While that meant nobody could access the car from the driver’s’ side, the open design of the Model S cockpit made it possible for a quick-footed staffer to jump behind the steering wheel from the passenger side, allowing them to at least get in the car.

Interestingly — or annoyingly for the Consumer Reports team — the Tesla Model S in question was aware of the malfunctioning door handle and thus put itself into a self-protecting mode that prevented itself from being driven normally. Instead, it would allow the Consumer Reports team to initiate an emergency session of keyless driving from an iPhone for just two minutes at a time: just enough to get the car parked in a safe space to await an engineer.

Getting our Tesla fixed could hardly have been more convenient,Consumer Reports

To its credit, Tesla was able to diagnose the problem remotely thanks to its over-the-air software update system and fully remote telematics. Rather than send out an engineer, Tesla was able to query the car’s on-board system to figure out the problem and order a replacement part. The next day, a Tesla service engineer attached to the company’s fleet of roving repair vans arrived at Consumer Reports’ test centre to replace the broken part.

Consumer reports noted that the problem was verified, diagnosed and repaired by the engineer in around two hours, something that it praised Tesla for.

Tesla's repair was quick and painless.

Tesla’s repair was quick and painless.

“Getting our Tesla fixed could hardly have been more convenient,” enthused the publication.

Looking at Consumer Reports’ reliability survey for the Model S, it seems those famous retracting doors are a common problem for Model S owners. Yet while we’re sure those who have suffered them would rather not have the problem in the first place, it seems Tesla’s quick, painless, and dealer-free repair makes up for any inconvenience along the way — as we’re sure many who have been forced to endure dealer-based warranty repairs from other car brands will relive with horror.


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  • D. Harrower

    This is very interesting. I know there were door handle problems on Model S during its first 12 months of production, but Tesla developed a revised version of the door handle and the problem dropped off for the next couple years.

    It seems like something during the last round of updates may have reintroduced this bug. A friend of mine (and fellow Tesla owner) just encountered the same problem as CR in the last week or so (bad driver’s door handle)

  • lad76

    I’m sure they all will be fixed…for free. No Big Deal! The big deal is the Gigafactory b/c it will accelerate EV development and mass market acceptance of EVs. I look at the Tesla model S and X as proving grounds for EVs and not just “Door Knobs.”

    • I’ve got to admit: if I had just purchased a car like the Model S and the door handles played up, I’d be pretty frustrated…

      • lad76

        Enjoyed the article; but, been around a long time and purchased many cars, I think the worse quality time slot was right after WW2 when the auto makers could pretty much sell anything with four wheels.

        If anything I fault the design of the Tesla door handle design as being more of a unnecessary risk than a convenience., just like the upcoming model X Falcon doors.

  • Haggy

    How is this a notorious failure? They didn’t say the failure rate, but said that it’s above average. Door handle failure rates are low to begin with since many don’t use electronic control boards (the handle didn’t actually fail) so if Tesla has 2/1000 instead of 1/1000 failures, it would be twice the failure rate. If it were that high, there would be 20 or so failures per quarter and we’d see posts in message boards asking whether anybody else was having the same problem. So I doubt it’s anywhere near that high.

    Consumer reports said that Tesla sent somebody over to fix it immediately, but the car was driveable. It has three other doors.

  • Joseph

    I wonder how fast mine would be fixed? They can bend over backwards for Consumer Reports, but how about for the owner of a lower priced model??? Sending out engineers is not cost effective!

    • Rikaishi Rikashi

      Tesla are pretty committed to ensuring all their customers have a good experience, it’s part of their strategy to speed up the mass-market adoption of EVs.

      Sending out a repairman is small potatoes compared to other stories I’ve heard about the lengths they’ll go to, such as picking up the car from your house and leaving a model S loaner while it’s being repaired. Or picking the car up from your workplace and having it back and fixed by the end of the day. All for free since the servicing costs are averaged across all vehicles sold and added on to the price of each Model S, just like the supercharging costs.

      The fecklessness and predatory business model of the parts+dealership industries gives electric cars, with their low maintenance requirements, a huge advantage and business opportunity which Tesla is exploiting.

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