Consumer Reports Gives Tesla Model S Low Marks in Annual Auto Reliability Survey, Pulls Recommendation for Electric Car

When Consumer Reports tested the high-end Tesla Model S P85D electric sedan earlier this year, it praised the latest iteration of the performance-oriented plug-in for its excellent handling capabilities, impressive acceleration, and responsive feel.

The latest in a long line of praise for the Californian automaker which saw the Model S earn Consumer Reports‘ prized recommendation in both 2013 and 2014 as well as accolades for its 98 percent owner satisfaction and exemplary after-sales service, the Model S P85D review seemed to cement the Tesla Model S as one of Consumer Reports‘ most celebrated vehicles.

Door handle faults remained a constant complaint.

Door handle faults remained a constant complaint.

That was until today, when the publication announced that the Tesla Model S had lost its official Consumer Reports recommendation as a consequence of a plethora of reported faults with customer cars in its Annual Auto Reliability Survey.

The survey, which uses survey responses from its readers to chronicle the issues that owners have had with any car purchased brand new in the past three years, scores automakers for the total number of failures in their cars per capita, then orders automakers and individual models from the least reliable to the most reliable

In past years, Tesla’s Model S had scored reasonably well in the Annual Auto Reliability Survey, meaning it could be awarded the coveted Consumer Reports recommended red tick. But this year, says the publication, the Model S has moved from the ‘average’ prediction of last year’s reliability survey to ‘worse-than-average.’

It’s this move, says Consumer Reports, which means the coveted red tick has now been removed.

Detailing the ownership experiences of the 1,400 or so 2012-2015 Tesla Model S owners who filled out this year’s Annual Auto Reliability Survey, Consumer Reports says respondents chronicled a number of fairly major problems with their cars, ranging from the freezing of the massive 17-inch touch-screen display which forms the centerpiece of every Model S dashboard, through to leaking sunroofs, issues with the climate control, steering and suspension systems.

Other owners complained about the complicated auto-retracting door handles — an issue which Consumer Reports experienced first hand on its own Model S earlier this year —  as well as an increasing number of drive train failures.

Early 2013 model year Teslas are now experiencing more trouble with their drivetrain than in previous years, says Consumer Reports.

Early 2013 model year Teslas are now experiencing more trouble with their drivetrain than in previous years, says Consumer Reports.

Interestingly, the 2015 Model S fared far worse in terms of the number of climate control, steering and suspension complaints compared to older models, while drive system malfunctions were most common in the 2013 Tesla Model S cars, which as Consumer Reports notes, was the first full year of production for the high-end luxury sedan.

At this point we should note — as Consumer Reports does — that the Tesla Model S comes with a four-year (50,000-mile) bumper-to-bumper warranty, which covers many of the issues listed above. Meanwhile, Tesla also offers an eight-year, unlimited mileage battery and drivetrain warranty, meaning that all of the problems listed by the Annual Auto Reliability Survey will have been rectified by Tesla free of charge.

Because the Tesla Model S is all-electric and has an extremely quiet interior, it’s fair to say– as with other electric cars — that the kind of rattles and squeaks that any car develops with age are more noticeable without a throbbing internal combustion engine under the hood. But even discounting the majority of these reports, there are  still plenty of other problems showing up, says the magazine.

Others reported a number of squeaks and rattles inside the cabin, as well as freezing touch-screen displays.

Others reported a number of squeaks and rattles inside the cabin, as well as freezing touch-screen displays.

Some respondents also noted problems with warped brake rotors, something we’ll admit that higher-performance cars can suffer from if the driver is overly spirited in their driving style. But some of the other issues — such as inoperable wipers, leaking battery cooling pumps and out-of alignment latches on the frunk and trunk hints that quality control could be suffering as Tesla ramps up its production. Another, persistent wheel-alignment issues, means that some owners are getting through tires more quickly than perhaps the ought.

Tesla isn’t alone however. Other high-end cars such as the BMW X5 and 5-Series sedan, as well as the Chevrolet Corvette, received lower-than-average reliability ratings in the same survey.

Despite the high number of faults, owners remain highly impressed by the speed and quality of service.

Despite the high number of faults, owners remain highly impressed by the speed and quality of service.

Despite the lengthening list of aliements to present themselves to Model S owners this year, Consumer Reports makes one thing very clear: Tesla’s after-sales service remains exemplary, with the majority of respondents taking time to specifically praise Tesla on the survey for the way in which repairs and warranty claims were handled, with repair and courtesy cars coming in double-quick time.

In many cases, the automaker went above and beyond the call of duty, replacing not just a single faulty component but the entire assembly containing the faulty component.

“A minor amount of play developed in the differential gears. Tesla replaced the entire drive system. Remarkable Service!” wrote one respondent, while another praised Tesla for fixing a creaking ball joint in a front lower control arm within 24 hours.

The result? Despite the lower-than-average reliability, 97 percent of respondents said they would buy another Tesla electric car, impressed at the quick and effortless way in which Tesla manages to rectify faults in their customers’ cars, often diagnosing the problem remotely via the always-on two-way Internet connection built into every Tesla Model S.

Consumer Reports notes that at the moment, owners who experience problems with the Model S are likely to have a least one other car at their disposal thanks to the high-sticker price and assumption that those who can afford to buy one will have a second-car at hand if things go wrong. By that same logic, it concludes that may not be the case for the upcoming Tesla model 3, which is scheduled to retail for around $35,000 when it goes on sale in a few years’ time.

We’re not sure we agree with that particular conclusion, but as the number of Teslas on the roads increases, Tesla will need to improve its overall reliability in order to avoid costly warranty claims which could affect the bottom line in the future.

Following the publication of Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Reliability Survey, Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] stock plummeted from an opening price of $227.52 to just $203.01, before rising again in afternoon trading. At the time of writing, Tesla shares are worth $211,98, a 7.02 percent drop on yesterday’s closing price.



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