Thought of the Day: Does Tesla Have a Reliability Problem?

Welcome to Thought of the Day! Join Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield as she poses a question for you all to think about and answer.

Today, we’re asking if (following the long list of problems that some Tesla customers are having with their cars) Tesla has a quality control problem that will need to be addressed before Tesla can become a mainstream automaker.

Moreover, we’re asking if regular car customers will put up with Tesla’s current queues for authorized repairs or if they will be as understanding of the problems that arise from being on the bleeding edge of the plug-in world.

Watch the video above and leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Martin Lacey

    Nicky pleeee ase!

    First, you can’t question Model 3 reliability – it’s not even out yet!

    Second, to balance your comments, James Cook was very pleased with the service he received from Tesla (UK).

    Third, Tesla are still relatively new and are learning/growing, service is one of many plates they are spinning and I’m sure like everything else with a Tesla, it will get better with time.

    Remember the Model S is the first fully built car off the Tesla production line (The Roadster was part built by Lotus and shipped to the USA for final assembly), so in all fairness we should chalk the Model S up to experience. The Model X was an over complicated addition to the line u and has bit Tesla firmly on the bum. Model 3 is designed for simplicity of construction and also for longevity (1 million mile platform), as such it should prove to be far more reliable than the X or S.

    • Chris Skerry

      They have been making the model S for 4 years. It ought to be right by now.

      • Martin Lacey

        James Cook’s Tesla is out of warranty being over 2 years old and doesn’t even have AP1…. If it was a brand new Model S, your comment would hold water!

  • Denison

    Hi Nikki, Tesla sorted James car within 24 hours, so I don’t think that was too bad. However, I don’t think they should of charged him for the work since it appeared to be a design problem with the ECU. Regarding the problem with the door handle, I read in the Tesla forum that other owners have had a similar problem, so again a quality issue. I would like to understand the real incidence rate of the problems over the next year or so before I convert my Model 3 reservation to a firm order.

    • Chris Skerry

      Am I being too skeptical? If I was Tesla and James Cooke phoned me, I would respond really fast.

  • Albemarle

    I guess it depends on whether you view a Tesla as a option laden chick magnet or whether you view it as the savior of the planet. If it’s the latter you got what you wanted. It saves the planet even when it’s not running, right?

    If it’s a neat sexy automobile that costs in the Mercedes E & S class, then it has a serious reliability problem. Tesla never set out to just make a regular full sized EV, they tricked it out with all kinds of doodads & extras. And, as we all know, doodads and extras add to complexity which adds to reliability issues. (Chip count on PCBs is used as an indicator of reliability. Fewer chips, more reliability.) Disappearing door handles! Who would have thought that could be a relability issue?

    All automobile manufacturers have had reliability problems and most have worked them out. It’s when you pay a small fortune for the car and the reliability problem makes it not work as a car (can’t get in, won’t run, stop or turn, etc.) that you get disappointed with your purchase and question your decision making skills.

    I wonder how many Tesla owners mortgaged their farm to get into one? With the introduction of the Bolt EV and other long range bevs, they could move in large numbers to a more affordable and simpler vehicle.

    I think the Bolt EV and others will put enormous financial pressure on Tesla. They are having problems handling their current success. When you have Supercharger, reliabilty and service problems at 80,000 cars a year, it’s a worry.

    More companies die than fly with rapid growth. The Model 3 will be a double edged sword.

  • Chris Skerry

    Yes they do have a reliability problem, and yes Martin Lacey, she can question future M3 reliability. I am concerned that it may not be good enough. Problem is the wrong word, but I don’t know the right one – the problem is that the basic concept of the car is so fantastically good that it masks everything that is wrong, including reliability. I think 98% of owners would buy another, that means that they have decided to put up with the reliability and have another one which might be as bad, or worse.

    Lets move to mid 2018 when the volume of the M3 is going up and Tesla could go from strength to strength. I think what might happen is that by that time, a competitor will have come up with a similar design. If it is slightly less good than the T, but reliable, then T will start to fail. Huge investments, huge capacity, falling customer demand, bad news.

    Reliability is a very important part of the customer experience, but so is ordering, financing, repairing, spares, service etc. And these are not brilliant either. I read of a Brit driver waiting for a front body part for a long time. That is just not acceptable, car companies often keep such parts at the local garage, but can certainly get them in 24/48 hours.

  • Farmer_Dave

    I have one of the first Model X’s which certainly had more issues than, say, my Lexus LS. But even the Lexus had a serious engine problem early on, and that’s on a model that’s been produced with relatively minor changes for two decades.

    That said, my last visit to the service center was for minor issues such as wind noise and false alarms on the seat belts. Everything else was previously resolved by the service center in short order or was fixed with OTA software updates. We love our Model X and hardly ever drive the Lexus anymore. It’s my understanding that cars produced since the middle of 2016 are much more problem-free from the start.

    I do hope that the Model 3, being simpler and designed for automated production, will require less service center attention for three reasons:
    1) The general public will be less forgiving of problems than we early adopters.
    2) The service centers are currently being overwhelmed, resulting in appointment delays (my last took more than a month).
    3) The price of the Model 3 won’t support a high volume of uncompensated warranty work.

  • Tom Moore

    Reliability implies freedom from roadside breakdowns. I’ve been paying attention but I am not aware of many cases of roadside breakdowns. There are a few people determined to see how far the car will go after the battery is empty and some of them end up needing to be towed. There were a few cases of suspension ball joints failing totally. A small number of main batteries or their contactor have failed catastrophically. I’m not aware of other issues that required a tow, but there may be some.

    Quality is another thing of course. There have been quite a few quality issues with door handles and panoramic roofs, rattles and creaks, radio reception that is deficient, insufficient HVAC in the rear facing seat area and even in the rear seat, charging cables that behave erratically, 12 V battery failures. But these things don’t usually disable the car unless ignored, and I wouldn’t call them reliability issues.

  • Joe Viocoe

    They have a perception problem. They are a new company, full of the standard growing pains… competing with established automakers who have ironed out many quality issues with any given platform.

    Also, PLEASE,… there is a difference between “quality” and “reliability”.

  • I feel that there is a perception problem, as Mr. Viocoe said below. If you as a consumer are buying cutting-edge technology from a new company and expect perfection, you should *not* be buying that product from that company.Being an early adopter means incurring *risk*. That is the whole point. If you are risk-adverse you should be buying a car brand/model that has been time-tested, and even those vehicles may have problems…

    …and *every* car I have ever owned has had a problem at *some* time. Something can go wrong anywhere, anytime. It can happen near home or you can be 4000 miles from home. This is why I have AAA, a cell phone, and, in pre-cellphone days, a CB Radio. (I still travel with a hand-held CB in case I am out of cell range) I have bought a car fresh off the factory line with wind shield not properly set and making horrid noises (a 2003 Honda Civic) and a decade-old, used van that is still on the road today (a 1982 Dodge, bought in 1993 and currently driven by the friend I sold it to in 2010)

    While I don’t doubt that there are fellow Tesla owners who have had problems, I feel that most of the complaints I read on-line are minor things- like creaks, wind noise, etc- things that don’t make the car inherently dangerous to drive. As for my 2014 Model S, so far so good- the only issue was needing to replace the tire pressure sensors, which was covered by warrently (and only went wonky because *I* swapped out the 21″ wheels for 19″ ones)

    I have driven 11,000 miles to seven states in the past nine months I’ve had it (previous owner upgraded to a Model X).This doesn’t mean something won’t or can’t happen-but I am comfortable with the risk…. and love my car:-)

  • IanStuart

    Strange that you feel that you have to ask for comments about Tesla’s reliability problem when you then proceed to give a series of anecdotes about people who had problems. You do realise that anecdote is not the singular of data? Over 90 percent of Tesla buyers say that they would buy them again. That suggests that those who actually drive Teslas don’t have a problem with reliability. I have ordered a Model 3 partly because of my experience with a VW Passat which I ended up giving to Goodwill because of electronics problems that rendered it undriveable and which the local dealers refused to deal with. Fully electric cars don’t have most of the things that go wrong with ICE cars. No transmission, cooling system, alternator, pistons, catalytic converter etc. And a manufacturer who doesn’t love planned obsolescence – ICE dealers make more from service than from sales (I suspect that even if they sell electric cars they will not do so with enthusiasm)

    I have found an interesting pattern with most writing about Tesla in the financial press and in the car magazines: “They are bound to go out of business” (quoting ex GM executive Bob Lutz as if he is an expert); they won’t be able to manufacture enough of them because there were delays in ramping up production of S and X models (that of course ignores the fact that they might have learned something in the process and that the Model 3 is a much simpler design); the Bolt is available a year ahead of the Model 3 (no it isn’t, it won’t be rolled out until after the middle of 2017 and there are supply constraints even if people wanted to buy one); and they are a niche market because you need to have a garage and able to recharge them (I wonder how many million people satisfy that onerous condition which was raised by Forbes’ motor correspondent)

  • Tesla is still the brand with the highest owner satisfaction, i.e. highest percentage of owners saying they would buy again. Problems must not be as bad or as widespread as it appears.

  • BMW and Mercedes have models with terrible reliability. Other than Lexus, unreliability seems to come with the territory of high end luxury cars.

  • Mark Melocco

    Hi Nikki,
    Like you with James Cook, I watch your blogs in blocks so sorry this is late.
    I own a Model S built in November 2014 and it now has 40,000km on the dial.
    The car has had 2 problems:
    The screen washer pump failed last year and was replaced under warranty.
    At my annual service last November and about 38,000Km Tesla noted that my motor was afflicted with the ‘milling’ noise from one of the main bearings. Tesla ordered a replacement motor and it was fitted a week later. Getting an appointment here is generally same week.
    The first problem doesn’t worry me but the second is a concern, particularly as Tesla exchanged the entire motor because they don’t have the tools to replace the bearing in Australia.
    I keep cars a long time, my last car, a Mercedes was 15 and only died because a texting teenager hit it and wrote it off financially, I drove it to the smash repairer.
    If I still own the Model S at 8 years old I will need to be confident that things like the bearing issue are fully resolved to keep the car any longer. Concerns like this will also likely affect its resale or make Teslas hard to sell out of warranty.
    Would I counsel anyone not to buy a Tesla due to real or perceived reliability issues, absolutely not.
    It’s still the best car in the world.