Tesla Model S subject to federal investigation over failing touchscreens

The big touchscreen handles a lot of functions in the Model S.


Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a new investigation into the Tesla Model S after complaints surrounding the electric sedan’s large touchscreen. Specifically, owners alerted the agency about the screen outright failing.

NHTSA published documents Monday on the problem after receiving 11 complaints, and confirmed the agency will investigate. The complaints come from owners of 2013-2015 Model S sedans, though each of the complaints have arrived at NHTSA within the past 13 months, according to the agency.

The agency’s Office of Defects Investigation said owners allege the display unit’s problem is in the media control unit’s Nvidia Tegra 3 processor with an integrated 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device. The device isn’t supposed to last forever, though this kind of failure appears “premature,” the documents said. Its lifecycle is largely based on the number of times a program/erase cycle runs.

The complaints allege the device suffers from memory wear out. Wear out accelerates “after periods of progressively degraded performance,” such as longer load-up times, loss of cellular connection and glitchy navigation functions. When it does fail, audio and visuals kick the bucket.

NHTSA is primarily focused on the issue because a dead touchscreen also kills the Model S’ backup camera, which reduces rearward visibility. Owners added in complaints they’re unable to select climate control functions, which leaves the system on auto. Additional battery and charging information is also no longer available.

The agency noted this same flash memory device serves in approximately 159,000 other Tesla vehicles, which makes these complaints less than widespread. The initial investigation will focus on the scope and frequency of the alleged defect before progressing further.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.


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