Saturday, March 5, 2016

Why I think Tesla is building throwaway cars

Tesla very clearly builds some good cars.  The Model S is an incredibly well regarded car, and it certainly goes like stink in a straight line.

A lot of Tesla fans claim that electric vehicles are inherently superior, because with fewer moving parts, they'll be able to stay on the road basically forever - no piston rings to wear, no transmissions to fail, no oil to change.

But will they?  Frequently, the decision to repair or scrap a car isn't made based on what is technically possible, but based on what the owner thinks is financially reasonable.  In many cases, it's possible to repair a car long past what most people would consider reasonable, but cars end up scrapped anyway because someone doesn't want to pay for the repairs.

For the Model S to remain on the road long past the standard lifetime of cars, then, it has to be financially feasible for an average owner to repair it and keep it running.

Is it?  Read on and let's take a look.




What makes a "Repairable Car"?

Any car (or other vehicle) kept around long enough is going to need repairs at some point.  Things break.  It's the nature of the reality we live in, and it's especially the nature of things that go pounding down poorly maintained roads at high speeds for hundreds of thousands of miles.

What matters for longevity, then, is how easy it is to repair something when it breaks, and how expensive it is to get the parts and knowledge required to perform the repair.  If something cannot be affordably fixed, the whole vehicle gets scrapped.

I've owned a number of vehicles over the years.  Some, I've literally rescued from junkyards.  Others, I've intercepted hours away from the junkyard ("Hey, the scrapper offered me $125, beat that and it's yours."  "I'll be up there in half an hour with cash.") - and I've kept all of them on the road, and sold them in working condition to other people.  In the process, I've learned a lot about what is easy to keep on the road, and what is hard.

There are several factors that go into a repairable car.

The first, obviously, is being able to get the parts.  Having a common enough car helps a lot.  Nobody is going to have problems finding parts for a Mustang or a Civic.  You can get parts for them anywhere, and there are often a wide range of aftermarket parts available as well to improve on what the factory put in.

The second factor is the design of the car.  How easy is it to replace parts?  If you need a full factory service manual (that you cannot obtain) and a bunch of specialized tools to work on the car, it fails here.  If you can repair the common failures with a set of socket wrenches and a Chilton's or Haynes manual, awesome!  Worth a special mention for "difficult" are the cars that needlessly require a service computer to replace parts.  On a certain 1994 GM car I've had the displeasure of working on, replacing the brake master cylinder requires a $10,000 GM Tech 1 computer, because removing the master cylinder requires removing the antilock brake module.  This, in turn, requires detensioning the antilock actuator.  Which requires a computer.  Not a friendly car to work on, and I'd hope it's long since been turned into anvils.

How Repairable is a Tesla Model S?

Tesla has, at literally every corner, made it as hard as they can to work on their cars.  An incomplete list of issues with keeping a Model S on the road includes:

  • Service manual availability
  • Extended Warranty Transfer & Exceptions
  • Firmware Updates for Everything
  • No independent shops
  • Salvage title checks
  • Strong stated opinions about information screens
  • Lack of a working OBD-II port

Service Manuals

The first problem in trying to repair a Tesla involves the service manuals.  Historically, factory service manuals are easy to come by, and the Chilton and Haynes aftermarket manuals cover most things you'd want to do on a car.

Tesla, being of the internet age, has "progressed" past paper manuals you can buy and peruse - they've got their service manuals available online!  If you browse to https://service.teslamotors.com/, you see a friendly "WELCOME TO TESLA MOTORS SERVICE" banner, with information about available information subscriptions.

Yes, subscriptions.  $30/hr, $100/day, $350/mo, or $3000/yr (prices as of Feb 15, 2016).

Well, that's still better than shop labor rates, right?  One click takes you to the Registration page, where you enter your email, a password (complete with password strength meter), and once you select your country ("United States" for me), there's a bit of a problem.

I don't live in Massachusetts.

And there's no other options in the list.

So, sorry.  You probably can't get the service manuals outside Massachusetts.  In a car with sensors everywhere, you probably shouldn't pry anywhere with one.  Where are they?  Guess!

Why can you get the manuals in Massachusetts (if for obscene rates)?  Because they passed the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative back in 2012.

Extended Warranty Transfer

Tesla has an 8 year/unlimited mileage battery and motor warranty on their Model S.  However, the rest of the car has a reasonably standard 4 year/50,000 mile warranty.

If you'd like to extend this out to 8 years, you can - Tesla offers an extended warranty that can be purchased before the 4 year/50,000 mile warranty is expired.

For quite a while, this couldn't be transferred to a new buyer.  However, in the middle of February, 2016, Tesla did change this, and chose some really weird wording for the change.

The original, before mid-Feb: https://www.teslamotors.com/support/service-plans (Feb 14, 2016):
Can I transfer my Tesla Service Plan or Extended Service to the new owner if I sell my Tesla vehicle?
No, you can request a cancellation and reimbursement of your Tesla Service Plan. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions for your Tesla Service Plan or Extended Service for more information.
Shortly after some news sites noticed this change, Tesla said "Whoops!" and changed it to some shiny new wording:

Current wording, mid-March:
Can I transfer my Tesla Service Plan or Extended Service to the new owner if I sell my Tesla vehicle?
Yes, you can transfer the unused portion of your Tesla Service Plan or Extended Service Agreement with the sale of your Tesla. In addition, we’re going to take this opportunity to go one step further: Tesla owners can transfer the unused value of your Extended Service Agreement towards an Extended Service Agreement for a new Tesla Model S or Model X. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions for your Tesla Service Plan or Extended Service for more information. You can view these Terms and Conditions after logging into your Tesla account. Click on “Services Sign Up” and following the appropriate link for your chosen plan.
Tesla claims the previous wording was a mistake - but notice in the new wording, "In addition, we're going to take this opportunity to go one step further:"  What opportunity?  That they got caught with some changes?  It's really weird wording for a standard policy, at best.

Extended Warranty Exceptions

Not wanting to trust that everything would be resolved within the first 4 years, you wisely bought the extended warranty.

What does, and doesn't, this cover?

If you haven't looked over it, you should.  As of this posting, the document is dated Feb 18, 2016.  I'll highlight a few interesting bits and pieces.

Per-Visit Deductible

The deductible for an extended warranty visit is $200.  Per visit (not per issue).

Schedule Service Requirements

You did keep up with all the "optional" scheduled service, right?

To maintain the validity of this Vehicle ESA, You must follow correct operations procedures and have Your Vehicle serviced as recommended by Tesla during the Agreement Period of this Vehicle ESA. If requested, proof of required service, including receipts showing date and mileage of the Vehicle at the time of service, must be presented before any repairs under this Vehicle ESA commence. Service within 1,000 miles and/or 30 days of Tesla’s recommended intervals shall be considered compliant with the terms of this Vehicle ESA.
This is especially entertaining, considering Tesla's stance on warranty for the "regular warranty" (from https://www.teslamotors.com/support/service-plans#/tesla-service, March 2, 2016):

If I choose not to service my Tesla vehicle, will this void my warranty or Resale Value Guarantee?
It is highly recommended that you service your Tesla vehicle once a year or every 12,500 miles. If you do not follow this recommendation, your New Vehicle Limited Warranty will not be affected. If you are financing your Tesla vehicle through Tesla Financing, you will only be eligible for the full Resale Value Guarantee if your Tesla vehicle is brought in for service per the above recommended timeline. 
They conveniently fail to mention that by doing this, you might void your extended warranty.

Transport to the Authorized Service Center

It's on you.  Hopefully you live near a Service Center.
The cost of transporting Your Vehicle is not included in this Vehicle ESA and You are solely responsible for the cost of transporting Your Vehicle to the Tesla Authorized Service Center.
Tesla's new 500 mile roadside assistance offer doesn't seem to apply to the extended warranty.  Sorry.

Exclusions (What is not covered)

This section includes a lot of things that will void your warranty or aren't covered.  A sample of items:
  • Repairs, modifications or alterations, or the installation or use of fluids, parts or accessories, performed by any service provider other than a Tesla Authorized Service Center without prior authorization from Tesla;
  • …using the Vehicle as a stationary power source…
  • …including not performing all vehicle maintenance and service requirements during the Agreement Period…
  • Vehicles used for commercial purposes, which includes but is not limited to government purposes, pick-up, and delivery service, company pool use, or for service or repair calls, route work, or hauling;
  • Racing on or off road, competition, speed contests or autocross or for any other purposes for which the Vehicle is not designed…
  • Roadster and Model S vehicles used for towing;
  • Towing the Vehicle or improper winch procedures;
  • Tampering with the Vehicle and its systems, including installation of non-Tesla accessories or parts or their installation, or any damage directly or indirectly caused by, due to or resulting from the installation or use of non-Tesla parts or accessories;
  • Adjustments necessary to correct squeaks, rattles, water leaks or wind noise;
  • Parts and normal or expendable maintenance items and procedures such as annual service and diagnostics checks, brake pads/linings, brake rotor, suspension alignment, wheel balancing, hoses, air conditioning lines, hoses or connections, Battery testing, fluid changes, appearance care (such as cleaning and polishing), filters and wiper blades/inserts;
This is a small list of ways to void your extended warranty and things that aren't covered.  Basically, unless you've had a Tesla Service Center do all the work from day 1, on schedule, they can probably find an excuse to not cover you.

Regarding competition driving, autocross, etc - remember, this is a company who wrote their interpretation of a test drive, including such details as, "Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot."

Have you driven for Uber?  Ever?  That might be considered a "commercial purpose."  Is it?  Maybe.

I certainly hope you haven't done what a Tesla owner in Texas did, and towed a ton and a half or so behind a Model S.  That's definitely going to void the extended warranty!

If it leaks water anywhere?  That's not covered either.

And air conditioning lines not being covered?  They shouldn't fail that early.

Basically, if Tesla doesn't want to honor your extended warranty agreement, they can probably find some way out of it.

What about service center costs?

Service Center Costs

Since the only answer for service is, "Take it to your nearest Tesla Service Center," it would be helpful to know what will it cost to repair a Model S out of warranty?  Nobody knows!  They're all in warranty!

It's possible to take a look at known service plan pricing, though, and get an idea.

https://www.teslamotors.com/support/service-plans lists the services performed and cost for each of the three annual inspection levels.

For a service consisting of: Multi point inspection and alignment check, tire rotation, cabin air filter replacement, wiper blade replacement, and a new set of key fob batteries, you pay $400.

If brake fluid replacement and "AC Service" is added to the previous, it's $700.

And if the battery coolant is getting replaced, it's $900.

This is not particularly cheap.  At all.  Especially when one considers that the car is perpetually performing a "Multi point inspection" of itsself.  From a comment in a post on rebuilding a flooded Model S, the cars are constantly detecting and reporting faults back to the mothership, even as they flood (apparently with enough detail to determine that the battery pack was taking on water).  This isn't a 1970s Camero.  We've moved to sealed bearings and bushings for suspension, and everything else has a sensor.  What are they inspecting?

Don't expect the Service Center to be cheap, out of warranty.  It's not like you've got other options!

Salvage Titles

A salvage title is a reasonably straightforward thing.  It means the insurance company didn't consider the vehicle economical to repair (usually if it's more than 50% of the remaining value), and have fun.

You can usually pick up salvage title vehicles cheap, repair them yourself (since parts cost is less than "insurance company shop cost"), and be on your way.

Well, unless you tried to do that to a Tesla with a salvage title.  Tesla, unlike every other manufacturer, will only reactivate your car in their system if you take it to them first.


In a nutshell:
  • Tesla requires you to bring the vehicle to one of their Service Centers or a Tesla-certified body shop to do a detailed inspection, to their desired level of detail (which, of course, you can't find out in advance).  You pay actual cost for this inspection.
  • All warranties are void (this is reasonable enough).
  • If Tesla doesn't like the repairs, they won't touch the vehicle until you fix it to their satisfaction.  You, of course, pay for subsequent inspections.  And the repairs.
  • "If Tesla determines that sufficient repairs cannot be made to the Salvage Vehicle, Tesla will not service the Salvage Vehicle."
  • Tesla won't sell you parts to fix your vehicle (not that you can get the service manual anyway).
Basically, a salvage Tesla is useful as a source for parts Tesla won't sell people, and that's it.  Tesla has the final say on repairs, and if they don't feel like doing it for you, well, tough.

Would you like to do something interesting with a salvage Tesla chassis, like putting a stretched Vanagon body on it?  Sorry.  This guy's local service center sent him an email saying, "Due to the salvage status of your Model S , I have been instructed to cease providing you with parts."

Did you buy a salvage Model S and repair it yourself?  Oh... you wanted it reactivated so it would work?  Tough.  Not only does Tesla "deactivate" cars, you have to bring it to them and pay their inspection fees to get it working again.

Who really owns a Tesla?  Not the title holder, that's for sure.

Information Screens

Recently, a set of photos of the service menus of the Model S did the rounds of the internet.

Why is this remotely interesting on the 4th production year of a car?  Well, because most people can't get to it.  Even read only screens.  You're locked out, on "your" car.

The car has a wealth of information available to it, and the only way to obtain this is with a Tesla Technician.  Almost certainly, this will not be released to owners when the car is out of warranty (though if the car detected it's status and unlocked access, this would be incredible).

A Tesla VP, posting on Tesla Motors Club back in 2012, expressed a very clear opinion on the service screens:
The screens behind this password are behind a password for a reason. These diagnostic screens contain information that is not meant to be public. These screens are accessible in the car to help our technicians help our customers. They contain information about the car and its systems.
I won't go into all the reasons why I would prefer these screens not be posted here, or anywhere else for that matter, but if anyone reading this owns or works at a business that has information that is not meant for public display, then they will understand my request. If you work at a company with a client list, you would prefer that your client list not be published on the web. If you use any type of proprietary software or hardware, you would prefer not to have the code published on the web. If you have a new technology that you are fighting very hard to bring to market, you'd prefer that all the workings behind your new technology not be published on the web.
I could go on and on, but I will not. I will simply say that what is behind this password is not meant for public display. It is there to allow us to help our customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, and I would respectfully ask that the screens and content of the screens not be posted openly anywhere.
So, despite you holding the title, it's Tesla's information.  Even useful things, like tire pressure.

OBD-II and Network Ports

This information being unavailable is in contrast to almost every other car on the market that puts out plenty of useful information over the OBD-II port.  They're required.

Tesla has one on the Model S.  It just doesn't happen to work.  Even if you just want basic information like "speed" and "miles driven" for those pay-by-the-mile insurance discounts?  Nope.  Nothing.  They just think it's a parked car (before the companies involved figured out that it's not compatible).

Fortunately, the Model S has an accessible ethernet port.  Unfortunately, if you use it, you may get a phone call from Tesla that talks about voiding your warranty, industrial espionage, and then a firmware update that disables the port.

Tesla doesn't want you messing with "their" car.

Why does this matter?

It matters because Tesla would like people to believe they're making very long lived cars that will last nearly forever.  It's apparently been stated in some conference or another that Tesla has a battery pack that has done the equivalent of 500k miles in a lab somewhere, and "low maintenance" is consistently listed by owners as a reason they purchased one.

Right now, almost all the Model Ss driving around are under the factory warranty, and I'd wager a large number have the extended warranty (though see above for my opinion of it).  In another 4 years, the first wave will be leaving the extended warranty coverage, and then people will have to pay the full costs to maintain the car.

Which, unless something changes, involves going to a Tesla Service Center and paying whatever they want, since you can't get parts other places, and even if you do get the parts, you can't find out how to install them.  And, at least some of them apparently involve firmware updates to make things work, which you can't get the software to do.

It's pretty well locked down, and you simply don't have any options.  There are no independent shops you can use either.

So far, it doesn't seem to affect people that much.  The Model S and Model X are selling as fast as they can be built, and it turns out that people who buy new $100k cars don't really care much about out-of-warranty maintenance costs.

But this will become more and more of a problem as the cars drop in value over time - both for the Model S/X, and for the more inexpensive Model 3.  Not everyone buying a $35k or $45k car will be able to afford to replace it when the warranty is up, and with Service Centers being the only places for service at unknown prices, they could end up as very expensive vehicles to keep on the road.  If everything is reliable as expected, the power electronics and motors should be fine long term, but only time will tell how they actually handle decades of use.

According to the US DOT, the average age of cars on the road in 2015 was 11.4 years - and this has been steadily increasing over time.  So the question shouldn't be, "How easy is it to maintain a Model S in 4 years" - it should be, "Can they be reasonably maintained to survive 20 or 30 years on the road?"

Why not leases only?

There's actually another electric car that had this level of lockdown with regards to access and service.  The GM EV1.  From Wikipedia:
The cars were not available for purchase, and could be serviced only at designated Saturn dealerships.
If Tesla really wants to maintain this much control over it's cars, they could do it reasonably enough with leases.

But they're not.  They're selling vehicles outright, offering owners the title, and then essentially saying, "But it's still our car - not yours.  You can't access it, you can't repair it, and you can't have the information from it."

What can be done?

If you're an owner of a Tesla vehicle, it would be wise to keep a bit of a cash or credit buffer around post-warranty for repairs.  Until they're better understood in frequency and price, it's safe to assume they'll be quite expensive.

If you're Tesla?  Independent service shop certifications would be a good start, but so would making the information available to the owners of your cars.  A working OBD-II port would be a nice touch too.

And if you don't care?  Well, then don't care, and do whatever you want.

Postscript & links to comment threads

Wow.  I didn't expect that.  Over 100k page views, front page Hacker News, and a lot of very good conversation in comment threads in many places.

Some of the comment threads I found:
r/Futurology (!!!)

54 comments:

  1. Thank you for the detailed info re. what one can expect with a Tesla. I was thinking about getting a Tesla next year till I read your post.

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  2. The no-lease thing is because you can't get federal or state incentives I'd you lease. Great rundown thanks for publishing this.

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    Replies
    1. At least in California, you can get both federal & state incentives with a 3-year lease (at least that's been the case with the Chevy Volt). The money actually goes to the bank, but is (or should be) credited back to the person leasing the car.

      Delete
  3. A very strange blog post indeed. From what I know, the gist of your posting would be the same for any high end car. Do I want to use my car as a power source? Tow a trailer with a car not rated for that? No, of course not.

    The service lockdown makes total sense right now. I have no problem with it. The car is completely computer controlled and could probably easily be hacked into going faster, etc.... Not to mention they are still learning and changing things....the over the air upgrades and bug fixes are awesome and all car makers are following as quickly as possible. Musk has publicly stated he doesn't intend for service to be a profit making organization. Perhaps you don't believe that promise but I'm willing to take that risk.

    Comparing this policy to the EV1 is just silly. The EV1 was built by AC propulsion for GM, GM had no interest in electric cars (Watch movie "Who killed the electric car?") but probably wanted to understand what they'd be up against if they became popular.

    I'm not a "rich" person. The most expensive car I have owned was the Camry Hybrid I sold when I got my Tesla. The Camry, which has a good reputation, required plenty of expensive repairs during it's live...with a 'finale' of $800 to change a bad electric duct flapper valve that prevented defrost mode from working. There was only one guy in the shop willing to take the 2 day job of open heart surgery to replace it so I could sell that car.

    Basically, With all due respect, I think your blog posting is overblown. IMHO, the Model S will be more reliable and no more difficult or expensive to service than any other luxury car over time.

    It's an awesome machine. Have you driven one yet?

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    1. Elon Musk claims many things. It will be interesting to see where things go, but I stand by my conclusions right now.

      Being "no more difficult or expensive to service than any luxury car" is interesting, but ultimately not useful when it comes to the Model 3 - as that will be a lower price, mass market car that, at least from everything that's known now, will be serviced in the same way - the same service centers that Model S owners are annoyed at.

      I haven't driven one. There's literally nothing in my life that would be improved by one, since I've found other forms of transport that are cheaper and more consistent. I'd rather spend the money on a house.

      I'd like one eventually, once they hit cheap beater status, but unless something changes, that won't happen, so I won't own one.

      Delete
    2. I am the manager of an independent auto repair shop specializing in hybrids, and I can assure every aspect of this blog is spot-on. Our industry advocacy association ASCCA lobbies in Sacramento constantly to fight the OEMs for access to parts and information, partly of course out of the self-preservation instinct, but also in the interest of allowing competition to create a market which benefits the consumer. In fact, it sounds like Tesla is in violation of state and federal laws, but much like BMW they probably use loopholes such as the technology eternally being in a beta release.

      At any rate, don't undervalue the information presented here.

      Delete
  4. Paul, no other high end car (we own a few) have such atrocious Extended Warranty provisions.

    This is an area Tesla can do a lot better. Some of these concerns are not at all overblown.

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  5. Why do I need a automobile which needs repairs often and spews nasty fumes at all times. My horse takes care of itself for the most part and there are plenty of places to tie up the beast, while easily feed and shelter on the road at almost every stop. The car needs gasoline which I can't get from many places and the parts are all made in a factory three states away. Everyone around knows animal husbandry but few if any know how to fix an automobile.

    "Yup, the automobile is waste of time and is never going to be worth owning and besides I'm not selling my horse since I just got a new saddle and matching crop. You're all crazy with your highfalutin auto-mo-bile."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You miss the point entirely. My problem is not with electric vehicles (see the whole rest of my blog). My problem is with vehicles that are deliberately difficult to maintain for no good reason.

      I commute daily on an electric bike, and my bike is entirely maintainable by me. I can trivially swap out parts if something fails (the throttle lever failed the other day, and it took me 15 minutes to install the replacement). I can obtain parts for it from a wide variety of sources. As a result, I'm not bound to any particular vendor or bike shop for repairs.

      Delete
    2. No, you missed the point of MY post. The point is that these were the same issues when the automobile was new. It worked itself out as the quantity increased.

      Tesla is keeping repairs close to home since it's been shown that their is a concerted effort to stop Tesla. When you have that kind of animosity you don't trust others to do certain things that are important to your image.

      You make a lot of assumptions and predict future problems but let me make an assumption of my own: It will work itself out. The sky isn't falling on Tesla. They are playing their hand close to their vest and when they go much bigger with the Model 3 they will change their modus operandi to accommodate. They believe it will last longer due to less moving parts; it makes scientific sense that it will.

      Delete
  6. The author should have been a lawyer the way he shouts overblown fear from every orifice to cloud the extreme value proposition that the Tesla Model 3 represents. Please analyze the stock market next so we all know to do the exact opposite of your opinion and earn the highest ROI.

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    Replies
    1. "Overblown fear from every orifice"?

      If you can point to where I made factual mistakes, please, do so - I welcome the correction, and this post was somewhat hard to find reliable sources for. If there are genuine errors, I would like to correct them.

      However, if all you're going to do is scream that "BUT HE DOESN'T LIKE TESLA HE'S A BIG MEANIE DOODOO HEAD!!!" (which is basically what your comment amounts to), you're not adding anything of value.

      Delete
  7. Most of the points you make are par for the course in legal/insurance matters. 1. You promise the world 2. You insert clauses retracting all previously mentioned liability.

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  8. Thanks for the article, Russell.

    The Tesla is an interesting car to me, but the comments from the Tesla VP are very enlightening indeed. My car's tire pressure is top-secret Intellectual Property? I wouldn't buy a car where even my vehicle logs are considered Tesla's. Also, all that technology and they couldn't put a working OBD port in there?

    Tesla better change their attitude about this stuff if they intend to last as a business beyond the warranty period of the current generation of their cars.

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    Replies
    1. Tyre pressure is visible since the autopilot upgrade with the new UI. So there's a factual error there already.

      Delete
  9. The transfer of warranty completely makes sense to me. It's basically stating that if you sell your car, but are purchasing another Tesla. The remaining extended warranty can be transferred to another Tesla. I don't get why you're confused...

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    1. What you can do with an extended warranty seemingly changes on the whims of some manager at Tesla Motors.

      Delete
  10. On the one hand, I see your point. I carefully considered buying a Tesla, and one of the things that turned me away was the reputation that it's "the iPhone of cars", and even basic software upgrades would require additional payments. On the other hand, I get the impression that you might consider driving a 1986 Ford Mustang, which might get 12MPG, a better choice than driving a Tesla, because you can fix it yourself. Cars are complex. It's been 20 years since the average home mechanic could do much more than an oil change. If anybody buys a Tesla and expects it to be serviced less expensively by a 3rd party shop, they are smoking crack. And I have to give them the benefit of the doubt that allowing 3rd parties to muck about will result only in sadness. Do you reprogram the ROM on your computer, or the microcode on your NIC card? Do you feel like you need to, or should be allowed to?
    Time will tell. If Tesla is still servicing the 2012 Model S in 2032, at the same shop rates as for any other cars, then your arguments are specious. But neither you nor I can predict whether they will, or whether they will "EOL" their old models. True, their service is expensive and proprietary. Um, have you been to a Benz service department lately? Just because it's expensive and proprietary doesn't mean it's any less sustainable than any other system, for similar technology.

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    1. I'm not a fan of Mustangs, but, yes, you have the year right for my long term plan as a fun car.

      I do my best to reduce single occupant car based transportation, and the number of other posts on my blog about electric bikes should give you an idea as to what I consider a reasonable way of getting one person around.

      As for reprogramming the ROMs, would you consider modifying the EFI firmware flashed into a BIOS chip "reprogramming the ROM"? If so, then, yes, I have done this, and I have messed around with some NICs as well. If by ROM you mean "hardware ROM" static boot block, no, I haven't messed about it with it, because it is, in fact, read only. I'd have to replace it entirely, and I haven't found a need to.

      Even if Tesla is servicing a 2012 Model S in 2032, do you expect the buyers of a 20 year old Model S to all be in the financial situation to pay whatever Tesla wants for repairs? That's going to be the only option unless something changes, which is what I hope to bring awareness of.

      I haven't been in a Mercedes service department lately, no. The only Mercedes vehicles I've had the pleasure of taking care of were quite old at the time.

      Delete
    2. It's false to say no person at home or 3rd party shop can repair cars anymore. People do it all the time, and in some ways it's easier. It's entirely dependent upon how much information the mfr chooses to share or withhold.

      Some mfrs are very easy to get parts and information for, including from the manufacturer itself. Hell, you can buy an entire supercharged V8 drive train with computers from GM with tech info to put it in anything you want. Others go out of their way to prevent you from doing maintenance or repairs that are well within the capability of a home mechanic or 3rd party shop. Resale value suffers appropriately.

      As a Civics and Mercedes age for example, I suspect the resale values cross. I certainly wish my friends who ask me to help keep their 10 year old Mercedes alive would give them a Viking funeral or trade it for a Honda, GM or Ford :) With some parts overpriced or not even sold to 3rd parties and $30/day access to certain repair info, they are nice cars often _barely_ worth fixing. How much will older Teslas go for if service is only through Tesla at their prices? TBD.

      How is it easier to maintain a new car? One example - with all of the sensors, closed loop control and on-board diagnostics, the car can often tell you what to fix, if the manufacturer lets it. This should be especially true with a BEV car due to the simpler design people are always touting. I don't buy that tasks like replacing a ball joint or battery heater require reprogramming the vehicle or releasing proprietary info. It's a question of business model.

      For me, I go as far to install modern OEM fuel injection on my old muscle cars, because for me it's that much less of a pain in the butt to keep newer systems running.

      Delete
  11. I have a 2013 Model S P85 which I purchased from the original owner with 75,000 miles on the odometer. No extended warranty. Thus far, over 8 months:
    Replaced 2 door handles (about $950 each);
    Replaced the motor (mentioned to the tech that I heard "something" between 23-28mph; he concurred, recorded the noise, and shortly thereafter I received a call telling me that the replacement was covered by the 8-year/unlimited mile battery/drivetrain warranty - replaced at my convenience for free, along with a "frayed wiring harness to the emergency brake" - again, cost =$0);
    Crimped windshield washer fluid hose fixed (courtesy repair);
    Replaced rear tail light assembly (bugs inside - clearly not sealed) cost = about $950
    Bought 4 new snow tires = $1,100 installed

    All in all, although it appears to be expensive, it really isn't - and the Service Center people (3 locations, 3 states) have been very professional... Not "Lexus White Glove" lecel, but better than my recollections of dealer service elsewhere.
    I timtied to get an exception to purchase an extended warranty - not offered in CT when car was <50k miles - but request was denied.

    Car is really great.

    Thing to remember: owners are subjects in a Beta test process.

    I'm confident I'll be good for 200,000 miles+ here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In 8 months, you've had $1900 in door handle repairs, a drive unit replaced (under warranty), a failing wiring harness to the emergency brake (which, ideally, would function in an emergency), a failed hose for wiper fluid (often quite important for seeing clearly in conditions), and a failed tail light? You've spent nearly $3000 on repairs in 8 months (I don't count snow tires as repairs), have a significantly greater amount covered under warranty, and you expect this will be an affordable car to take another 200k miles? I wish you the vest of luck, but that's not something I would consider a reasonable decision.

      Delete
    2. Geez I bought 2 20ish year old cars(93 camaro, 98 camaro) and one 30 year old car(85 corvette) in the last year as Ive developed a keen interest in sports cars as I near 30 years old.

      The 93 camaro ran fine but small things needed, the 98 camaro needed a transmission, and the corvette needed a transmission. i fixed all 3 of them up for half what your 3 year year old car needed alone. Granted, I did the work myself because I thought it would be a good learning experience and now its become a hobby because I enjoyed doing it so much. I wouldnt trade my old cars that I actually own and have titles for and I can do ANYTHING I WANT WITH, for one of these new locked down electric cars ever.

      I saw the videos for all the neat features when they first started hitting the road and Ill admit.. I was impressed. The part of me that loves to tinker thought, "Wow I wonder if I could get a wrecked one and maybe turn one of my camaros into an EV!" But reading how locked down this stuff is, was disappointing.. SERIOUSLY. Im not asking for the source code or a developer kit.. but them requiring all vehicles to be unlocked at the dealership? What a shame.. and we were all behind this company for doing something different but it really looks like a stealership in disguise. I think when these cars start breaking down, things will get ugly.

      Delete
    3. It is fair to note that I paid a meaningful discount for the car... The previous owner failed to handle some warranty issues (rear lights, one door handle) that I ended up handling from my own pocket (discount covered those) and the "crimped hose" was just a brief hassle. The rear-drive replacement issue was covered by the basic warranty - imagine the sh*tstorm trying to get an engine - or key component - replaced from another manufacturer EVEN while under warranty! (Watch what Chevy/BMW do if this happens with their EV's)...
      I have other cars (Porsche, Mercedes), and the hassle factor here is SIGNIFICANTLY lower thus far... Probability/Occurrence/Experience are where the potential problems reside moving forward - who knows? Thus far, Tesla has been a "stand up" experience in terms of their stance on repairs.
      The message appears to be that if you want to "tinker" with your car, perhaps look elsewhere.

      Delete
  12. I clicked thinking I would disagree but you quickly changed my mind. Very eye opening. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Very very enlightening post, thank you Russell.

    Your post has blown up in some other subs too, like r/cars.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Would anynone who understands the complexity of a Tesla like a tinkerer (presumably a good one - no offense) to repair his car? I certainly would not.
    This is why Tesla is doing quite right to restrict amateurs from fiddling with their products. One big selling point for a Tesla is its safety - and this I rather lay into the hands of the manufacturer.
    Anyway - many thanks for the blog!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Very interesting post!

    First of all, I'm a big fan of Tesla and I totally agree with you. I'm also disappointed by other fans who say "great car, I'm 100% sure it will work forever" or "saying anything against Tesla means you are against EV", etc.

    Your arguments are valid and I hope Tesla will do something in this area to fix some of the problems. Definitely some data (tire pressure) should be easily accessible.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The title of this article is nonsense. The Tesla should not be condemned because it is not repairable by back yard mechanics. It is more akin to an airliner that is maintained according to manufacturers specifications for several decades. They are then only replaced when something more fuel efficient comes along. The Tesla's battery and motor efficiency are unlikely to be improved upon more than a few percent. If a higher capacity battery becomes available in the future, it can be changed in minutes in a Tesla. The cost of after warranty maintenance will be reflected in the used resale value.
    The Model S and X are aluminum and even steel cars don't rust much anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Tesla was right to start with affluent buyers. The bottom line is that no model of Tesla will ever be for cheap bastards. Not even the 3. I think this blog does a nice job of pointing that out. Tesla owners (up until now at least) don't think of expensive repairs as gouging them. They gladly cough up the money as an R&D donation to support the idea of a green future. As far as not being able to access your own car, have you ever read a commercial software license? This isn't a free, open-source, hand-holding kumbaya world. Tesla is in brutal competition to survive and make a profit. Their survival, in turn, ensures that service is even possible for their cars literally and figuratively down the road. Their cars are locked down because they CAN lock them down. Want an easily self-servicable electric car? Start your own electric car company. Tesla's released most of its patents. Your competing open-source electric car might encourage Tesla to open theirs. I'll be waiting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually, I'm working on an easy to repair/upgrade line of electric bikes. So, while it's not a car, I am working towards what I talk about.

      Delete
    2. Even though I appreciate your mindset about personal transportation, the fact that you are working on a line of e-bikes does not really say much. Putting an e-bike together does not require even the tiniest amount of engineering skills. Even someone who never set foot in a bike shop or touched any electronics could learn everything necessary to put one together in a few months tops without understanding any of the underlying physics or math, and the whole necessary tech is already there. When it comes to electric cars though, good luck. Just not the same thing. There is a reason no car startups ever succeeded up until Tesla. I don't think it is realistic to expect some company to challenge the giants of one of the most estabished and powerful industries in the world and at the same time play along with "tinkerers" at an expense of potentially staining their reputation in an environment which is already trying ferociously to tear it apart.

      A person who can't afford to spend 3% of a car's costs every year should not be buying that car anyways.

      Good luck on the e-bike business though and thanks for trying to make a change. I really think that is the direction world should be headed in. Moving tons of metal just to carry a person makes very little sense in many scenarios.

      Delete
  18. Great post. I appreciate the details. I think the simplest explanation is two-fold:

    1) There's too much software in this car for anyone to debug the car without access to the codebase anyway, and Tesla isn't letting that out into the wild any more than Microsoft is releasing Windows as open source software.

    2) They're going to transition quickly to a self-driving future anyway, where cars are rented by the minute and drive to your location. Big taxi companies like Uber will be able to negotiate with Tesla on equal footing for good fleet maintenance rates.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi ,,, nice work... we would like to republish on www.theautochannel.com with attribution and links of course... yes?

    ReplyDelete
  20. It'll be some time before independent car mechanics will work on EVs. The DC high voltage scares them to death. I couldn't even get my guy to add a trailer hitch hookup to a hybrid because it had a HV battery in it. Give it time...

    ReplyDelete
  21. That's very true. Tesla is like a walled garden of technogies that are too difficult to understand for the normal folk, and there's very little infrastructure out there (mechanics, knowledge, etc.) for the vehicles to be serviced. A huge toll on resources, money, and environment. This is why we must be more conscious of the whole cycle, from manufacturing, to use life, to recycling. I am currently working with an awesome company that is trying to change this: OSVehicle. Open source, common components, modular. We thought about the whole cycle from the ground up.

    Holler me on Twitter if you wanna chat (@gabsong). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I think the VP's point was he didn't want competitors seeing the screenshots someone had posted. Tesla doesn't want to share everything with the people trying to take it down.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thanks for all of this, lots of great info here and definitely things to watch out for.

    My only issue is that you seem not to have any appreciation for the fact that this is a car with unprecedented software integration for what it is, unprecedented power for what it is, and is in a nascent category of vehicles (featuring a nascent category of features) that is still being explored technologically, socially and legally.

    Tesla has been public for 4 years and have owners still in the 5 or 6 digits. Can they really afford to allow people to tinker with the hardware or software to the degree that car people - let alone ignorant laypersons with a wrench or a CAT5 cable - would be able to with a mechanical vehicle?

    This isn't comparable to replacing the battery on your phone, or building the perfect PC from scratch, or even repairing your electric bike, which, although not mechanical, is, I venture to assume, a significantly simpler machine than a Tesla. This is an enormously heavy, fast, powerful metal box, constantly performing hundreds of software and hardware functions, that often contains children, pets and family members. Tesla needs an airtight warranty because of the thousands of ways their brand new technology could go horribly wrong even without any outside repairs or aftermarket modifications.

    The risks of being more transparent, at this stage, FAR outweigh the rewards of appeasing people who expect a luxury electric car to be self-servicable and self-modifiable in the same way a 1989 sedan would be - one is a purely mechanical vehicle, one of millions and millions with essentially the same design, components and operation, millions of competent service people and an entire subculture of understanding and appreciation for its inner workings, and the other is one of maybe 80,000 currently on the road, loaded to the brim with brand new proprietary software, hardware, and technology. They're apples and oranges.

    All this is to say, I think it's short sighted to make this a question of "throwaway cars." That term assumes that a) these cars have inherently short lives, which I don't think there's any evidence to support, AND that b) the opaque nature of their design and warranty serves purposefully and primarily to keep people from extending the lives of their own cars, which I think is needlessly optimistic, and again, unsupported by evidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We'll see in 20 years, won't we?

      Or, really, we'll start seeing in another few years how out-of-warranty Model Ss are to keep running. Any car should be able to stay on the road for 10 years - it's the next 10 that get interesting. And with the frequency of significant warranty repairs right now, I expect many of the early Model Ss will not be financially feasible to keep on the road much out of the extended warranty period.

      By the way, one could make your same arguments about late 80s cars. They had fuel injection with high pressure fuel rails, electronic ignition, timing belts that had to be set just right or the engine would destroy itsself, electronic odometers, etc.

      Delete
  24. I'm not a lawyer but if the company that makes the product is the only one that can make parts for the product and repair the product isn't that considered a monopoly and subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Mr. Graves, just fyi, I've linked to your blog piece. Best regards, Montana Skeptic

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/3961216-model-3-reveal-tesla-appears-poised-issue-debt-2-billion-equity

    ReplyDelete
  26. I heard that Tesla is keeping the design of the engine open source . their mail message is to make sustainable transportation the future anybody see where this open source is? are they keeping this promise?

    ReplyDelete
  27. I liked the article, but this part is what loses credibility:

    Regarding competition driving, autocross, etc - remember, this is a company who wrote their interpretation of a test drive, including such details as, "Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot."

    The whole point of that sentence and the rest of the paragraph was to illustrate the absurd lengths the driver went through in order to argue that it fell below the vehicle's projected range for the trip. If the review had been honest about its actual route, the time charges, and conditions of the car itself, it wouldn't have been an issue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Matt -

      You entirely missed my point there. It's in the context of the extended warranty and autocross/track days/etc. If Tesla collects enough data on their cars to tell exactly what a reporter did in a parking lot, they very well collect enough data to tell if you've been autocrossing or out driving hard on a track.

      Delete
  28. gpcordaro, Apr 28, 2016
    I have owned my Model S since May of 2013 and truly love the car. With that said, I must tell everyone about a recent problem I experienced this past Sunday while driving on a back road at a very low rate of speed, about 5 MPH. The road was rough so my air ride was at it max lift. As I was proceeding down a steep hill I heard a snap and felt my steering wheel pull to the left. I stopped the car for further inspection only to discover that my left front hub assembly separated from the upper control arm. Needless to say the car was inoperable due to a loss of steering. Thank goodness I was not traveling at a high rate of speed. This could of been a tragic accident causing injury or even death.
    I contacted Tesla and they towed the car to a service center. They just informed that this is not covered under warranty, stating that the cause was due to normal wear and tear. I have owned many cars in my life and have never experienced such a failure. My car has been driven 73000 miles.

    Has anyone experienced this failure on their car?

    Here is how Tesla is keeping everyone quit. JMHO
    They want me to sign a Goodwill Agreement if they Pay 50% of my repair cost. The total cost is 3100 dollars. The need to replace three of the four front control arms, EG upper and lower a-arm on the left side and the upper a-arm on the right side. It was the left side that failed. The control arm ball joint is an integral part of the a-arm or as Tesla refer Control arm. Three of four in 70 thousand miles and they say that is normal wear and tear. Get Real.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Date Complaint Filed: 05/05/2016Date of Incident: 03/10/2016Component(s): SUSPENSIONNHTSA ID Number: 10863505Consumer Location: Unknown
    All Products Associated with this Complaint expand
    Details close
    help 0 Available Documents
    Crash:No Fire:No Number of Injuries:0 Number of Deaths:0
    Manufacturer: Tesla Motors, Inc.
    Vehicle Identification No. (VIN): 5YJSA1E17GF...
    SUMMARY:
    THIS VEHICLE IS FOR SALE AS A SALVAGE WRECK. HTTPS://M.IAAI.COM/VEHICLEDETENC.ASPX?AUCTIONID=0&ITEMID=21970334&ROWID=1&PAGESOURCE=VEHICLERESULTS# THE FRONT SUSPENSION HAS COMPLETELY TORN AWAY. THE WHEEL IS IN THE FRUNK OF THE CAR AND APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN SLICED IN HALF. THAT IS INDICATIVE OF THE WHEEL BEING GOUGED FROM THE INSIDE WHILST THE CAR WAS IN MOTION. THERE IS NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT DAMAGE FORWARD OF THE WHEEL THAT COULD ACCOUNT FOR THE SUSPENSION BEING TORN OFF. I HAVE SUBMITTED MANY OTHER COMPLAINTS OF SUSPENSION FAILURES ON TESLAS. THIS IS A 2016 MODEL AND THE SUSPENSION KNUCKLE HAS BEEN REDESIGNED TO A MUCH STURDIER VERSION THAN THE HOLLOW SECTION THAT WAS USED ON EARLIER MODELS AND WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS SHOW HAS FREQUENTLY SNAPPED OFF AT THE TIP OR IN MID SECTION. NONETHELESS THE SUSPENSION HAS FAILED ONCE AGAIN. I HAVE EVIDENCE THAT TESLA ARE OFFERING CUSTOMERS A SETTLEMENT OFFER IN RETURN FOR SIGNING AN NDA. A COPY OF THE NDA FORM IS ATTACHED. PLEASE INVESTIGATE THIS MATTER.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Date Complaint Filed: 05/09/2016Date of Incident: 02/01/2016Component(s): SUSPENSIONNHTSA ID Number: 10863851Consumer Location: Unknown
    All Products Associated with this Complaint expand
    Details close
    help 0 Available Documents
    Crash:Yes Fire:No Number of Injuries:0 Number of Deaths:0
    Manufacturer: Tesla Motors, Inc.
    Vehicle Identification No. (VIN): 5YJSA1E27FF...
    SUMMARY:
    THIS IS YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF A TESLA MODEL S WITH THE SUSPENSION FALLEN APART. HTTPS://M.IAAI.COM/VEHICLEDETENC.ASPX?AUCTIONID=0&ITEMID=21706777&ROWID=11&PAGESOURCE=VEHICLERESULTS THIS CAR HAS ONLY TRAVELLED 2000 MILES FROM NEW. YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THE BROKEN PARTS OF THE SUSPENSION. THE WHEEL AND TIRE ARE UNDAMAGED. THIS FAILURE CAN NOT POSSIBLY BE THE RESULT OF IMPACT DAMAGE AND WAS ALMOST CERTAINLY THE CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT. TESLA OFFERS OWNERS OF CARS THAT HAVE HAD SUSPENSION FAILURES A "GOODWILL PAYMENT" IN RETURN FOR SIGNING A NON DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT. THERE HAVE BEEN HUNDREDS OF SIMILAR SUSPENSION FAILURES ON TESLAS BUT VERY FEW OWNERS HAVE FILED COMPLAINTS. HERE IS AN OWNER WHOSE FRONT SUSPENSION FELL APART AND HE WAS CONCERNED THAT THE FAULT MIGHT AFFECT MANY OTHER CARS IN THE WORLDWIDE FLEET OF TESLAS. GPCORDARO, APR 28, 2016 WHILE DRIVING ON A BACK ROAD AT A VERY LOW RATE OF SPEED, ABOUT 5 MPH. THE ROAD WAS ROUGH SO MY AIR RIDE WAS AT IT MAX LIFT. AS I WAS PROCEEDING DOWN A STEEP HILL I HEARD A SNAP AND FELT MY STEERING WHEEL PULL TO THE LEFT. I STOPPED THE CAR FOR FURTHER INSPECTION ONLY TO DISCOVER THAT MY LEFT FRONT HUB ASSEMBLY SEPARATED FROM THE UPPER CONTROL ARM. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A TRAGIC ACCIDENT CAUSING INJURY OR EVEN DEATH. TESLA JUST INFORMED THAT THIS IS NOT COVERED UNDER WARRANTY, STATING THAT THE CAUSE WAS DUE TO NORMAL WEAR AND TEAR. I HAVE OWNED MANY CARS IN MY LIFE AND HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED SUCH A FAILURE. ******* AND THEN HE ACCEPTED THE OFFER AND SIGNED THE NDA. ******* GPCORDARO, SATURDAY AT 4:52 AM THIS IS THE LAST POST I WILL MAKE ON THIS SUBJECT. TESLA AND I HAVE COME TO TERMS. I AM NOT AT LIBERTY TO DISCUSS THE TERMS, I CAN ONLY SAY THAT I AM SATISFIED. I BELIEVE THAT TESLA IS COVERING UP THE SUSPENSION FAILURES. PLEASE INVESTIGATE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keef - could you get in touch with me via the contact form? This seems worth looking into more.

      Delete
    2. Sorry...only just saw your post...
      I think the horse may have bolted!
      http://dailykanban.com/2016/06/tesla-suspension-breakage-not-crime-coverup/

      Delete
    3. How the fudge do I contact you? wot contact form?
      Google Plus just gives me a headache.
      Meh.

      Delete
    4. The contact form is in the right column, about one scroll down from the top.

      Delete
  31. I'll betcha the warranty doesn't cover WHOMPY WHEELS!
    http://dailykanban.com/2016/06/tesla-suspension-breakage-not-crime-coverup/

    ReplyDelete
  32. Won't all of these issues go away once Tesla and other electric car manufacturers have a larger segment of the overall car market? If they have more vehicles on the road, it would make sense for them to provide mechanics with the info on how to fix their cars; they could, of course, make you go to a special mechanic who has a deal with them, but I am inclined to believe Elon Musk is less interested in that. He released the patents for his vehicles, I wouldn't be surprised if he started releasing documents on how to best maintain them. Thoughts? Thanks!

    - Charles, Car Insurance Provider in Western MA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a fan of your spam link, but it is an on topic comment. Tesla has gone out of their way to make it hard to get access to the service docs. What makes you think this will change?

      Delete