What You Need to Know About the Tesla Model S and Rust


What You Need to Know About the Tesla Model S and Rust

Tesla is creating some of the most innovative and astounding vehicles on the road right now. Their electric cars have set the bar very high for the rest of the world’s vehicle manufacturers. But with any mass-produced product, there are going to be some issues that could potentially spoil the whole batch, especially when it comes to cars and rust.

The Model S has had rust issues in the past. The steering assist motor bolts on the Model S were responsible for a recall in 2018 for extensive corrosion. The recall was repeated in February 2020 for both Model S made before April 2016 and and Model X before 2016. Tesla has now taken precautions.

The recalls were voluntary for Tesla, so they did not have to recall the vehicles but chose to do so before the bolts came loose and people could have gotten hurt. Since then, the recalls have left consumers wondering what else they need to know about rust issues. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the Tesla Model S and rust.

Rust Issues and the Tesla Model S Recall

Just like any car make and model, not every Tesla Model S shows signs of rust. You could have a Model S that was made before April 2016 and wonder to yourself why there was even a recall to begin with! However, the components that did show signs of rust were parts that Tesla did not want breaking and potentially causing accidents.

Steering assist motor bolts, or power steering bolts, are a part of the overall power steering motor. The five bolts hold the motor in place on the Model S. You can have these bolts fail and still be able to drive the car, but it would take a lot more strength to turn the wheel. Tesla issued the recall before any serious injuries happened to Tesla owners.

The statement that Tesla released in 2018 mirrors the statement that they made in early 2020. In it the company states that the corrosion on the bolts was due to the use of salt on the roads that contained calcium or magnesium instead of just sodium chloride. It is a common practice in places that get recurring snowfall throughout the winter months.

The observed rust on the bolts were generally only found in regions that had colder climates. The rust was actually extremely uncommon and the recall was issued to include all Model S vehicles made before April 2016. The recall included all cars. You simply had to wait for your appointment and get the bolts swapped out by a mechanic.

Fallout from the Recall

The recall had some long-term, but not terrible, fallout. The press and social media had a field day with what appeared to be recurring reliability issues. However, the coverage for the recall was not bad for Tesla. It even had some people praising how responsible Tesla was being for voluntarily recalling the bolts before anyone got hurt from the issue.

The power steering bolt corrosion led to approximately 123,000 Model S Teslas being recalled. It was one of the largest recalls in the company’s history. The Model S rust issue was not the first time that Tesla has come under fire for manufacturing issues. Here are some of the production and manufacturing problems Tesla has dealt with:

  • Announcing a vehicle release date and then pushing the date back over and over again.
  • Recurring issues with car computers crashing and shutting down the vehicle without user consent.
  • Accidents occuring because of automated driving mishaps when drivers were not paying attention. This was also because of lapses and loopholes in Tesla’s automated driving system.
  • Battery packs that caused damage to vehicles because of overheating issues.
  • Chipped glass on windshields and roofs.
  • Big gaps in body panels by doors and under the frame.
  • Poorly done paint jobs lacking in primer and that led to peeling.

All of these issues have been reported by customers on social media and through other avenues. Tesla appears to have dealt with a lot of these quality control concerns, but they do not seem to learn from their past mistakes all too well. As the same rust issue that was recalled on the Model S in 2018 was just repeated for the Model X in 2020.

All of this can be taken with a non-literal grain of salt, however. Salt on roads has always been a big obstacle for drivers in colder climates. It can damage brakes, paint jobs, power steering and much more. It is good to know that not only is Tesla taking a strong leadership role with the recall, but it is also continuously being transparent.

What Causes Rust on the Tesla Model S

There are many factors that can cause rust on the power steering bolts for the Tesla Model S. Any car can fall prey to rust, but per Tesla’s official statement, it was the type of salts on roads that caused the rust. Though this could definitely be the case, it is always good to know exactly how rust can form on any vehicle.

Rust forms when there is corrosion of iron. The iron begins to break down after being exposed to lots of moisture and oxygen. This can happen because of road conditions, extreme humidity, or even, you guessed it, adding road salts to wet and icy highways. The salts accelerate the oxidation process of the iron and form rust.

It is the combination of moisture and oxygen together that can cause the iron particles in steel to become what is known as a corrosion pit, or a rusted area. Rust can be treated, removed and prevented with particular sealants. Protective coatings can be both good for your car and not harmful to the environment at the same time!

The cause of rust on the Model S, and ultimately the cause of the recall, was because of iron materials on the car oxidizing. The oxidation process can happen at both fast and slow rates of time. It is important to not only check your vehicle for rust, but to know exactly what your vehicle is made of in order to be mindful of rust prone parts.

Components of the Model S

There are many types of textures, materials and components that make up the Model S. Even the tiniest bolt, or in this case five bolts, can cause a vehicle manufacturer to recall the entire vehicle. In order to better understand the probability of your vehicle having rust, it is good to know what is inside your Model S.

There are many parts that come together to create a car. That being said, the Tesla Model S has many, many different materials. You can break down the building resources from the different parts of the vehicle. Here are the various areas on your car that are most likely to rust:

  • Engine
  • Wheels
  • Breaks
  • Undercarriage
  • Doors
  • Seams
  • Latches

That may seem like a lot of places where rust can make its home on your personal vehicle, but do not fret. Rust normally takes several years to grab hold of your car and there are definitely preventative measures you can take. Finding out how to prevent rust means discovering exactly what your car is really made of.

What is in the Body and Chassis

The primary materials used in creating the Model S are Aluminum (Bauxite Ore), Barron steel and titanium. The body and chassis of the vehicle are made almost entirely from aluminium. This allows for the vehicle to be lightweight and get a more extended range from the battery.

Steel is used in the body of the vehicle as a reinforcement. The steel is placed at different points throughout the body and chassis of the car. The points are critical to the overall safety of anyone riding in the car to protect them from rollover and impact in a crash. This particular steel is made from iron, coking coal, baron and other materials.

The underside of the Model S is made from incredibly strong titanium. The super strength titanium is placed under the car to essentially protect the batteries. The reinforced undercarriage keeps the vehicle’s power source safe from anything on the road, things that could pierce through the car and other roadside hazards. 

What is in the Wheels

The wheels on a Tesla Model S are remarkably durable. The actual wheels are made from bauxite, or aluminum alloy. The brakes are made from galvanized steel and are called a Brembo System. These brakes are made from high-friction materials to give Model S drivers the absolute best stopping power.

The brakes and wheels are prone to rusting for many types of vehicles. This is because the wheels see the brunt of the road conditions. Snow, rain, salt, sand, you name it and the wheels are exposed to it. That means that following regular maintenance for your Model S is recommended in order to keep rust away from your brakes or tires.

What is in the Motor and Battery

The induction motor on the Tesla Model S is extremely impressive. Not only is the stationary part made from raw materials, but it is also incredibly durable. The outer casing is steel and copper. The rotor motor, that delivers the bulk of the horsepower work, is made from copper.

While the steel may rust, copper is not a material that will produce rust. Copper does not contain enough iron to form rust and corrosion. However, it can produce a patina over a long period of time. The patina will not flake away like rust, and can simply create a coating over the copper.

The battery is made from many elements and materials. Tesla takes pride in the creation of their powerful batteries, so it is rare that there will be any materials that could potentially rust over time. The lithium-ion battery cells are made up from the following materials:

  • Cathode: The positive terminal in the battery is made from nickel, cobalt and aluminum combined together. There are also bits of lithium added to the battery cell cathode.
  • Anode: The terminal in the battery with the negative charge. It is made from graphite because graphite can contain lithium ions. Tesla uses both naturally occurring graphite and synthetic graphite.
  • Copper and Aluminum Foil: Added throughout the many parts of the battery.

The many elements that make up the Tesla Model S battery are practically rust free materials. It is highly unlikely that you will see rust on the actual battery pack for the vehicle. It is extremely protected from outside elements. Though most batteries do not actually rust, they just have corrosion over time.

How to Check for Rust

Actively knowing all the components that make up your Model S is very important, but so is taking the time to check your vehicle for rust. You can do this at any time of the year, but it is best to check before and after the colder months. You should also check during the spring months when there is more precipitation and humidity.

First thing you will need to do is park your car in a place where it will be convenient for you to get down and dirty on the ground. This could be your driveway, garage, or even your yard. The bottom of your car will be the first place you spot any sign of rust. If you are able to lift your vehicle, that would be even better.

Frame rails, which are found underneath car doors, wheel wells, axles and suspension are the most notorious places for rust on your vehicle. Next, you should check the seams on doors, car doors both inside and out and around windows and windshields. If you can not lift your car, take it to a mechanic who can lift it and check for rust concerns.

If you do find rust on your Model S, then do not panic. If the area is small, and it is found before it spreads, then it can be handled easily. Take your car into a shop and have a professional deal with your rust problems. That way you do not try to sand down the rust yourself and create an even bigger mess!

Rust Prevention in the Model S

There are several ways in which Tesla is working to prevent rust on the Model S, as well as other vehicles in their fleet. There are also ways in which you can help your car live a longer, rust free life. Rust proofing your car and making certain that the manufacturer used corrosion protection is key to stopping rust in its tracks.

  • Corrosion protection is where manufacturers use rubber undercoats and various sealants to stop rust before it even starts
  • As Tesla learned in 2018, and again in the beginning of 2020, it is important to make sure that vehicles are rust proof before leaving the factory

If you are keen to get your car protected yourself, then be certain to have a professional do it for you. They will first grind down any parts of your car that are prone to rust. They will then paint it and seal any seams with a rust rated seam sealer. A rubber coating is then applied to the area, and it is oiled down and cleaned.

You can use prevention and try to do your best to stop rust before it stops, but you will never be able to completely get rid of rust on your car. Whether your car is thirty years old, or you own a brand new Tesla Model S, you may eventually get rust. However, it is good to know you did everything in your power to prevent it!

Tesla and Rust Moving Forward

Tesla is now moving forward with various ways to prevent rust and to help their customers in the future. The new Tesla Model S warranty states that parts, body and paint repair are included with the limited warranty. This could possibly include the rusted part of your vehicle.

There are also various coatings and sealants that Tesla is now using on their cars to prevent the power steering bolt fiasco from happening yet again. Most vehicles are now treated against rust before they leave the factory. Just be careful about trying to rust proof your Tesla yourself, as any treatments done may void the warranty!

Conclusion

The Tesla Model S is an incredible vehicle. Although it has advancements in energy efficiency and overall quality, the Tesla Model S is still prone to the same issues that any other car can have. In this case, getting a few spots of rust is a possible risk, especially if you live in an area with frequent precipitation. 

Though the recall in 2018 for power steering bolt rust issues was a little jarring, Tesla recovered well. The Model S has seen vast improvements in reliability and overall production value. If you have concerns about rust on your Model S, then make an appointment with your local dealer and keep a lookout for rust spots in the future!

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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