With the introduction of the Model 3, Tesla has become more accessible to the public than ever. They now offer an affordable electric vehicle that people love. That’s great news! But are these new cars reliable?
How often do Teslas break down? Teslas rarely break down because their electric drive unit is very reliable. Teslas break down far less often than traditional gas vehicles. Tesla is more reliable now than ever, and their vehicles seem to improve with each new generation.
Before we get to all of the good news, let’s discuss some of the problems that Tesla has.
How Reliable Are Teslas?
The truth is, Tesla’s Model S, Model X, and Model 3 have all had trouble with reliability. Early generations of all three models have been prone to break down. But there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. There are a lot of people who complain about Teslas with few facts to back them up.
This comical video will give you an idea of some of the false complaints about Tesla. This guy goes over several of the most common issues that you’ve probably heard about. And he shoots them down one by one.
Now that you know some of the issues that Tesla doesn’t have, let’s go over some of the real problems.
What Are the Most Common Problems with Teslas?
In recent years there has been both good and bad news about Tesla. The bad news is, as Tesla makes changes and improvements to their electric vehicles, it can cause further delays for production. So you might have to wait a bit longer to get your new car. The good news is that reviews have been mostly excellent, and production has increased since 2018.
The truth is, there have been a lot of complaints about Tesla from owners of the first models. People really love this car, but they have reported issues with performance and build quality. Most of these issues occurred with the earliest Model 3 vehicles, but even four years after its debut, there are still problems with the Model X.
These problems probably aren’t enough to shake the very loyal Tesla fans. But you should still be aware of these common issues.
Blurry backup camera
One of the issues that is commonly reported is a blurry backup camera. This issue can be unnerving and the cause of some tense moments while you’re trying to move in reverse.
This Model 3 owner describes having this problem with the camera. This person owns both a Model 3 and a Model S. And they said that by comparison, the Model 3 camera was “definitely not good.” On the Tesla forum, some of the owners downplayed this incident, but it is a common complaint that we found on other sites too.
I think we can all agree that rust on a new car is not a good thing. Well, that is another complaint that we found about Tesla.
One Model 3 reservation holder and investor took to the Tesla pages on Reddit to express concern about a rusted door on a delivered car. This owner posted a picture of the rust and described eight other problems that they had with the vehicle, some of which weren’t corrected even after three trips to Tesla service centers.
A defective touchscreen and malfunctioning GPS were two of the other issues for this owner. It’s not too tough to see how even a patient owner like this one could describe Tesla’s quality problems as “excessive.”
You can’t adjust cruise control with the touchscreen
Another common complaint that we found about Tesla was that you can’t adjust the cruise control with the touchscreen easily. Consumer Reports, which is a widely respected and credible publication, gave the Model 3 Tesla a mostly positive review. However, they brought up an important point.
“Very often our drivers found themselves turning their gaze away from the road to check for speed, range, or time, and many of the displays are too small to see at a quick glance.”
Consumer Reports’ testers were disappointed that the Model 3 didn’t have a head-up display (HUD) available.
Issues with the paint finish
Paint blemishes are another common problem with the Model 3. This issue is minor, but it’s still irritating. The Model 3 Owners Club features frustrated owners complaining about scratches and blemishes on their new cars.
Window, trunk, and door defects
Kia has become one of the top auto brands in the country, but 25 years ago, it had a reputation of being a cheap import brand known for defects in its build. Well, people have described the new Teslas in much the same way.
This car technician likened the Model 3 to a “Kia in the 90s.” He complained about the overall subpar quality of the electric vehicle. On Model 3 online forums, we found complaints from owners about things like buckled window pillars, trunks that don’t close properly, and even a mysteriously sinking hood.
Total touchscreen failure
In Teslas, the touchscreen controls almost everything, so failure is a considerable malfunction. Most of the problems that we’ve looked at so far are really just minor inconveniences, but this one is a bigger deal.
Green Car Reports did an in-depth review of the Model 3 in February of 2018. But before they ever published their reports, the Editor-in-Chief John Voelcker was quoted as saying that the quality of the build was “in a word, appalling.”
The GCR report was delayed because the car they were reviewing had to be sent back due to significant touchscreen malfunctions. The car’s owner reported parking the Model 3 in his garage with the stereo cranked to full volume. He had to do that because if he didn’t, the car would stop charging and could then barely run the navigation system. Because of these issues, he had to have the touchscreen and system replaced entirely.
Getting locked out
The Green Car Reports review that I just mentioned talked about Model 3. They said that the “build quality was the worst we have seen on any new car from any maker over the last 10 years.” The Los Angeles Times reported similar feedback from Tesla owners.
One of the problems reported in the Times was that people couldn’t unlock the car with their electronic key card or the iPhone app. Teslas don’t use metal keys, so this is a big problem. The only thing you can do in this case is to call a Tesla technician to come and open the hood with a portable battery.
Car shuts down while driving
The worst problem that we found was cars shutting down while driving. Total power failure while you’re cruising down the highway could be a significant issue. In 2018 one owner posted a video showing her car shutting down while she was driving.
She got a sudden alert warning, “Car Shutting Down – PULL OVER SAFELY” on her screen. So she pulled over, rebooted, and then got the same shutdown message and power loss.
When the Tesla technicians later looked at her car, they assessed the problem as “failure in the high voltage controller.”
A Model X owner reported a similar problem. He offered a helpful tip. “If you have a passenger, as this person did, recording the warnings may help the technician. Then, remember the reboots!”
What Does Consumer Reports Say?
Problems like the ones we’ve been discussing are the reason that Consumer Reports pulled their recommendation for the car in 2018. Consumer Reports found that Tesla was one of the safest cars in America. However, they rated Tesla among the worst in terms of reliability.
This made CR drop Tesla to the third-worst (27 out of 29) car, only scoring ahead of Cadillac and Volvo.
The Model S dropped to “below average” in 2018. Reported problems included suspension issues and faulty door handles. The issues were plenty enough that Tesla’s “overall score” was no longer high enough to be recommended by Consumer Reports.
The Auto Testing director at Consumer Reports, Jake Fisher, said,
“While the Tesla Model S appears very similar physically to the car that launched 6 years ago, Tesla has made many significant mechanical and software changes over the past few years. Just as we’ve seen with many other manufacturers, major changes and updates can cause reliability to slide. It can take a year or two for carmakers to work out the kinks with new technology.”
In 2018 CR reported,
“Consumer Reports can no longer recommend the newest Tesla—the Model 3 electric sedan—because members say they’ve identified a number of problems with their cars, including issues with its body hardware, as well as paint and trim.”
The importance of the Model 3
Tesla’s Model 3 is a crucial car for the electric vehicle company. It’s Tesla’s first attempt at mass-marketing electric vehicles. But the launch was long and bumpy for sure. Owners talk about their experience as a mixture of excitement and frustration.
The rollout of the Model 3 was plagued by many production delays. People also experienced extraordinarily long wait times. Some waited more than a year for car delivery.
But the thing is, even with the complaints about reliability, Tesla owners still really love their cars. In customer surveys, Tesla owners consistently rate the car very high. The Model 3 has mostly lived up to its promises about the highly competitive sports sedan. It scores well on road tests too.
Tesla’s weak spot is in reliability. CR found that the Model S luxury sedan had problems with suspension. This is especially a problem for the 2017 models. They also found that the Model X had hardware problems, especially with its unique falcon-wing doors. And as we’ve been discussing the Model 3 also faces numerous challenges. For these reasons, CR removed their recommendations for all three cars in 2018.
Owners still love them
“While Teslas perform well in Consumer Reports’ road tests and have excellent owner satisfaction, their reliability has not been consistent, according to our members, which has resulted in changes to their recommended status,” says Fisher.
Tesla was able to hold on to the top spot on CR’s list of brands that satisfy owners the most, even as they dropped several spots for reliability.
“In most cases, reliability issues will undermine satisfaction,” Fisher said. “But when a vehicle has an enthusiastic following, like with Tesla, owners may overlook some issues. We’ve seen this with other vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Corvette.”
In April of 2018 company owner Elon Musk said that some of the problems and production delays with the Model 3 were partly due to relying on too many robots to make the cars. “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated,” Musk tweeted at the time.
But It’s Not All Bad News
Okay, now that we’ve gotten all of the bad news out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. With all of the problems with reliability that plagued Tesla over the past six years, things are looking up.
Tesla has been able to work out many of the kinks that plagued early generations. In fact, they’ve improved so much that they earned back the coveted recommendation from Consumer Reports in 2019.
The deputy auto editor at CR, Jon Linkov, said,
“What we’ve seen with the Model 3 is that they had a lot of problems initially with paint, some body panel issues and a lot of windows that cracked, but over the few years that they’ve been building that vehicle they’ve worked those problems out.”
Overall, Tesla was able to jump four spots on the CR reliability survey in 2019. This survey was based on reviews from owners of over 400,000 cars.
The improved reliability is mainly due to fixes in the Model S and Model 3. Unfortunately, the Model X is still ranked in the bottom third of the cars rated by CR. They still find the Model X to be one of the least reliable cars in their survey. CR uses a 100-point scale to estimate predicted reliability. Tesla’s Model X scored just 39 points. So while they now recommend the Model S and the Model 3, they still do not recommend the Model X.
The electric vehicles are improving with each new generation. But even with the improvements, the Model X still has numerous problems, including noises, leaks, and faulty falcon-wing doors.
Tesla says that it expected to deliver between 360,000 and 400,000 vehicles in 2019. Technicians say that there’s still room for improvement with the quality of the Models S, X, and 3. But there’s no doubt that quality is improving.
Linkov says, “they’ve worked through the problems, they’re much better than many other vehicles.”
What Sort of Maintenance Do Teslas Require?
One of the things we love about Tesla is that they are continuously reviewing maintenance recommendations to improve reliability, performance, durability, safety, and resell value.
If you have a gasoline car, then you need to keep up with things like oil changes, emissions checks, fuel filters, and spark plug replacements. You don’t have to worry about any of that with a Tesla. With electric cars, even things like brake pad replacements are rare. This is due to the regenerative braking returning energy to the battery. And that means less wear on your brakes.
We’re going to go over some of the recommended maintenance checks, but to find the exact protocol for your vehicle check with your owner’s manual.
Tesla’s recommended maintenance service
Here are the six services that you will need to keep up with for your Tesla.
Cabin air filter
Teslas are equipped with air filters that prevent road dust, industrial fallout, pollen, and other particles from coming in through the air vents. Tesla says that you should replace your cabin air filter every two years.
If your Tesla comes with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, then you will need to replace it every three years.
Tire rotation, balance, and wheel alignment
Tesla says that you should check your tires for balancing, rotating, and aligning needs every 10,000 to 12,000 miles. If you drive aggressively, then you may need more frequent tire service because of premature tire wear.
If your wheels are unbalanced or misaligned, it could affect tire life, handling, and steering components. For additional details, you should refer to your tire manufacturer’s owner manual. You should also check your warranty documentation.
Brake fluid test
According to Tesla, you should test your brake fluid for contamination every two years. Then replace them as needed.
Air conditioning service
In Teslas, there is an air conditioning service that replaces the desiccant. This helps the efficiency and longevity of the air conditioning system. For the Model S, you should get the air conditioning serviced every two years. For the Model X, you should get service every four years. And for the Model 3, you will need service every six years.
According to Tesla, you should clean and lubricate all brake calipers every 12 months. If you live in a colder region, then you will need to do that every 12,500 miles.
What Do I Do If My Tesla Breaks Down?
Now that you understand the reliability issues with Teslas, you can see how it’s essential to know what to do ahead of time if your vehicle breaks down. First, you will need to use Tesla’s service centers. Electric cars can’t be sent to just any old garage for repairs. You will need a specialized center.
Fortunately, Tesla offers an excellent roadside assistance service to help you if you run into car troubles. The toll-free phone number to call if something goes wrong is: 877-798-3752
AAA may also be useful if your car breaks down, especially if it’s from a drained battery. In most large cities in America today, AAA roadside assistance trucks can come out to charge your vehicle.
What Is Covered Under Tesla’s Roadside Assistance?
Tesla offers a complimentary service of roadside assistance under its warranty and extended service agreements. You should check with your warranty or service agreement for terms and conditions to find out whether you are eligible for Tesla’s roadside assistance.
Who is covered?
Owners or owner-authorized drivers are covered by the warranty or extended service agreement in any country where Tesla has an official store or service center. You can transfer roadside assistance services with the resale of your Tesla. The service will be available for the time remaining on the coverage period. However, you must notify Tesla and provide sufficient proof of the change of ownership.
It is the owner’s responsibility to notify Tesla and provide proof of ownership if the car was not purchased straight from Tesla.
What is covered?
Here are the three main things covered by the Tesla roadside assistance services.
In some areas, Tesla’s roadside assistance providers do carry a small number of loaner wheels. This is very useful for quickly replacing damaged wheels or tires. If you take your car to a service center, they will replace or repair your damaged tire. But they will do it at your expense.
You will need to make arrangements for this service with your service center. The availability and pricing are subject to change based on your location.
You will need to return the loaner wheels within three days and have them exchanged with your original wheels. If there is no loaner wheel available, then transportation services will be provided to the closest service center, as long as the center is within 50 miles of the car’s current location. For any distance beyond 50 miles, you will be responsible for your own transportation.
If your vehicle cannot be driven as a result of any malfunction covered by the warranty, Tesla will cover your transportation for the first 500 miles to the closest Tesla service center. If the failure is not covered by your warranty or an extended service agreement, then you will be responsible for transportation costs. You are also responsible for all transportation costs beyond 500 miles. And you will have to cover the cost yourself if your vehicle has to be moved from one service center to another.
You must provide the car transporters with all the instructions in your vehicle’s roadside assistance manual. (You will find this guide in the glovebox.) If damage occurs because those instructions weren’t followed, then Tesla is not responsible.
For towing, you should call the roadside assistance number for your region. You can find the numbers here.
If you find yourself locked out of your vehicle, you may be in luck because, in some cases, Tesla can remotely unlock your car. If your vehicle is offline or if Tesla can’t remotely unlock your car or if the app is not functioning, then you will need to use the roadside assistance service.
This service might include retrieving your key, towing your vehicle to the closest service center, or manually unlocking your car.
If you end up needing to be towed, Tesla will cover the transportation costs for the first 50 miles, as long as your car is covered by a warranty or extended service agreement. If your vehicle is not covered by a warranty or an extended service agreement, then you will need to cover the cost yourself.
What’s Not Covered?
Tesla’s roadside assistance is a convenient service if your car becomes inoperable. However, there are several circumstances that may not be covered, or that may require you to incur charges or fees. Here are some of the things that are not covered by Tesla’s roadside assistance:
- Transportation costs from the service center
- Acts of God causing hazardous conditions
- Additional requirements or any issues that may come from Customs clearances
- Fees associated with custom procedures, ferry crossings, special VAT regulations, toll roads, or congestion charges
- Collisions, accidents, damage caused by road fixtures, or objects striking the car
- Having the proper charging equipment or any cause for the depletion of a high voltage battery
- Normal wear and tear causing the exhaustion of a low voltage battery
- Driving the car off-road or on hazardous surfaces
- Extraction from being stuck in snow, mud, or sand
- Vehicle negligence or abuse
- Removing or installing snow chains
- Replacement or repair of a broken window
- Fees, fines, taxes, or damages associated with towing or impound as a result of the violation of any regulations or laws
- Animal transportation
- Overload of the vehicle
- Transportation of the car or driver when Tesla’s mobile app is not working or the car’s key is not present
- Tesla won’t reimburse roadside assistance costs without Tesla’s advanced authorization
- Any other limitations or exclusions described in the car’s warranty
The Bottom Line
Tesla is a car that consistently gets outstanding customer reviews. Tesla owners seem to really love their vehicles. But there is no denying that the cars have had reliability issues. The good news is the car is getting better with each new generation, and a lot of the kinks and problems have already been worked out.
Your car is also a lot less likely to break down if you are keeping up with routine maintenance. Electric vehicles are the future, and Tesla is positioned to be a big part of that.