In several articles this year, my colleagues and I have covered some of the Tesla service and repair issues that lead to exorbitant repair bills for customers. After I discuss some of them, I’ll review industry-standard repair practices that Tesla could adopt, and possibly improve, that would solve this problem.
In my case, I was test-driving a Model Y when a passenger couldn’t eat lunch, which resulted in Tesla employees telling the entire seat might need replacing. Tesla service centers do not repair or replace small components in many cases, so there was a possibility that I would be charged for the entire row of seats, just because a small amount of vomit got into one of the seat belt clickers. On most other vehicles, a seat belt clicker can be replaced for less than $100. For folks raising a family, vomiting and other messes are inevitable, so big repair bills for a little mess isn’t a great thing.
Compare this to the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV. In this movie, the movie’s protagonists exploit a weakness in a giant space station’s thermal exhaust system, allowing a tiny spacecraft similar to a fighter plane to blow up a space station the size of a moon, in just one shot.
I didn’t hear back from Tesla about this, nor did anyone file an insurance claim for the accident, so they must have figured out how to fix it, or they didn’t want any more bad publicity. However, the fact that I was threatened with a big bill on something that would normally cost around $30-50 to fix is still insane.
My colleague Jo Borrás found an even bigger weakness than the Death Star when he discussed a $16,000 repair bill made by a Tesla service center for a single Model 3 driver. The driver ran into some debris on the road, like we all do sometimes when it can’t be avoided. Unfortunately, debris smashed a plastic panel on the bottom of the car and hit the radiator connection to the battery pack, breaking it. At a Tesla service center, they determined that it was part of the battery pack, and that the entire pack would need to be replaced. why? Because service centers do not open battery packs, they can only be replaced.
This would have resulted in the car’s total, in which the cost of replacing the packaging was more than half the cost of a similar replacement, but the car owner decided to seek a second opinion. Ask for help from Rich Benoit, who runs the Rich Rebuilds YouTube channel. Benoit owns Electrified Garage, an independent electric car repair shop, and despite the distance, the owner towed his car across the states for a better repair estimate than Rich.
It turns out that the thermal contact of the battery pack can be repaired for just $700. The electrified garage discovered that they could repair the cracked pipe using standard plumbing methods, because the pressure in the Tesla’s cooling system is not very high. With the crack fixed and the new coolant back in the system, the car ran as if nothing had happened at all.
Like Joe, my colleague Steve Hanley went into detail on the broader issue of the right to repair. Many non-Tesla manufacturers do their best to block independent repair shops or the owners themselves service and repair their products. This, in turn, has led to a full-blown movement against those practices, with the acceleration of sophisticated government action. Consumers, in many cases, simply want access to computer interfaces and the ability to get parts from someone other than the original manufacturer, as well as the ability to get independent mechanics and repair shops that are as efficient as possible.
Manufacturers often resist this, making copyright and safety/integrity arguments against independent repairs and computing access. They will have an idea if their closed products cause no real financial harm to consumers that can be completely avoided.
If you want to learn more about Tesla’s mistreatment of people who want to repair their cars independently, I recommend you check out this video below at Rich Rebuilds. It’s just so shocking the way they handled someone who was once so passionate and supportive.
How Tesla Can Solve These Problems, Increase Customer Satisfaction and Improve Its Image
Before we discuss the logistical changes needed to avoid high repair bills for relatively minor issues, we need to talk about a philosophical shift that must occur at Tesla. The basic problem is that the company wants to control the vehicles, when the company really has to treat the vehicles as something that the customer owns.
There are reasons Tesla gives for not doing this, but what you need to understand is that cars simply aren’t software. They are cars, and for generations people have been accustomed to controlling their cars. The idea of no control is not only strange but offensive to most vehicle owners.
Tesla needs to stand strong behind the Right to Repair movement, stop mistreating salvage-branded Teslas owners, and provide any stores, independent owners, and anyone else who needs to make their own repairs. Anyone can go to the parts counter at other manufacturers’ dealers and buy a piece of the car, no questions asked, and this is an industry standard that Tesla should embrace.
I can see why Tesla would want a standard approach to car repair, and that’s something it can continue to do. Having each service center delve into things like battery packs, drive units, and complex internal assemblies would add a lot of cost and complexity at the service center level, and it makes a lot of sense to avoid that.
To keep repair costs from inflated to those of all-new assemblies, Tesla can take another page out of its “old” automation book: reconditioned and remanufactured parts.
For example, when someone comes with a damaged battery pack, Tesla can order a remanufactured one instead of asking the customer to buy a new one. Then, send that damaged package to another location where they can have any minor internal repair they need to be ready for the next customer who needs a package. Instead of paying $16,000 for a new package, a customer can only pay a small portion of that for a remanufactured assembly, especially when you consider that they are returning the rest of their packaging entirely to the remanufacturing effort.
Remanufacturing can take place in the factory, at a dedicated facility, or at a third-party remanufacturer that already does this type of work, and it can be a little profitable for whoever does it.
If Tesla could do all of this, or even most of it, it would make a huge difference to its customers. Hell, I might even buy one!
Featured image: Tesla skateboard chassis, including motor. Photo by Kyle Field/CleanTechnica.