Tesla Under Investigation by the NHTSA Over Failing Touchscreen Displays in the Model S

Tesla Under Investigation by the NHTSA Over Failing Touchscreen Displays in the Model S

Author: Eric Walz   

When the Tesla Model S was introduced in 2012, one of the most striking features of the electric car was the lack of buttons and switches for the interior. Tesla designed a minimalistic interior for the Model S, with most of the vehicle controls accessible only via the center-mounted touchscreen. 

Now Tesla is under investigation by the (NHTSA) for an excessive number of failing displays in Tesla Model S sedans. The U.S. auto safety administration said Tuesday it had opened an investigation into 63,000 Tesla Model S cars after owner reports of media-control unit failures that led to the loss of the use of touchscreens. 

The failing displays leave the driver or passenger unable to access a majority of the cars accessories and controls, including the climate controls, rear backup camera, audio system and navigation. 

The NHTSA said the preliminary evaluation, covering 2012-2015 model year vehicles, comes after it received 11 complaints alleging premature failure of the media-control unit due to memory wear-out.

The memory control unit that supports the display uses an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor which was first introduced back in 2011. The processor includes an integrated 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device, NHTSA said.

The flash devices are used in a wide number of consumer electronic devices. However, one drawback for the auto industry is that they have a limited number of rear/write cycles, the NHTSA said.

The NHTSA added that flash memory failures resulting from memory wear-out "are likely to occur after periods of progressively degraded performance symptoms, including longer power-up times, more frequent touch screen resets, intermittent loss of cellular connectivity or disruptions in the vehicle's navigation system, the NHTSA said.

The failure does not affect vehicle-control systems, including the Model S safety systems, so the problems does not lead to any serious safety concerns, other than the driver distractions that occur when the touchscreen display fails.

Tesla used the same display screen in 159,000 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X SUVs vehicles produced by Tesla through early 2018.

Some complaints said the failure could result in a loss of charging ability and that other safety alerts could be impacted, although the NHTSA did not elaborate. 

One driver complained of fogged up windows since the climate controls, including the window defoggers, are only accessible via the touchscreen display. Another complaint said the failure disabled safety monitors associated with Tesla's driver-assistance system Autopilot.

The complaints said Tesla requires owners to pay to replace the unit once the warranty expires. Tesla offers a 4-year or 50,000-mile warranty on the touchscreen display in its vehicles.

The NHTSA also announced two separate investigations on Wednesday. The agency said it opened two investigations into reports of headlight failures in 392,000 Kia Sorento sport utility vehicles and steering issues in 781,000 General Motors vehicles.

NHTSA said it had received 74 reports of sudden, unexpected loss of headlights in model year 2011-2013 Kia Sorento vehicles including some while drivers were making a turn or traveling on the highway.

The GM vehicles affected include 2010 through 2012 model year Chevrolet Equinoxes and GMC Terrain SUVs. The agency said it received 52 complaints over a condition that could cause increased friction in the steering system. The friction results in drivers feeling as if the steering wheel was sticking or require too much effort to steer. 

GM previously issued a service bulletin to address the issue. It involved replacing the steering gear or reprogramming the power steering control module on the affected vehicles. 

Tesla did not comment on the NHTSA investigation.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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