Tesla is the Focus of Another Probe by the NHTSA for Suspension Safety Issues

Tesla is the Focus of Another Probe by the NHTSA for Suspension Safety Issues

Author: Eric Walz   

The governing body responsible for automobile safety is the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency routinely investigates consumer safety complaints in the auto industry, ranging from minor problems to more serious issues that can possibly lead to accidents or injuries.

Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla has been the focus of numerous investigations by the NHTSA in the past and now the California company finds itself under investigation once again.

The NHTSA said on Friday it had opened a preliminary investigation involving 115,000 Tesla models after receiving 43 complaints about failure of the left or right front suspension fore links.

The vehicles include the 2015-2017 Model S and 2016-2017 Model X SUV. The affected models were built between January and May 2016.

Vehicle owners in the U.S. are able to file a complaint to NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation by clicking "Report a Problem" on NHTSA's website. Consumers can also file a complaint through NHTSA's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. 

If a high number of complaints are received for a particular problem, the NHTSA opens an investigation, as it did in this case. More serious safety problems however can lead to recalls, which the vehicle manufacturer must address and repair for free. However, its more common for an automaker to issue an internal technician service bulletin TSB to address them.

TSB's are routinely issued by automakers for vehicle problems that their dealership service technicians diagnose and repair more frequently. The TSB's serve as an aid to check or repair some of the more common occurring problems on any particular model.

Tesla was aware of its front suspension problem in the Model S and Model X for the past several years. In Feb 2017, Tesla issued a TSB describing a condition that may result in front suspension fore link/control arm failures, the NHTSA said.

Tesla's 2017 TSB for its service technicians said that some vehicles have "front fore links that may not meet Tesla strength specifications. In the event of link failure, the driver can still maintain control of the vehicle but the tire may contact the wheel arch liner."

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Out of the 43 complaints the NHTSA received, 32 of the fore link/control arm failures occurred during low-speed parking maneuvers and 11 occurred while driving at higher speeds. Another eight complaints may also involve the same issue, NHTSA said. In many cases, the defect leads to the integrated ball joint separating from the fore link.

The NHTSA  said "the complaints appear to indicate an increasing trend, with three of the incidents at highway speeds reported within the last three months."

On Nov. 20, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Tesla in the U.S. District Court in California over suspension issues in Model S and X vehicles claiming vehicles have defects that can result in the front and rear suspension control arm assembly components prematurely failing.

The NHTSA's probe into Tesla's front suspension problems is the second investigation of Tesla this month.

Last week, NHTSA said it was expanding a separate probe of touchscreen display failures to roughly 159,000 Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles. This issue is now being upgraded to an "engineering analysis", a step required before it can seek to compel recalls.

The part in question is the memory control unit (MCU) supporting Tesla's center-mounted touchscreen display, which gives a driver access to most of the vehicle's controls. It is used for entertainment, maps, navigation, and heating and air conditioning controls. 

The NHTSA opened a preliminary evaluation in June after Tesla owners reported a high number of touchscreen failures. The agency said it has reviewed 12,523 claims and complaints about the touchscreen failure, which would impact around 8% of the vehicles under investigation.

That probe now covers 2012-2018 model year Tesla Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles. The preliminary investigation covered 63,000 Tesla Model S cars. Since Tesla's dashboard mounted display is the only way to access most vehicle features and subsystem control menus, the loss of the touchscreen results in the loss of the rear view camera feed when putting the vehicle in reverse. 

Other systems that are not accessible without using the touchscreen are the vehicle's rear window defogger, as well as the audible chimes for the turn signals and those that confirm the activation of Tesla's Autopilot automated driving feature.

Last week, Consumer Reports (CR) released its annual Auto Reliability Survey. In its latest survey the consumer watchdog said it's no longer recommending the Tesla Model S due to various problems, including the touchscreen display and suspension issues. CR also faulted the Model Y for body hardware and paint problems.

The Tesla Model 3 is now the only model that CR recommends.

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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