What just happened? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has asked Tesla to recall around 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles over an issue with their touchscreens that could cause the displays to fail.
The NHTSA writes that it opened an investigation last June into “a potential safety-related defect concerning incidents of media control unit (“MCU”) failures resulting in loss of rearview camera and other safety-related vehicle functions.” The issue affects certain 2012 – 2018 Tesla Model S sedans and 2016 – 2018 Model X SUVs.
Motherboard reports that the issue stems from the eMMC flash storage chip embedded on the MCU1 board. Experts claim that the Teslas are writing vehicle logs to the chip so often that they burn out. “When this burns out, you wake up to a black screen [in the car’s center console.] There’s nothing there. No climate control. You can generally drive the car, but it won’t charge,” said Tesla repair professional Phil Sadow.
It’s believed to take around four years for the flash chips to wear out, though many owners have not experienced the issue. However, according to the NHTSA letter, Tesla confirmed that all the units would “inevitable fail.” The company also provided a statistical model of projected weekly MCU repairs from 2020 to 2028, showing replacements peaking in early 2022.
Tesla has tried to fix the issue via over-the-air updates, but the NHTSA believes these have been “substantively insufficient.”
The NHTSA has “tentatively” determined that the MCU’s failure constitutes “a defect related to motor vehicle safety,” and is therefore asking Tesla to issue a recall. Elon Musk’s company has until January 27 to respond. Should it refuse to comply, it must provide “a full explanation of its decision.”