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NHTSA Closes Safety Probe Of Model S After Tesla Adds Upgrades

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Third Tesla Model S catches fire after hitting road debris. Photo via Twitter user @NASHVILLAIN_

Third Tesla Model S catches fire after hitting road debris. Photo via Twitter user @NASHVILLAIN_

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Last week, Tesla announced a series of safety upgrades to existing and future Model S vehicles. Apparently, those improvements were enough to assuage investigators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who've pulled the plug on a probe of the Model S.

The investigation began last November, after two 2013 Model S sedans caught fire -- one in Tennessee, the other in Washington state. (A third fire was reported, but since it occurred in Mexico, it wasn't part of the official NHTSA investigation.) In both cases, the owners said that they'd run over debris in the road, which led Tesla and NHTSA to assume that the fires were caused by damage to the battery casing that sits beneath the Model S.  

That, in turn, led Tesla to upgrade the Model S. Last fall, the company announced an improved warranty that covered fires due to "driver error", and it also published a software upgrade that boosted the vehicle's ride height.

Last Friday, Tesla announced three more upgrades -- this time, physical upgrades to the body of the vehicle. The list included an aluminum bar designed to deflect debris away from the vehicle and a titanium plate to protect the Model S from any errant objects that manage to bypass the aluminum bar. The improvements now come standard on all new Model S vehicles, and they're available as free upgrades to any current Model S owner.

That's enough for NHTSA: according to documents posted to the agency's website (PDF), the probe has officially wrapped. Essentially, NHTSA has said that the two fires it investigated were freak occurrences and not attributable to a major, persistent safety flaw: "A defect trend has not been identified. Accordingly, the investigation is closed."

That said, NHTSA is quick to hedge its bets: "The closing of the investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that a safety-related defect does not exist, and the agency reserves the right to take further action if warranted by new circumstances". Stay tuned.

[via New York Times]

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