Tesla capitulates in recall of Model X, Model S for touchscreen failure

February 4, 2021

Tesla relented to the NHTSA's request to recall nearly 135,000 electric vehicles for failures of a 17-inch touchscreen in 2012-2018 Tesla Model S sedan and 2016-2018 Tesla Model X SUV. The interface can fail, resulting in a loss of the rearview camera and other "safety-related vehicle functions," the feds said in a letter issued to Tesla in mid-January.

Until this week, Tesla resisted the recall, saying over-the-air updates could fix it.  

The screen serves as the technology hub for the vehicles, providing access not just to infotainment but also climate controls and vehicle functions such as adjusting side mirrors and and changing drive modes. The memory chips in the displays of the earlier Tesla models can wear out over time and cause the screen to stop working, thereby increasing the risk of a crash. 

The NHTSA cited safety risks arising from the loss of rearview camera images and HVAC controls such as defrosting, as well as issues with the Autopilot driver-assistance system. If the touchscreen were used solely for infotainment controls such as audio, it would not have been viewed as a safety defect necessitating a recall. 

The recall came on the heels of the NHTSA investigation sparked by numerous owner complaints from issues ranging from overheating to premature yellowing. Some of the complaints focused on Tesla making customers replace the screen out of pocket since it was beyond the 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty.

2017 Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S

Tesla's cult-like appeal to technophiles centered on the capability of the touchscreen. Even though Tesla has issued several over-the-air updates to correct the problems, the NHTSA determined it wasn't enough. The early units, with a NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and its integrated 8GB eMMC flash memory chip, only have a 10-year lifespan, according to Green Car Reports.

Tesla isn't the only automaker with rearview camera issues. Last year, FCA recalled more than 300,000 vehicles because the rearview camera projection stayed on too long after the cars shifted from reverse to drive. The year before, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota all issued recalls for similar issues. Mandated for 2018 models, rearview camera technology is relatively new and it remains to be seen how long the camera systems can last, and in what operating condition. 

Tesla will replace the VCM daughterboard with an eMMC controller free of charge. The recall begins March 31, and Tesla owners can expect notification when to take in their affected vehicles to a service center. Owners can contact Tesla customer service at 1-877-798-3752 and reference recall number SB-21-21-001, or call the NHTSA at 1-800-424-9153 and reference recall number 21V035000.

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