Tech

Tesla bows to pressure from NHTSA, issues recall for Models S and X

A wall of bricks with the Tesla logo superimposed on top
Enlarge / 135,000 Teslas will brick their infotainment screens within 3 or 4 years due to a design defect. NHTSA has persuaded the automaker to fix the problem through a voluntary recall.

Getty Images/Jonathan Gitlin

It’s official: Tesla has to recall almost 135,000 Models S and X electric vehicles due to a design defect that bricks the EVs’ infotainment screens within four years of driving. The recall affects Model S sedans built between 2012 and 2018 as well as Model X SUVs built between 2016 and 2018, and owners should be notified by the automaker in the month of March.

The issue, which we first covered back in November 2020, has been well-known to the Tesla owners community for some time now. The problem is caused by an 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory chip, fitted to the Media Control Unit of the brand’s Nvidia Tegra 3-powered infotainment systems. Logs are written to the flash memory every time the car is in use, which soon reaches its lifetime number of write cycles; once this limit has been reached, the touchscreen dies, taking out the legally mandated backup camera and defrost/defogging controls, as well as exterior turn signal lighting. (The problem does not affect more recent Models S or X that use Intel’s Apollo Lake processor; those models also use a 64GB eMMC.)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a preliminary investigation into the matter in June 2020, then upgraded that to an engineering analysis in November 2020. In mid-January 2021, the regulator concluded that the loss of these functions rose to the level of being safety defects and asked Tesla to recall the vehicles. In late January, the automaker pushed back, “explaining its view that the eMMC wear condition neither constitutes a defect nor presents an unreasonable risk to safety.”

The NHTSA, however, disagreed, and on January 29, Tesla agreed to a voluntary recall, which will replace a daughterboard in the Media Control Unit with a new one that uses the 64GB eMMC memory.


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