Safety regulators investigating Tesla over faulty steering wheels

Tesla Model Y - 2020 Tesla Model Y, front 8.1.20, tags: steering - CC BY-SA

U.S. regulators responsible for ensuring automotive safety have initiated a probe into Tesla after receiving reports that the steering wheels of Model Y SUVs have come off while in operation. The investigation will cover approximately 120,000 vehicles from the 2023 model year.

Two complaints prompted the investigation, and both incidents occurred when the Model Ys were still relatively new and had low mileage. In both cases, the vehicles were delivered with a missing bolt that secured the steering wheel to the steering column.

The investigation includes an examination of how frequently the problem occurs, the number of affected vehicles and Tesla’s manufacturing process. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shared these details in documents published on its website on Wednesday.

One of the complaints lodged with the NHTSA involves a New Jersey owner who experienced the steering wheel coming off while driving with his family on Route 1 on January 29. The owner purchased the Tesla on January 24 and posted a video on Twitter of the detached steering wheel and photos of his car being towed.

Initially, a Tesla service center estimated the cost of repairing the problem to be $103.96. However, it later apologized and canceled the charge when the owner expressed dissatisfaction and requested a refund. The owner was eventually given the option of receiving a replacement.

Tesla’s Autopilot system also under investigation

Aside from the steering wheel incidents, the NHTSA is also investigating the Autopilot system’s ability to detect and respond to emergency vehicles parked on highways. There have been at least 14 Tesla accidents involving emergency vehicles while the Autopilot system was in use.

Tesla vehicles were involved in nearly 70 percent of the 329 crashes that involved advanced driver assistance systems. The federal agency has probed over 30 crashes related to Tesla’s Autopilot systems since 2016, and these incidents have resulted in the death of 19 individuals.

Earlier this year, NHTSA acting head Ann Carlson told reporters that the agency is dedicating significant resources to the ongoing investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system.

“We’re investing a lot of resources,” said Carlson. “The resources require a lot of technical expertise, actually some legal novelty and so we’re moving as quickly as we can, but we also want to be careful and make sure we have all the information we need.”

The NHTSA sought several recalls and opened investigations into Tesla vehicles over the past year, but the agency declined to comment on whether they pose a real risk to emergency workers.

Tesla’s full self driving vehicles ‘recalled’

Last month, Tesla had to recall all 363,000 vehicles equipped with its “Full Self Driving” (FSD) software in the U.S. due to safety concerns.

The recall notice, posted on the NHTSA’s website, said that the FSD Beta system could make the vehicle unsafe around intersections. In response, Tesla will fix the FSD software via an over-the-air update.

While Elon Musk has not commented on the nature or scope of the issue, he did say on Twitter that “the word ‘recall’ for an over-the-air software update” is “anachronistic” and “just flat wrong.”

However, the NHTSA insisted that manufacturers must initiate a recall for any repair, including a software update, that remedies an unreasonable safety risk.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an agency of the U.S. federal government, part of the Department of Transportation. It describes its mission as “Save lives, prevent injuries, (wikipedia)

Tesla Model Y

The Tesla Model Y is a battery electric compact crossover manufactured by Tesla, Inc. Unveiled in March 2019, it started production at its Fremont plant in January 2020, (wikipedia)

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