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NHTSA investigates Tesla Model S touchscreen failures

This means some drivers would lose the rearview camera display.
Ann Smajstrla
June 24, 2020
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24 November 2019, Berlin: View of the steering wheel of a Tesla (Model S, year 2014). Photo: Jörg Carstensen/dpa (Photo by Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images)
picture alliance via Getty Images

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating older models of the Tesla Model S over complaints that the electric vehicle’s touchscreen -- and as a result, its rearview camera display -- failed. The agency opened an investigation Monday after receiving 11 complaints over 13 months, according to NHTSA documents.

In 2012-2015 Model S vehicles, the media control unit (MCU) contains an eMMC NAND flash memory device. Wear-out of the eMMC NAND flash causes the MCU to fail prematurely, according to the NHTSA. MCU failure means several features of the touchscreen stop working, like web browsing, climate control and the rearview camera display. This results in “reduced rear visibility” when backing up. 

Tesla introduced a new MCU in 2018 that doesn’t have this problem, according to Electrek. Still, an estimated 63,000 affected vehicles are on U.S. streets. No crashes or other incidents related to this defect have been reported. The agency is now assessing the “scope, frequency, and safety consequences of the alleged defect.” 

If the MCU failure is found to be a design defect on Tesla’s part, Tesla will have to stop forcing owners to pay up to $1,500 for an out-of-warranty replacement, Electrek reported. Tesla is currently charging $2,500 for an upgrade to the MCU2. Should the NHTSA find Tesla at fault, it’s unclear how these upgrades would be affected.

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