Tesla Recalls 135,000 Cars Due to Faulty Flash Memory

Tesla has to recall 135,000 cars due to a long-known issue with the flash memory on older Model S and Model X vehicles that may prevent them from displaying the rearview backup camera or turn signals properly. 

The recall order specifically applies to Model S sedans made from 2012 to 2018 and Model X SUVs from 2015 to 2018 that have the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and Hynix 8GB flash memory. Essentially, the problem boils down to 8 GB not being nearly enough flash memory for the vast amounts of data processing the car must do, causing the flash storage to rapidly wear down, resulting in “failures of the center display software” (later models use 64 GB of flash memory). Because virtually every function in Teslas other than accelerating and braking occurs through that center display console, after six months of review the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) deemed this a safety issue.

As automakers typically do, Tesla fought hard to prevent the recall. According to the recall report, Tesla argued that a recall was unnecessary because an over-the-air patch that it said could work around memory failure problems. If the memory failed, the vehicle would set the interior temperature to 71.6 degrees, turn on windfield frosting and defogging, display the backup camera at all times on the screen, and prioritize exterior lighting controls to make sure they continued working until the owner took the vehicle in for repair. According to NHTSA, 88 percent of the affected vehicles received this OTA update.

But NHTSA determined that was not good enough. The recall makes Tesla replace the entire Visual Component Module that includes the memory storage and upgrade it to the newer one that is less prone to failure. Plus, Tesla must reimburse any customers who already had this repair work done due to the faulty part.

The recall, and the wider context around Tesla’s relationship with the safety agency, demonstrates the inconsistencies with U.S. vehicle safety regulations. NHTSA admits it knows of no crashes, injuries, or fatalities caused by this component failure, yet it is clearly within its purview to issue the recall because backup cameras, properly functioning anti-fog and heat systems, and turn signals are all legally mandated safety technology. However, Tesla’s continued marketing of its semi-autonomous driver assistant system as “full self-driving” has been at least partially responsible for injuries and deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board which has investigated several fatal crashes during which Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged. So there is a certain paradox in NHTSA pushing Tesla to recall 135,000 vehicles because of a faulty memory storage system that may disable the backup camera but doing nothing when the car’s onboard computer functions perfectly as it plows into an 18-wheeler at 74 miles per hour. That’s called user error.

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