Tesla Is in Trouble Due to Faulty Screens, NHTSA Asks for a 158,000-Car Recall

The last few months have been fairly bittersweet for Tesla. On the one hand, the EV carmaker’s stock price continues to skyrocket. On the other, significant issues with the Tesla Model S and Model X have continued to arise. Touchscreen issues have been at the center of the bulk of these problems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration even launched an investigation back in July of 2020.

2021 is off to a bit of a bang now that, according to MotorTrend, the NHTSA has formally asked Tesla to recall almost 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles.

What is wrong with these Tesla touchscreens?

An image of a Tesla infotainment screen at an auto show.
Tesla Infotainment Screen | Sjoerd van der Wal via Getty Images

One of the advantages of buying a Tesla vehicle is an extremely appealing interior design. In the center of both the Model S and Model X, you’ll find a vertically-oriented 17-inch touchscreen. What makes this screen so significant is that it controls many of the car’s functions, eliminating the need for physical buttons. However, it is this same screen that is at the center of this potential recall.

According to the NHTSA via MotorTrend, the problem seems to be that the center touchscreen can shut off unexpectedly. This means drivers are unable to access their reversing cameras and window defrosters. MotorTrend reports that both of these items are mandated by federal law and must work properly.

More specifically, this Tesla touchscreen reportedly centers around the Nvidia Tegra 3 processor that lives inside the screen and its 8 GB of flash storage. The NHTSA reports that this processor is rated for around 3,000 program-erase cycles. In real-world usage, this should translate to about 5-6 years of use. According to MotorTrend, Tesla already confirmed to the NHTSA that all screens would eventually fail thanks to this specific design flaw.

What models would this recall affect?

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S | Tesla

If you’ve got a Tesla Model S or Model X, chances are you’ll be affected by this potential recall. As of writing, the American carmaker hasn’t issued an official recall. Regardless, MotorTrend reports that this touchscreen issue affects around 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles.

More specifically, the model years you want to look out for are 2016 to 2018 for the Model X and 2012 to 2018 for the Model S. As mentioned earlier, Tesla confirmed that all of the screens in the affected cars would eventually fail. As of writing, the NHTSA reports finding 12,588 vehicles that already needed screen replacements due to this problem.

Since all we have for now is a letter from the NHTSA, there is no official recall by Tesla. However, if we had to guess, chances are they’ll begin replacing the processor that powers the screen rather than replacing 158,000 physical screens in the near future.

Should I worry if I have a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y?

Tesla Model 3 driving on the highway
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

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Thankfully, Tesla Model 3 and Model Y owners shouldn’t worry just yet. The main reason why both the Model S and Model X are affected is that they use the same 17-inch screen. In contrast, the Model 3 and Model Y has a slightly smaller, 15-inch screen. The most important difference here is that the smaller unit likely uses a different processor. As of writing, the NHTSA is not investigating these smaller screens for the recommended recall.