The Biggest Problems Tesla Model 3 Owners Have Reported

View of San Francisco Tesla service center
Tesla service centers have been busy with Model 3 repairs. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There’s been plenty of good and bad news about the Tesla Model 3 in 2018. On the negative side, more delays for (and changes to) Model 3’s production schedule made us believe there’d never be an affordable version of the electric car.

On the positive side, reviews have been mostly good, and rumors of increased production circulated in March. So if you’re buying a loaded $49,000 Model 3 and happen to be at the front of the line, maybe you’ll have better luck with the reservation process.

However, nearly every one of the earliest Model 3 owners have reported issues with build quality and performance. (Model X continues to have these problems, three years after its debut.) The most loyal Tesla fans simply shrug it off and head back to the service center for repairs, but others may have less patience with the EV maker as they take delivery of the car.

Here are the biggest problems Model 3 owners have reported, ranked by level of seriousness.

8. Blurry backup camera

  • The blurry camera makes backing up a tense adventure.

One owner in the Model 3 Owners Club reported a blurry backup camera, making for some tense moments when moving in reverse. While other owners on the forum downplayed the incident, this same complaint has appeared on other sites.

Anyway, the owner who posted the concern also owns a Model S and said the Model 3 camera was “definitely not as good.”

Next: In a new car, rust is a bad sign.

7. Rust

Reddit pic of Model 3 rust
View of rust on a new Model 3 | via Reddit
  • This owner reported eight problems, some of which are still pending after three service visits.

On Reddit’s Tesla pages, one Model 3 reservation holder and investor expressed concern about a photo showing a rusted door on a delivered vehicle. The owner of that car replied to the post and confirmed the rust, saying it may have been “a stain” from some kind of “runoff.”

The same owner went on to describe eight different problems since taking delivery of Model 3 — some of which hadn’t been corrected after three trips to Tesla service centers. Looking at the car’s defective touchscreen and malfunctioning GPS, you can see why this patient owner described the quality issues as “excessive.”

Next: To adjust cruise control, you need to take your eye off the road.

6. You need the touchscreen to adjust cruise control.

Screengrab of Tesla Model 3 in white
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla
  • Consumer Reports worried about screen-tapping while driving.

First things first: Consumer Reports buys all the cars it tests, so the nonprofit certainly qualifies as an owner. (It’s the reason their reliability ratings and other analyses have such credibility with car-buyers.) In their mostly positive review of Model 3, the publication brought up an important point.

“Very often our drivers found themselves turning their gaze away from the road to check for speed, range, or time, and many of the displays are too small to see at a quick glance.” The testers were disappointed there was no head-up display (HUD) available.

A reviewer from Engadget mentioned the same issue — and clarified that he had to go into a submenu to find the right button for cruise control. His words to describe the situation were “potentially dangerous.”

Next: This enthusiastic owner noted several issues with paint finish.

5. Issues with paint finish

Shot of Elon Musk speaking to a crowd in 2017
Tesla’s customers have been patient, but some have reached a boiling point. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
  • Paint blemishes are common complaints with Model 3.

While some reviewers have pointed out paint issues, this problem turns up even in the most die-hard Tesla owner’s posts. On the Model 3 Owners Club, one owner noted scratches around the hood emblem and blemishes in the trunk overhang. A third paint issue turned up after he had his charge port replaced.

Next: One company put Model 3 under the microscope and compared it to a ‘Kia in the 1990s.’

4. Door, window, and trunk defects

Problems with Model 3 trunk
A Model 3 trunk issue | Autoline Network via YouTube
  • You don’t want to be compared to a vintage Kia.

Before Kia became one of the top auto brands, it had a reputation as a cheap import brand known for build defects. When a Michigan-based consulting agency dismantled a Model 3, the owner described the new EV in those terms.

Likening it to a “Kia in the ’90s,” the technician criticized the car’s gaps and generally lackluster quality. Owners in Model 3 forums have cited trunks that don’t close, window pillars that have buckled, and one mysteriously sinking hood.

Next: When so much depends on the touchscreen, failure means an unusable Model 3.

3. Total touchscreen failure

View of a failing Tesla Model 3 touchscreen
The Model 3 touchscreen has been a problem for many owners. | Malventano via Imgur
  • With the touchscreen controlling close to everything, failure is a major malfunction.

In February 2018, Green Car Reports borrowed a faithful reader’s Model 3 to do a first drive and in-depth review of the new EV. However, before it published those reports, Editor-in-Chief John Voelcker went on the record saying the build quality was, “in a word, appalling.”

Prior to getting its hands on the car, the GCR team had to press pause because the owner had to send the car back after major touchscreen malfunctions. At times, he reported finding his Model 3 parked in the garage with the stereo blasting at full volume (to some, an image out of a horror film).

Otherwise, the car would stop charging on its own and could barely run the navigation system. He had to have the screen and system completely replaced.

Next: In some cases, owners have been locked out of their Model 3s.

2. Getting locked out of the car

Profile of black Tesla Model 3
Without a metal key, you might get locked out of the car. | Tesla
  • If you can’t get into the car, you have a problem.

When the measured Green Car Reports wrote that Model 3 “build quality was the worst we have seen on any new car from any maker over the last 10 years,” we knew there was trouble. A report in the Los Angeles Times noted similar feedback from owners.

In one case, an owner couldn’t unlock the car with an electronic key card or the iPhone app. Since there is no metal key, he had to summon a Tesla technician to come and use a portable battery to open the hood.

Next: Some Tesla owners have seen the car fail completely while on the road.

1. Shutdowns while driving

Screenshot of Model 3 shutting down on the road
This Model 3 has to be pulled over and shut down. | Nick Phan via Youtube
  • You don’t want total power failure on the highway.

In January, a Model 3 owner posted a video of her car shutting down while she was driving. Suddenly, an alert warning “Car Shutting Down — PULL OVER SAFELY” appeared on the screen. She did so, rebooted, then got the same shutdown warning and loss of power.

Later, when Tesla techs looked at it, they diagnosed the problem as “failure in the high voltage controller,” for what it’s worth. In commenting on the shutdown, a Model X owner said it had happened to him in the past and offered instructions on how to pull over safely.

He also offered helpful tips. “If you have a passenger, as this person did, recording the warnings may help the technician. Then, remember the reboots!”

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