New Photos: 2013 Tesla Model S recalled for fire risk by NHTSA
Tesla owners and fans may not like it, but when an automaker makes changes to a vehicle already in owners’ hands for safety reasons it is called a “recall.” That the cars can be repaired by the company remotely or by mail makes no difference to NHTSA. Tesla deserves major kudos for being proactive, but despite having already taken action, Jennifer Timian, Chief of the Recall Division at NHTSA, issued recall notice 14V006000 to Tesla on January 13th, 2014. The recall topic is potential overheating and fire risks associated with Tesla Model S cars while charging using the Universal Mobile Connector (UMC). Today Tesla sent a press release to its fans and customers in which it calls the word recall "outdated." The release contained a link to the explanation about the recall.
In its response to the “voluntary” recall, James Chen of Tesla acknowledges that in late 2012 Tesla received some UMCs that showed internal damage and had stopped charging. Tesla says that it received back about 3% of the chargers showing this damage. Tesla says that the damage was contained and that the power was stopped between the UMC and its NEMA 14-50 adapter. Mr. Chen says in his letter acknowledging the recall that in addition to those damaged UMCs, in late 2013 Tesla “became aware of several events that resulted in thermal damage external to the UMC.” Translation for this sentence might be that there was melting or other type of heat related damage to property where the Tesla was charging. The letter also acknowledges the garage fire that occurred in Irvine California while a Tesla was charging.
Tesla maintains that the causes of these incidents is “The building receptacle or wiring.” In other words, the reason that there have been some melted parts in 2012, several heat damaged UMCs in 2013, and at least one fire is that the homeowners’ wiring or components are not up to snuff. In order to help make the system more foolproof Tesla has taken at least two steps.
The first step was to update the software in the Model S to reduce the current draw if the car’s charging system senses any problems. The second step is to replace the UMC’s NEMA 14-50 adapter with one that has an added internal heat sensitive circuit interrupter (fuse). Tesla has already sent the software update. As part of the recall it will follow up to ensure that the update has been installed by customers.
Unrelated to this is the prior software update that changed the highway ride height in Model S cars that had the adjustable suspension option. That change was to prevent the Model S from striking road debris. 2 fires are reported to have happened due to Model S cars hitting metal objects on the highway and then having their battery packs catch fire. No injuries were reported in either event.
Tesla owners vehemently defend their cars and Tesla in general when any talk of recalls or fires comes up. Tesla fans point to the many internal combustion engine equipped car fires that happen each year. Tesla owners claim that the media overlooks ICE vehicle fires. That may be true in general, but it is not true at Torque News. In fairness to the ICE cars, they are always recalled when such events are discovered. The recalls are often reported here and in the wider automotive media. The Ford Escape had multiple fire related recalls upon launch last year and the popular Chevy Silverado was just this week recalled for fire related issues.
Photo Credits - Main story photo of a Tesla not on fire by the author. Our thanks to Tesla Model S owner Michael L, who provided the photos of the UMC and adapter. These were the replacement parts given to him on Wednesday January 15th during an annual service visit to his Tesla Service Center. They are NOT the new parts. The owner asked if they were and was told they are not yet available.