John Goreham's picture

Tesla takes second step to prevent garage fires caused by improper home wiring

Following a garage fire in Irvine California Tesla has now made changes to both the software and hardware of the charging system of the Model S. An elaborate response to a fire that Tesla vehemently denied was caused by its car.
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In response to one well publicized garage fire in Irvine California, and other concerns Tesla mentioned in a statement, the company will send new, safer, wall charger parts to all Model S customers. This is the second step Tesla has made in order to prevent fires that could occur, as it says, because “…occasionally the wiring isn’t done right.” That statement reported by Bloomberg came from Elon Musk, Tesla founder and top dog. He is referring to the wiring in the home or garage, not the wiring inside the Tesla products.

The earlier change was a software change. Tesla can, and does, make changes to owners’ cars and it does not seek their permission first. Any change it deems necessary or beneficial is made by the company using the telematics system each car has. The software change, called 5.8.4, enabled the Tesla Model S to reduce its current demand while being charged by up to 25% if it sensed that the external equipment (home wiring etc.) was not properly handling the load and was delivering power in a non-uniform way. In other words, if the source of the charge could not keep up with the Tesla the Tesla would slow down its demand.

Tesla was quick to point out that the garage fire that occurred in a garage on the University of California at Irvine campus was not its fault. Investigators did not determine a cause definitively, but what is known is that a Tesla was charging and there was a fire. The fire was on the wall where the dedicated electrical connection for the Tesla was. The occupant of the home was quoted as saying that a licensed electrician had installed the connection for the Tesla.

Torque News wondered if the work had been inspected by the local electrical inspector as a result of a work permit having been pulled. We first looked to see if a building permit for modifications or additions to the electrical system had been pulled. We found two, one for a bathroom remodel and one for a kitchen remodel, but we did not locate a permit for the garage electrical work. So we asked the department that released the statement about the cause of the fire, the Orange County Fire Authority. Chief Kelly Zimmerman was kind enough to reply and directed us to the local town as the responsible organization. We then contacted the City of Irvine. Annie Brown at the City of Irvine then told us that the responsible party was the Irvine Campus Housing Authority (ICHA). She directed us to Ron Reid. Ron Reid’s e-mail bounced back as an out of office reply so we then contacted the suggested replacement (Andrew Herndon) who did not return our inquiries. Given this type of chain of responsibility for proper home electrical work Tesla doing everything it can to make the process foolproof seems not only wise, but prudent.

Tesla has now made two significant changes to its product and is sending out thousands of updated wall chargers that contain a thermal switch to help prevent fires of this type from happening. Why would anyone design a powerful home charging device without a thermal circuit breaker in the first place one might ask. In any case, Tesla is super responsive to any issue and this is no different. Hopefully the company can overcome this issue quickly and there will be no more fires from “wiring that isn’t done right.”

Photo changed after publication - Photos courtesy of Tesla owner Michael L.


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Comments

You say "Tesla can, and does, make changes to owners’ cars and it does not seek their permission first." Just to clarify this statement, the updates to the car do not currently install without action from the owner. Tesla pushes out the update to your car, but if you don't want it, or want to wait for a future update, you can continually decline the update.
Thank you Stephen. I did not know that the updates could be ignored. What if you skip an update, to say a mirror adjustment feature because you don't want that. However, then a later update comes you do want. Can you keep ignoring the prior mirror update and just accept the new one? Or would the new update always include all former ones as well? My question is meant seriously.
@John: Updates are all or nothing. Think of it like an operating system upgrade for your smartphone. You can't take one feature without another. If you don't install an update and a new one arrives, the new one overwrites the old one. New versions contain everything in the old versions plus the differences in the new one.
Thanks again. If you have time to take a photo of the part that comes to you and send it to me I'd love to post a photo on the Torque News site, or use it in a future gallery.
Hmm, I tried to post some links to existing photos and videos showing the Tesla update process, but the presence of a link appears to prevent saving the comment. I will email.
I think I can post your link, but readers will have to copy and past to make it work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG6Yhu3ccwU
The video quality on that link isn't great, but shows the process. I think the main point regarding this particular video is that you don't have to wait around while the car updates. Just like plugging it only takes 5 seconds as you walk out of the garage, applying the update is just pressing the button to allow the car to update at 2am (or whatever time you choose) and the car will be updated while you sleep. When you drive away in the morning, you are presented with release notes that explain what the changes and new features are.
My first 14-50 adapter that came with the car in Dec 2012 had the problem of heating up and melting a bit after repeated charging over a month or so. I noticed it starting to happen and I got a redesigned one in Jan or Feb 2013. I've had no problems since with daily use. This new one being sent out now is a third design of the adapter. Another comment about the software updates. It's your perogative to accept or decline the update, but Tesla does not tell you what is in the update. I have to go on the online forums to read the comments from those owners that have already updated if I want to know what the update is all about before I decide. One common complaint about Tesla from owners is the lack of communication. All it takes is a mass email to owners with changes as they occur, but the generally don't do it until there is certain mass of complaints on the forums.
Thanks Jim. These comments carry more weight when they come from an actual owner.
That's an odd picture at the top of this page. At least, I heard the charging part in the fire was the "mobile connector," yet for some reason Torque News shows the HPWC in their illustration. Can anybody comfirm which part was present. I realize we still don't know if Tesla was responsible for the fire.
@Frank: You are correct. The stock photo above is of the Tesla HPWC, and the November garage fire was related to the wiring for the NEMA 14-50 plug. What Tesla is mailing out to owners will be a fused version of the NEMA 14-50 adapter for the UMC. My own opinion is that Tesla can't be responsible for bad wiring or sockets, but because the media raises these types of issues, it is a good thing that Tesla is being proactive to try and reduce such issues, even if it isn't their fault.
I like this photo because it is an official Tesla photo showing their vision of charging at home. If you click the 4rth link above in the story it takes you to the full account of the fire. In it, page 4, the fire department mentions 2, 50 amp breakers labeled "Tesla Charger." I'm sorry that the official report was not more detailed. I hesitate to draw my own conclusion from that. Tesla could do a better job clarifying all of this for its owners and fans.
I just found it funny that whoever selected that picture thought that a Model S owner, faced with the HPWC and the Mobile Connector in his own garage, would actually choose the Mobile Connector. Especially since it is now suspected of causing a fire. I have only used my mobile connector once (at a campground).
Just to clarify, two things. First, the vast majority of Model S owners use the UMC to charge and don't own HPWCs. In fact, Tesla doesn't really recommend getting the HPWCs unless you regularly have the need to charge at faster than 30 miles per hour. Second, Tesla proved that the UMC wasn't to blame by pulling the logs from the car showing there was no variance in charging to the point the fire started. The problem was at the plug along which easily spread to boxes that were stacked near the plug. You can believe Tesla or not, but no further investigation is being done by either the fire investigators or Tesla at this point. The case is closed.
In all seriousness I appreciate the clarification. The photo selected was just a stock photo as S. Pace says. If you guys see more appropriate on the Tesla public page let me know and I can switch it. Thanks for commenting.
It appears I was overly critical of the photo. It was just an illustration. You guys do great work!
Photo changed :)
Minor comment: I would change the title from "Tesla Recall Parts" to "Tesla Recall Part" since it is only one adapter--the NEMA 14-50--that is being exchanged.
Good catch - Will do and then the server will update and show change.