Tesla Motors hits a brick wall


Tesla’s $109,000 Roadster suffers a potentially debilitating problem with its lithium-ion battery pack. If the car is left alone and the battery is totally discharged, the owner is left with a “brick,” as Tesla itself describes the condition. The car is immobile: the wheels lock and the car can’t be pushed, towed, or rolled anywhere. The only fix is to replace the battery pack, a $40,000 option. The same problem might affect the company’s Model S and Model X vehicles being readied for the market.

The Roadster has several subsystems that run continually, even when the vehicles is powered down, and these subsystems draw some amount of power. If left unplugged or not recharging, the constant drain eventually depletes the battery pack completely. The battery pack can also run down when plugged in if an overly long extension cord is used. Long cord, over 100-ft., can havelimited current-carrying capacity and will not keep the battery pack properly charged.

Of the 2,200 Roadsters sold so far, at least five have become “bricks,” according to a regional Tesla service manager. There could be more such instances in other regions or countries. Unfortunately for those owners, neither insurance policies nor Tesla’s warranty covers depleted batteries. In fact, Tesla’s warranty states that the owner is responsible for damages related to “failure to maintain the battery at a proper charge levels at all times.”

Some owners have purchased the $12,000 battery replacement option. But it only pays for a battery replacement for the Roadster after seven years. Owners cannot use it in cases of depleted battery packs.

In its defense, Tesla says that in all its literature, such as the owner’s manual, it recommends keeping the vehicle plugged in and charging when not in use, and that the car was designed to be plugged in when not in use. It also says that letting the battery fall to 0% charge can permanently damage the battery.

Here’s the company’s statement regarding this issue:

“All automobiles require some level of owner care. For example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time. However, Tesla avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous counter-measures. Tesla batteries can remain unplugged for weeks (even months), without reaching zero state of charge. Owners of Roadster 2.0 and all subsequent Tesla products can request that their vehicle alert Tesla if SOC (state of charge) falls to a low level. All Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent SOC. Tesla provides extensive maintenance recommendations as part of the customer experience.”

Two points regarding this disclaimer. The alarms and lights do little good if the car is in storage or parked at long-term parking lot. And although the car might be able to sit unplugged for weeks, even month, without the battery going to 0% charge, that’s only if the car is initially left parked with a 100% charge.

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