Imagine: you’re driving your brand new Tesla down the highway when suddenly, the steering wheel slumps from the steering column into your hands. Or, don’t simply imagine it, instead look at these images posted by a Tesla driver who reported going through just that at the end of January.
In a series of tweets from Prerak Patel, the vehicle owner recounted his harrowing experience, and subsequent interactions with Tesla customer service. The company eventually offered him a new car. However, that wasn’t quite enough to clean the slate for the EV manufacturer. A federal regulator is now investigating the potential problem of Tesla Model Y steering wheels.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into Model Y steering wheel detachment on March 4, according to a filing published to the agency’s website.
The document references two reports of “complete detachment of the steering wheel from the steering column while driving in 2023 Model Year Tesla Model Y vehicles.” So, apparently, there was at least one other steering wheel incident aside from the one documented by Patel. Which begs the question: Is it too much to ask for “a good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off when you’re driving?”
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Per the NHTSA, both Teslas were delivered to their owners missing a key piece: the steering wheel retaining bolt. The administration’s summary details that in each case, the EVs were subject to an end of line fix prior to delivery that required the steering wheel to be removed and later replaced. In that process, it seems that Tesla’s streamlined, optimized assembly process skipped a step.
When Patel and the other, unidentified car owner received their vehicles, the steering wheels were only held in place by the friction between the component and column. “Sudden separation occurred when the force exerted on the steering wheel overcame the resistance of the friction fit while the vehicles were in motion. Both known incidents occurred at low vehicle mileage,” NHTSA noted.
In the new probe, the safety agency will assess the risk of the same defect appearing in other Tesla Model Y vehicles. From there, NHTSA will either opt to issue a recall or not. And, if the administration does issue a recall, it would be far from Tesla’s first. There are currently 51 active recalls regarding Tesla Inc. listed on the NHTSA website.
Just last week, Musk’s automaker was forced to pause the rollout of it’s poorly named “Full Self-Driving” Beta driver assistance feature after a NHTSA investigation deemed it was unsafe. Another February recall from NHTSA involved poorly secured seats in thousands of Model Y vehicles.
Tesla is also currently facing at least one other federal probe by the Department of Justice. In that ongoing criminal investigation, the company is being looked at over its vehicles’ safety and claims—most related to the automaker’s driver assistance features.