Broken Sunroof - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Broken Sunroof

July 10, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

My daughter was curious about the all-glass sunroof in our 2013 Tesla Model S. So I opened it for her, or tried to.

It jammed at 21-percent open and went no farther. I closed it without incident and tried once more. Same result, except just 20 percent this time.

The trouble seemed to originate on the driver's side just above my head where I could hear a faint click. And I could see the glass panel pull up short on my side, too, as the whole mess cocked sideways a tiny bit before the action ground to a premature halt.

I saw what was going on in short order once we all exited the car at home. But it was also abundantly clear that I wasn't going to be able to fix it myself. This looked to be a job for the Tesla service center.

2013 Tesla Model S

As you can clearly see, the pop-up air deflector isn't popping up on the driver's side.

2013 Tesla Model S

A closer look shows why: the left-hand pivot arm is broken in two. Yes, it's made of plastic, but plastic isn't unusual for this sort of part.

2013 Tesla Model S

The remaining piece is still attached to its hinge point, but it's free to drop down into the works where it can jam things up.

2013 Tesla Model S

I can fiddle around and line up the pieces, but the result only shows how futile it would be to attempt to fix it. And it looks to be a brittle sort of fracture. This fix is going to require a whole new piece.

I'm a big fan of the Tesla Model S and of Tesla's approach to the EV segment in general. There's a lot of genius here, and it's an unprecedented car from electric vehicle performance, range, and usability standpoints.

But I also see many signs of Tesla's inexperience as a carmaker. After all, this isn't the only quality or satisfaction issue that has cropped up on our test car. I'm of a mind that Tesla is set to become a permanent part of the automotive landscape, but if anything shoots them down it's going to be quality issues like this.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 6,021 miles


  • legacygt legacygt Posts:

    I'm not going to defend Tesla here. The purpose of these blog posts is to point out strengths and weaknesses of these cars. But flaws like this aren't necessarily explained by Tesla's inexperience as a car manufacturer. Sometimes any company can design a part poorly. Mercedes has as much experience as anybody but that hasn't prevented the SLS from frequent service visits to fix problems with its roof.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Can't the Tesla Service Center just reflash your car remotely with the most recent rev of that pivot arm?

  • wdrauch wdrauch Posts:

    fordson1, maybe the could remotely mold a new piece from the 3D CAD data!

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    I think this owes more to typical first model year bugs than Tesla being a small company or this being a technically innovative car. In fact, of all the issues this car has had this is probably the most typical of your average new car.

  • cjasis cjasis Posts:

    I'm not a big Tesla apologist but frankly, I think both stovt001 and LegacyGT are spot on.

  • cvillian cvillian Posts:

    I don't see how the Tesla sunroof fail is much different from the Mercedes convertible roof fail. Not that excuses help, but Tesla has a better excuse than Mercedes.

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    I don't find the comparisons between this and the SLS all that relevant. From an engineering standpoint, the difference between a lightly-loaded link in a simple pivoting assembly and the highly complex series of linkages in a modern convertible top is about as vast as it gets. The mechanisms operating the wind deflector on a sunroof are about as simple as things get on a modern car. The mechanisms on a power top are about as complicated as things get. I wouldn't be happy with either failure on cars this expensive, but Tesla's is particularly egregious. However, neither looks to be a common issue for either model line. Both probably need to be chalked up to s*%t happens.

  • tigerxml tigerxml Posts:

    I think it is ok for new company and build from ground car... Just few years later they will reach perfect quality of it's cars

  • mfennell mfennell Posts:

    "But I also see many signs of Tesla's inexperience as a carmaker" makes it sound like the car was designed by a bunch of silicon valley software developers handed a CAD package. It's more likely that everyone doing the hard parts came from elsewhere in the auto industry.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    What I really find odd is the brittle fracture on your car in the California heat. The cross sectional "I" didn't really help in this case either. What happens to the poor folks who you know, actually experience weather in other States with lower temps? Or is this a case of the material having bad resistance to UV light? Moulding defect? Would be curious as to what material they were using. @mfennell: They are some personnel from other auto companies.

  • mfennell mfennell Posts:

    @duck87: :) I thought that's what I just said. Maybe I would replace "some" with "lots", at least in the case of platform development.

  • This is one automobile company where I can easily forgive quality issues. They audaciously pushed the science of the automobile...the definition of the automobile, to unique heights. They deserve a little time and patience for bringing some needed American innovation to the road.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    @nefariousnigel: Uh... no. For $100K these kinds of things shouldn't happen, period. And please stop throwing "science" around, you make it sound like you know what you're talking about.

  • Go to and check out the latest for Porsche, M-B, and other $100k automobiles. Here's a sampling: "Porsche is recalling certain model year 2012-2013 911 Carrera and Carrera 4 vehicles manufactured from March 7, 2012, through November 12, 2012, and equipped with a standard (not sport) exhaust system. The exhaust tail pipe may fracture and separate from the rear muffler. If the exhaust tail pipe separates from the muffler it may become a hazard for other vehicles on the road, increasing the risk of a crash." Sure, these kinds of things shouldn't happen. However, they do and are not isolated to just a few manufacturers, new or old.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Nice try on copping out from another fanboy. The Porsche issue was found during durability testing and not in the real world, something that a company at Tesla's size isn't able to do. I have to wonder what would happen if the Model S was subjected to those same tests. In Edmund's time alone, we've seen consistent glitches with their software system, moisture in the rear lens, consistently late delivered components, faulty chargers, and their own recall for weak seat rails.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    Yes, the sunroof failure could happen to any car company--if it's well designed and broke for some fluky reason. But the iPad screen failure and replacement? The constant screen resets (once a month)? The HPWC problem (months late, then they fail -we still don't have our replacement)? The missing cargo cover that wasn't ready when the car was delivered--we got it weeks later? JKavs cabin booming noise, which is to me a very basic NVH design screw faux pas? No iPod integration? No console storage? No door pockets? Taken together this seems like rookie stuff by a new company that hasn't broadened their focus enough. It's a very good body and powertrain and has amazing performance, but I don't think they are well-rounded yet. Experience isn't just about raw design and engineering, it's also about making sure your suppliers do their job right and deliver on time. Still, I'd buy one if I was in that tax bracket.

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