Tire Woes, Part 2 - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

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2013 Tesla Model S: Tire Woes, Part 2

September 20, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

They say the third time's a charm. Not so with our long-term Tesla Model S and its rear tires.

The third time the tire pressure warning light lit up, I decided there must be an issue beyond normal air loss. I drove slowly to a tire shop near home and asked them to check the left rear for a leak.

What transpired was a bit shocking, as you can see from the photo above.

It's no wonder air was escaping. The inside edge of the left rear tire, and the right rear as well, it turned out, was chamfered by irregular wear to the point there was no rubber left. The steel cords were showing through.

"You need new tires," the service tech announced.

2013 Tesla Model S

"No s---," I thought, while thanking him aloud for his help.

It seemed a bit much that the tires would wear through that way, and in just 9,500 miles, so in consult with Mike Schmidt we decided that rather than having the tire shop fit new rear tires, we'd have the car flat-bedded to the nearest Tesla service center, which turned out to be in Costa Mesa.

2013 Tesla Model S

I called and talked to a service advisor named Nik, who said they were closing soon but to have the tow driver drop the key in the overnight box when he got there. Nik took my information and asked if the tires had ever been rotated. If not, he said, Edmunds would end up paying for the replacements at $375 each.

2013 Tesla Model S

I called Mike and testing director Dan Edmunds and discovered that there was no tire rotation noted on the invoices from either of our two previous service center visits, both at the Santa Monica facility.

As of now it is unknown whether they did a rotation at 6,171 miles, our first visit for the broken sunroof, and just didn't write it down, or whether they forgot to tell us it was needed. We didn't ask for a rotation because it's not listed in the owners manual's care and maintenance guide, where just about every other automaker in the universe lists necessary stuff like tire rotations

Turns out there is a recommendation for a rotation every 6,000 miles, but it is in a separate section under "tires," six pages before you get to the maintenance schedule. The maintenance section merely recommends checking windshield washer fluid and wiper blades every 12,500 miles or 12 months and doesn?t mention tires at all.

There will, I'm sure, be more about that as we continue trying to trace down why the tires wear so unevenly and so quickly.

2013 Tesla Model S

Both Nik and a service tech at the Costa Mesa center told me that such wear is common on Model S's that are equipped with 21-inch wheels, as is ours, and that haven't had a tire rotation at 5,000 to 6,000 miles.

Interestingly, we can't find anywhere in the Tesla manuals or official online material a warning about that.

There is a section on the Tesla Web site under the Model S "design" tab that talks about 21-inch wheels with low-profile performance tires (ours) providing "less protection from, ?and [being] more likely to suffer damage from, uneven road surfaces, debris, curbs, and other common obstacles" and also reducing driving range versus the standard 19-inch wheels with all-season tires. But there's nothing specific about premature and uneven tread wear.

Now that we know of the issue, however, we did find a nice long string in the Tesla owner's forum about extreme rear tire wear on the Model S with 21-inch wheels.

Too bad we didn't see it a few thousand miles ago.

While the car is in the shop we're also having a few other issues looked at:

  • The alignment. We want to see if the car was set up properly and/or how much out of whack the rear alignment actually is, whatever the cause. Nik said that while Tesla disavows responsibility for the worn rear tires, it would comp an alignment service if one is needed.

  • The sunroof, supposedly repaired at 6,100 miles, wasn't and is still plagued by a loose gasket that gets stuck if the roof is opened (which the tow truck driver did as he was fiddling with the touch screen trying to close the side windows).

  • The top of the dashboard cover on the driver side, over the instrument panel, isn't fastened down very well. I discovered this while drumming my fingers on it while listening to some Warren Zevon on the fantastically good audio system. The whole thing vibrated like crazy as I drummed, much more than it would have if tightly fastened. When I grasped the thin edge of the cover and lifted, it came away from the IP by about three-quarters of an inch.

  • The front fascia. As the tow driver was getting ready to fasten the chains to the front end to pull the car onto his flatbed truck, I noticed that the top edge of the front fascia, where it meets the headlight housing, was sticking out as if someone had pulled it from its moorings. I pushed it back and it reseated with an audible "snap," but it is unclear how or why it came undone in the first place.

Including the tire wear issue, it seems like a lot of stuff for a six-figure car with less than 10,000 miles on the odo.

John O'Dell, Senior Editor @ 9550 miles


  • cotak cotak Posts:

    So about the same high maintenance needs as other 100k+ cars...

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    I'm going to skip the snark about "problems" and "quirks" in an expensive car, I've had enough from your SLS and Dart posts =D Too much rear camber+low profile tires? One of the posts in the forum link is that the rear carries -2 deg camber, which is quite a bit for street use (especially since the car already has a multi-link rear). No provisions for adjustment in the links? Then again, your impromptu leadfoot driving probably didn't help matters. I guess the techs dropped the ball on tire rotation if it's not on the invoice. But... this is a pretty big problem if they wear like this after 10K miles. Do you really think with this level of wear that tire rotation would have made much of a difference?

  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    I'm guessing it's a toe issue. Having more toe-in helps with turn-in and makes the whole car feel nice and tight. But it drags the tires to death.

  • looks like they are almost ready to be replaced anyways. Maybe next time less of this: http://www.edmunds.com/tesla/model-s/2013/long-term-road-test/2013-tesla-model-s-burnouts-burnouts.html

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Holy crap. Edmunds should have wondered what the rotation schedule was - maybe even though there is no oil to change it still needs tire rotation, and not just new wiper blades as PM - ? This would have revealed the issue before now, but the wear itself is definitely a problem. Other than that, it seems from reading that thread on the Tesla Motors website that this is a very common issue and that cars are coming from the factory with the alignment all over the map. Also it's kind of suspicious that even though it was getting a half-dozen posts per day, that thread abruptly ended on June 27...? Final thought is that this John O'Dell certainly has turned up quite a few issues with the car that nobody else noticed. Typical Edmunds "nobody's baby" issue.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    Look at the amount of wear on those tires, you could have rotated them and you still wouldn't have much more than two thousand miles left on them. How hard have you guys been driving this thing?

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Well, quadricycle, we can't see the fronts here to see how badly they are worn, so we can't make that assumption insofar as total tread wear is concerned. These are Conti DWs that have a UTQG of 340, so based upon that I would estimate they should see roughly 23,000-26,000 miles on a set, but Tesla has designed in a rear-alignment spec that even with rotation will kill them in maybe 17,000 at the most, due to the rear camber they're chosen. Pity the owners who have the performance package with staggered PS2s...they can't rotate them and the UTQG on those is 220...so call it $2,300 worth of tires every 10k miles - ? -2 degrees of rear camber and no camber adjustment...gotta be a better way.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    @fordson1: I'm aware that the camber is not ideal, but that really (in my mind) can't be the only thing at work here. I've got memories of a 545i with the sport package that seems to be know for its tire eating camber, but I don't remember the tires getti

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Oh, agreed. I was just saying that if the fronts are like half-worn and with no uneven wear, then they could maybe have gotten 17k if they'd rotated them. What I got from reading that thread at the Tesla website is that cars are being produced with alignment that varies widely from specs. Many, many owners with under 10k miles with tires that look just like these, though. But for sure many burnouts.

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    Looks like alignment is off..but wow 10K and tires are shot. Even with proper alignment you don't have far to go before the wear bars on the outside of the tread. PEP Boys find''t notice this???

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    It's a bleeding edge car. First year car from the first year of production ever. Do your research. Frequent the forums. I've known about this for 6 months. Why don't you? Be an informed buyer. This ain't buying a Camry where everything you ever wanted to know was spelled out in the 40 page user manual.

  • drcomputer drcomputer Posts:

    I have 10K on my S and if I hadn't rotated the tires at 5K they would look just as bad. Unfortunately the car begs to be driven hard and the tires are just casualty of having fun. The Roadster is even worse going thru a set of rear tires every 4-5K miles.

  • shatner shatner Posts:

    This is not quite living up to the 99 rating in CR! But it is expected that Tesla's will have a lot of little issues since they are new and small volume.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    They must have F1 amounts of rear camber to chew up the rears like that. What a goat rope of a manual that tyre rotation is NOT in the maintenance section. Duh!

  • ryster ryster Posts:

    "Both Nik and a service tech at the Costa Mesa center told me that such wear is common on Model S's that are equipped with 21-inch wheels, as is ours, and that haven't had a tire rotation at 5,000 to 6,000 miles. Interestingly, we can't find anywhere in the Tesla manuals or official online material a warning about that." Honestly...you admit that the manual suggests tire rotations every 6,000 miles, then you make a statement like the above? You really think Tesla is going to make a statement such as "Excessive tire wear is common on vehicles equipped with 21-inch wheels and tires. Owners should anticipate replacing tires more frequently than owners of vehicles with smaller diameter wheels and tires." No automaker is going to freely advertise such an issue and suggest that their $100,000 vehicle (or even a $20,000 vehicle) is going to have excessive maintenance expenses. If I knew going in that I would potentially be replacing tires at 10,000 miles simply because I missed one tire rotation, I would think twice about even buying the car. That being said, the $375/tire price at the Tesla service center seems reasonable if that includes mounting and balancing. These tires are $288 each on Tire Rack, then by the time you add in shipping and getting them put on at an installer you are just about at the same price. What surprises me is that given all of the tech in this car, it can't sense when the diameter of the tires drops 8/32" and display a warning. The tires start with 10/32", and the wear indicators show at 2/32". The tire essentially loses 1/4" in diameter by the time it is worn out. The car could use a sensor to detect the tire is operating at a smaller diameter than a new tire of the same size.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    Yeah - this is a FEATURE, not a liability! Be COOL with it!

  • voshinski voshinski Posts:

    I'm just spitballing here, but could the tire wear but the result of burnouts? http://www.edmunds.com/tesla/model-s/2013/long-term-road-test/2013-tesla-model-s-burnouts-burnouts.html

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Oh snap!

  • shepski shepski Posts:

    Sheesh- isn't it common knowledge to rotate tires every 6K miles (i.e. at every other oil change, even if the 3K oil change interval is outdated)? Meanwhile the Model S is so much prettier with the base 19" wheels - and the ride presumably so much better - it's beyond me why anyone opts for the 21"s.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    @shepski: Sure, it might be common knowledge to you and me, and a lot of other people who have some idea of how cars work and what wear items are, but I'd bet that there's plenty of car owners who don't know/care/understand that. That's the whole point of

  • Very good example how one customer service issue can sink a product. Tires that wear out every 10,000 miles is not normal wear. Model S buyers obviously are going to be wealthy but even they will balk at buying tires every 10,000 miles. This will probably be the last Tesla they buy if the company doesn't address this issue. I think the original design was never intended to have wheels this big. It is an electric car and weight is a serious concern so the engineers probably did not intend to have wheels this big. Marketers on the other hand saw that all the competitors had 20+ inch wheels available and said we gotta have it also to complete. Marketers won and now you have a 21" wheel attached to a suspension not designed for it. GM had an issue with heated washer fluid system that would overheat and possibly catch on fire. They could not figure out how to fix it. They discontinued the option recalled the cars with the option disconnected the system and gave owners a refund for the cost. This is what Tesla should do. Recall the cars with the 21" wheels replace them with the 19" wheels and give customers a refund.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    The powertrain of the car IS rocket science...but there is nothing bleeding-edge about designing a RWD multilink suspension so that you can adjust camber, nothing bleeding-edge about having all of your cars come off the line with at least nominally correct alignment settings, nothing bleeding-edge about incorporating 21" wheels into that design. Tesla dropped the ball here and while it's not the end of the world, they should have a response other than, "too bad - we're not covering it." None of the other items they're having checked (the sunroof, the dashboard cover, etc.) is unique to a car with this kind of powertrain, either.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Honestly, I don't know if they need to eliminate 21" wheels from the lineup. They should be adding provisions for camber adjustment in the rear upper control arms and give the option of more static camber for those who drive "normal". @dunning15: "Bleeding edge" in some ways (to be clear- the most advanced part about this car is the chassis layout, even the battery/electric motor pack isn't very complicated but the way it's all laid together in the vehicle is quite different in design), but the suspension is somewhat conventional, minus the odd lower control arm on the rear. It's not rocket science putting in some level of camber adjust on the upper control arm. @shepski: I have to agree with quadricycle. Unlike regular buyers of sports cars and such, I think the demographic that Tesla owners belong to probably aren't the type to do their own maintenance and simply take it into the shop. If the techs don't perform the tire rotation, they aren't going to know or think twice about it.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    That should read "less static camber"

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    Others have pretty much said everything I wanted to say. It looks like a combination of factors. These tires carry a treadwear rating of 220, which might get you 30-40,000 miles in non-aggressive driving. The alignment settings would appear to be exacerbating the problem, and judging by other comments, you don't know if the settings were even correct from the factory. Tesla does not include tire rotation service in their maintenance section, which seems like a pretty big oversight, especially considering that it seems to be common knowledge among the service techs that these tires wear prematurely. Given that both rear tires are effected, it seems improbable that a tire rotation would have appreciably extended tire life, even if your service tech remembered that it was required after 5-6,000 miles. Mr O'Dell, you are I rarely are in agreement, but I'd back you here if you thought something was fishy. Could the increased diameter of about 0.6", plus the increased width of about 0.8", coupled with the active air suspension, be just enough cause the tires to rub against something?

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    This is not common to Tesla. These 20" and up wheels are ludicrous. They are performance-oriented so if you want 20K miles out of your tires just get the 19's. Read your own Edmund's test of the 2009 BMW 750. In one year you spent $1560 total on four tires and went through three tires in two weeks! Nail, pothole, one just delaminated, etc. That's because the 750 and the Model S are very heavy cars and are essentially riding on 1/2" of air at high speeds with aggressive cornering. The fact that you didn't check on these puppies for 9 months is disconcerting. I seriously don't get the bewilderment about this issue.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    greenpony, these are the Dunlops, not the PS2s. These tires have a UTQG of 340. Dunning15...the tires on the BMW were run-flats, which may account for the delamination and general POS-ness of them, and they were toasted because of punctures and potholes, not misalignment or an unworkable alignment spec designed into the car. The first tire problem they had with the BMW was at just short of 20,000 miles and all the rest occurred between then and 28,000 miles, when they got rid of the car. These tires on the Tesla never made it to 10,000 miles, never mind 20,000. Yes, Edmunds shoud have checked them, and the Tesla service center should have checked them. Whenever my 2003 SVT Focus goes in for anything however minor, it gets a 50-point checklist done on it - you'd think that maybe somebody at the Service Center would give this $100,000 car a once-over when it was brought in? Sounds like somebody is taking the EV-means-nothing-to-go-wrong mantra a little too seriously.

  • gslippy gslippy Posts:

    It's a combination of toe and camber, gummy tires, no rotation, plus a heavy right foot. I recently saw a Focus with tires worn like that due to a bent control arm - you could visually see the toe-in. Here in western PA, I'm lucky to get 1/2 of the treadwear lifetime, even if I rotate. In this case, I put most of the blame on Tesla.

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    fordson1, how can you tell these are Dunlops? From what I can tell the P+ Model S comes with PS2's... but information on the OEM tires is sparse.

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    fordson1, I took a closer look at the tire in their photo. I can clearly see a "DW" on the inner sidewall, and I can barely see "...ME CONTACT" before that. So these are neither Dunlops nor Michelins... they are Continental ExtremeContact DW's, with a treadwear rating of 340.

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