Tire Woes, Part 3 - 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 3

September 25, 2013

2013 Tesla Model S

I'd been feeling a bit like Joe Btfsplk, an old comic strip character who wandered around with a rain cloud over his head jinxing everything he touched.

I'd picked up our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S, planning to get reacquainted with the powerful electric drive system and all the car's high-tech electronics during the week and then put it through its paces on a 700-mile weekend trip up to the central California coast and the Paso Robles wine country.

Instead, I spent much of the week wrestling with a Tesla tire issue involving extreme wear on the car's optional 21-inch Continental performance tires. The inner shoulders of both rear tires were so severely worn at 9,550 miles that the steel cord was exposed all the way around.

Premature Model S tire wear of varying degrees is a problem that others who've ordered the performance tire option have also experienced, some complaining on Tesla's owners forum of rear rubber wearing out as early as 1,500 miles.

We thought the issue with our car was a rear alignment problem. The Tesla service advisor who took my phone call thought not and suggested that if we hadn't done a tire rotation at 5,000 miles then we'd be on the hook for the replacement tires.

I wound up having the car flat-bedded to Tesla's Costa Mesa service center. There I was told again that we'd probably have to pay for the tires because, indeed, we hadn't had a recommended tire rotation. The manual says 6,000 miles, not 5K as our service advisor had said, and doesn't list tire rotation in the regular maintenance section. The car was seen at the Santa Monica service center at 6,171 miles but no one there suggested at the time that a rotation was needed.

The Tesla stayed in the shop all weekend while my wife and I did our wine country getaway in our own car.

On the following Monday morning I taxied to the Costa Mesa service center and handed over my credit card to pay the $855 bill for the tires ($375 each plus labor).

The service advisor who was checking me out was about to run the card through the processing machine when Nik, the advisor who'd first dealt with me, looked up from some paperwork he'd been busy with and said "oh, we're good-willing those tires."

After getting over my moment of surprise, I offered a heartfelt "thanks" (I would have been reimbursed, so it wasn't my money, but it was still $855 saved).

Then I asked if they'd decided to comp the tires because there was an alignment issue, as we suspected, or simply because we were Edmunds.com and were writing about all this stuff.

I got a shrug and an admonition to make sure we did regular tire rotations in the future because this didn't mean other tire wear issues would be taken care of at no cost to us.

Not quite satisfied with that answer, I sent an e-mail to Tesla's media contact in Palo Alto after I'd turned the car in at the office and filled Mike Schmidt in on the outcome.

I asked whether the decision to "goodwill" the replacement rear tires had been a corporate one and, if so, whether it was based on who we were or was acknowledgement that that severe misalignment had been a major cause of the wear.

I also asked whether, in light of the other customer complaints about premature rear tire wear on the optional performance tires, Tesla was satisfied that the rear suspension and alignment on the car was the best possible setup.

And would Tesla, I queried, be notifying customers and prospective customers that the lifespan of the performance tires was so limited?

The answers came back that evening. Re: the first, Tesla said that it left decisions about customer goodwill to the individual service centers and that, yes, it has been eating the cost of worn rear tires when the service centers determine there was an alignment issue.

That confirmed our suspicion that the wear we experienced wasn't normal, even for a performance car, and was caused by misalignment.

2013 Tesla Model S

Dan Edmunds, our testing director, is going to be delving deeper into this in a separate long-term update posting once he's digested the results of the four-wheel alignment done as part of our service call.

His preliminary finding, however, is that "the rear camber was at the upper limit, but the rear toe was way off, toed out instead of toed in."

In answer to our other questions, though, Tesla was a little less giving.

The 10,000-12,500 lifespan of the Model S's performance tires is on par with that of other high-performance cars, we were informed, and Tesla is "more than satisfied" that the Model S's rear suspension and alignment is the best possible for cars with the optional performance rubber.

So, despite the complaints on the owners forum, and our own experience, don't expect Tesla to be providing its owners and prospective buyers any more details about performance tire issues than the scant amount it already provides in its marketing and owner info.

And for those of you following the other issues we asked Tesla to tackle during our latest service: The broken sunroof gasket was repaired; there was nothing done to address the loosely fastened fitting dashboard cover although a note was added to our file indicating that we'd reported the issue; and the front fascia's fasteners seemed to be holding so there was nothing to do to it.

Stay tuned for Dan's post-mortem.

John O'Dell, Senior Editor @ 9602 miles


  • bankerdanny bankerdanny Posts:

    If you had never used the factory service centers on your car then I might, MIGHT, understand Tesla's position on who pays for the tires. But since you did and its own staff said nothing about rotation, Tesla should be paying part of the cost. However, paying 100% is very generous given the wear ratings on those tires. Offering to cover half the cost of the tires, plus free mounting and balancing would have been a perfectly reasonable compromise in my opinion.

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    Extreme rear toe-out? Wow that must have been a handful to drive. Surprised no one noticed that.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    A wear rating of 340? What would you expect them to last given a car with this power and weight? I am thinking like 25k...not 10k. Tire Rack charges $288 bucks a pop for these (not $375...) plus maybe $40 shipping, and that mounting and balancing should cost maybe $65, for a total of $681, not $855, just for reference. The unfortunate thing here was that Tesla Service was allowed to do the alignment - since they covered the whole tire replacement, it's a moot point from a money standpoint, but since this is becoming a hot potato and this is Edmunds' car, I wonder how willing they were to give them the actual alignment settings they found when they started work.

  • shepski shepski Posts:

    This may be a stupid question, but - rotation and alignment issues aside - could the WEIGHT of this car have something to do with it? Seriously, are there any other vehicles out there using low-profile tires such as these that weigh nearly as much? (No, I haven't bothered to compare its curb weight to things such as A8s, Bentleys, BMW 7s and the like...)

  • I thought it was common knowledge to rotate your tires every 5k. Especially on a sports sedan with high performance rubber.

  • handbrake handbrake Posts:

    While there may be problems with the alignment, I'd like to know what would happen with a different brand of tires. I've had Contis on a number of cars (BMW, Audi and VW) and in each case the tires had what I thought was a very short usable lifespan and in some cases (the BMW in particular), very unusual wear. With the BMW, I switched to Yokohomas and never had the problem again. Same with the VW.

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    handbrake, I've had good luck with Continentals. I have Extreme Contact DW's for summer and Extreme Winter Contact for the cold months, and other than a little more wear in the center on the winter tires (I tend to overinflate by 5-10%) they have lasted about 60,000 miles and 40,000 miles, respectively. On my Mustang I used the previous generation of all-season Extreme Contact, unidirectional & staggered width, and found no unusual wear after 75,000 miles and NO rotation. FWIW. *shrug*

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Next time get the 19's. Of course then you would have lost a week of updates about tires. Carry on.

  • Hat tip to John O'Dell for writing one of the best follow-ups I have read on this blog. It's nice that Mr. O'Dell asked the service rep all of the questions that we readers would ask in the comments, AND he also put the questions to Corporate. Well, there is one thing that Tesla should answer for: Why didn't the service center recommend the tire rotation at 6000 miles, if it's required in the manual? Every other dealer service center in the world tries to up-sell you on maintenance items, and this one doesn't even try to up-sell you on a REQUIRED item?! Having said all that, I would've bought the 19's anyway. :P

  • hybris hybris Posts:

    These responses while better than expected just smell like they realize just who you are with and that influenced the decision on the service centers part. I would take the car up to Tesla for an alignment and then see if another shop you guys trust will let you see the alignment specs vs what is on the car.

  • dan_acosta dan_acosta Posts:

    Doesn't everyone know to rotate their tires whether it's specifically mentioned in the owner's manual or not?

  • bassrockerx bassrockerx Posts:

    i had the same tires and driven hard you will be lucky to get 20k miles out of them. driven "normally" looking at most reviews on tirerack customers got just over or just under 30k. not sure how wide these are but the wider ones tend to wear faster. these continental tires are not the best performing ones on the market but probably the best behaved on the street, very quiet and comfortable i can see why tesla chose these for their OEM

  • mayhemm mayhemm Posts:

    It's not the fast wear that is of concern. Low profile tires wear out fast, thus their lower wear ratings. This is not news. What IS noteworthy is the extreme UNEVENNESS of the wear! This is not a matter of somebody doing too many burnouts! The outside tread is virtually new, while the inside is worn down to the cords! There's no way that's normal and I'm very disappointed in Tesla for digging their heels in regarding this issue.

  • dunning15 dunning15 Posts:

    Digging their heels in? Are you referencing the free new tires they provided or the free alignment they provided?

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    @dunning15: I think he's referring to the general attitude of Tesla admonishing Edmunds for not rotating their tires, when in fact Edmunds did bring their car back to the service center so the ball is technically in Tesla's court. You're already paying se

  • rmhpmi rmhpmi Posts:

    Just looking at the photo of the old tire would seem to remove any doubt about what the true problem here is. It seems obvious that alignment was off from day one (way off). I don't care what tire is on a vehicle, if the alignment is this badly done nothing will last very long. I do believe the fact this vehicle is an Edmunds long-termer played into the decision to 100% "goodwill" the replacement tires. Hard to see how it couldn't be the case IMO. Anyway, I sure wish I could afford a Model S. Maybe if I stick to the 19's.......

  • diigii diigii Posts:

    Kudos to Edmunds' stated mission to push this car hard and write about its flaws without fear of retaliation from Elon. I agree that the Edmunds' card played into the 100% goodwill. After all, the dealer staff admitted in following the Model S blog.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    I just looked at the track tests of both this exact car and a pre-production model they tested - that one had staggered PS2s (rears were 265-section instead of 245 Contis all around on this car), and aside from a faster slalom time with the wider rears, they were the same and Edmunds really liked the way the car did in both handling tests. I guess I would like to see them retest it when the alignment is set to spec...agree with duck87 that this much negative toe will result in dartiness/oversteer condition, with the rear tire that's most heavily loaded (the outside one) steering in the opposite direction from the fronts. With a good driver, this could help a long, heavy car like this in the slalom. Would like to see if slalom performance falls off with an alignment setting that will allow longer tire life...and yes, John O'Dell keeps his eye on the ball better than most of the staff, who tend to get taken by experienced dealership hands. ALSO, O'Dell seems to take the attitude of a real owner when it comes time to pay up, in contrast to the others, who whip out the Edmunds platinum card just a bit more readily than you or I would.

  • mercedesfan mercedesfan Posts:

    Reading about this whole debacle has made me very happy I decided to go with the 19" Cyclone rims rather than the 21ers. I went back and forth because I like the look of the Turbine rims, but ultimately my Model S is a commuter car and it simply rides a lot better with the 19" wheels.

  • John O'Dell was a journalist with the Los Angeles Times for years prior to joining Edmunds, so it makes sense that he knows how to ask questions. I've often thought that his "green car" beat at Edmunds is a bit limiting considering his experience, but of course it may have been a personal choice for him.

  • mayhemm mayhemm Posts:

    @mercedesfan This isn't merely an issue of 21-inch tires wearing faster (though most likely do). This is a case of premature wear caused by improper alignment. A 19"-equipped car with the same improper alignment would fare no better.

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