2013 Tesla Model S: Tire Woes, Part 3
September 25, 2013
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.
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