2013 Tesla Model S Probed by Feds After Fires | Edmunds

2013 Tesla Model S Probed by Feds After Fires


Just the Facts:
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into an estimated 13,108 2013 Tesla Model S cars because deformation or intrusion into the propulsion battery by roadway debris may result in a thermal reaction and fire.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company requested a "full investigation" by NHTSA into recent fire incidents.
  • "If something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars," Musk said in a blog post.

WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into an estimated 13,108 2013 Tesla Model S cars because deformation or intrusion into the propulsion battery by roadway debris may result in a thermal reaction and fire.

Federal safety regulators said they are "aware of two incidents occurring on U.S. public highways in which the subject vehicles caught fire after an undercarriage strike with metallic roadway debris," in a posting on the NHTSA Web site.

"The resulting impact damage to the propulsion battery tray (baseplate) initiated thermal runaway," said NHTSA in the summary of the investigation. "In each incident, the vehicle's battery monitoring system provided escalating visible and audible warnings, allowing the driver to execute a controlled stop and exit the vehicle before the battery emitted smoke and fire."

NHTSA has opened a "preliminary evaluation" into the Model S, an action that sometimes precedes a vehicle recall.

A Tesla Model S also caught fire after a recent crash in Mexico.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company requested a "full investigation" by NHTSA into the recent fire incidents.

"If something is discovered that would result in a material improvement in occupant fire safety, we will immediately apply that change to new cars and offer it as a free retrofit to all existing cars," Musk said in a blog post on Monday.

He added: "Given that the incidence of fires in the Model S is far lower than combustion cars and that there have been no resulting injuries, this did not at first seem like a good use of NHTSA's time compared to the hundreds of gasoline fire deaths per year that warrant their attention. However, there is a larger issue at stake: if a false perception about the safety of electric cars is allowed to linger, it will delay the advent of sustainable transport and increase the risk of global climate change, with potentially disastrous consequences worldwide."

Musk said Tesla will amend its warranty policy to cover damage due to a fire, even if due to driver error.

"Unless a Model S owner actively tries to destroy the car, they are covered," he said. Tesla has also rolled out an over-the-air update to the air suspension on the Model S that will result in greater ground clearance at highway speeds.

"To be clear, this is about reducing the chances of underbody impact damage, not improving safety," Musk said.

Edmunds says: If you own a 2013 Model S, there is not much to do at this point, except to wait for federal safety regulators to finish their work.

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