Is the Third Drive Unit the Charm? - 2013 Tesla Model S Long-Term Road Test

2013 Tesla Model S: Is the Third Drive Unit the Charm?

February 20, 2014

2013 Tesla Model S

When we last left our 2013 Tesla Model S, it was on the back of a flat-bed tow truck, having died on my colleague, Matt Jones. It spent the night in a tow yard and was delivered to the Tesla service department in West Los Angeles the following morning.

Vince, our service advisor, was great about giving me updates throughout the course of the day. "We're getting a bunch of faults from the drive unit and main battery pack," said Vince. "Our technicians are taking a look at it now. I'll call you when I have more information."

It sounded serious.

He called back about an hour later and said they would be replacing the drive unit and the high-voltage battery assembly. I asked Vince what caused the problems, but he said they don't open up the batteries at the service center. Like most warranty issues on new cars, the parts are replaced at the dealer and the old ones are sent to corporate headquarters for the engineers to study and see what went wrong. The service invoice didn't give me much more to go on, "During vehicle logs review, found fault related to internal drive unit failure. Replaced complete drive unit assembly per TDS case #9571."

If you're keeping score, our Model S is now on its third drive unit: the one that came with the car, the one that was replaced in November, and this latest one. And that wasn't the only thing that was replaced on this service visit.

After the power unit was replaced, the Model S needed a four-wheel alignment. That's because the rear subframe must be removed to extract the power unit.

The service center also replaced the 12-volt battery, along with providing new battery terminals and a battery clamp strap.

The Tesla dealer also took care of four service bulletins under warranty:

Concern: Front lower control arm washer installation
Correction: Inspect knuckle/ball joint surfaces, install four front lower control arm washers.

Concern: Firmware update for automatic charge current reduction
Correction: Update firmware to version 5.8.4

Concern: Front bumper carrier bolt replacement
Correction: Replace front bumper carrier bolts and washers

Concern: New bolt for rear camber correction
Correction: Installed rear upper camber adjustment bolts per proactive repair.

Tesla also performed a "courtesy vehicle inspection," where it noted that the right rear tire has 3/32" of tread remaining. For reference, the other tires are at 8/32" (LF), 7/32" (RF) and 8/32" (LR). The worn tire is closer to its treadwear indicator on the inside of the tire, and given our past with prematurely worn tires, it's worth keeping a close eye on. Also, I wonder if the service bulletin regarding the new bolt for rear camber correction has something to do with this wear. Dan Edmunds will take a closer look at the tire soon.

Finally, the dealer found that the lug nuts were beginning to swell and were hard to remove, so they replaced all 20 of them.

All repairs were performed under warranty and Tesla delivered the car to us the following morning. Tesla didn't note the cost of the parts in its paperwork, but I have to think this repair cost Tesla at least the $5,000. Big 85KwH batteries and electric drive units don't come cheap.

When I first sat down to write this post, I was all fired up, as I tried to picture myself in an owner's shoes. If I had to replace the engine on my car twice — hell, even once — I would swear off the brand forever. But after talking it over with some colleagues, I was reminded that the people who buy Teslas aren't just buying basic transportation. They are early adopters and willing beta testers of a shiny new piece of tech.

In that context, I remembered my experience with my Xbox 360. Early models had high failure rates, which led to the infamous "Red Ring of Death." At the end the console generation, I had gone through three system failures. Not once did I think about ditching the Xbox and gaming exclusively on a Sony PlayStation 3. The Xbox was my preferred piece of tech, and when it broke, I just got it fixed, warranty or not.

Obviously the costs are different and no one relies on an Xbox 360 to get them to work, but the mindset is the same. For those Tesla owners who still love their cars, even in the face of major repairs, I get it.

Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 18,822 miles

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