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This article was published on January 14, 2021

Tesla can’t be forced to recall 158,000 cars in the US… yet

Failing to follow the NHTSA's recommendations could mean court

Tesla can’t be forced to recall 158,000 cars in the US… yet

News surfaced yesterday that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking Tesla to recall more than 158,000 vehicles over problems with their touchscreens.

Sure, it’s pretty crummy when you get news that your vehicle might be destined to failure due to a manufacturing defect. But the real kicker is that Tesla isn’t legally obligated to fix them, yet.

[Read: Meet the 4 scale-ups using data to save the planet]

In a letter to the manufacturer the NHTSA asked Tesla to recall some Model S and Model X vehicles because the touchscreens can fail after years of use, WSJ reports.

Because pretty much everything in a Tesla is controlled through the screen, its failure would affect safety functions such as screen defogging and reversing cameras. And that’s why the NHTSA got involved.

If Tesla don’t follow the NHTSA’s request to recall the vehicles, the EV maker will have to justify and explain its decision to the authority.

If the NHTSA isn’t satisfied, it can take the matter to a public hearing, and then enforce the recall through a court ruling. In that case, Tesla would have to comply.

The NHTSA’s recall affects Model S vehicles built between 2012 and 2018 and Model X’s built between 2016 and 2018.

This specific recall relates to an issue with the infotainment system’s onboard memory. Last November, it came to light that the NAND storage used in the screen’s integrated computer wears out over time, rendering the whole unit useless.

Tesla frontman Elon Musk has previously bragged about sourcing these touchscreens from computer suppliers rather than automotive specialists. While it saved the firm some money, the screens weren’t designed to withstand the temperature changes in a car’s interior or the vibrations caused from driving, The Drive reports.

Many owners got them repaired by Tesla, but unfortunately, the replacements also went on to fail.

According to an analyst quoted by the WSJ, the recall could end up costing $300 million to $500 million. So much for saving money.

That takes us up to now and the NHTSA’s intervention that is asking Tesla to take action.

With no PR department to contact, it’s unclear what Tesla is planning to do about this.

While the EV maker has fixed faulty screens before on goodwill, it’s also ignored safety recommendations from other authorities like the National Transport Safety Board. So it’s anybody’s guess.

If Tesla accepts the NHTSA notice, though, it will make the recall one of the biggest the vehicle maker has ever seen. If it doesn’t, this could be the start of an intense legal battle.

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