Driving a Tesla Model 3 Performance in the Cold Could Void Tire Warranty

Teslas equipped with Michelin PS4Ss tires may be in danger of damaging their tires if driven off the lot in freezing temperatures.

via Tesla

It's no secret that running summer tires in the winter isn't smart. The Drive has discovered that the Tesla Model 3 Performance sedan doesn't come with an alternative unless purchased as optional equipment. As a result, many Model 3 Performance owners face a predicament: they are potentially voiding the original manufacturer warranty on their tires as soon as they drive their shiny new Teslas off the lot—or in some circumstances before they take delivery of the cars.

When ordering the Model 3 Performance, the "Performance Upgrade Package" (affectionately called the "PUP") is now automatically bundled into the purchase of the vehicle. Previously, the package was more à la carte style, where upgrades could be added to the base Performance-level trim. This particular package adds Tesla's 20-inch "Performance Wheels," which are wrapped in wonderful Michelin Pilot Sport 4S—summer tires. While this may be a logical choice in when the weather is agreeable, Tesla does not offer a winter tire substitute (unless purchased separately), nor does it appear common practice to inform customers of the tire's specific use-case.

This might not seem like a big deal. However, Michelin notes that its summer tires—specifically the PS4S—are not recommended for use in the cold. When Michelin's summer compound tires are exposed to cold air below 40 degrees, the tire compound stiffens and loses pliability, and the grip level can degrade. As temperatures dip below 20 degrees, the tire's surface area may begin to crack due to improper exposure and use—and those cracks would void the warranty.

Michelin spokesman Tom Sullivan notes that while there is no direct impact to warranty when driving at any temperature, the company did issue a technical bulletin that contains recommendations regarding the use of summer tires in cold weather:

At tire temperatures below 20F (-7°C) Michelin UHP Sport Summer tires may develop surface cracks in the upper sidewall and tread area if flexed. Do not use, roll, or drop MICHELIN UHP Sport Summer tires with temperatures below 20°F (-7°C). If the tires have been cooled to 20°F (-7°C) or less, let them warm up in a heated space to at least 40°F (5°C) before being installed or moving a vehicle on which they are installed. Do not apply heat or blow heated air directly on the tires. Always inspect tires before use after exposure to temperatures below 20°F (-7°C).

The spokesperson later confirmed to The Drive that weather-related cracking would indicate that the tires were flexed in inadvisable conditions and would be considered improperly used, thus rendering the tires unwarrantable in most scenarios.

Michelin's official warranty documentation does not contain this verbatim. However, it states that tires will not be warranted should they experience weather cracking. A representative from Michelin's call center expanded on the warranty, stating that the PS4S should not be used under 43 degrees.

via Tire Rack

Tire Rack posts a disclaimer on the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S product page regarding temperature.

“Proper usage and storage is the recommendation for summer performance tires," a Michelin spokesperson told The Drive. "While flexing typically denotes misuse, anytime a consumer has questions or concerns about their tires, we recommend that they call Michelin Consumer Care."

The Drive also reached out to Tesla in January about the use of the Michelin PS4S on cars delivered in northern states where it gets really cold in the winter. At the time, a spokesperson was unable to immediately provide The Drive with documentation pertaining to Michelin's acceptable temperature ranges for the tires equipped on the Model 3 PUP.

We combed through the Model 3 owner's guide provided by Tesla and was able to find a short blurb regarding summer tires and traction concerns, however, no information was included regarding acceptable temperature ranges.

via Tesla

Excerpt in Model 3 owner's manual about summer tires.

Other automakers, like Honda, offer more detail about acceptable temperatures for their tires. The Civic Type R, for example, contains a short statement about the use of winter tires on the factory Monroney sticker affixed to the vehicle's window.

via Honda

Honda uses an entire section of its manual to explain summer tire use and safety to customers.

The Drive later spoke with the assistant manager of a Tesla showroom who stated that no customer had ever asked about the Michelin PS4S tires being delivered in the winter. In fact, he was not aware of any temperature restrictions from the manufacturer and was unable to confirm if Tesla could substitute the Michelin tires for something more seasonally appropriate. A Tesla spokesperson later told The Drive that an optional winter package is available to the customer if they purchase it separately as an accessory for $4,000.

When queried about the warranty of the tires (should temperature-related fractures occur), the retail employee stated that Tesla usually does right by the customer and would likely warrant the tires in a scenario where Michelin would not.

Over the phone, a Tesla representative told The Drive that tire warranties are typically handled through the manufacturer of the tire and not the automaker.

It appeared that the lack of tire awareness did not end at the Tesla showroom. Some customers were also unaware of the standards held by Michelin for its tires. One owner told The Drive that he took delivery of his car at the Tesla Store in Salt Lake City on December 10th, 2018, which had a high of 39 degrees that day. According to the owner, his delivery advisor made no mention of tire warranty, nor the acceptable temperature conditions before he drove away. Another driver confirmed that he was delivered a Model 3 PUP in mid-November and was also not made aware of Michelin's warranty.

"I had no idea the Michelin PS4S tires were that 'fragile,' was only informed that they were 'summer' tires (obvious from the tread pattern)," wrote one owner when The Drive asked if he was made aware of Michelin's specifications before purchasing his car or at the Tesla showroom, "I have driven in cold weather when roads were clear but now I'm not that happy about leaving the car parked, maybe all winter."

After speaking with the assistant manager at the Tesla showroom regarding the tire warranties, The Drive also inquired about how quickly a Model 3 PUP could be purchased if an order was placed today. He advised that several Model 3 PUPs were immediately available for purchase, stored in nearby lots located in Bensalem, Pennsylvania and Devon, Pennsylvania. At the end of January, temperatures in areas of both lots would have dipped into the single digits, which, according to Michelin, is not a problem unless the tires were flexed.

via Time and Date

Historic temperatures show that vehicles on the lot may have been exposed to temperatures well under recommended weight-bearing conditions.

Any Model 3 PUPs with Michelin PS4S tires could, according to the Michelin customer service representative, develop weather-related stress fractures from rolling under the weight of the two-ton electric automobile below 20 degrees. This could, if the tires were improperly flexed before delivery, result in a customer receiving a vehicle with weather-related stress fractures should it occur and the service team at Tesla not notice.

The storage of vehicles in sub-freezing temperatures isn't exclusive to Pennsylvania lots. A number of Model 3 PUPs with the Michelin PS4S tires have been spotted at various service centers and storage lots around the United States (again, not a problem unless the tires were flexed before they left the lot). The example photos below were taken at a lot in Boston where several PUPs sat for weeks in the cold weather, some even sitting on flat tires.

Another Tweet showing a Tesla store in Chicago features the aftermath of a December 31st sales push. The temperature in Chicago on New Year's Eve and New Year's day ranged from 27 degrees to 41 degrees; an range outside of Michelin's standards, though not low enough in this particular scenario to cause damage - only degrade grip. A Model 3 can be seen resting on PUP wheels.

The problem is not that Tesla sold a number of vehicles with summer tires; but that it potentially put buyers in a position where Michelin's warranty may be voided due to lack of buyer education, or perhaps even before the vehicle was even delivered. 

And that's just cold.