Tesla’s $16,000 Quote for a $700 Fix Is Why Right to Repair Matters
This is what people are fighting for.
First-party repair shops often get a bad rap. OEM parts are expensive, especially for new cars, and the independent dealership model often revolves around slim profits on new vehicles with after-sales making up a good chunk of profits. As automakers with direct-to-consumer sales like Tesla expand service offerings to consumers, it's becoming abundantly clear that the high cost isn't going anywhere.
One Tesla Model 3 leasee discovered this first-hand after hitting road debris and damaging his battery pack. After taking his vehicle to a Tesla service center, he was handed an estimate for more than $16,000 to replace said pack. After seeking an alternative solution online, the owner reached out to Rich Benoit and the team at Electrified Garage who got him on the road again for just $700.
The problem started after the rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3 struck some road debris which damaged the electric vehicle's cooling system. Underneath the car, a coolant line runs sideways along the tunnel where the front drive unit would normally sit and attaches to a nipple located on the battery pack. The debris struck the part and cracked the flange, resulting in coolant leaking from the battery pack.
After the vehicle was towed to a Tesla service center and inspected, the driver was told that he would need a completely new pack since the cracked part was molded into the existing one's outer shell. And because a Model 3's pack isn't serviceable at a standard Tesla service center, it can only be swapped out for another unit rather than be repaired.
To make matters worse, the owner's insurance policy didn't cover comprehensive claims from road debris, meaning he would be on his own to foot the five-figure repair bill.
Thermal expansion, pressure, and plastics generally don't mix well. In a car equipped with an internal combustion engine, it's one of the common reasons that cooling systems fail—think of a leaking water pump or a cracked radiator end tank. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be as big of an issue in this case, as Tesla's battery cooling system generally operates at around 2 psi—even pressure testing procedures referenced by other companies note never to exceed 5 psi when checking the system.
Electrified Garage also notes that the cooling system doesn't get anywhere near as hot as an internal combustion engine, and it's not likely that it would either, given that the operating temperature for most lithium-ion batteries is well below 60 degrees Celsius.
Fortunately, the shop had another significantly cheaper solution it had used once before. The existing nipple was cut off of the pack, cleaned up, and threaded back into the battery pack housing using a brass fitting like you'd find at any home improvement store. The total cost? Around $700, but we suspect the majority of that cost was diagnostics and labor.
Now, I know what you're thinking: surely a $15 fitting on a $40,000 car is a janky fix, right? Well, before you call this fix cobbled-together, remember that Tesla itself sent vehicles with Home Depot-grade fake wood to customers directly from the factory.
The brass fitting fix by the team at Electrified Garage seems like a smart move, especially with the engineering decisions that resulted in a fragile part being integrated into a non-serviceable battery housing.
To add insult to injury, the owner of the car mentions that Tesla was originally planning to keep the Model 3's damaged battery pack. That was until he referenced a consumer protection act provision put in place by New Jersey which prevents automotive service facilities from refusing to return a replacement part under most conditions when requested by a customer—most notably when the replacement part isn't sold as an exchange (with a core charge).
Normally, this is where we would ask Tesla about this, but since it dissolved its public relations department, there's nobody to officially comment.
Tesla was then reportedly willing to return the pack, but apparently still questioned why he would want it. Given that the new pack was $16,000 and a new Model 3 cost just more than twice that, it's clear that the old pack was still valuable. A quick search on eBay confirms this, as used cell modules sell for thousands of dollars. Chad from Electric Garage told The Drive that Tesla would have likely sent the reclaimed pack to its remanufacturing division to reclaim as a refurbished pack for a later warranty job on another car.
Benoit and the team at Electrified Garage are huge proponents of Right to Repair and say that this is a lesson on that very subject. It might not immediately appear as a right-to repair issue, but stay with me—we'll get there.
Buying a high-voltage component from Tesla is nearly impossible. While this isn't necessarily an anti-Right to Repair stance, it certainly doesn't make the issue any easier. The real conundrum will happen later if and when Tesla discovers the non-OEM fix.
Tesla's Legal page has an "Unsupported or Salvage Vehicle Policy" which covers salvaged vehicles as a whole, whether or not the reason for being salvaged is related to the high voltage battery pack. Specifically, it states that Tesla will permanently disable access to its Supercharging network for any unsupported repairs to protect its own vehicles and its repair technicians. Tesla also reportedly decided to disable fast charging using third-party chargers under the same reasoning last year.
This policy has received some significant pushback by consumers, Benoit being one of them. In fact, he asked the leasee of the vehicle if he was worried about the consequences should Tesla discover the fix. Chad at Electric Garage even told The Drive that Tesla's response to the issue is "a big unknown" at this point. The owner could be on the hook for the repair at the end of the day, though given that the car is a lease, we've got our doubts that Tesla will actually disable Supercharging in this case. Still, the outcome remains to be seen.
We also see this as a lesson in engineering. Was the coolant flange designed like that due to cost restrictions? Should it be integral to the pack structure if it can break so easily? Is it not cost-effective for Tesla's battery plant to offer pack transplants for recycled cells?
No matter the reason, it's borderline infuriating to see such a simple problem nearly total a brand new car.
More Great Right-to-Repair Stories From The Drive:
- President Biden's recently signed executive order on right to repair could have big implications for farmers struggling with unfixable tractors.
- Those farmers had been turning to Eastern European hackers to break into their tractors' computers when things broke instead of paying huge fees for proprietary manufacturer software, we reported in February.
- Here's how automakers are fighting back against Massachusetts' landmark right to repair law.
- And before it was passed, here's how automakers ran a scare campaign to trick voters into killing the proposed MA law.
- Last year, Tesla started cracking down on aftermarket mods that defeated its performance-related paywalls on cheaper models.
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