The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into touchscreen failures in older Tesla Model S vehicles, after receiving 11 complaints in the past 13 months on the matter.
The problem is with the 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory chip in the NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor that Tesla used in the 2012 to 2015 versions of Model S vehicles. That chip was prone to wear out, as Motherboard It first reported last October, which could cause the “loss of audible and visual features provided by the touch screen, such as information and entertainment, browsing and web browsing,” according to NHTSA. The agency also notes that this chip failure would make it impossible to use the backup camera view.
The scope of the investigation is what NHTSA refers to as a “preliminary assessment,” where investigators will try to determine how often the problem occurred and whether it caused any harm to property owners. The agency says it covers about 63,000 cars, although it acknowledges that the same chip was used in the 2012 to 2018 versions of the Model S and in the 2016 to 2018 versions of the Model X, representing around 159,000 vehicles. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The agency currently has two other open investigations into Tesla. One, launched last October, is about an over-the-air software update issued by Tesla that aimed to limit a possible fire risk in the battery packs of the company’s cars. The other, launched in January, is investigating claims of Tesla vehicles subjected to “unintended sudden acceleration.”
Tesla pioneered the idea of putting large touchscreens on the dash of a car with the Model S, a design option that has proliferated in the auto industry for the past decade. But this is not the only problem Tesla has encountered with its touchscreens, which, for years, were sourced from computer vendors and failed to meet typical automotive grade standards. As Ed Niedermeyer writes in Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, the displays on older Model S vehicles were prone to bubble at the edges when exposed to high temperatures. Tesla’s solution to this in production resulted in yellow bands after exposure to high temperatures. It wasn’t until the company switched to a completely new touchscreen that the problems subsided.