The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered Tesla to recall 158,000 Model S and X vehicles after receiving more than 500 consumer complaints about their touchscreens dying. While at first glance this might seem like a minor complaint, Tesla vehicles use their touchscreens to manage almost their entire dashboard, from the backup camera and stereo to HVAC control and window defogging, and many audible safety alerts.
From Ars Technica:
The problem is well-known among the Tesla community, affecting any Model S built between 2012 and 2018, and Model Xs built between 2016 and 2018. After NHTSA received 537 complaints from owners it asked Tesla if it had more information on the scope of the problem. It did—handing over records of thousands of complaints and more than 12,000 MCU replacements.
Now, NHTSA has taken the unusual steps of telling Tesla it must recall the 158,000 affected vehicles, according to Reuters. “[D]uring our review of the data, Tesla provided confirmation that all units will inevitably fail given the memory device’s finite storage capacity,” NHTSA told Reuters. NHTSA also noted that Tesla had attempted to resolve the issue with software patches, but these have been “procedurally and substantially insufficient” and the law requires automakers to recall vehicles that contain safety defects.
The problem lies with the panel’s flash memory, an 8GB eMMC NAND chip. Flash memory can only be rewritten a limited number of times, and the 8GB capacity of the chip means the touchscreen is doomed to brick in about 4 years. Newer vehicles, such as the Model 3 and Model Y, use 64GB chips with what designers believe will be a much more robust lifespan.