Consumer Reports' Tesla Model S P85D breaks—before testing begins

Consumer Reports' Tesla Model S P85D breaks—before testing begins

A broken power door handle is one of the most common Tesla problems

Last updated: May 18, 2015 02:15 PM

A new car shouldn't have problems when you’ve owned it for less than a month. Yet Consumer Reports' brand-new $127,000 Tesla Model S P85 D, with the fancy retractable door handles refused to let us in, effectively rendering the car undriveable. (Read "Why We Bought a Tesla Model S.")

After we’d owned the P85 D for a mere 27 days, with just over 2,300 miles on the odometer, the driver-side door handle failed. The door handles in the Model S retract electrically so they rest flush with the sides of the car when they’re not in use. Walk up to the car with the key fob in your pocket, and the handles move out to allow you to grip them.

Driver's door handle is stuck.

Except this time, the one on the driver’s door of our P85D didn’t pop out, leaving us no way to open the door from the outside. And significantly, the car wouldn't stay in Drive, perhaps misinterpreting that the door was open due to the issue with the door handle. We have observed other vehicles likewise prohibiting driving with a door open.

We’re far from the first Tesla owners to experience this problem. Our car reliability survey shows that doors, locks, and latches are the biggest trouble areas with Teslas and that the Model S has far higher than average rates of such problems.

“Model S’ connectivity paired with over-the-air software updates allow Tesla to diagnose and fix most problems in Model S without the owner ever coming in for service,” said a Tesla Motors spokesperson via e-mail. “In instances when hardware, like the door handle, need to be replaced, we strive to make it painless for a customer to get their Model S serviced. ”

The good news: Getting our Tesla fixed could hardly have been more convenient. We called our local Tesla service center to have the car picked up and hauled 60 miles away to the service center for repair. But instead, the company sent a local technician to our Auto Test Center the next morning. Tesla maintains a fleet of repair vans with technicians to provide on-site service for minor problems. Such house calls are part of the Tesla ownership experience, available to all customers.

The technician diagnosed and repaired the problem quickly. Our car needed a new door-handle control module—the part inside the door itself that includes the electronic sensors and motors to operate the door handle and open the door. The whole repair took about two hours and was covered under the warranty.

Now that we can open the driver’s door and slide behind the wheel, our P85D is ready to start our formal test regimen. We’ll keep you posted on how it performs and let you know whether we have any more problems with it.

—Eric Evarts

Editor's Note:

Story updated to clarify the condition in which the car would not drive.

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