Tesla Model 3 reliability causes car to lose CR recommendation.

Consumer Reports can no longer recommend the newest Tesla—the Model 3 electric sedan—because members say they’ve identified a number of problems with their cars, including issues with its body hardware, as well as paint and trim. CR members reported these results in our annual reliability survey, which includes data on about 470,000 vehicles.

The Model 3 is a critical car for Tesla. It’s the automaker’s first attempt at a true mass-market electric vehicle (EV), and its long, bumpy launch into the consumer market starting in late 2017 was greeted by EV enthusiasts with a mixture of anticipation and frustration. The Model 3 rollout was plagued by numerous production delays and extraordinarily long wait times for customers who put down orders more than a year before delivery. Yet the small sports sedan has been received well by its owners, getting top marks in CR’s most recent owner satisfaction survey. It has also largely lived up to its promise as a highly competitive sports sedan, earning a respectable road-test score, which puts it not far behind the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.  

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But reliability has been a weak spot for Tesla. According to our survey results, problems with the suspension, especially with the 2017 model year, have been an issue for the Model S luxury sedan, while hardware problems—especially concerning its unique falcon-wing doors—have plagued the Model X SUV (neither is currently recommended by CR). And now our latest survey data has surfaced numerous problems reported by Model 3 owners as well, which is why CR has removed its recommendation for the vehicle.

“While Teslas perform well in Consumer Reports’ road tests and have excellent owner satisfaction, their reliability has not been consistent, according to our members, which has resulted in changes to their recommended status,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.

Tesla currently holds the top spot on our list of brands that satisfy owners the most, based on their new vehicle lineup.

“In most cases, reliability issues will undermine satisfaction,” Fisher adds. “But when a vehicle has an enthusiastic following, like with Tesla, owners may overlook some issues. We’ve seen this with other vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Corvette.” 

Tesla’s Response

A Tesla spokesperson said the automaker has already made “significant improvements” to correct the issues that Model 3 owners raised with CR. “The vast majority of these issues have already been corrected through design and manufacturing improvements, and we are already seeing a significant improvement in our field data,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to CR. “We take feedback from our customers very seriously and quickly implement improvements any time we hear about issues.”  

How CR Measures Reliability

CR gathers reliability data through an online questionnaire sent out each spring to members. The survey asks about any problems these members may have had within the previous 12 months with 17 aspects of their vehicles, including major systems such as the suspension and electrical system, as well as fit and finish issues such as paint and trim.

For the past few years, CR has been going back to car owners who did not answer the initial survey to gather additional information, and to include a greater number of the newest vehicles. These later responses have been incorporated into the ratings found in our annual April autos issue.

With the new data, CR’s sample size of 2018 Model 3s nearly doubled, bringing the total number of Model 3s involved to more than 500. These latest survey responses contained a relatively high number of reliability complaints.

What the Survey Found

Model 3 owners in our spring survey sample reported some body hardware and in-car electronics problems, such as the screen freezing, which we have seen with other Tesla models. The latest survey data also shows complaints about paint and trim issues. In addition, some members reported that the Model 3’s sole display screen acted strangely.

“The touch screen would intermittently begin acting as if someone was touching it rapidly at many different points,” one member wrote in. “This fault would cause music to play, volume to increase to maximum, and would rescale and pan the map in the navigation system.”

Some owners also complained about glass defects, including cracks in the rear window, in their survey responses.

In fact, CR experienced similar problems with its own Model 3. Earlier this year, our test vehicle developed a large crack in its massive rear window during a cold spell when it was parked outside.

When the Model 3 first came out in 2017, Consumer Reports gave it an average predicted reliability score based on the survey results at the time about the Model S because the two shared much of the same technology. The car maintained its average score for predicted reliability in October 2018 based on the experiences of Model 3 owners who completed our spring survey. The new survey data shows that the car has dropped from average to below-average reliability.

Tesla’s other models have suffered from below-average reliability as well, Fisher said. The Model S sedan has had an inconsistent history, being above average, average, and below average, with each downward move following in the wake of a hardware change made by Tesla. CR members report that they have the most trouble with loose trim, frozen or blank screen display, and suspension in 2017 models.

The Tesla Model S lost CR’s recommendation in October 2018 largely because of suspension problems. Tesla made air suspension and all-wheel drive standard in its 2017 Model S.

The Model X SUV has always had below-average reliability through its lifespan, with CR members reporting problems mostly with its hardware, and with its falcon-wing doors in particular. It has never earned a CR recommendation.

By contrast, CR members have reported few problems with Tesla’s unique electric powertrains, which may be due in part to their relative simplicity when compared with traditional internal-combustion engines. 

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