Tesla Model 3 and Model S Regain a Consumer Reports Recommendation

Improved reliability scores enable CR to recommend the two models after previous downgrades

Tesla logo on car GettyImages-955997628

Two of Tesla’s three models—the Model 3 and the Model S sedans—have regained a Consumer Reports recommendation because of improved reliability based on the results of our annual survey of CR members.

“The Tesla Model 3 struggled last year as the company made frequent design changes and ramped up production to meet demand,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR. “But as the production stabilized, we have seen improvements to the reliability.”

CR members reported fewer problems with body hardware issues for both models, such as trunks that don’t close properly or loose body trim panels.

For the Model 3, there were fewer reports of stuck latches or malfunctioning doors. For the Model S, owners reported fewer problems with paint and trim quality—issues that have plagued it in the past. Owners also reported fewer problems with power equipment, such as cruise control, cameras, and warning lights.

More on Car Reliability

CR emailed multiple questions last week to a Tesla representative, seeking comment about the new CR recommendations and any changes Tesla might have made to improve reliability.

The company did not respond by press time.

Tesla’s other vehicle, the Model X SUV, still isn’t recommended. Model X owners reported numerous problems, ranging from its balky falcon-wing doors (that open vertically) to noises and leaks, and it has worse-than-average reliability.

In-car electronics continues to be a weakness in the Model X, as well as in the 3 and S. Tesla owners continue to report problems with the displays, including the screens freezing or suddenly going blank with the car in motion. Some owners report random rebooting of the systems. In-car electronics problems aren't weighted as heavily as the other trouble areas.

It’s not the first time CR has recommended the Model 3 and the Model S. The vehicles score consistently well on our extensive road tests, but our annual surveys sometimes have shown inconsistent reliability from year to year.

CR's Reliability Survey

Our survey asks members about any problems they’ve had with their cars in the previous 12 months in 17 potential problem areas, ranging from engine replacements to annoying noises and leaks. The survey this year captured information on about 420,000 vehicles, including nearly 4,000 Tesla cars. CR uses the reliability survey results from three previous years as a basis for predicting future reliability for any model we test.

The Model 3 is now the fifth most reliable out of 12 luxury compact cars in CR’s ratings of predicted new-car reliability, just below the Audi A3 and above the Acura TLX and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The Model S is the second-most reliable out of four ultra-luxury cars, just below the Genesis G90. It’s predicted to be more reliable than either the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the Lexus LS.

Some of Tesla’s inconsistent reliability may result from its unique approach to manufacturing, says CR’s Fisher. Though most other automakers tend to make improvements on the assembly line all at once, before a new model year begins, Tesla makes numerous running changes throughout the year. Tesla has changed parts, including major items such as motors and suspension components, only a few months after beginning production on a new model. It can take time for any manufacturer to work out reliability problems with new parts, and it’s even harder if they’re introduced frequently, Fisher says.

Tesla also can change performance characteristics or add functions through over-the-air software updates throughout the year. CR owns a Model 3 and evaluates new features as they’re enabled, like our recent testing of Tesla's Smart Summon feature.

Jeff Plungis

I grew up in Detroit's Golden Age, driving a glamorous, vintage ’65 Olds Cutlass in high school and my college years. Later, I experienced the joys and expense of European engineering through a succession of cars made by VW, Volvo, and Saab. That was before the reliable and spacious Honda minivan. Now I'm covering auto safety, new technology, and corporate accountability for CR from Washington, D.C.