Tesla Model S Owners Report Improved Reliability

Improved reliability shows promise for new, less expensive Model 3

Tesla Model S grille Tesla

Tesla Model S owners reported their car’s reliability has improved in Consumer Reports' latest survey, giving the EV sedan its first above-average rating.

Because of the Model S’s improved rating, the all-new Tesla Model 3 EV predicted reliability rating also has improved, rising to average in CR's rankings. That's because Tesla’s less expensive Model 3 borrows much of its technology from its bigger brother.

Consumer Reports doesn't have data yet specifically from Model 3 owners, but it makes predictions on every new and redesigned vehicle based on the manufacturer's history and data from vehicles that share major components. Along the same vein, the new Kia Stinger sports sedan also gets a prediction of average reliability, even though Stinger owners have not yet reported their experiences back to CR in any survey.

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“Electric vehicles are inherently less complicated than gasoline- or hybrid-powered alternatives, and the Model 3 should be the least complicated Tesla yet,” said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at CR. “After digging into the data reported by more than 1,500 Tesla Model S owners, we expect the Model 3 should have average reliability. However, since the Model 3 is a new model, we don't expect the above average reliability we are seeing on the Model S.”

The Tesla Model S reliability was average when CR first reported on it in 2014.

Although the Model S has been at or near the top of its segment in its Overall Score, the Model X SUV has suffered from below average reliability scores from its owners. The reason that shouldn't hurt the Model 3, Fisher said, is that the Model X’s problems stem from specific parts that won't be found on the Model 3.

“Owners report issues with the Model X’s falcon doors, electronic front doors, large windshield glass, and other hardware issues,” Fisher said, “but not with its powertrain." CEO Elon Musk has even gone out of his way to say on Twitter that Tesla looked for ways to reduce complexity with the Model 3, and that approach may have paid off.

2017 Tesla Model S

Tesla Tesla

Tesla declined to comment directly for this story. But in comments to company shareholders in June, Musk noted that the company sought to make the Model 3 less complicated than earlier Tesla models.

Musk told shareholders that “we have kept the initial configurations for Model 3 very simple. This is critical to achieving a rapid production ramp.”

He told shareholders that the Model X SUV was hurt by Tesla trying to be too ambitious. “I think it’s really an amazing product, but it has way too many cool things in it that should have really been rolled in with Version 2, Version 3, that would have been the sensible way to do it. We got overconfident and created something great that probably will never be made again,” Musk said.

Now, as the company works to roll out the Model 3 at mass-market levels, the number of options for buyers is limited. The company produced 260 sedans by the end of September, even though Musk predicted a schedule of 1,600 by that time.

Customers will have a few choices related to color and wheels and a few other options, Musk told shareholders in July.

“And then we will show what other versions are coming later as soon as we get configuration 1 right.”

As Musk notes, simplicity can be a virtue when it comes to reliability. The original Model S received a rating of Average reliability in its first year, but once more features and options were added in the second year, its reliability rating fell. How the Model 3's reliability will fare over time will be answered once owners get their hands on it.

Consumer Reports will put the Model 3 through its usual battery of tests once it has purchased one.

Tesla Model 3 rear
Tesla Model 3

Tesla Tesla

Patrick Olsen, CR Cars Content Leader

Patrick Olsen

I've been a journalist for decades, and I got my love of cars from growing up in Los Angeles, where you have to drive, even if you're just going a few doors down the block. I'm a huge movie, music, and TV fan, and really just a devotee of good storytelling.