Tesla has shot to the top of the auto industry on the strength of its battery technology, but it still gets some basic “car things” wrong. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened yet another investigation into the company following two reports of steering wheels coming off while being driven.
The NHTSA says the inquiry includes 120,089 Model Y vehicles produced in the 2023 model year. In both reported cases, the electric cars were new and had very few miles. Mere days after delivery, both owners experienced sudden steering wheel detachment while driving.
Prerak Patel owns one of the defective Teslas and posted images on Twitter following the steering wheel detachment. The Patels received their Model Y just a few days before the incident in late January, when the steering wheel detached while driving on the highway. Luckily, there were no vehicles behind the Model Y, and Patel was able to make a safe stop. Initially, Tesla refused to repair the car under warranty, asking for $103.96 to fix the wheel. After making a fuss, Patel was offered a free repair and later was upgraded to an entirely new vehicle to replace the defective one.
@elonmusk @TeslaOwnersWW @BLKMDL3 Family was excited to receive Tesla Y delivery on 1/24/2023. Was driving on highway and all the sudden steering wheel fall off, was lucky enough there was no car behind and I was able to pull on devider #SafetyFirst #Fixit #TeslaModelY #help pic.twitter.com/4UMokFA2cv
— Prerak & Neha Patel (@preneh24) January 30, 2023
There have been a handful of issues with steering wheel detachment in the auto industry, most recently affecting Ford and Nissan. However, these problems were traced to loose bolts in the steering column that became progressively looser and reduced turning performance before separating. The situation with Tesla is a bit different. According to the NHTSA’s preliminary report (PDF), both affected vehicles had a missing bolt that was supposed to hold the wheel in place. Tesla uses a friction-fit steering column that keeps the wheel in place until the driver exerts enough force to overcome the friction mount’s resistance. That’s what caused the wheel to pop off without warning.
The NHTSA investigation will explore the problem’s scale and how multiple vehicles could make it out of Tesla’s factories without a crucial component. This could lead to a recall, requiring Tesla to inspect all those cars physically. Some other recent Tesla recalls have related to self-driving software, which the company can update remotely. In the meantime, anyone with a new Model Y might want to give the steering wheel a good yank while the vehicle is safely parked.