What It’s Like: Tesla Drive Unit Failure In A State With No Tesla Service

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A screenshot of the Tesla app showing the service progress. Image provided by Ian V.

Imagine accelerating away from a light when suddenly — BANG! — your Tesla makes a loud sound and sends a snapping shudder through the whole car. You push the digital go pedal, and the car acts like a gas car in neutral. You can hear something turning under the hood, a slight whirring sound, but the car doesn’t move or respond. Fortunately, there’s a parking lot to your right, and you safely coast the car to a stop in a safe location. With the initial shock out of the way, you realize that you live in a state that doesn’t allow Tesla to operate sales or service centers, and you wonder what’s going to happen next.

This is exactly what happened recently to Ian V., of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When leaving an intersection and accelerating up to speed, the drive unit in his 2013 Model S failed. “I know a bad sound when I hear it,” Ian said.

Ian requested roadside service via the Tesla app, with a tow truck arriving in normal time and transport to the nearest service center arranged at Tesla’s cost. The vehicle had to be taken to El Paso, Texas, almost 300 miles away, for service. The vehicle arrived on a weekend, so Ian had to wait several days to hear what Tesla’s diagnosis was. It turned out to be a mechanical failure inside the drive unit. With only around 40,000 miles on the car, it was completely covered under Tesla’s warranty. Unfortunately, the cost of getting the vehicle back to Albuquerque, called a “reunite” by Tesla employees, was not covered.

“[The service was] pretty fast, but now I have to go to El Paso to get the car :(” Ian said. He ended up renting a gasoline-powered car to drive down, and then drove his Tesla back to Albuquerque. It total, it took him about 9 hours to retrieve the vehicle, including time at the Truth or Consequences Supercharger.

According to Ian, this was his second time dealing with Tesla service. Previously, his MCU failed and had to be replaced out of pocket, costing him about $950 and a trip to Colorado. “I’m still of the mind that Tesla service sucks,” he said. “If a part is replaced under warranty, then it’s on me to get the car back.”

Like in many other states, New Mexico law prohibits an automaker from selling directly to consumers, or servicing their vehicles within the state. A customer can order a vehicle online, and Tesla can deliver the vehicle, but there are no showrooms or service locations in New Mexico. In 2019, State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino introduced a bill to make an exception for automakers selling electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, but after lobbying by the state’s auto dealers, there were not enough votes to pass the bill.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1949 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba