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Tesla recalls 135,000 vehicles over touchscreen safety issue

Tesla has agreed to recall around 135,000 of its electric vehicles to fix a safety-related issue with the touchscreen.

Affected vehicles include Model S sedans model years 2012 through 2018, and Model X SUVs model years 2016 through 2018.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested the recall last month, explaining that the issue concerned the touchscreen’s NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and its integrated 8GB flash memory chip. According to its research, the component can fail when it reaches capacity, usually after about five or six years with average use.

Failure of the vehicle’s in-car display cuts the view from its rearview/backup camera, and can also affect its Autopilot driver assistance system. Various audible chimes linked to turn signals are also impacted, and drivers are unable to use windshield defogging and defrosting systems, which may reduce visibility in inclement weather, increasing the risk of a crash, according to a letter sent by NHTSA to Tesla on January 13, 2021.

The agency noted that Tesla had tried to resolve the issue via over-the-air updates, but NHTSA described them as “substantively insufficient.”

As of July of last year, Tesla’s own data put touchscreen failure rates at up to 17.3% for the impacted Model S vehicles, and up to 4.1% for the affected Model X vehicles. NHTSA said that without action the failure rates would continue to rise, as shown in Tesla’s projection models. Its data also showed that more than 12,000 Tesla owners had experienced the touchscreen problem at the center of the recall.

Tesla had originally pushed back against NHTSA’s request to call the cars in for repair, saying that it wasn’t a safety issue. But in its most recent correspondence with the agency, the company relented, saying: “Having fully considered NHTSA’s request, and in the interests of bringing administrative closure to the investigation and to ensure the best ownership experience for our customers,” it had decided to proceed with the recall.

The original vehicle count for the recall was put at 158,000, but Tesla said that a number of the automobiles already have an upgraded processor and so can be excluded.

Tesla will notify affected owners from March 30 and arrange to fix the touchscreen free of charge. If owners have any concerns, they can contact the company via its customer service number at 877-798-3752. Tesla’s number for the recall is SB-21-21-001.

The Elon Musk-led company revealed last week that both models at the center of the recall are being updated with new interiors features — including a spaceship-like steering wheel — among other improvements.

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