WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday it had opened an investigation into 63,000 Tesla Model S cars after reports of media-control unit failures that led to the loss of the use of touchscreens.
The auto safety agency said the preliminary evaluation covers 2012-2015 model year vehicles. It comes after the safety agency received 11 complaints alleging premature failure of the media-control unit due to memory wear-out. Tesla used the same unit in 159,000 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles built through early 2018.
A complete unit failure results in the loss of audible and visual touchscreen features, such as infotainment, navigation, web browsing, and loss of the rear-camera image display when in reverse gear.
Some complaints said the failure could result in a loss of charging ability and that other safety alerts could be impacted. One driver said he could not clear fogged windows because he could not change climate controls.
Another complaint said the failure disabled safety monitors associated with Tesla's driver-assistance system Autopilot.
The complaints said Tesla requires owners to pay to replace the unit once the warranty expires.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NHTSA said the failure does not affect vehicle control systems.
The memory control unit uses an Nvidia Corp Tegra 3 processor with an integrated 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device, NHTSA said. Nvidia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The flash devices have a finite lifespan based on the number of program or erase cycles, NHTSA said.
Failures resulting from memory wear-out "are likely to occur after periods of progressively degraded performance (e.g., longer power-up times, more frequent touchscreen resets, intermittent loss of cellular connectivity, loss of navigation)," the agency said.