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Tesla Model S, Model X touchscreen failure one step closer to NHTSA recall

Elon Musk and co.'s popular electric sedan and SUV are the subject of an engineering analysis by the federal government.

Tesla Model S
Tesla's Model S (pictured) and Model X rely heavily on touchscreen controls, making display failure an even bigger problem than with other vehicles.
Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Nearly 159,000 Tesla Model S sedans and Model X crossover SUVs are the subject of an escalating federal safety probe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ramping up its examination of touchscreen failures on the electric vehicles, Reuters reports. The investigation was last week bumped up to an engineering analysis, a necessary step before the government agency can compel the automaker to recall its vehicles. The investigation, which centers on 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X EVs is an expansion of an initial probe that covered 63,000 units.

According to NHTSA, touchscreen failures can trigger the loss of the rearview camera, as well as affect defogger functions and chimes for turn signals and Autopilot. Tesla models use their massive touchscreens as central control hubs for most vehicle functions, minimizing switchgear and build complexity, but maximizing the potential for display issues to negatively affect a wide variety of vehicle systems.

Tesla has garnered over 10,000 owner requests to change out their vehicles' MCU -- main computer unit -- the brain that powers the touchscreen. Users have reported everything from a complete failure of the touchscreen to longer boot-up times and increased latency of response. According to NHTSA, Tesla has reported 2,399 formal complaints regarding the issue and the Silicon Valley automaker has logged 7,777 warranty claims and 4,746 nonwarranty claims related to replacements of this processor. 

According to the federal agency, "The data show failure rates over 30% in certain build months and accelerating failure trends after 3 to 4 years-in-service." NHTSA also notes "Tesla has implemented certain Over-The-Air or OTA updates to subject vehicles to mitigate the effects of MCU failure," but also notes that many complaints say Tesla has required owners to pay for a new MCU when the part is out of warranty.

Tesla did not immediately respond to Roadshow's inquiry related to this story. Tesla does not operate a public relations department to field requests for comment.

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