A titillating story emerged this week with solid evidence that Tesla electric cars can turn to “bricks” if their batteries reach a zero charge. Tesla has since released a statement downplaying the issue, but the juiciest facts are clear. Michael DeGusta of The Understatement broke the news:
“A Tesla Roadster that is simply parked without being plugged in will eventually become a ‘brick'. The parasitic load from the car’s always-on subsystems continually drains the battery and if the battery’s charge is ever totally depleted, it is essentially destroyed.” (1)
That’s exactly what happened to Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker. As described in DeGusta’s article, Drucker’s car turned to a brick after he left it unplugged in his garage for two months.
“It wouldn’t do anything,” Drucker said. “It wouldn’t even unlock. It took four guys two hours to get the car out of my garage and onto a flatbed truck. The car wouldn’t even roll.” (1)
But that wasn’t the worst of Drucker’s experience. When the $100,000 Roadster was towed to a Tesla service center a technician informed him his car was a “brick” and the battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000 – far more expensive than any battery sold at Midas.
The worst part - Tesla does not offer any form of insurance or warranty for a “bricked” car.
Drucker sent an angry letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk and vented about his terrible experience to DeGusta, who just happened to be one of nearly 500 people that had dropped a $5,000 reservation on the upcoming Tesla Model X.
DeGusta published a scathing story describing Drucker’s experience as but one example of a “devastating design problem”, not only for the Roadster but for all Tesla electric cars. (2) More to the point, he perpetuated Drucker’s charge that Tesla fails to do an adequate job of properly disclosing their vehicles can transform to useless bricks if not properly maintained.
“With such a large price tag for a bricked vehicle, it would be reasonable to expect Tesla to go to great lengths to ensure their customers were fully aware of the severity of battery discharge,” he wrote. (2)
In fact, Tesla does have buyers sign a Disclosures and Acknowledgements” form that specifically states:
“Note, your Roadster warranty as it relates to the battery does not cover damage caused by exposing an unplugged vehicle to ambient temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit for over 24 hours, storing an unplugged vehicle in temperatures below -40 degrees Fahrenheit for over seven days or leaving your vehicle unplugged where it discharges that battery to at or near zero state of charge.” (1)
Drucker felt this warning was vague at best.
“It doesn’t say that if you don’t leave the car plugged in your battery will be dead and you’ll be out $40,000,” he said. “I am not an idiot. If I had ever heard that, I would not have allowed this to happen.” (1)
When DeGusta's article on Drucker’s $40,000 battery replacement began to grab Google headlines Tesla was quick to release a statement reminding people that “All automobiles require some level of owner care. For example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time.” (3)
There’s plenty of truth to those comparisons. Then again, when I returned from a week-long winter vacation to find the battery in my Subaru dead I didn’t get shafted to the tune of $40,000 - I called Triple A and got a jumpstart.
Whether or not Tesla is doing enough to clearly inform their customers of the brick issue is up for debate. What’s clear is that Tesla is well aware of the issue and has gone to great lengths to prevent their cars from ever reaching critically low charges.
Tesla stated that, “Owners of Roadster 2.0 and all subsequent Tesla products can request that their vehicle alert Tesla if SOC (state of charge) falls to a low level. All Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent SOC.” (3)
A Tesla service team member reportedly told DeGusta that in certain cases Tesla staff has gone so far as to remotely activate a dying vehicle's onboard GPS after failing to reach the driver. Once the vehicle is located Tesla has sent maintenance workers to service the vehicle. (3)
If Drucker was aware of or signed up for these services it’s likely his Roadster never would have been bricked. Still, being asked to fork over $40,000 to replace a dead battery isn’t going to seem like a reasonable proposition to many consumers should all the preventive measures fail.
Having said that, it's important to keep in mind we’re going to have to grant electric cars certain concessions while the technology behind them evolves to the point where they can be mass-produced.
For Tesla, “brick” could soon become a forgotten dirty word of their early history.
But I wouldn't say that to Mr. Drucker.
Read DeGusta’s full article here: http://tinyurl.com/6nfl87c