Consumer Reports Downgrades Tesla in Annual Auto Reliability Report

In a move that might discourage some discerning buyers from choosing a Tesla vehicle, Consumer Reports has downgraded the Model S and questioned the reliability of the newer Model Y in its annual Auto Reliability Survey.

Customer Reports’ automobile testers reported issues with the air suspension, main computer, and touchscreen controls in the Model S. They also noticed issues with the body hardware and paint in the Model Y.

“It’s wavered throughout its life cycle,” said Consumer Reports senior director of auto testing Jake Fisher said of the Model S, likely as a result of the many changes that this particular model has gone through since its introduction in 2012.

The issues with the Model S may especially be caused by frequent software updates. Consumers have reported that some of the features controlled by the main computer have ceased to function normally and the touchscreen also became unreliable after a certain amount of time.

The issues with the computer have been enough to spark at least one proposed class action lawsuit in California and investigations into whether Tesla might have violated consumer protection laws in its handling of the reported problems. If the investigations succeed in finding issues, it could spark a mandatory recall of the affected vehicles.

Tesla has attempted to address the problems with the computer and touchscreen systems in some Model S cars, along with the Model X, by expanding its warranty to include the onboard computer on most Model S and Model X cars made between 2012 and 2018. However, this may not have happened soon enough to placate owners of the affected vehicles who may air their concerns on forums like the Tesla Motors Club and can respond to surveys like those conducted by Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports’ auto testers were also less than impressed with the Model Y, which they listed as “well below average reliability.” As the name implies, Consumer Reports does take the experience of actual owners into account when compiling its Auto Reliability Survey. In one widely reported incident, the glass roof flew off a brand-new Model Y. Another Model Y owner reported finding hairs in the paint of the new car.

With most auto manufacturers, such a low rating is typical for new models like the Model Y, which was introduced just this year. It’s typical for the ratings to improve as manufacturers work out some of the kinks with every model year. What isn’t normal is that the rating for the Model S has dropped recently even though Model S vehicles have been on the road since 2012.

Consumer Reports’ dismal ratings of these particular Tesla models does not necessarily reflect the state of the electric vehicle market as a whole. Some competitors’ models actually fared rather well. As Jake Fisher put it:

“We continue to recommend many reliable EVs such as the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and Hyundai Kona Electric that have lower operating costs than traditional gas-powered vehicles. The initial problems we are seeing in some of the latest EVs are still covered under warranty and may improve over time. We will continue to monitor the reliability and costs of EVs over the long term as more models hit the market.”

If you still have your heart set on getting a Tesla, you can rest assured that there is still one Tesla model that Consumer Reports still recommends: the Model 3 electric sedan. There were apparently no major reported issues with this one.

Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have not yet issued a response to the results of the Auto Reliability Survey.