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Tesla under investigation for Model S touchscreen failures

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into touchscreen failures on older Tesla Model S vehicles, after receiving 11 complaints in the last 13 months about the issue.

The probe covers 63,000 Model S vehicles with screens controlled by flash memory devices with finite lifespans based on the number of program and erase cycles, the documents said. The screens can fail prematurely because the memory can wear out.

The same screens and processors were used in 159,000 2012 through 2018 Model S and 2016 to 2018 Model X vehicles built through early 2018, the agency said.

Failures also cause loss of touch screen features such as infotainment, navigation and web browsing. If the screens fail, heating and air conditioning controls also will default to an auto mode, and limits on battery charging current can be affected, according to the documents. Failure doesn’t affect braking, steering, speed control or other control systems, NHTSA said.

The agency currently has two other such investigations open into Tesla. One, opened last October, is about an over-the-air software update Tesla issued that was meant to limit a possible fire risk in the battery packs of the company’s cars. The other, opened in January, is looking into claims of Tesla’s vehicles undergoing “sudden unintended acceleration.”

Tesla pioneered the idea of placing large touchscreens in a car’s dashboard with the Model S, a design choice that has proliferated across the automotive industry over the last decade. But this is not the only problem that Tesla has run into with its touchscreens, which, for years, were sourced from computer suppliers and did not stand up to typical automotive grade standards. As Ed Niedermeyer writes in Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, the screens in older Model S vehicles were prone to bubbling at the edges when exposed to high heat. Tesla’s solve for this in production resulted in yellow banding after exposure to high heat. It wasn’t until the company switched to an entirely new touchscreen that the problems subsided.

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