'You're gonna have to sue, man': Tesla ghosted me after my car crashed itself—I'm still waiting on an answer (2024)

Analysis

If you’re a Tesla devotee I want to preface this by saying—so was I. I know my story will probably fall on deaf ears and you’re going to parse everything in this written takedown of a company that I once believed so highly in.

I also want to say that I still would love for the business to succeed, I just wish they didn’t make vehicles that were such pieces of garbage.

Cars fascinate and horrify me. When they’re operating at their best, they’re amazing machines—I lived without a reliable vehicle for a few years in my youth and absolutely hated it. But as much as it overheated and left me in the lurch, it was still heaps better than having to deal with the fickle schedules of my local public transportation system that decided to sometimes outright cancel trains and it was a miracle if a bus actually left on time.

And although many of my friends, siblings, and cousins all had a “dream car” in their minds growing up, I never felt an intense desire for any of the super cars or luxury pavement yachts they would opine about while spouting statistics that may as well have been the Pokemon Red manual in Japanese (I don’t speak Japanese.)

It wasn’t until I was 33 that I thought I found the whip of my dreams: A Tesla Model 3. Sadly, in my 3 years of ownership the vehicle put both me and my family in a series of horrifying and potentially life-threatening situations that I dismissed at the time because I was such a fanboy for the brand, and would often dwell on those initial few thousand miles I owned it, where it seemed like the absolute perfect car.

Before my Tesla Model 3

When I finally was able to drive on my own and afford to buy/maintain my own vehicle I learned, over the years, what mattered to me most, and I think there would be a lot of other drivers who would agree:

  • Dependability/longevity
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Fuel economy
  • Ease of repair/maintenance/accessibility to parts
  • Infotainment system
  • No crossover SUVs (hate them) / at least 35 inches rear legroom
  • Decent enough acceleration to merge without having to worry about being a sitting duck on the highway
  • Sound system/audio call quality
  • Backup camera
  • Auto start

I was always reluctant to dump a ton of money into purchasing a used car that wasn’t a Honda or a Toyota. While I happily owned a fully tricked out Volkswagen CC for a couple of years and didn’t experience any horrible issues with it, it was a costly car to maintain— headlights always seemed to be burning out, I got so many flat tires on its 19-inch wheels, tune-ups cost a bunch, and as I neared the 70,000-mile mark, I was worried that I’d experience the dreaded turbo lag/failure that would occur as a result of excess carbon buildup.

I managed to trade the car in for a lease after Volkswagen’s whole “Diesel Gate” debacle and got decent money for it, because the brand wanted to incentivize new drivers to get behind the wheels of its cars after suffering the ignominy of such a public controversy. But leasing a vehicle, I soon learned, was a royal pain: I immediately sprung for more miles on the whip because I was driving way more than 1,000 a month, and when I finally returned the car, I found myself having to argue with the dealership about lease closing costs, finally whittling them down from $900 to $92, but I was still grumbling about it.

I found a good deal on a used 2003 Corolla S—not a flashy car by any means but it did what it needed to do and did it well. That is, until I noticed a couple of tires were wearing out a bit quickly in an odd pattern on one side of the car. Looking underneath it, something I admittedly should’ve done before buying the thing (it had a clean CarFax, but still) I saw that it had sustained frame damage, which means it must’ve been in a pretty bad accident.

For the most part, the car was fine, but it was giving me issues as I logged more and more miles on it, way more than I thought a Corolla would. I put it up for sale, completely honest about the work that needed to be done on it and its potential frame damage, and I found a buyer who, despite being scared by a quote from a local mechanic, seemed happy with the purchase after I offered to buy it back from him for what he paid and introducing him to my car guy in case he wanted to get a quote from someone who wasn’t trying to just steal his money.

I had every intention of buying a new car after these experiences. With my list of wants in the car, I started researching, and it seemed like a 2019 Camry was in the cards.

Dealerships are disgusting

The problem was, however, that negotiating the sale of a new car, something I’d attempted to do several times but never signed the dotted line on, save for my VW trade-in and lease, seemed less appealing than nailing my hand to a burning building.

And while I was well aware of Tesla’s offerings, the Model S and Model X were just way more than I’d have ever wanted to pay for a vehicle, even if with all of the money one would save on gasoline and routine maintenance like oil changes and tune-ups. However the Model 3, now in its second year, seemed like a promising vehicle.

There were tons of stories popping up on my news feed about Model 3s that have gone past 200,000 miles without any significant issues. There was the allure of never having to worry about an engine blowing, like my friend’s fairly new Nissan Maxima at the time which, just 1,000 miles over warranty, required a $4,000+ engine repair. Tesla promised to cover the battery for 100,000 miles or 10 years, whichever came first, and I wasn’t beholden to ever-shifting gas prices. I’d never have to worry about having to schedule a normal-priced oil change with my very busy mechanic, or be left stuck forking over $90 every 7,500 miles for a full-synthetic change on my Camry.

Plus, I could afford the Tesla, and it was a friggin’ Tesla. It accelerated in a blink of an eye, even the stock version was beating lamborghinis at a red light all from a third of the price. I was finally sold once I was walking through the mail with my kids and they sat in the car. It didn’t have Apple Car Play/Android Auto, but the infotainment system was fantastic and the audio once those doors were closed and the window was up? Please. Absolute heaven.

After sleeping on it and talking with my wife (now ex) at the time, I said let’s do it—and the buying process was ridiculously simple. I located the car in the car and options I wanted and put a (refundable) down payment on it with my credit card. Shortly after, I received an email and then a phone call from a Tesla rep asking how I wanted to handle the rest of the payment. When I told them I wanted to finance, they suggested a bank they worked with and asked if I’d like for them to check into it for me. I said sure, and filled out some of my info while I looked at other financiers on my own.

To my shock, I ended up getting a better interest rate from Tesla’s recommendation: A first for me when car shopping (at the time). After a few more emails, the financing was all handled, and I never once had to step foot inside of a dealership to play the waiting game. When the car was ready, I went to go and pick it up after being given a lovely walkthrough explaining some of the car’s features and I was on my merry way.

Love at first drive

My wife and I were smitten, even if operating the car seemed a bit strange and spaceship-like at first. While most people talk about the fact that nearly every operation on the vehicle is carried out through its massive infotainment touch screen, what I thought the biggest departure from driving internal combustion engine vehicles with the Tesla was the fact that you don’t “ride the brake,” i.e. even in drive mode, the car is completely stationary until you hit the “gas” (go) pedal.

I immediately embraced this driving dynamic, pre-setting my own drive mode (my ex was able to set her own, too) to feature sharper handling, and one pedal driving, meaning I never needed to use the brake. I loved being able to charge my vehicle, even on a dinky 12-volt adapter, to more than cover my daily commutes and thankfully, the area that I lived in always had available superchargers—at least in our first year or so of owning the car.

Owning the Model 3 in those first few months was complete bliss. I was paying less monthly for a car that was leaps and bounds ahead of any other car my friends were driving which just looked embarrassingly bad in comparison. Heck, even the cameras on my car, which it had plastered all over it for security purposes, packed a crisp resolution. On long road trips I’d keep my kids entertained with Netflix while we charged at a convenience store, spending a few bucks on snacks instead of gas. We’d play games on it, use the whoopie cushion feature, and enjoyed the native music streaming apps built right into the car all controlled via a voice assistant that was usually right on the money, not to mention a navigation solution that didn’t suck.

Problems, ignored

There were some things about the car that I just chalked up as not that big of a deal, considering that there were other manufacturers out there with fancy-looking, but faulty shifters that literally killed people, like Star Trek star Anton Yelchin who had his career cut short after being crushed by an SUV that rolled back and slammed into his body.

So I didn’t find it a big deal when the screen would occasionally black out upon start up, necessitating a multi-input reset of the vehicle as you would an iPad, pressing two of the tactile and fun-to-press “roller” buttons on the steering wheel as you stomp on the brake and hold it for a few seconds.

The first glaring problem I experienced with the Model 3 was when I was using its Autopilot “lite” feature, a.k.a. assisted cruise control which uses the vehicle’s cameras to determine its surroundings and automatically adjust your speed on long drives. This was a standard feature on Teslas when I purchased the vehicle, and didn’t require the drivers to fork over thousands of dollars for the Full Self Driving package. Adaptive cruise control had been available on other cars for quite some time, like the Toyota Corolla’s Dynamic Radar option, which I had previously enjoyed on a rental on a 7-hour drive without issue.

While using the Tesla’s cruise control on a largely empty section of the highway, no cars to the right of me, none visible in front of me, or to the back, on a cloudless, bright November afternoon (I purchased the vehicle in October 2019) my vehicle began beeping indicating that there was a road hazard up ahead. The sound cut through the music I was happily listening to with my family. The steering wheel had slightly seized up and I began frenetically scanning the road to see what I should try and avoid, being mindful to not slow the car down too much in the event someone came up quickly behind me—it was a 65 miles per hour (mph) speed limit after all.

However, there was nothing in the road, not even a pot hole. It was as if a phantom had spooked the Model 3 which subsequently wigged out to alert myself and my family to danger that wasn’t there.

Oddly enough, on that same drive, the car had seemed to miss someone else on the highway, just a few minutes later, who haphazardly began veering into our lane. I honked and moved slightly to the left in order to avoid a collision but not crowd the adjacent lane and the driver quickly corrected course. Not a peep from the Tesla.

The day I stopped using cruise control is when I should have probably traded in my vehicle. Again, a few weekends later while on a family outing in a similar condition with cruise control engaged, out of nowhere the car slammed on the brakes, dropping the speed of the vehicle from 65 mph to 15 mph in a couple of seconds. While an impressive stopping time: There was nothing in the road, but the car seemed to think there was. After snapping our necks forward and my son nearly smashing his face on the back of the driver’s seat, I wrestled with the steering wheel, which had become alarmingly stiff for the some reason to keep the vehicle in our lane and I pressed the accelerator to try and keep up with the flow of traffic.

Collision detection or cause of accident?

Even when not using cruise control or other stock “Autopilot” features on the Tesla, there was a safety feature on the vehicle that, at the time, I didn’t know the driver had to disable every time they entered the vehicle to go for a drive: Automatic Braking. The other, which I later learned was the cause of my steering wheel locking up and literally moving into another direction, forcing me to wrangle it like I was Steve Irwin trying to show off a beautiful Croc, was Corrective Steering.

On more than a handful of occasions, I would be driving, thinking about how much of a failure I am in relation to where I should be in life, and then corrective steering would kick in, trying to move my 3,500+ lb Lithium Ion detonator at 50 mph out of a danger that simply did not exist, and almost into an adjacent car. Or a divider. Or a median. Every time it happened, I kind of felt like this meme, but my butthole would twitch like a rabbit’s nose, too.

I only reported the issue after it occurred in the daytime and I was absolutely sure there weren’t any road hazards in front of me. It seemed to go away on three separate occasions after a software update. Another update seemed to bring it right back. My wife at the time said she experienced it once before too but the second time she did, she was only going 10 miles per hour on a local street a block away from our home.

It was a short jaunt from the grocery store, she told me, crying into the phone. I was out of state at the time at a friend’s house and had just felt my phone violently vibrate—the installed Tesla mobile application informing me the airbags had been deployed. That was soon followed by a call: Tesla, the ID read. I spoke to a man who asked if everything was all right, I said my wife must’ve been driving the car and that I needed to call her and that’s when I saw her name pop up on my phone.

After finding out she was OK, save for what she called a small burn on her hand from the airbag (which ended up becoming a massive blister that scarred for some time), shamefully, my initial instinct was to blame her for crashing our brand new car we had for less than a year, which I’m glad I kept to myself.

But then she mentioned the steering wheel.

That it had locked up and steered her directly into a parked car. I was baffled. I assured her it wasn’t her fault and that I had experienced the same thing several times and even reached out to the dealership about it previously, but analytics never revealed anything wrong with the vehicle. I called Tesla back and let them know that no one was seriously hurt in the vehicle and my wife was speaking with police and sussing everything out with insurance.

I did tell them, however, that I had a question about this recurring steering wheel issue, and wanted to know if there was any way for Tesla to look into this problem.

They assured me that they could get me an accident report to see what had occurred. So I waited. The insurance company found a repair shop that has a history of repairing Teslas in the area, and the car was carted there. In the meantime, we had a rental car covered by our insurer and waited for the accident report from Tesla.

After a week of no reply, I called them up but couldn’t get anyone on the phone. So I called the original dealership where we purchased the car, I hit some menu toggles to talk to a customer service rep, but nothing. So I phoned the Tesla repair center, knowing full well they shipped the car off to a different auto body shop, stating that I wanted to know the status of my vehicle. I then slid in a query about the accident report and if there was anyone at Tesla I could speak to about that.

They told me it takes some time to get. Then another week went by. I was given the run around, same thing. I finally was able to get the email address of someone I could communicate with directly who, also, hemmed and hawed for a few weeks. By this time, the vehicle had been fully repaired, but I expressed to both the insurance company and Tesla that my family didn’t feel safe stepping foot inside of it as I felt like it was a death trap.

I was assured that the car was safe, but I wasn’t so trusting, thinking of all the weird things that had occurred previously with it, especially regarding its autopilot safety features. After my direct email contact flat out stopped responding to my messages, and no one at either of the Tesla dealerships in my area would return my phone calls, I decided to head to one, in person, on a Saturday afternoon, where throngs of people decided to take a gander at the car of the future.

After walking up to the sales desk that sported a row of employees for the auto manufacturer, a kind woman asked me what I needed help with. I loudly told her, “Yeah my Tesla drove itself into a parked car,” and generally maintaining the same volume level, explained to her that I was attempting to get a crash/accident/engineering report or whatever they called it because it seemed to go by so many different names.

I felt embarrassed by causing a stink or thinking I did anything to “get back” at the massive corporation that sold me a dream car that ended up a waking nightmare, until one of the auto repair shop employees approached me to discuss the issue.

He asked me to walk outside the dealership. I could feel he genuinely wanted to help.

You’re gonna have to sue man. Get a legal letter, get something from a lawyer that threatens legal action and they’ll get you the accident report. That’s what one guy with a Model X did,” he told me.

A legal precedent

Of course, I wanted to make sure that there was a basis to whatever legal argument I was making so I started researching online to see if other people complained of the same problem, and there were. As of this writing, it seems that there are numerous lawsuits that cite this specific issue, but in 2020, it was a lot of work to convince a legal team to partake in the suit. I did find some class-action ones that I appended my name to, but it doesn’t seem like anything has come of them.

While there were plenty of people talking about Full Self Driving accidents, it didn’t seem like this specific issues of Corrective Steering was being addressed and some of the legal representatives I consulted with didn’t seem to take much interest in the issue, save for one, who I gave a bunch of documentation about my correspondence with Tesla, but then I lost steam over the issue as I had dedicated a significant chunk of my time toward trying to solve and honestly, I just fizzled out.

I shouldn’t have, but I did. I spoke with the auto repair shop that fixed the vehicle. I asked how they tested it and updated it. I explained the problem to them, a worker there mentioned that it may have been a camera calibration issue that caused the accident: The Tesla’s cameras must’ve thought that the parked car was in the middle of the road as the camera wasn’t calibrated properly and steered my wife into it instead of away from it.

Tired of driving the rental car and seeing photos of the brand-spanking new Model that, quite honestly, was assembled better by the repair shop than Tesla itself on the first day we got it (no panel gaps!) I told my wife that we’d just pick up the car, sell it, and get something else.

Selling a Tesla that was in an accident? Not easy

Maybe it’s because Teslas were easier to get back during this time before supply chain shortages and gas spikes that saw prices reach some of the highest the country’s ever seen during the summer of 2022, but trade-in values and quotes from CarMax, Carvana, dealerships were all significantly less than the money I owed on the vehicle’s loans, even with attempts to trade them in.

Selling privately I got offers that were worth thousands of dollars more, but interest rates on car loans were still relatively low and, understandably, folks weren’t exactly thrilled with dumping that much money into a Tesla that was in an accident, even if it genuinely looked better put together than some of the vehicles on the car’s own lot, due to the excellent work done by the repair shop that put it together.

Every time we got close to selling it privately, buyers would pull out, or they would switch up the offer leaving us with around $7,000 we had to cover ourselves. This, at the time, wasn’t a tenable solution. So I decided to drive the car around a bit, ensuring all of the software was up to date and recording my rides just in case anything was wrong to try and build a case until I eventually had enough evidence to build a lawsuit.

But just like any toxic relationship you’ve been out of for too long and decide to jump back into for whatever self-destructive reason, there were glimmers of the old days. The Model 3 was behaving nicely. I missed the quick acceleration the vehicle offered. The fantastic sound system, and that big, beautiful screen.

The steering wheel jerks were gone. There weren’t any more abrupt stops. No more strange dings out of nowhere and calls that the sky was falling when everything was all right—it seemed that whatever the shop did, coupled with Tesla’s software updates, kept the car rolling with relatively few problems.

Although my ex-wife wasn’t too keen on getting back into the vehicle, as she was still traumatized from the accident, and believes she’s still suffering from long-term back pain that she visits physical therapy for to this day, after seeing me drive it to many times without incident we just cut our losses and decided to keep the car.

Everything started breaking

That’s not to say the vehicle wasn’t without its issues. The 12-volt standard car battery, you know the kinds that all traditional ICE vehicles have, ended up spazzing out on the only day it snowed when I was driving an hour and a half away from a friend’s house, resulting in a total screen failure of the vehicle and my driver’s side window to constantly roll down. Hard resetting the car. Soft resetting the car. Shutting the window from the Tesla mobile application —none of it worked.

What did work was keeping my finger on the window button pulled up the entirety of the 75-mile drive while on the Garden State Parkway. The vehicle needed to be towed into a dealership to get the 12-volt battery replaced because all of the functions that weren’t operating properly—like popping the trunk or rolling windows down/up and opening doors, were controlled by a component placed underneath the front passenger’s seat. So swapping out that 12-volter wasn’t a simple task.

And then once that 50,000 mile mark hit, there were a slew of other issues that randomly plagued the car. Thankfully I scheduled an appointment prior to replace my right control arm, again (I had to get it replaced at around 20,000 miles, and again at 52,000, which Tesla did for free because I scheduled my appointment for that issue before I was technically out of warranty).

I couldn’t bring my steering wheel out too close (I have long legs and prefer to bring the steering wheel nearer to me while driving while my seat is back) as a cable in the column would trip the vehicle into going into low power mode. The rear camera would randomly cut out. The motor that was responsible for popping open the charging port cover, started getting wonky again, and I already had it replaced.

The suspension of the vehicle, which was always very stiff and a little less on the comfortable side, started feeling worse and worse by the day. Prior to buying the Model 3 I read lovely stories about super commuters in California who drove up and down the coastline, piling on 200,000 miles onto their beautiful Model 3 vehicles, charging them at Level 2 stations powered by the sun. Their only expenditures on the vehicle? Swapping out brakes, tires, and windshield wiping fluid.

But the steering column issue, coupled with the looming suspension problems, the wonky motor, the camera cutting out, the constant $228 diagnostic fees—the last year I owned the vehicle I had scheduled some 6 appointments to rectify the random low power modes and poor driving experience I had with the Model 3. I knew I was going to have to get rid of the car and just felt like I was flying headfirst into money pit Land Rover territory.

The gas crisis godsend

Around the time gas prices started surging and supply chain issues made Teslas some of the most desired and highly sought after vehicles on the market, a light bulb clicked in my head. After remembering, out of nowhere, that UFC Fighter Beneil Dariush called out Elon Musk for being placed on a waiting list for his Tesla, and months later reading stories of people having to hold out as long as 9 months for their vehicle, I decided to list the vehicle on Facebook Marketplace one evening to see what I would get for it.

Some 6 hours later after I woke up, I have 414 offers. While many of them were vile lowball scams I would be embarrassed to even float someone’s way (and I let a few people know how lame they were for doing that) there was one purchaser who really, really wanted the car. In fact—they offered me almost exactly what I paid for it brand new, cash. After telling them I needed a couple of days to find a new car, they offered to let me drive a 2013 Mercedes E-Class they had until I found one.

For the kind gesture, I gave them a $500 discount. He came to my home, we counted out the most amount of money I’ve ever seen in person in my life after he test drove the car and liked it and I was upfront about the issues I experienced.

All he seemed to be concerned with was that the battery life was good (I always engaged in recommended charging practices) and that there was no visible physical damage to the vehicle.

What I drive now

It didn’t take long for me to find great deals—I spotted a used 2019 Hyundai Ioniq plug-in hybrid top trim with 6,500 miles that, after taxes, came out to around $24,000. I’m spending less on gas now than I did for supercharging, and I still get premium free EV parking whenever I’m visiting any of the malls and shopping centers in my area because it’s a plug-in hybrid car. I’m probably spending around $50-$70 a month on gasoline and that’s if I’m doing a lot of driving. It would be even less if I had the ability to charge at my house, which I don’t right now.

While there’s a lot of hate toward Hyundais and Kias on TikTok, I can say that I’ve never had a single issue with my car. Sometimes there’s a little engine jump when switching between EV and Hybrid mode—it’s not a concern for me at all. I don’t have to go out of my way to find superchargers on road trips. My car doesn’t rattle. No control arms have broken. I haven’t been locked out of my car. My car hasn’t tried to veer me into traffic. The radar-assisted cruise control hasn’t threatened the lives of my family. Android Auto and Apple Car Play works great. Oil changes don’t cost that much and while it doesn’t have sex appeal, it’s not going to leave me stranded on the side of the road.

It’s also got a full 100,000-mile warranty that covers everything on the vehicle—which means that I’ll be covered for any major damages long after it’s paid off, including the hybrid battery. And anything that does go wrong, the parts are a heck of a lot cheaper than whatever Tesla charges for its cars, and there are a heck of a lot more shops that can work on my Ioniq than my old Model 3.

I’ve written a few pieces about mechanics who discuss the reliability of certain car brands. Personally, after being burned by an American company with a message and philosophy I wanted to believe in that ended up being a lot of smoke and mirrors (for me anyway) I can never trust them again.

It wasn’t just the honeymoon phase ending, either—the fact that I still haven’t received a crash report from them, despite years of attempting to get one, tells me that they didn’t care about their customers.

Tesla didn’t care that me or my family almost died. They made zero effort to make sure I was all right, nor were they willing to stand by their product or give me any type of answer following such a traumatic event.

So when I see the throngs of people posting about the myriad of issues on their Cybertrucks, or watch the stainless steel monstrosities sticking out on the highway like a kid’s drawing come to life, I feel bad thinking that someone else bought into the hype and are going to be left dealing with something that may very well be the worst financial decision they’ve ever made in their entire lives.

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'You're gonna have to sue, man': Tesla ghosted me after my car crashed itself—I'm still waiting on an answer (2024)
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