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Tesla’s largest recalls have been for minor issues that it could fix with software updates sent over the internet.
On May 3, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a recall of nearly 130,000 Tesla cars because of an overheating issue in some cars’ central information display screens.
The news reignited discussion about the automotive company’s history with recalls, including claims that anywhere between a quarter and a half of the cars Tesla has ever sold have been recalled. This year alone, people have made the claim in tweets with more than 60,000 likes at least three separate times.
Has Tesla recalled at least a quarter of the cars it has sold?
Yes, Tesla has recalled at least a quarter of the cars it has sold. Recalls can be for both major and minor issues, and many of Tesla’s recalls have been for minor issues fixed with automatic software updates.
WHAT WE FOUND
Get ready for some math.
According to Tesla’s press releases, the company has sold and delivered 2,280,552 cars between the start of 2016 and the end of March 2022, when the first quarter of 2022 ended. Tesla’s website doesn’t include press releases with car sales for every quarter prior to 2016, but the company sold cars at a much smaller scale than it does today. It launched its first car in 2008.
VERIFY reached out to Tesla to confirm the total number of cars it’s sold since the company started, but didn’t get a response by the time of publishing. Instead, we used publicly available statements and data to estimate the maximum number of cars the company has sold.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted in March 2020 that the company had produced its millionth car, which means it couldn’t have sold more than a million cars before the start of that year. From 2020 to the first quarter of 2022, company press releases show it sold under 1.75 million cars, which means it has sold no more than 2.75 million cars over the company’s lifetime.
Then, VERIFY looked at the total number of recalls the company has reported.
The company recalled 817,143 potentially affected cars in Feb. 2022 for an issue with some cars’ seat belt chimes, according to a National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA) report. That’s more than a quarter of the company’s lifetime car sales as of the first quarter of 2022.
Kelley Blue Book, a car buying guide, said Tesla responded to the issue by fixing it with a software update. That means it could be fixed at a car owner’s home without requiring any physical repairs. In the NHSTA report, Tesla said it was not aware of any injuries or fatalities related to the issue.
The next largest single recall of Tesla cars after the Feb. 2022 recall was an April 2022 recall of 594,717 cars for a feature that potentially obscured sounds meant to give nearby pedestrians advance warning of the car’s passing. The recall had some overlap in the models subject to the seat belt chime recall, and the number of cars that were affected by both recalls is unknown. That recall was similarly fixed with a software update.
Not every recall has been fixable via software update. In Jan. 2017, Tesla recalled 68,673 cars — although only 1% of those cars were estimated to have the defect — for an airbag that could explode. These airbags were also in other automakers’ cars. NHTSA estimated 67 million cars across all manufacturers were affected and had caused injury and death before they were recalled.
Tesla’s recalls have applied to more than 817,143 cars it issued the seat belt chime recall for. Many of its other recalls have included cars that were not subject to the seat belt chime recall, and a few of the smaller recalls exclusively include cars that were not a part of the seat belt chime recall. The exact number of cars Tesla has issued recalls for is unknown.
According to NHSTA data, Tesla has issued recalls for 3,218,870 cars since the company launched its first car in 2008 — 2,257,537 of which occurred in 2022 alone. But this number doesn’t refer to individual cars, only total recalls, and many cars have been subjected to more than one recall.
NHTSA data shows Tesla has issued the second most amount of recalls among automakers this year, trailing only Ford’s 3.1 million cars subject to recall. In 2021, recalls potentially affected 646,886 Tesla cars; in comparison, more than 7 million GM cars and 5 million Ford cars were subject to recall in 2021.
Anyone can check to see if their car has been subject to a recall by using the NHTSA’s safety issues and recalls page to search for their vehicle by its unique, 17-character VIN. This works for cars from any automaker.
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