Tesla Motors Bricking Controversy Really A Big Deal?

After its recent wave of good fortune and good press, Tesla Motors is said to be working furiously behind the scenes to stem the tide of what’s either a potentially devastating issue with their battery systems, or simply some very ticked off people. In a recent report on the website theunderstatement.com, writer Michael Degusta documented Tesla’s “bricking” problem with its Roadster model. Meanwhile, reports have surfaced calling into question whether Degusta is really the disinterested party he claims to be.

According to the story, bricking occurs when the vehicle’s battery becomes totally discharged. Once this happens, the car becomes completely inoperable – it won’t start, the wheels won’t turn and the battery cannot be recharged. The $109,000 sports car has become a very expensive brick.

image via Tesla Motors

Since the Roadster has vehicle subsystems that are always active, they are always draining the battery. It is possible, therefore, that if a Tesla is left unattended for long periods of time without being charged, that car could brick. In their Roadster owner’s manual, Tesla says that a fully charged roadster could take up to 11 weeks to fully discharge.

Degusta’s report claims that of the 2,500 Roadsters that Tesla has sold, five have bricked so far. He goes on to speculate that “almost certainly” the Model S sedan and “possibly” the Model X crossover SUV may suffer from the same battery malady.

The automaker was quick to issue a comment defending their brand. “All automobiles require some level of owner care,” they said in a statement. “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…. Tesla batteries can remain unplugged for weeks (even months), without reaching zero state of charge. All Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent SOC [state of charge].”

Around the time this statement came out word also arose that Degusta, the writer of the original piece in theunderstatement.com, may have something of a grudge to bear against Tesla. In the article, Degusta uses unnamed sources and claims impartiality, “No one has paid me to write this article,” he says. However, it was recently revealed that Degusta is business partners with a man named Max Drucker, who reportedly recently sent an email to Tesla CEO Elon Musk asking for help in repairing a Roadster (the one Degusta cites as his main example) said to have bricked under circumstances that are specifically warned about in the owner’s manual.

So is this a case of bricking electric cars that cost a lot of money and an EV maker that doesn’t care, or is it disgruntled individuals, or some combination there of? We will have to see.

Steve Duda lives in West Seattle, WA with three dogs and a lot of outdoor gear. A part-time fly fishing fishing guide and full-time writer, Steve’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, American Angler, Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Democracy Now! and many others.


  • Reply February 25, 2012

    Alex S

    From what I can tell, this seems like an open and shut case of car owner neglect toward their vehicle. Granted, for the sake of PR it would be a really good idea on Tesla’s part to take initiative here and develop a simple hardware (or software) emergency power shut off system that unplugs the battery from all devices once it reaches a very low level like 2%. This way it “bricks” itself intentionally to avoid actual permanent damage, thus allowing a Tesla dealership or technician to simply re-engage the battery instead of having to replace a dead one.

    • Reply February 28, 2012


       Totally agree.   Damaging bricking can be designed out and should be.

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