Older Tesla Model S Motor Might Fail If Driven In Rain

Elon Musk says Teslas can function like boats for a while, but this 2014 Tesla Model S failed when exposed to heavy rain with no flooding. Even worse, Tesla won’t honor the 8-year electric motor warranty on this now broken-down car. While Musk’s comment may be true (at least it […]

Elon Musk says Teslas can function like boats for a while, but this 2014 Tesla Model S failed when exposed to heavy rain with no flooding. Even worse, Tesla won’t honor the 8-year electric motor warranty on this now broken-down car.

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While Musk’s comment may be true (at least it seems to be for newer Teslas that we often see wading through very deep water without a problem), it seems the older Model S could have an issue that makes it susceptible to water intrusion into the electric motor. The end result is a car that doesn’t operate, which may or may not be worse than what we saw in the aftermath of when a Model X treaded through deep water.

Let’s take a step back though first. The Model S in this story is a 2014 Model Year car and the water it went through was nothing more than a heavy rainstorm. It did not go through standing water, nor did it attempt to float like a boat at any point in its 7-year life. The story told here is of normal driving, the same type most any car would experience. It’s just rain, nothing more.

This story comes to us via Howie, a Model S owner who reached out to InsideEVs to tell us of the problem his car is experiencing and to provide us with a word of warning for fellow Tesla owners.

In the words of Howie himself:

Hello, 

I’m reaching out with a story from my own personal experience dealing with my local Tesla service center, their refusal to honor my warranty after my car experienced water damage to the drive unit, and the potential dangers of driving a Model S through heavy rain. After posting in many forums and Facebook groups seeking advice, it seems I’m not the only person who has dealt with this issue and I believe it can serve as a helpful and informative article for your publication. Details of my story below: 

 

My 2014 Tesla Model S shut off completely while driving on September 7, 2021. I was on the Long Island Expressway at around 2pm when I felt a thud. The car became unresponsive and I was luckily able to glide off an exit without getting into an accident. 

 

After I had it towed to the nearest service center (Syosset, NY) and evaluated, it turned out the drive unit was water damaged and needed to be replaced. The car never went through deep water and it was never flooded, but the tech at the service center said even if I went through a small puddle at high speed it could have pushed water into the drive unit. I drove through heavy rain for about an hour on September 1, 2021 (a week prior to the car shutting down) but never went through deep water and the car handled the rain fine on that day. I drove it locally for a week after this event with no issue and it was garaged when not in use. 

 

After getting the news that the drive unit had water damage and explaining to the service center tech that I only drove it through the rain and it never flooded, I expected them to honor the 8 year drive unit warranty Tesla offers to replace it. This wasn’t the case. 

 

The warranty clearly states that they will not honor the warranty if the car is submerged in deep water or is flooded. It says nothing about driving through heavy rain or driving through a puddle at speed. The manager at the service center admitted there is no evidence of flooding or deep water submersion, but he will still not budging and is trying to charge me out of pocket $8,000 to replace the drive unit. 

 

After continuing to bug the service center, they are now saying that they will cover the wire harness under warranty, but not the drive unit (see message below), which is strange because they’re now admitting that they will cover this kind of damage under warranty, but are selecting the cheapest part of of the repair to cover. 

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So that’s the story and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even stated that the motor and battery units are sealed, so water intrusion shouldn’t occur, however, these seals may not be as robust as they should be over time. And if they wear out, then water can potentially get in.

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So, what’s the problem and why did the water get inside? Well, there’s evidence that this is not an isolated issue: 

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As Howie further details, there are Tesla motor repair specialists (one of whom he spoke to) who are well aware of this problem. As Howie explains:

There’s the issue of not honoring the warranty which is certainly not ok, but even more serious and potentially dangerous is the fact that they’re admitting that Tesla’s aren’t built to withstand driving through heavy rain. I spoke to a contact at a reputable third party Tesla repair shop who told me that there is a known issue with leaky seals around the speed sensor which allows moisture to enter the drive unit which can lead to catastrophic failures. He recommends that Tesla owners have their speed sensor checked if they have an older Model S just prior to the end of the warranty to get it worked on before then. 

The team at InsideEVs can confirm that the individual that Howie reached out to is considered one of the premier specialists when it comes to Tesla’s motors, battery packs, electronics and other parts specifically associated to Teslas.

Howie continues:

If this is a known issue, why isn’t Tesla notifying Model S owners of this? I would have happily brought my car in to make sure the seals weren’t leaking to prevent this from ever happening. Any car, especially a well-built electric car like the Tesla Model S, should be able to drive through heavy rain and not incur damage like this. I’m now afraid to drive my electric car through the rain again if there’s a chance of water getting into key components. 

So it’s a known problem and Tesla is even aware of this issue, yet doesn’t notify owners of potentially affected cars and even fails to honor its warranty on these motors. Here’s the warranty, per Tesla:

  • Warranty 
    • Page 4 of the Tesla Model S Warranty describes the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty. Specifically, it states that there is an eight (8) year, unlimited mileage warranty on both the battery pack as well as the drive unit, the latter of which is at issue here. The language of this section states that “The Model S lithium-ion battery (the “Battery”) and Drive Unit are extremely sophisticated powertrain components designed to withstand extreme driving conditions.” The Drive Unit in Mr. Keenan’s Model S failed as the result of driving through a heavy rainstorm, something most modern vehicles are capable of, and most would not consider to be “extreme conditions” as this warranty is attempting to convey. The warranty further goes on to state the limitations of this eight year warranty, specifically excluding intentional acts, a collision or accident, or the servicing or opening of the Drive Unit by non-Tesla personnel. As none of these conditions have occurred (unless you consider driving a car in the rain intentionally abusing the vehicle), the vehicle in question is still covered under this warranty and must be repaired pursuant to that warranty. Moreover, in the second to last paragraph of the Tesla Model S Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warrant, it explicitly states that “the Drive Unit is subject to the exclusions and limitations described in this New Vehicle Limited Warranty.” The remainder of the paragraph goes on to only talk about other damage done to the Battery alone, and not the Drive Unit. This is the only section of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty which mentions flooding or water damage being an exclusion, and the language specifically states the “Flooding of the Battery.” (Bullet Point number 3 in the 3rd Paragraph of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty). As this language clearly points to the battery, and not the Drive Unit, any flooding of the drive unit would not be excluded from a warranty repair. The other exclusions or limitations which apply to the Drive Unit, according to the language of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty would be those listed under the section titled “Warranty Limitations,” and are found on page 6 of the New Vehicle Limited Warranty. This section again states that it does not cover vehicle damage caused by “… flood or deep water.” Mr. Keenan has stated that he was simply driving in a heavy rainstorm and his vehicle has never been in a flood and that he never took the vehicle through any water accumulated on any road surface deeper than maybe 4 inches of water. As that is a depth that is not greater than the static ride height of the vehicle, it would be hard to convince the average reasonable person that this would be considered flooded or deep water. 

It’s time to get legal involved. Since Tesla failed to fix the problem under warranty, as outlined above, Howie really was left with no choice but to get his lawyer involved in the matter.

Howie says his lawyer communicated this message to Tesla:

Page 4 of the Tesla Model S Warranty describes the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty. Specifically, it states that there is an eight (8) year, unlimited mileage warranty on both the battery pack as well as the drive unit, the latter of which is at issue here.

The language of this section states that “The Model S lithium-ion battery (the “Battery”) and Drive Unit are extremely sophisticated powertrain components designed to withstand extreme driving conditions.” The Drive Unit in Mr. Keenan’s Model S failed as the result of driving through a heavy rainstorm, something most modern vehicles are capable of, and most would not consider to be “extreme conditions” as this warranty is attempting to convey.

The warranty further goes on to state the limitations of this eight year warranty, specifically excluding intentional acts, a collision or accident, or the servicing or opening of the Drive Unit by non-Tesla personnel. As none of these conditions have occurred (unless you consider driving a car in the rain intentionally abusing the vehicle), the vehicle in question is still covered under this warranty and must be repaired pursuant to that warranty. 

Moreover, in the second to last paragraph of the Tesla Model S Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warrant, it explicitly states that “the Drive Unit is subject to the exclusions and limitations described in this New Vehicle Limited Warranty.” The remainder of the paragraph goes on to only talk about other damage done to the Battery alone, and not the Drive Unit.

This is the only section of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty which mentions flooding or water damage being an exclusion, and the language specifically states the “Flooding of the Battery.” (Bullet Point number 3 in the 3rd Paragraph of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty). As this language clearly points to the battery, and not the Drive Unit, any flooding of the drive unit would not be excluded from a warranty repair.

The other exclusions or limitations which apply to the Drive Unit, according to the language of the Battery and Drive Unit Limited Warranty would be those listed under the section titled “Warranty Limitations,” and are found on page 6 of the New Vehicle Limited Warranty. This section again states that it does not cover vehicle damage caused by “… flood or deep water.”

Mr. Keenan has stated that he was simply driving in a heavy rainstorm and his vehicle has never been in a flood and that he never took the vehicle through any water accumulated on any road surface deeper than maybe 4 inches of water. As that is a depth that is not greater than the static ride height of the vehicle, it would be hard to convince the average reasonable person that this would be considered flooded or deep water. 

***UPDATE: InsideEVs reached out directly to the Tesla service center referenced throughout this article. We are still waiting for a comment and will update this article if we receive one.

Of course, legal action could have been avoided had the service center been more responsive and taken care of the issue instead of denying the warranty claim. However, as Howie points out, the service center was of little help. In fact, this is the only response he received in regards to denial of warranty coverage from a service advisor:

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The service center woes don’t stop there though. Howie adds the following info in regards to his service from Tesla:

The service center gave me a loaner vehicle while my car was being looked at. The car is absolutely filthy and has large scratches on the front hood and a large hole on the back bumper. Additionally, the service center tech never sent a loaner agreement to my email, so I have no idea what the terms or rules are for the loaner.

The managers of the Syosset Service Center, George and Amanda, have refused to speak to me. I’ve only been in communication with the tech I worked with when I initially brought the car in on Sept. 7.

I asked twice (once in person and once over the phone) for pictures and in-depth write up of the damage and why they aren’t covering it under the warranty. I received nothing. I will be asking them for this a third time, as they didn’t address any of the key points in my lawyer’s demand letter or provided any additional information or context around the path of water intrusion.

Why share Howie’s story, you might ask? Well, for starters, some added attention might get Tesla to do the right thing and warrant this repair in full, but that’s not why Howie reached out to InsideEVs. He says there’s a far more important reason for sharing this by stating:

Current and potential Tesla owners should know about this widespread issue and I hope my experience can help someone down the road. 

So the moral of the story is that if you happen to own a Tesla (specifically an earlier Model S) then get it inspected prior to the end of your warranty coverage and make sure that the speed sensor and its associated hardware/seals are in good condition so that water intrusion into the motor and potential motor failure can hopefully be avoided.

https://insideevs.com/news/534878/tesla-models-motor-fail-rain/

Shaqil Heaton

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