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Tesla recalls 40k cars over patch that broke power steering

Frankly, it's the least of Musk's problems right now

Tesla has initiated a voluntary recall of more than 40,000 Model S and Model X vehicles thanks to a bad firmware update that could cause the cars to lose power steering "due to forces from external road dynamics," also known as bumps.

According to a recall report [PDF] filed with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla believes around 1 percent of the 40,168 affected vehicles have the bug, which it said only affects Model S and Model X vehicles manufactured between August 2017 and December 2020 (which includes model year 21).

Those vehicles, when updated to firmware release 2022.36, got new calibration data for their electronic power assist steering (EPAS) system. The offending software rolled out on October 11 and was intended to update the EPAS system "to better detect unexpected steering assist torque," instead of doing the exact opposite. 

Per Tesla's own investigations as reported to the NHTSA, the software caused at least 314 vehicles to misclassify bumps and potholes as unexpected torque on the EPAS system, leading to "reduced or lost power steering assist," Tesla said in its NHTSA report.

As anyone who has driven without power steering knows, its absence doesn't make a vehicle undrivable, but it does make it much more difficult, which Tesla said is the big risk from leaving the firmware unpatched. "Reduced or lost power steering assist does not affect steering control, but could require greater steering effort from the driver, particularly at low speeds," Tesla said. 

The Musk-owned automaker deployed firmware version 2022.36.5 to revert the calibration values on October 19, and hasn't been made aware of any injuries or deaths caused by the issue. As of November 1, over 97 percent of affected vehicles have installed the necessary firmware update, Tesla said, but added that it still intends to mail notification letters to affected owners. 

Along with this power steering recall, Tesla has faced a few other NHTSA actions this year. In February the company was forced to recall 578,607 Model S, X and Y vehicles due to potential misuse of the vehicle's "Boombox" feature that allows Tesla owners to play custom sounds on the outside of the car. The NHTSA forced Tesla to issue a software update that disabled the feature.

Another recall this past September saw Tesla recalling more than one million vehicles because, despite the fact that it's been a common safety feature for decades, the windows on affected vehicles weren't properly calibrated to stop and reverse when a limb was inserted. 

Tesla even had issues with its $1,900 made-for-kids Cyberquad mini, which was recalled last month due to safety concerns and a lack of compliance with Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. 

Thankfully, Tesla can rest assured that, when it comes to Musk-owned companies, at least the wheels aren't falling off at Tesla – yet. ®

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