Tesla steering problems attract regulator eyes for second time this year

First some steering wheels were falling off, now others allegedly won't steer

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened another investigation into steering issues in Tesla vehicles – the second such probe the agency has launched this year.

The NHTSA opened its latest investigation [PDF] after receiving 12 complaints from 2023 Tesla Model 3 and Y owners complaining of loss of steering control that frequently occurred along with an on-screen message alerting drivers that "power steering assist is reduced or disabled."

"Five reports indicate an inability to steer the vehicle. Seven additional reports cite loss of power steering resulting in increased effort to control the vehicle," the NHTSA said in its investigation document.

Along with 12 complaints, the NHTSA said the issue resulted in one accident, which appears to have affected a 2023 Model 3 owner in May. "Car steering felt stuck and slid off the road which resulted in crashing into a tree," the Model 3 owner reported. "Tesla features did not help stay in the lane or break in an emergency."

A look through the reports submitted by 2023 Model 3 and Model Y owners indicates repeated issues in which steering wheels on the models would lock up at random, both while driving and at a stop.

Multiple reports indicate the affected vehicles had been driven less than 1,000 miles, and several users mention having to reboot the vehicle's electronic systems to purge error messages and restore steering, which in some cases was only a temporary fix until the next failure. Several reports indicate that it took Tesla dealerships weeks to make repairs.

"I [had] my fiancée and two kids in their car seat when this thing happened and I'm glad we weren't [on] the freeway," one driver reported. "We love our Tesla but why and how [do] these things pass their quality checks?"

The 12 reports mentioned in the NHTSA investigation are far from the only ones that have been brought to the administration's attention. Since opening the investigation last Friday, 11 steering complaints from 2023 Model Y drivers have been made to the NHTSA, and five more Model 3 steering complaints were lodged. All of those were made yesterday, August 1.

It isn't immediately clear what's causing the issue. Tesla didn't respond to questions from The Register.

At least the wheel isn't falling off this time

This is the first steering complaint facing the 2023 Tesla Model 3, but not the Model Y, which the NHTSA has been investigating since March over a pair of reports that the steering wheels fell off of two low-mileage Musk-made electric SUVs.

That earlier issue was due to the absence of a retaining bolt meant to keep the wheel attached to the steering column, but which was missing from the two vehicles identified in the NHTSA's initial report.

Tesla recalled [PDF] affected Model Y vehicles in late May, saying the issue was caused by the retaining bolt not being properly torqued down. According to the recall, Tesla believed around 137 vehicles were affected.

Recall or not, the NHTSA tells us that the steering wheel bolt investigation is ongoing, as is its other big investigation into Tesla concerning the safety of its Autopilot system, which last year was upgraded to an engineering analysis.

The NHTSA began investigating Tesla's automated driver assist software in 2021 after a series of accidents involving stopped emergency vehicles and Teslas using Autopilot. The vast majority of accidents involving vehicles with level 2 advanced driver-assistance system software have involved Teslas.

The Autopilot investigation has already led to one recall of Tesla Full Self-Driving beta software in as many as 362,758 vehicles across Tesla's lineup, some dating back to 2016. ®

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