It is one of the more remarkable features of the Tesla Model S electric luxury sedan: door handles that retract flush with the body until needed.

But the retracting door handles proved tricky in practice; owner of early Model S cars reported that quite a lot of them had to be replaced under warranty.

The problems seemed to have abated, but clearly they're not gone--as Consumer Reports recently learned.

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The well-known consumer magazine took delivery of a brand-new 2015 Tesla Model S P85D, only to find that the car's proximity sensors weren't recognizing the key fob and extending the door handles as a driver approached.

Jake Fisher, director of auto testing, notes the Number One complaint among the 1,300 Tesla Model S owners surveyed by Consumer Reports involves the exterior door handles.

2015 Tesla Model S P85D - 'Chiseled by man and nature' [photo: George Parrott]

2015 Tesla Model S P85D - 'Chiseled by man and nature' [photo: George Parrott]

UPDATE: In response to a reader comment, Green Car Reports reached out to Consumer Reports to get the precise data on the extent of Tesla door-handle problems uncovered in its survey.

Fisher responded: "Of the 1,278 2012-2014 Tesla Model S cars in our 2014 Survey, 31 were reported to have problems on locks and latches, and 11 were reported to have problems on doors.

"These are unusually high problem rates," he added. "The average problem rate for locks and latches is less than one-half of 1 percent for each of the model years 2012 through 2014."

The magazine was back on track one day later, after a visit by a Tesla technician who replaced the door handles.

That's standard Tesla service, Fisher emphasized, not any kind of special treatment for the magazine.

Green Car Reports' two Model S-owning writers, David Noland and George Parrott, have had varied door-handle experiences. Parrott reported no problems on either of the two Model S cars he's owned.

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"I had a number of door-handle problems in the early days," Noland writes, "but none since I had all four replaced with supposedly 'second-generation' handles six to eight months ago."

Green Car Reports reached out to Tesla Motors for more details on the recurring door-handle issues. Specifically, we asked the following questions:

Tesla Model S P85D, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Tesla Model S P85D, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

  • What is the cause of what are apparently continuing problems with the retracting door handles, starting with mid- to late 2012 production?
  • What changes has Tesla made in the design / components / assembly to date to address these problems?
  • What was the specific problem with the CR P85D that caused its door handles to malfunction--and how was it fixed?

A Tesla spokesperson responded with the following uninformative, boilerplate, non-answer:

Service is a top priority at Tesla. Our closed loop of communication between customers, service, and engineers enable us to receive feedback, proactively address issues, and send fixes quickly to our customers.

Model S’s connectivity paired with over-the-air software updates allow Tesla to diagnose and fix most problems in Model S without the owner ever coming in for service. In instances when hardware, like the door handle, need to be replaced, we strive to make it painless for a customer to get their Model S serviced.

Every fix is an opportunity for us to learn and apply towards making owning a Model S a great experience.

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For the record, there is an alternative way to get into a Tesla Model S if the doorhandles aren't doing what they should be, as noted in the owner's manual.

"The emergency entry procedure is to place the key fob (even if the fob battery is dead) at a certain spot at the base of the windshield," according to Noland.

"This is supposed to open the car."



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