Electric cars are supposed to be more reliable than internal combustion models. Certainly, they have a lot fewer moving parts and need a lot less lubrication.
Yet Tesla, like most corner auto dealerships, has made money selling extended service plans for annual maintenance on its cars, sometimes mandatory.
With hundreds of thousands more Teslas hitting the road, all those service visits—along with repair work—have reportedly backed up the company's service centers. Now the company has reportedly put an end to those extended service plans and is hoping instead to highlight electric cars' inherent reliability—and hopefully reduce the wait times at those service centers.
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In an earnings call in January, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said improving service is one of his main priorities for 2019. He later made another change to eliminate parts distribution centers and stock common Tesla repair parts, including some body-repair panels, at the service centers themselves.
Tesla hasn't revealed what percentage of its service-center visits are for annual maintenance versus repairs. The annual maintenance schedule covers things like the cabin air filter (or HEPA filter, in the case of cars that include Tesla's Bioweapons Defense Mode), replacement of air-conditioner desiccant, tire rotation and wheel alignment, and brake fluid tests every two years, since the hydraulic brakes don't get used as much in electric cars and the hygroscopic brake fluid (which attracts water) tends to sit still for too long in the brake lines where it can cause rust.
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Tesla recommended the service every year or 12,500 miles for the Model S and Model X and every two years or 25,000 miles for the Model 3.
Now Tesla tells owners: "Your Tesla does not require annual maintenance and regular fluid changes," and instead recommends only periodic, as-needed servicing of brake fluid, pads, and calipers, filters, and air conditioning.
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In independent reliability reports, such as those from Consumer Reports, electric car cars have proven to require vastly fewer repairs of critical systems such as their drivetrains—if not necessarily any better overall reliability based on body hardware and minor annoyances such as squeaks and rattles. These are the kinds of things that independent mechanics can mostly accomplish if they have access to the parts.
It remains to be seen whether eliminating annual service visits in favor of waiting for problems to crop up will improve or diminish either customer satisfaction or service-center wait times.
In the meantime, in Texas, which has banned Tesla from selling through stores in the state, the legislature has introduced a bill to ban the company from working on its cars at its service centers. So far, there's no indication how likely it is to pass.