Illustration for article titled Teslas Removal Of Features On Used Cars Appears To Be In Violation Of Its Own Rules

Last month we reported about Tesla’s occasional practice of removing features like Autopilot and Ludicrous mode from used cars after they’d been purchased by people who bought the cars with those features enabled. While Tesla eventually restored the removed features to the subject of the original story, I’ve been in touch with a number of people with similar stories, and, perhaps even more importantly, with Tesla employees who have confirmed that often Tesla’s actions have been directly counter to the company’s own policies, at least as understood by Service Techs and help center workers.

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It’s also worth mentioning that, while I have spoken with Tesla employees at call centers and seen correspondence from service techs about this issue, Tesla corporate has so far not responded to any of my inquiries, not from the previous story, and not from this one.

At the moment, my email inbox with requests for comment from Tesla looks like this:

Illustration for article titled Teslas Removal Of Features On Used Cars Appears To Be In Violation Of Its Own Rules
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I don’t know if this is because of a new corporate policy to not engage with media or, maybe, just not to engage with me, but as a result as of this writing I have not received any official statements from Tesla regarding this matter.

To recap for those of you who did not read the earlier article, here’s the basics you need to know: There have been reported cases of people who have bought pre-owned Teslas with certain expensive features—Autopilot and/or Ludicrous mode being the most common—and have found that later, after they had already bought the car, Tesla performed “audits” on the cars and removed features that Tesla did not feel the customer had a right to own, suggesting that they did not pay for those optional features.

This, of course, is counter to how used cars have always been sold. If the feature is present and active on a car when sold, it can be expected that the feature is part of the car, unless otherwise and specifically stated.

Think of it like, say, cruise control. If it’s on a the 2018 Kia Soul you just bought, Kia can’t send technicians two months later to remove it from the car in your driveway. That’s theft.

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In the case of Alec, who was the focus of the previous article, Tesla told him, after he had purchased a car with the misleadingly-named Full Self Driving (FSD) installed on it:

We looked back at your purchase history and unfortunately Full-Self Driving was not a feature that you had paid for. We apologize for the confusion. If you are still interested in having those additional features we can begin the process to purchase the upgrade.

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Again, FSD was installed and active on the car, and was not removed until after the car had been sold.

Tesla did eventually restore the features after the article posted, citing “a miscommunication,” but Alec was not the only one this happened to and other customers with similar issues have reached out to us.

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The situations described are similar to Alec’s in many cases, and point to a philosophy on Tesla’s part that believes that certain features, like Ludicrous Mode and Autopilot and FSD, are things that would need to be re-purchased every time the car changes hands, at considerable cost.

One Tesla owner who reached out, Brett, bought a 2018 Tesla Model X P100D from a Tesla dealership in March 2019. Because the car was a showroom vehicle and the previous year’s model, he got it at a bit of a discount, and the car was equipped with Ludicrous Mode (he confirms it was available as an option in the menu), which was further evidenced by the badging on the car, which featured an underlined P100D badge, which is normally used to indicate a car equipped with Ludicrous Mode from the factory.

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Brett added FSD to the car for $5,000 extra, though there were issues with Tesla’s systems knowing he had paid for that option. In the process of confirming he had indeed paid for FSD, Tesla decided he didn’t really pay for Ludicrous Mode (which was originally a $20,000 option) and removed Ludicrous Mode from his car.

When Brett complained, this was the response he received from the Tesla employee on his case:

We have reviewed your situation extensively and while we understand that this misconfiguration may have caused confusion, it would not be fair to those who have paid for Ludicrous Mode to make an exception.

We are happy to help you purchase the upgrade, or you’re welcome to use your vehicle with Insane Mode.

I’m sorry this wasn’t the resolution you were hoping for, but I appreciate you bringing your concerns to our attention and thank you for helping to transition the world to sustainable energy.

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This is a very similar situation to what Alec had experienced in the previous story, and virtually identical to the situation experienced by another used Tesla Model X owner who reached out to us:

I sell dozens of Teslas a year, and sold my father in law a Model X P90D with ludicrous speed package. 60 days after the purchase of the car, Tesla removed his ludicrous speed package. Upon complaints to them they said he never paid for it. We have video evidence and multiple pictures of the vehicle with it. They even removed the line under the P90D. I am still shocked at these acts.

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Based on these reports and others, it certainly seems that Tesla feels that options like Autopilot and FSD and Ludicrous Mode are tied to the owner of the car that paid for them, not the car itself—again, a way of thinking completely different than how used car sales have ever been understood to be, and not at all well documented by Tesla.

I reached out to Tesla for some clarification, but received no responses back. So, I decided to reach out not to its press relations or PR departments, but to just ask the people on the ground, the people who actually have to deal with this sort of thing.

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I called Tesla’s customer support line at its call center in Draper, Utah. I spoke with two different representatives, and asked each if a feature that was on and available on a used Tesla—I used Ludicrous Mode as an example for one and Autopilot as an example for the other—was a feature that would stay with the car, or if the feature would need to be re-purchased by the next owner.

Both representatives assured me that the features are connected to the car’s VIN, and remained with the car for “the life of the car.” I had them clarify that these features were not subscriptions and were more like installing features in any car, which they confirmed.

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I wanted to hear from a Tesla Service Tech as well, right from a Tesla-owned dealership, and I was able to do so when another Tesla owner, Michele, reached out to tell me about issues she had with her purchased-new Model 3, and specifically getting her Autopilot system purchase registered with Tesla’s systems.

I asked her to email her local Tesla dealer (this one was in Santa Barbara) and find out exactly if those features she paid for could be sold with her car if she decided to sell it, and this was the response she got (emphasis mine):

Good Morning Michele,It looks like Tesla did a full-fleet audit of Autopilot which cause this on your vehicle since it was purchased through the service center and not online or the mobile app. Autopilot once purchased stays with the life of the vehicle.

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So, we’ve got two very different stories coming from Tesla. On the one side we have what has been actually happening to buyers of used cars. On the other we have the responses I got from call center representatives and an official dealer service advisor are very clear that any feature that was ordered with the car, be it FSD or Autopilot or Ludicrous Mode, stays with that car, keyed to that car’s VIN, for the life of the car.

This fits with how cars have been bought and sold for over a century: the original buyer of the car picks a set of factory-installed options, and if those options are on the car at the time of sale, unless specifically addressed otherwise, those options are considered intergral parts of the car that is being sold.

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That means that whatever price was agreed upon for the car is expected to include those options, and if the automaker decides to remove any of those features post-sale, that’s theft.

Again, this is in opposition to what we’ve seen in the examples sent to us directly and appearing in various forums online—Tesla has treated add-on features like FSD and Ludicrous mode as being non-transferable when the car is sold—such as in the cases mentioned here of Alec, Brad, and the used car dealer who bought a Model X for his father.

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These both can’t be right. The way that makes the most sense and seems the most fair is to treat these features as any car features like air conditioning or heated seats have been treated. They’re part of the car. When you sell the car, they go with it. Period.

If Tesla does not want to employ this method, it needs to make that absolutely clear to potential buyers of used and new Teslas alike. If you’re buying a used Tesla, the features that need to be re-purchased should not be available on the car when it’s being sold, and if you’re buying a new Tesla, the customer has a right to know they cannot count on those expensive features being part of the car to maintain its resale value.

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If Tesla wants to make Autopilot and Ludicrous mode a subscription-type service, then it needs to own up to it and accept its lumps for deciding to do something so craven and greedy. We don’t have to like it, but we’d have to accept it if they made it obvious this was how it worked.

As things are now, it’s confusion. Customers are told one thing very clearly and simply from service centers and help lines—features stay with the car for life—but some customers, without any clear pattern, are told the opposite, in what feels like a brazen attempt to extract thousands of dollars for the company from every Tesla sold used.

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I’ve given Tesla plenty of chances to set the record straight here, and if it somehow decides to finally reach out, I’m happy to present its side here, and hopefully bring some clarity to this mess.

As it stands now, though, I’d encourage every Tesla potential buyer, new or used, to get everything clarified and in writing when it comes to your expensive options.

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Good luck.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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