Here’s a Close Look at a Brand New Tesla Model 3's Quality Issues

Screenshot: Engineering Explained (YouTube)

Tesla makes some great cars, but one area that the company has had some trouble over the years is in the area of fit and finish. The main culprits are typically poorly-fitting trim and body panels, and also paint blemishes. Jason Fenske, host of the excellent YouTube channel Engineering Explained, just bought a brand new Tesla Model 3. Here’s what he found.

Fenske’s new Model 3, which has only about 22 miles on its odometer, doesn’t seem to have much in the way of trim issues (at least, he doesn’t mention any), but the explainer-of-engineering does point out paint concerns, and finds that body panel gaps tend to show more variation from side to side than his Subaru Crosstrek’s do.

Fenske shows paint chips on the rear driver’s side door, as well as scratches on the rear driver’s side quarter panel and rear bumper. He also shows a dust speck under the car’s clear coat, and points out the paint’s “orange peel” (a textured, not entirely smooth look to the paint). On the positive side, Fenske does note that the right side of the car looks “quite good,” and mentions that Tesla has agreed to fix his paint problems and give him a loaner car.

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Then Fenske breaks out the calipers to measure body panel fitment, and compares what he finds with that of his Subaru Crosstrek. (He admits in the comments that his measurement method hovering a set of calipers over each gap isn’t quite exact). The Tesla’s hood-to-fender gap, for example is 4.4 millimeters on the driver’s side and 2.4 millimeters on the passenger’s side compared to the Crosstrek’s 3.8 millimeter measurement on the driver’s sides and 3.0 millimeter reading on the passenger’s side.

He then looks at perhaps the biggest panel gap on the Model 3: the one between the rear door and the rear quarter panel. That measured 6.8 millimeters on the driver’s side and 4.8 on the passenger’s side compared to 4.9 and 4.5 on the Crosstrek’s driver’s and passenger’s side, respectively.

Screenshot: Engineering Explained (YouTube)

He then measures along the character lines on both the Subi and Tesla, looking at the gap between the front fender and front door, the gap between the front and rear doors, and the gap between the rear door and the rear quarter panel. The results are shown above.

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Plus, he looks at the trunk gaps, finding 5.4 millimeters between the Tesla’s lid and the quarter panel on the driver’s side and four millimeters on the passenger’s side. This is a bit more variation than the one millimeter difference on the Subi, which measured 3.7 and 4.7 on the driver’s and passenger’s side, respectively.

What do all of these measurements mean, and how do they compare to more cars than just the Crosstrek? I honestly don’t know. But I did find a tiny bit of context in Bob Lutz’s book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, in which the former GM executive writes about the panel fitment standard that he pushed to change during his time at the company:

GM’s standard for body gaps was five millimeters with a variation of up to two. In practice, this means a trunk lid could have a three-millimeter gap on one side, a seven-millimeter gap on the other, and be declared “acceptable.” German cars routinely show four or five mm gaps, but with little or no variation.

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Based on this, it seems like, aside from the large rear door-to-rear quarter panel gap, Tesla’s gaps are either within spec of GM’s old standard, or slightly larger.

Does anyone really care? Maybe. As Lutz says in his book, it’s all about “perceptual quality,” saying:

Most people will tend to prefer a car on which everything fits perfectly, even though they can’t articulate why it looks good. 

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It’s worth mentioning that Tesla has told Jalopnik previously that the company has been making changes to the way it builds its body.

We also reached out to Tesla today, asking if the company had any response to this new video. A spokesperson reiterated that Tesla is committed to fixing any issues, and then pointed out Tesla’s return policy, which allows a buyer up to three days after delivery to decide whether to send the car back for a refund—that is, provided they haven’t test driven a Model 3.

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If they have done a “test or demo drive,” then they’ve got only one day from delivery to send the car back.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio