Remember last week when we featured a teardown of the Ford Mustang Mach-E battery pack? One of the things noted was that it was less integrated than Tesla’s battery pack, more modular, and perhaps a bit less advanced-seeming. It did appear to have one huge advantage: repairability. Repairability is a big deal, and one that Tesla seems to be ignoring, at least in the case of this new Model 3 that had a problem with its battery pack. A problem that Tesla wanted a sphincter-straining $16,000 to fix, but which an independent shop managed for $700.
The whole story is told in this Rich Rebuilds video. The hapless Tesla Model 3 owner, a Radio City Music Hall engineer named Donald, drove over some road debris, which punctured the plastic front belly pan of the car and impacted a coolant line port to the battery, breaking it.
When the owner took the car, as he was supposed to, to an official Tesla repair center, he was told that to repair the coolant port, the entire battery pack would need to be replaced, for a gut-wrenching total of $16,000, close to half the entire cost of the car.
Here, just go ahead and watch:
Now, insurance might have covered this, but due to some confusion transferring insurance from one car to another, the owner didn’t have comprehensive on the car as intended, so insurance was no help.
And, honestly, even if he did have it covered, that’s not even the point; it’s still an incredibly wasteful and expensive procedure for a very minor bit of damage, and demonstrates a real engineering Achilles’ heel in battery pack design.
In the video we can see where whatever debris Donald ran over punctured the plastic pan under the car, a pan that’s more there for aero purposes than protection. It’s not a skid plate.
The owner’s Model 3 was a one-motor version, so it has its drivetrain at the rear, and there’s just an empty volume in front where the front drivetrain could be mounted. This is only relevant because it means there’s very little in that space for something to hit, which is good and bad. There’s fewer (NOTE: I had the word “less” here and was corrected by multiple emails so look, I get it but I still say usage dictates grammar) components that could be damaged, but what is there is very exposed.
In this case, what is under there is the front end of the battery pack, with its various coolant connections, including the coolant port/nipple thing that took the impact of that cruel debris.
Here’s the thing about this problem: it should be a trivial fix, by design, even. It’s in an exposed location directly over the road, it’s made of plastic, and has minimal protection. This is exactly the sort of part that should be replaceable, easily.
Of course, we’re talking about it at all because it’s very much not, at least not by Tesla technicians. Luckily for the owner, he was steered to Electrified Garage, who figured out a simple and robust fix.
In case you didn’t watch the video, I’ll spoil it for you: they cut off the broken port, filed everything down nice and neat, cut threads into the nipple and the hole into the coolant channels of the battery pack, and used one of those threaded plumbing coupling nipples (with sealant) to connect the bits together. Easy!
Very generously, there’s less than $10 worth of parts in this fix, but I think the extra $690 or whatever (including new coolant, etc.) is absolutely worth it for the expertise and experience to come up with this simple, straightforward solution.
Really, this is how this part should have been built in the first place, with an easily replaceable fitting so that if it gets damaged, it’s 20 minutes and $150 instead of the cost of a new Chevy Spark.
Personally, I would have slathered on a bunch of JB Weld and called it a day, but this is a much better fix.
This is hardly the only example of this sort of thing around, and as these cars age, it’s likely we’ll start seeing a lot more. Plastics can get brittle and crack, for example, and if every time a cracked fitting means a whole entire new battery pack, that’s a huge problem.
Ideally, Tesla should come up with retrofit ideas like these to help with the repairability of these packs. Even if there’s not a cost incentive for the company, if they really mean anything about helping to be more environmentally responsible, then not trashing a massive bit of hardware like a battery pack for a trivial repair should be important enough.
In a few years there will be many old, used Teslas and other EVs for sale on the market. They need to be repairable if we expect people to buy and use these cars. (It’s also in Tesla’s best interest to protect resale values.) Stupid shit like a cracked plastic nipple demanding a $16,000 repair just should not be tolerated.
Man, I sure typed “nipple” a lot just now.