Another day, another Tesla recall. The company is no stranger to issuing broad fixes for previously-sold cars, a sort of automotive “fix it in post” mindset that’s led Elon Musk to butt heads with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But each one raises interesting questions about how exactly Tesla vehicles are designed and built, and this latest recall is no exception — a steering issue, triggered by bumpy roads, that can be fixed entirely with software. Huh?
Last week, Tesla issued a recall covering 40,168 Model S and Model X vehicles built between 2017 and 2020. The core issue is a niche but relatively simple one: potholes and bumpy roads that jerk the steering wheel from side to side can be interpreted by the car’s computer as “unexpected steering assist torque.” Seeing that, the computer seems to dial back its assistance — leaving drivers without functioning power steering. What’s odd about this issue, however, is that it stems from another Tesla update.
Back in September of this year, Tesla broadly released firmware update 2022.36. It included new ways to monitor energy usage, support for more languages, and the entire first Sonic the Hedgehog game. But this update is also, according to Tesla’s NHTSA filings, directly responsible for the power steering issues that Model S and X owners now face.
Another update has already been released, addressing the steering issue, but the core problem with this development method is apparent: “move fast and break things” doesn’t work quite as well when you risk breaking thousands of pounds of steel — and the human beings inside. Tesla operates like a tech startup, constantly trying to iterate and introduce new features without always waiting for those new additions to be fully vetted before release. That leaves owners stuck with an interesting question, every time they open their car door: “What new issue will I have today?”