US Authorities Urges Tesla to Recall 158,000 Automobiles Over Security Fears – Watts Up With That?

US Government Urges Tesla to Recall 158,000 Vehicles Over Safety Fears – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

An alleged computer hardware design defect in 158,000 Tesla Model S & X vehicles will cause important systems such as windshield de-fogging, turn signals, and the rear view cameras to malfunction after five to six years, according to the US Department of Transport.

Watchdog urges Tesla to recall 158,000 Model S, X cars to fix knackered NAND flash that borks safety features

Firmware updates aren’t enough to tackle worn-out memory

Katyanna Quach Thu 14 Jan 2021 // 23:40 UTC

The US Department of Transport has recommended Tesla recall 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles after an investigation found worn-out NAND flash memory can cause the cars’ rearview cameras to fail.

The dept’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a probe into Tesla’s failing digital storage in June. In November, it concluded Model S and Model X vehicles built between 2012 and 2018, are at risk of several issues, ranging from the rearview cameras blacking out and an inability to defog windshields, as well as the loss of turn signal chimes and other audio alerts.

The problems all stem from the hardware that powers the car’s infotainment system, also known as the media control unit (MCU): it includes an Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-chip with 8GB of eMMC NAND storage. Over the course of five or six years, according to the NHTSA, this consumer-grade flash reaches its program-erase cycle limit. They will be unable to reliably store data, and this renders some of the car’s functions inoperable when the MCU fails.

“ODI has tentatively concluded that the failure of the media control unit (MCU) constitutes a defect related to motor vehicle safety,” the office’s director said in a letter addressed to the electric car maker’s legal department.

“Accordingly, ODI requests that Tesla initiate a recall to notify all owners, purchasers, and dealers of the subject vehicles of this safety defect and provide a remedy, in accordance with the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. §§ 30118-30120.”

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The US Department of Transport investigation was triggered by 16,000 consumer requests for service from people experiencing the problems described, so this seems to be more than a hypothetical problem.

Flash memory retains its data even when the power is switched off, but there is a limit to how many times that data can be changed. The alleged problem occurred because Tesla apparently opted to use cheap consumer grade flash memory, instead of more expensive but more durable alternatives.

Although Tesla is not legally obliged to action the US Department of Transport’s recall request, there will likely be a lot of pressure on Tesla to comply. I cannot imagine tort lawyers ignoring this recall recommendation, if someone gets hurt because of a safety failure.

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