Tesla, Crap Customer Service And Australian Consumer Law

Tesla electric vehicle customer support - Model S

A two year old, $150,000 Tesla has a failed headlight. Tesla are refusing warranty, and want more than $4,000 to replace it.

Tesla’s notorious customer support is on display again, with a Model S owner offered a repair bill of $4,000 for a headlamp that failed a little over two years after purchase.

Our story starts, as it so often does, with the owner going public on Facebook. This is what appeared on the Tesla Owners Club page:

“Hey everyone – just an update on my last post. Tesla has given me a $4,145 quote to fix the dead LED daytime running light on my 2 year old Model S. Does anyone know how/what the procedure is to get this covered under the implied Australian Consumer Law Warranty? I have asked them about it and they’ve basically acted like they don’t know what that is. I asked to have this pushed up to management which they basically refused. The car was under 2 years old when the light failed and I told them about it. This doesn’t seem fair as it’s hardly of acceptable quality if the part fails within 24 months??”

We called the owner, who asked us not to share his name, and he confirmed the details of his Facebook post.

“We picked our Model S up late December 2017,” he said, “and the lamp failed in December 2019, it was less than two years old.”

The problem is that he’s driven the Model S a lot. In that two years, the owner has saved the planet a fair whack of petroleum-related emissions, since the vehicle has more than 100,000km on the clock.

The Tesla manufacturer’s warranty is just 80,000km, and that’s what the company is using as its “out”. The Model S owner told us the Tesla service rep told him:

“our warranty is 80,000km, that’s it.”

So for a failed headlight – a pretty straightforward item, he said, “this is just a simple LED reflection headlight”, he got the repair quote below.

Tesla Model S repair quote, headlamp

$4,000-plus for a headlamp. You read that right

We asked Tesla to comment on this in light of the statutory warranties that exist under the Australian Consumer Law, and our contact at Tesla said they wanted the customer’s name before they would discuss.

That’s a stonewalling tactic I’ve experienced before. We asked the customer if we could identify him to Tesla, and he quite appropriately declined. So SolarQuotes is at an impasse as far as getting comment from Tesla goes.

In any case, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is clear on the matter. The table below is reproduced from the ACCC’s guidelines document available here.

Extract from ACCC statutory vehicle warranty explainer

Extract from ACCC statutory warranty explainer

The statutory warranty overrides the vehicle manufacturer’s warranty, and “acceptable quality” also means a product has to have durability in line with the expectations of any “reasonable person”.

The owner also told us that the Tesla service rep he spoke to flatly refused to entertain the idea of escalating his complaint.

We’d say it’s time to book a VCAT hearing, then lodge an official complaint with Consumer Affairs Victoria since they’re the first contact for getting relief under the Australian Consumer Law statutory warranty obligations.

A Butt-Call Buys A Costly Upgrade

As it happens, another story was going around the traps last week.

As reported on The Next Web, Tesla’s smartphone app has what’s known in the industry as a “dark pattern” that let owner Nassim Nicholas Taleb buy more than $US4,000 of software upgrades (the Full Self Driving upgrade suite) by accident.

Taleb took the reasonable-enough approach of asking Tesla to reverse the purchase, and said his request was refused (if it had happened in Australia, under the ACL a company cannot refuse refunds just because the customer made a digital software purchase). So he took to Twitter:

That attracted the attention of Elon Musk, who offered a refund – but Taleb took the principled stand that a refund arranged by the CEO on behalf of a single customer merely because the customer has more than 440,000 Twitter followers isn’t how things should work.

Comment: Tesla’s auto customer service is flat-out notorious – as they say at the Tesla Motors Club Web page, “YATSS, Yet Another Tesla Service Story”.

It’s well past time Tesla got a grip on how to treat customers well. As the Model S owner told us, regardless of your commitment to low-emissions driving,

“Things like this are really putting us off putting our money there again”

– and he can’t be the only one.

In spite of its insanely-high market capitalisation, Tesla Motors shipped just 368,000 vehicles in 2019 (according to Motley Fool), comparable to VW’s growth in the US market alone in 2018-2019 (363,000 units according to this report).

Tesla’s presence and its investor popularity has dragged the rest of the motor vehicle industry along, forcing all the majors to either announce their EV plans, or ship electric vehicles sooner than they would otherwise have done. But now that’s happening, Elon Musk is going to find the market changing rapidly around him.

If Tesla expects to keep leading the pack, it needs to compete with auto-builders who have built their service networks over decades – fobbing people off, ignoring consumer law, and relying on the loyalty of fans won’t cut it.

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