Steering failures are Tesla’s new federal safety worry

Steering failure is the latest in a string of safety investigations into Tesla EVs.

Tesla Model Y full electric crossover SUV on dsipaly at Brussels Expo on January 13, 2023 in Brussels, Belgium.
Enlarge / There's already one open federal safety probe into whether or not these steering wheels can detach. Now a new investigation concerns reports of steering failures.
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

Federal vehicle safety regulators are investigating a potential problem with the power steering in some Tesla electric vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Defects Investigation has opened a preliminary evaluation to determine if there's a problem with the power steering in model-year 2023 Tesla Models 3 and Y.

The investigation, sparked by a dozen customer complaints, is one of a number of open safety investigations into Tesla's EVs. Just this year NHTSA's ODI also opened probes into complaints of sudden unintended acceleration, and another is looking at the propensity for steering wheels to detach.

In this case, NHTSA received 12 complaints alleging steering failure in three Model 3s and nine Model Ys. Some complaints describe the steering suddenly and randomly locking in place; others relate power steering failures that required heavy effort to remain in control of the car.

"Upon putting the car into drive for the first time after finishing the software update, the power steering failed with a "power steering reduced" warning before the car could move. The steering wheel would not move without great effort. A power cycle cleared the issue," wrote a Model Y owner from East Montpellier, Vermont.

"Upon starting the vehicle, the steering wheel frequently locks or becomes exceedingly stiff, requiring significant physical effort to turn. Rebooting the system, [exiting] then re-entering the car can sometimes fix the issue temporarily to make it drivable for the current trip," wrote a Model Y owner from Staten Island, New York.

"Coming out of the shopping center, suddenly steering wheel did not steer. It was hard and saw the alert. Went to very close to opposite side of traffic and somehow made it to across the road inside the shopping center," wrote a Model Y owner from Alpharetta, Georgia.

"Today while driving and making a left turn, the steering wheel locked up while showing an error code UI_a020 stating steering assist is disabled. This vehicle has only been driven 575 miles. Vehicle steering gets locked, and once you get out and get back in, the car code disappears; however after driving a mile or 2 code reappears, and the steering gets very stiff, making it almost impossible to turn in either direction," wrote a Model 3 owner from Woodbridge, Virginia.

In some cases restarting the car solved the issue, but other cars had to be towed by Tesla for service. None of the complaints to NHTSA involve injuries, thankfully, but one Tesla Model 3 owner described how the "steering felt stuck and slid off the road which resulted in crashing into a tree."

Channel Ars Technica