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Tesla's Quality Control is in the Spotlight After a Model Y Glass Roof Detaches on a California Freeway

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【Summary】Picking up a brand new vehicle and driving it home from the dealer is generally an exciting day for new car owners, especially if its a brand new Tesla Model Y crossover. However, for one California family this experience was a bit unnerving, after the panoramic glass roof of their brand new Model Y suddenly became detached on a California freeway.

Eric Walz    Oct 05, 2020 2:00 PM PT
Tesla's Quality Control is in the Spotlight After a Model Y Glass Roof Detaches on a California Freeway
The Tesla Model Y's panoramic glass roof.

Picking up a brand new vehicle and driving it home from the dealer is generally an exciting day for new car owners, especially if its a brand new Tesla Model Y crossover. However, for one California family this experience was a bit traumatizing, when the panoramic glass roof of their brand new Model Y suddenly became detached on a California freeway.

Nathaniel Galicia Chien was traveling with his parents on Interstate 580 after the family picked up a brand new Tesla Model Y from a Dublin California dealership, the Verge reports.

Right away, they noticed some minor "fit and finish" problems, which have been plaguing Tesla vehicles for the past several years as the automaker has raced to ramp up production volumes. 

Once the family entered the freeway, Chein said he started to hear a lot of usual wind.

"I thought a window was open," Chien wrote in an email to The Verge, "but half a minute later the entire glass top of the roof just flew off in the wind."

Luckily, no one was injured by the heavy flying detached glass roof, which landed on the pavement behind them. Chien said his family notified the California Highway Patrol to let them know about the potential hazard on the interstate and then drove back to the dealership in Dublin in their brand new Model Y, which now resembled a convertible with the glass roof missing.

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The 2020 Tesla Model Y.

While minor non-safety related quality problems often associated with new vehicle models, few have been as serious as this. Most of the previous complaints from Tesla owners have been misaligned body panels with large gaps, water leaks, wind noise, and glitchy or non functioning electronics.

The panoramic glass roof of the Model Y is massive and heavy. It extends all the way to above the rest seats, so the incident in California is alarming.

Although its appears to be an isolated incident, these types of incidents pose a serious safety risk and can result in a forced recall by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Any such recall would surely affect Tesla's reputation, especially since its now the world's most valuable automaker.

The NHTSA issues vehicle safety standards and requires automakers to recall vehicles that have any safety-related defects. Complaints lodged by vehicle owners are added to a public NHTSA database.

If the agency receives similar reports from a number of people about the same issue, this could indicate that a safety-related defect may exist that would warrant the opening of an investigation.

Tesla was investigated by the NHTSA over malfunctioning screens in the Model S after just 11 drivers complained about them failing. The NHTSA announced its official investigation in June.

The June investigation was for 2012-2015 Model S sedans, according to the NHTSA. It cites premature failure of the media-control unit due to flash memory wear-out. The Tesla Model S sedan has been on sale since 2012.  

Failure of the center display screen in the Model S results in the loss of audio and visual touchscreen features, including infotainment and navigation. In addition, drivers lose function of the rear backup camera, the NHTSA said.

Fortunately the Model S touchscreen problem does not affect the vehicle-control systems, so drivers can simply stop at a safe location. Tesla's roof detachment however, is much more of a concern and shows that Tesla still has a long way to go to remedy its quality control problems.

Chien told the Verge that Tesla's service representatives said that "either the seal on the roof was faulty, or they somehow just forgot to seal the roof on entirely." 

"Luckily, I don't think anyone was hurt," Chien told the Verge, "and it's easy to laugh about it in hindsight, but this could be a serious problem if it happens again."

The dealer offered to service the Model Y for free and give the family a rental in the meantime, but the family declined. Chien said his parents are likely to buy a different vehicle altogether.

The Tesla Model Y was first unveiled in March 2019. Deliveries of the five-passenger crossover began in March of this year, just before the global pandemic hit.

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