I have no doubt that Mary Barra and other GM executives will experience some schadenfreude over this. GM cost itself a fortune very recently over the ignition switch recall, and at the time, Barra skirted direct accountability. I don’t think it’s going to happen this time, unless this is addressed soon.

Justice, the one step process, part 2

Wednesday, January 29, 2020: 7:20AM EST.

Justice is the one step process of telling the truth. Over and over again.

If any of you mistakenly believe that Tesla and/or Elon Musk is going to escape this situation, or that I’m doing this for my own edification, I’d suggest you get yourself straightened around and do it soon. Criminal justice is a process which, once initiated, cannot readily be stopped. I imagine I’ll give until 12N today on this, but I’m not giving any longer than that.

It’s a one step, iterative process. You simply keep telling the truth over and over again and eventually people will be forced to accept it for what it is.

It need not be convenient. It’s generally the furthest thing from expressly “convenient” except that it saves an immense amount of storage and dead end processing which would otherwise happen as a consequence of having to remember

and

What happened then.

To continue where I left off, then:

My car stopped functioning as it was billed on 12/16/19, with 3% charge displayed on the dash. This understandably upset me, as I was in the process of picking up a delivery for which I expected to be paid $179, and even more so because

the car stopped directly across the street from the Erwin Supercharger, which the car’s main system display showed as being 150 feet away.

This resulted in the below domino effect, as described in an email sent regarding the situation, which I notified service rep JW on 12/18/19 would be coming, and ultimately completed and delivered on 1/3/20, a Friday.

(I have compressed names to initials for the sake of privacy for the individuals concerned.)

[1/3/20]

Tesla service:

I’m writing regarding concerns I have about the repairs of my 2012 Tesla Model S P85. I have attempted to keep this brief, but as I see it, the situation doesn’t particularly call for a message in brief. It actually calls for a message in length — which I will undoubtedly have to deal with separately.

To be very clear about this, I will say at the outset I am NOT upset with either you, JL, or you, JW. I am frustrated with the Tesla service procedure and I believe I have good reason to be frustrated with it — despite what I consider impeccable professionalism from both of you. This, then, will be an email in two parts: the first will detail the repairs-specific concerns I have, and the second — inevitably a much longer piece — will detail issues I see with Tesla repair operational protocol, management, and philosophy.

I don’t expect — in fact I expressly do not want — either of you to bend let alone break the rules on my behalf. This to me is just an exercise is how will Tesla handle this type of situation as a matter of general practice?

To summarize the repair situation itself:

You will recall I had my P85 flatbed towed from here:

Erwin Supercharger

125 Victory Highway

Painted Post, NY 14870

to here:

Tesla Service Center

3300 West Henrietta Road

Rochester, NY 14623

A distance of 91 miles, after it could not successfully charge at the Supercharger there (subsequent to being moved by flatbed from the point across the street where it stopped, with 3% remaining charge listed on the dash.)

The situation leading up to it was as follows:

On Monday, 12/16/19, while approaching the exit to the Erwin Supercharger, the car entered a shutdown procedure at a reading of 3% on the dashboard. Consequently, regenerative braking was deactivated at approximately 70–72 miles per hour while coming down a slight downgrade just prior to the offramp. To put a finer point on it, having previously had the car stop with a reading of 2% remaining charge displayed on the dashboard, I had vowed not to allow it to drop as low as 2% and had adjusted my driving accordingly to arrive at the Supercharger with more than that much. In point of fact, it had just dropped from 4% to 3% in the previous mile — a fact which I’m sure the car itself will confirm. Unfortunately, on approach to the exit, two vehicles in the right lane — a large construction vehicle and a pickup truck, which was occluded by the construction vehicle as viewed from behind — made my choice to exit there a choice between decelerate significantly considering what’s behind you, decelerate precisely and split the difference between the two of them, and accelerate slightly to pass the pickup and make the exit.

Because of the positioning of the vehicles and because it’s a Tesla, that choice was not especially hard. I still did have 3–4% charge remaining and I was not more than a half mile from plugging in at a Supercharger at the time. Unfortunately, that modest bit of acceleration appears to have caused the vehicle to enter its shut down sequence.

It does bear mentioning that at the time of this incident, I was en route to pick up a parcel (a television set), had a perfect record of over 110 successful deliveries for the gig package service for which I work, and lost not merely the $179 gig value but also my perfect delivery record as a direct consequence of the vehicle shutting down. I say this simply by way of full disclosure.

While adjusting driving behavior is part and parcel with owning an electric vehicle, the effort required to ensure that a car remains within very close tolerances of what it will allow can sometimes be nontrivial. As a result, one question I quite understandably have at this point is how low is too low? What percentage of the vehicle’s battery do I actually have access to, considering that I clearly don’t have access to 97%?

No matter which perspective we look at this from, what it comes down to is questions about the main system battery.

I’m sure plenty of people register complaints about the performance of their system batteries — regardless of whether there is a genuine issue or not. This is one of the aspects of this situation I will deal with in a separate, significantly longer email: false positives and false negatives.

To continue:

I immediately called Tesla roadside service, and the reply, IIRC was simple: if the vehicle needs a jump, it’s $108. If it just needs a tow, $216. If it needs both a jump and a tow, $324.

Already knowing that I could [seemingly] just as easily call AAA, purchase a full year’s membership, and pay an additional premium for same day service, I did that instead. The total on that, from the outset, would be $75 for the year membership and then $80 for the same day service. Less than half as much if I needed ‘the works,’ and only $47 net (if I only needed a jump) for what would amount to 13 full months of coverage after this incident was over.

The AAA email receipt reads 1:35pm, Dec. 16, 2019. They dispatched a truck, and it arrived at 1:55PM. The driver did not initially know how to tow the vehicle, nor was I certain of how it should be done. I informed him that it was rear wheel drive, and that the back tires were not likely to roll freely. With some help from Tesla service, he proceeded to use skids and then to attach straps to the front axle. He then winched the vehicle onto the back of the truck, cracking the bottom half of the aftermarket front fascia in the process. I said nothing to him at the time about this. I was more concerned about getting the vehicle charged and back off the tow truck.

I instructed the driver to approach the Supercharger closely enough so that I could plug it in, and he complied. The charge port would not open, as the car had already entered sleep mode, and the driver neither had a functional jump box nor the expertise necessary to jump the car. I pried the charge port open, depressed the locking mechanism with a nail file, and plugged it in to no result. Several minutes later, after significant help from JL and other Tesla service personnel in general, and the arrival of a second truck which had both of the required tools (a 10mm socket wrench and a functional jump box), we had the air filter housing removed and the 12V attached to the functional jump box which the second truck brought.

The car still would not take a charge, but was obviously still on the flatbed. It was approximately 4:30pm by the time we collectively determined it would not take a charge; it had taken a full hour to move the car 150 feet to the charger, and then another 90–95 minutes to determine that it wouldn’t charge.

At that point, I considered further options, the most obvious of which was the much longer tow to Rochester [the nearest Tesla service center.] Discussing the matter with JL confirmed that as the best choice, and he seemed to say there was a reasonable chance of him still being at work if we arrived by around 6:30pm.

The first of the tow truck drivers could neither initially confirm nor deny the longer tow as a possibility. After multiple calls with his dispatch agent, he relayed to me that the additional bill to me was going to be $541. He also related that this was due to “three hours of extra labor and the per mile tow to Rochester” whereupon I confirmed his figure and instructed him to put the car down — which he refused to do without taking payment. For how much exactly I couldn’t determine, but it appeared to be the full three hours since his arrival. No explanation was offered as to what AAA would or would not cover.

I immediately called AAA, and asked them what it would require to activate my 100 mile towing option. The reply was that there was a one week waiting period on that option, but I could still have the car towed the additional distance for the AAA overage fee of approximately $3/mile. The rep said the total would be $297, if I recall correctly, and I said, “Done. Please bill me and call the dispatch service.” This, then, brought the total to-that-point response cost to $452, the lost wages to $179, and the lost time to 3.5 hours.

After several more minutes of delays, we left the Supercharger location in the tow truck, and the driver proceeded to stop for fifteen minutes to service another customer en route. Then we traveled to Bath, whereupon the drivers were switched, the new driver filled the vehicle with diesel, and we dispatched for Rochester, arriving at about 7:30pm with very little idea about how to get the car off OR where to put it. Notably, the towing company providing this service had been in the loop of communications the entire time, and knew or had reason to know both that:

[Note: The delays to the original response, and to our subsequent arrival in Rochester were 100% related to inexperienced towing personnel who a) didn’t know Tesla tow procedures, b) didn’t know their own procedures, and c) behaved somewhat less than professionally (up to the final driver, who handled the task of finishing the job as well as he might have been expected to.)]

Thankfully, JL was still at work when we finally arrived, again, around 7:30pm or thereabouts. He helped us to get the car off the flatbed — which was ultimately a bit of a hack involving a tow dolly, a jack, and another thirty or forty minutes. He also had the idea of attempting to charge on 240V, but unfortunately this was unsuccessful. At this point, the 12V was nearing complete failure, as evidenced by the willingness of the windows to go down when the door was opened, but not to go up afterwards. Knowing it was likely to snow that night, with temperatures hovering between about 30 and 40, I taped a piece of bubble wrap over the open driver’s side window and left the car there, the latter per JL’s instruction.

I can confirm that JL was at work until a minimum of 9pm that night, helping me. I know this because he walked me over to the coffee shop next door and the Lyft I called from that location was slightly after 9pm — I called it at 9:15pm and had her arrive at 9:17pm with a 2013 Infiniti QX56 for the approximate 35 mile ride home, which completed at 10:02pm that night.

The total bill, including the Lyft, was nearing $500 in addition to $179 in lost wages and a minimum of 8.5 hours of lost time, measured from the 1:30pm car failure to my 10pm arrival home. I mention this not because I anticipate reimbursement but because I am a Tesla advocate and I think it’s important to the company’s continued success to be capable of analyzing the situation thoroughly with the help of someone who isn’t interested in hitting the company with a metaphorical hammer.

I borrowed my mother’s 2015 Nissan Leaf and visited the Tesla location the following day, Tuesday. On arrival, I happened to notice JW opening the back garage door adjacent to my car and walked around to introduce myself, and to retrieve a couple things I’d forgotten from the car. JW was very nice, and appeared to be in the process of figuring out what was wrong with the P85. He texted me the following day requesting that I give him a call.

Up to this point, the only flaws I could see in Tesla’s operations were in:

That’s pretty much it. It’s hard to imagine why an organization as well-recognized and ubiquitous in service offerings as AAA does not have at its disposal information about who can or how to tow a Tesla. What isn’t particularly hard to imagine is why that is. After all, if Tesla regards $108 for a jumpstart and $216 for a tow to be fair market value then it must know something that other people do not. This latter group doesn’t any longer contain me, because I know $324 plus two to three hours is better to spend than $452 plus a cracked front fascia, three hours of uncertainty, and three more in transit. That part of this dissertation is expounded upon at length in the second portion of this message, which I will deal with later.

***

The repairs specific to my car:

A couple of exchanges over the following two or three days with JW seem to have followed roughly this sequence:

The vehicle’s log, as it was related to me on the phone, seemed to indicate that the DC to DC converter failure somehow led to the vehicle shutdown.

I’ll here stipulate that I relate the part just above to the best of my recollection. I don’t recall JW’s specific words, and I don’t consider any of this to be a fault in the general approach JW took in attempting to diagnose the situation. However, because I am the owner and have more information which JW didn’t have at the time he attempted to diagnose the car, I sincerely believe that what he told me — while it may be technically accurate — does not represent a correct diagnosis of the problem.

Here’s why:

This point is granted: The DC to DC converter failure probably did ultimately lead to a vehicle shutdown. Without the DC to DC converter charging the 12V, the 12V will eventually discharge completely, and at some point, the vehicle WILL shut down. Since the vehicle “knows” this, it undoubtedly shuts itself down prior to the 12V discharging completely (for safety reasons, if nothing else), which is what we saw. Parsing this same information out further leads to a subtly different explanation for the root cause, however, and this is not surprising because there are several different avenues by which a Tesla might shut down.

The log might well show that the car prepared to enter sleep mode and then did so because it “knew” the DC to DC converter had failed — which, roughly translated, means, “vehicle shutdown secondary to converter failure.” However, this doesn’t in any way explain why the DC to DC converter failed, and it also doesn’t explain why it happened to occur not only at a low SOC but also a low SOC very similar to a vehicle stoppage event which happened roughly one month previously.

In point of fact, because I am aware of the particulars of both incidents (the previous of which was also documented), it appears highly unlikely that the precipitating event in the 12/16 case was failure of the DC to DC converter. In fact, it’s quite literally impossible that the precipitating event was the failure of the DC to DC converter both times, which invariably leads us to the conclusion that converter failure was not likely the precipitant but merely a proxy between the root issue and the discharge of the 12V, which resulted in the vehicle stoppage.

What appears more likely is failure of the DC to DC converter as a consequence of the vehicle’s traction battery management procedure.

There are several reasons for this which must be taken in concert to arrive at the presumably more accurate explanation:

(1) General failure of the DC to DC converter — that is, “random” failure without a precipitating event for it — would undoubtedly occur at a correspondingly random SOC. i.e. if “too much wear” or “part got old” or, essentially anything other than low SOC were the full reason for its failure, it would more likely have occurred at a similarly random SOC rather than [both] a low SOC and an SOC within a percentage point of a previously documented general vehicle stoppage. Thus it appears that the part failure and the subsequent vehicle stoppage are correlated with the low state of charge, not merely “it just happens sometimes.”

(2) Since low state of charge sometimes but does not always result in vehicle stoppage and because it sometimes but does not always result in DC to DC converter failure, the question becomes what is it about low SOC which appears to sometimes cause failure of the DC to DC converter?

(3) Because I know that low SOC does not always result in vehicle shutdown — in point of fact I was able to drive the car approximately 1.5 miles while the SOC was already reading 0% in an emergency less than two months previous to either of these events, and I also know that low SOC will sometimes result in the vehicle stopping itself prior to achieving a SOC as low as 0% (I’ve seen this twice now) I correspondingly know that the vehicle has a means of guarding itself — specifically its battery — via some type of algorithm which does not involve the vehicle going all the way to 0%.

(4) because I know that the vehicle can — and sometimes will — stop itself prior to achieving a SOC as low as 0%, I correspondingly know that that procedure itself has a nonzero chance of causing the failure of the DC to DC converter. The vehicle is quite literally not allowing the user to remove significantly more charge from the main traction battery, and there is no way for me to know where it draws the line. Does it also intercept charge which is being transmitted from the traction battery to the 12V? If so, how does it do so — abruptly or not very abruptly? If it DOESN’T intercept charge transmitted from the main traction to the the 12V, then the 12V would — in an extreme situation — represent a method of essentially killing the main traction battery (via the cigarette lighter interface or USB ports, if nothing else.) This presumably means that the referenced battery safety procedure DOES in fact intercept charge to the DC to DC converter, which means that it would offer a much better explanation for the events in question than Tesla personnel have (innocuously) led on.

(5) because there is no firm documentation which warns customers never to use their vehicles in situations where the charge state is still above 0%, and because I know that the car can stop itself prior to achieving a SOC of 0% I correspondingly know that neither my vehicle (nor anyone else’s for that matter, considering the ubiquity of the OTA software) has what amounts to the full valid stated range.

(6) because I know that Tesla guarantees its battery and electric drivetrain beyond anything else, and because I know guarding itself from the financial repercussions of failed batteries is of tantamount importance to the company, I correspondingly know that a safety procedure such as the one I illustrated — which I know for a fact must exist — helps the company financially but clearly does NOT help a customer like me. Not especially because I had to discover it for myself without any hints or direct warnings.

(7) because I know that such a safety procedure also has [at the very least] a nonzero chance of causing DC to DC converter failure, I don’t consider myself to be conclusively responsible for the failure of the DC to DC converter — especially considering the fact that there is no available information which might serve to warn me that not only could this occur, but that it would be extremely pricey to fix. All of these things I was left to discover for myself.

In aggregate, these are the reasons why there is little chance I will consider myself ultimately responsible for the failure of the part at this point. Not only because it represents a component which is intimately linked to procedures which help ensure freedom from financial liability for the company, but because none of this is overtly disclosed anywhere and it was rather time consuming and expensive for me to discover it on my own.

Unless or until I see firm documentation which proves to me that the plausible sequence I just illustrated is not in fact the case, I will expect communication from the company to the effect that this component of what I experienced has been fully taken into consideration and will somehow be addressed not merely for me but for the others who have similarly experienced it.

Thank you for the long read, and for your time and consideration.

Brian Kent

The point above I would like to expound further upon, now six weeks later, is this one:

A couple of exchanges over the following two or three days with JW seem to have followed roughly this sequence:

After which the next post will describe what happened essentially immediately after I sent the above message detailing my concerns.

The process by which my car was diagnosed is very much in question here, as is whether I — in essence or in fact — authorized it to be done.

I didn’t initially doubt that JW attempted to charge the 12V battery, nor do I seriously doubt it now. However, I operate on proof and only on proof in cases where I have evidence which indicates that I’ve been lied to one or more times.

The following analysis includes some reasonable speculation, it is not an accusation as yet.

When a 12V battery fails, it’s generally possible to determine that it has done so without completely removing it from a vehicle. I think JW was able to determine that the 12V battery did in fact fail, and as a result he knew it would ultimately have to be replaced. Regardless of this fact, he never had authorization to replace it, and when that part was replaced without my authorization, it became forfeit immediately.

When it subsequently became obvious that the new 12V battery would not take a charge from the DC to DC converter, the DC to DC converter was also replaced similarly, and similarly became forfeit immediately.

It is easy to see that this is the most likely sequence which happened, because not only is it extremely difficult to move the car without both of those parts being functional, but the car was positioned parallel to the rear bay door of the service location versus perpendicular to it, which would have made it even more difficult to move.

Additionally, when the parts in question were replaced, my Tesla phone app was disconnected (and still hasn’t been reconnected.) This offers a time stamp of when the repairs began — again, without my authorization.

Thus when JW called me on 12/18/19 to inform me that he’d traced the problem to the DC to DC converter, it was likely subsequent to having already replaced that part. Since replacement of that part is a relatively common and somewhat trivial (albeit expensive) repair, and since it would have undoubtedly enabled JW to move the car more easily, it’s a fair guess that that is what occurred. Other than the lack of authorization, that was arguably fair play. What was not fair play was this:

Calling me on 12/18/19 to inform me that the DC to DC converter needed to be replaced under the tacit assumption that I would naturally accept it as something I wanted done.

That single assumption was made in what has now escalated into a provable violation of Federal law. Tesla Managing Counsel Ryan C. McCarthy, governing the situation remotely from Fremont, California, attempted to exert financial force on me to compel me to pay for repairs with parts I never authorized to be used on my vehicle, and also storage fees which were added to my bill in an apparent attempt to camouflage what actually happened.

All of this is expressly illegal.

Not only does the cooperation of these Tesla personnel represent Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, but it continued such that four separate Henrietta law enforcement personnel were obstructed from lawfully carrying out their respective duties when called to the service center on two separate occasions about the situation.

Additionally:

When I asked JW how much the replacement part cost, as I’ve elsewhere noted he paused and said, “$1600, new.” Being a week before Christmas, the news hit me hard. I Googled the replacement part and found one left — no doubt salvaged from another vehicle — for $600. I asked JW whether I could use that one instead, and he told me he’d have to check with JL, the service manager. We concluded that call, and I never heard from anyone until I reached out with the concerns specified above, on 1/3/20.

The invoices I subsequently received from Tesla uniformly specify a refurbished part, not a new one, in cases where they are itemized (I have been given five separate, substantively different invoices from the company.)

The fair market value of a refurbished part is less than half of the stated value, and though this fact might well be subject to legal debate, should Tesla find itself in position to do so, it will undoubtedly be because the organization is evincing a willingness to keep doubling down on its mistakes until a customer finally relents, which the customer in question this time refuses to do.

Not only can a refurbished part be obtained for $699 from a Tesla service competitor less than 550 miles from the location of the events in question, if the part which is allegedly broken is itself sent to a repair and return service, it can itself be used again for a total cost of about $300, and the service loop on it is reported to take only a week.

Thus not only has Tesla committed wire fraud, but it is also implicated in price gouging, unfair business practices, and undoubtedly at least one of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which is designed to protect investors by

“improving the accuracy and reliability of corporate disclosures made pursuant to the securities laws, and for other purposes.”

In short, Elon Musk, you bit off far more than you can chew this time, and so did the rest of you — who were friends of mine and fellow Tesla advocates — for overlooking this situation or otherwise attempting to scold me for bringing it up.

You really do have until noon Eastern Standard to call me, Elon. After that, this becomes fully your problem where up to now I’ve dealt with it almost entirely on my own.

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Brian Kent

I’m a sustainability advocate working to promote proliferation and understanding of electric vehicles and photovoltaic technology. Please send your questions!