are circulating claiming a Tesla Roadster design flaw can destroy the
battery pack, at a large cost to the owner. Tesla dismisses the
problem, saying they’ve designed in safeguards to prevent it from
night a blog post by blogger Michael DeGusta (reposted by Jalopnik)
went into great detail explaining how several Tesla Roadsters were made
into inoperable bricks after sitting idle for a few weeks. He even has
an unnamed Tesla service manager as proof, so the story must be true,
right? The Internet being what it is these days, Twitter is full of
links to various news articles and posts weighing in on the story.
To start with some basic facts, all cars will have problems develop
if they sit idle. In a gasoline car the various fluids can seize the
engine, at which point the engine replacement cost is expensive.
Batteries, in particular, run down, and can run down to where it would
damage the battery. Are we to be surprised that an electric car, if
left idle for awhile, would not see a problem develop?
By the way “Brick” is technoslang for a previously operable device
that’s now inoperable. An example usage is “I jailbroke my iPhone and
now it’s bricked”.
According to DeGusta, a Tesla Roadster that’s simply parked and left
unplugged will still drain the battery pack below a zero state of
charge, at which point the battery pack is destroyed. Further, the
Tesla warranty will not, according to DeGusta, cover this situation, and
battery pack replacement costs upwards of $40,000. The issue is
certain subsystems in the car are always “on” even if the car itself is
“off,” not unlike various gizmos in your house that still draw power
from the wall even if the gizmo is turned off. If the Tesla Roadster is
not plugged in, the power to run these always-on subsystems comes from
the battery pack and, according to DeGusta, there is no protection built
into the Roadster to prevent the battery pack from running all the way
down and getting damaged. Supposedly this has happened to at least five
Tesla Roadster owners, according to the unnamed Tesla service manager
who DeGusta consulted with for the story. He also tells us that Tesla
began remote monitoring of all Roadsters, and in at least one instance
saw a Roadster whose battery state-of-charge was dangerously low, and
being unable to contact the owner of that Roadster, turned on its GPS
locator and dispatched a service team to plug the car in.
Tesla Motors, for their part, released this statement:
All automobiles require some level of owner care. For
example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine
will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging
when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to
damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time. However,
Tesla avoids this problem in virtually all instances with numerous
counter-measures. Tesla batteries can remain unplugged for weeks (even
months), without reaching zero state of charge. Owners of Roadster 2.0
and all subsequent Tesla products can request that their vehicle alert
Tesla if SOC falls to a low level. All Tesla vehicles emit various
visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent
SOC. Tesla provides extensive maintenance recommendations as part of the
In other words, Tesla has confirmed it’s possible for the battery
pack to get damaged, but that they’ve designed in several safeguards.
If the problem afflicts Tesla Roadsters, then what about other
electric cars? Nissan issued this statement concerning the Nissan Leaf:
The Nissan LEAF battery pack will never discharge
completely, thanks to an advanced battery management system designed to
protect the battery from damage. One element of the battery management
system is a failsafe wall that stops the battery from reaching zero
state-of-charge, even after a period of unplugged storage.
Globally, there are more than 22,000 LEAFs on the road that have driven more than 30 million miles, without any incidents.
This sort of issue is well known in battery design. Namely that
lithium battery cells are easily damaged if their voltage falls below a
low-voltage-cutoff, that is if the battery pack is discharged too far.
Similarly, if the voltage goes above the high-voltage-cutoff, because it
gets overcharged. Battery pack designers know this, and install
battery management systems (BMS) in the battery pack. The role of the
BMS is to monitor the voltage and other characteristics of each cell,
control the charging process to ensure the cells are charged evenly and
are not overcharged, and to safeguard against over-discharge during use.
On some electric cars the BMS also operates a temperature control
system to heat the battery if it gets too cold, or cool it if it gets
too hot. Both Tesla and Nissan are describing behaviors of the BMS
installed in the Roadster and the Leaf.
To read between the lines of these two statements, Nissan designed
their battery management system to turn off the always-on subsystems if
the state-of-charge goes too low, while Tesla, unfortunately, did not,
though they did design in some safeguards and warnings.
Tesla’s warnings sound a lot like the behavior of, say, an iPhone.
That device pops up warning notices when the state-of-charge falls to 5%
and will eventually turn off the iPhone if it falls too low. The
problem here is that the Tesla Roadster, apparently, does not turn off
its always-on subsystems when the state-of-charge falls too low.
And, what about the Model S? Tesla’s FAQ has this to say:
If Model S is parked and not charging, will the battery lose its charge?
Loss of charge at rest is minimal. For example, Model S owners can park
at the airport for extended vacations without plugging in.
This leaves us uncertain whether the Model S has the same behavior as
the Roadster, or whether it contains a feature to shut off the
always-on systems if the state-of-charge falls too low. These battery
packs are expensive and the job of the BMS is to protect against an
expensive unnecessary replacement bill.
Is it good enough that Tesla Motors is remotely monitoring the
batteries of the cars they’ve sold, and calling those whose battery pack
charge falls too low telling them to plug their car in? Maybe Tesla
can handle this with the fleet of 2200 Roadsters, but what if their
Model S and Model X sales goes as expected and they have 10’s of
thousands of these cars on the road? Will they be able to scale this
process up to safeguard against 10’s of thousands of car owners who
might or might not understand the necessity of keeping their cars
Originally posted at TorqueNews: http://www.torquenews.com/1075/tesla-motors-downplays-risk-bricking-roadster
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