While Tesla Motors has avoided opening up traditional dealerships, another side of being an automaker is starting to haunt the company: servicing its vehicles.
Automotive News interviewed Tesla Model S and Model X owners who’ve been frustrated with the wait time and problems arising after requesting service and repair work on their all-electric vehicles. Owners are complaining about long waits to schedule service appointments, which can mean routine service work to more urgent fixes such as faulty door latches and suspicious engine noises.
Ethan Shapiro, who lives in Miami, bought a Model S in January 2013, which he sold to buy a Model X. Needing service in the early days used to be taken care of immediately, but now that the company has grown, getting service done has become a problem, he said.
Shapiro needed to have a window fixed on his Model X since it wouldn’t close properly. He found out that his local service center wouldn’t have an available appointment until 10 days later.
“That’s a long time for a $130,000 car,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro had previously waited a week to get a door latch fixed. It was a hassle for him to drive an hour away to the closest service center in Dania Beach, Fla. The company has notified Shapiro that a center is opening closer to his home in Miami, but Shapiro said he has yet to receive more details.
Denver-based customer, Chris Terry, has had an even longer wait time. He had a cracked windshield on his Model S, and was told in August that it would take five weeks before the service center could repair it. He was advised to take his car to Safelite, which ended up during the service process breaking the rearview mirror and cracking the windshield in another area. Tesla replaced the mirror and Safelite agreed to fix the windshield for free, but Terry is still waiting on the glass repair due to a shortage in parts needed in his vehicle.
While his delays have been with “low-priority issues,” other Tesla drivers have told him that “long delays in scheduling aren’t any better when you do have a high-priority problem,” Terry said.
Tesla currently operates 61 service centers in 24 states. Ten additional sites are listed as “coming soon” on its website. In an Oct. 26 earnings statement, the company reported opening 17 service centers in the third quarter.
Tesla is already falling behind in service as it gets ready to roll out a lot more vehicles. The company is on track to deliver 50,000 new cars in the second half of this years, and is ramping up to produce 500,000 cars annually starting in 2018 after the Model 3 rolls out.
“Tesla’s position is that their cars are so advanced, they want to have strict control over the work being done on them,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. As the automaker continues to expand, “they’re going to have a much bigger challenge maintaining an adequate network to handle consumers.”
Tesla did not respond to Automotive News’ request for comment.
Tesla will need to determine whether it will have enough qualified technicians next year or if it will be open to allowing independent service centers to work on its cars, Brauer said.
Early owners haven’t been relying solely on their Model S or Model X for transportation, Brauer said. They’ve also been more forgiving about it.
“I’m not alone when I say many Tesla owners go into ownership eyes wide open, knowing they are part of this experience of the first breakthrough electric vehicles,” said Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive, an investment advisory firm.
Terry, who has gone through waiting periods to have a noisy engine checked out, said his experiences haven’t affected his positive view of Tesla. However, he has hesitated to recommend the brand to customers expecting service on par with high-volume manufacturers.
“I completely love it,” Terry said. “But the length of time it takes to get a service appointment makes me less preemptive about recommending it to people.”