NHTSA opens investigation into Model Y steering wheel detachment

It’s no yoke. The Tesla Model Y is being investigated for instances of steering wheels falling off while the vehicles were in motion.

Two recent reports made to the safety agency reported “complete detachment of the steering wheel from the steering column while driving,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. Based on that, the agency has opened an investigation as per documents filed last week and posted Wednesday.

So far, the federal government’s look at the issue remains a Preliminary Investigation, seeking to “assess the scope, frequency, and manufacturing processes associated with this condition.”

2023 Tesla Model Y - Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

2023 Tesla Model Y – Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

According to NHTSA, both affected cars so far were delivered without the retaining bolt that attaches the steering wheel to the steering column. It says that both of these vehicles received an end-of-line repair requiring removal and reinstallation of the steering wheel. 

No incidents or injuries were reported with the two instances the agency is aware of, but it’s looking at the possibility that there may be a wider group of potentially affected vehicles. It’s unclear whether these two cases include the ones that have been reported by Tesla owners publicly on social media.

Oddly, this isn’t the only vehicle in recent days subject to federal scrutiny over detaching steering wheels. Certain 2023 Nissan Ariya models are being recalled over a steering wheel bolt that “may have been tightened incorrectly or not installed.”

2023 Tesla Model Y - Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

2023 Tesla Model Y – Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

If this results in a recall, in which a specific affected lot can be seen as problematic, there will be a great many vehicles to inspect. Those inspections will have to be done in person, as this fix most definitely can’t be done over the air. Tesla was recently ordered by NHTSA to send over-the-air updates to vehicles with the Full Self-Driving Beta system for its “unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”

The Model Y is the top-selling EV in the world, as well as in the U.S., and even including gasoline models it’s one of the top-selling passenger vehicles in the world. CEO Elon Musk’s 2021 claim that the Model Y was on track to become the top-selling vehicle of any kind, regardless of fuel, no longer looks so far-fetched.

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