Antiquated NHTSA guidelines force Tesla into another “recall” for OTA fix

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Credit: Tesla

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and its antiquated guidelines have forced Tesla into another recall notice for a problem that requires no visit to a Service Center as it will be fixed through a simple, and free, over-the-air (OTA) software update.

Since 1966 the NHTSA has been issuing recall notices for problems with vehicles, recalling more than 390 million during that time. When the guidelines were created every recall required a visit to a dealership for the problem to be fixed, something which could cost the automaker hundreds of millions, and in some cases billions of dollars.

As a result there is a significant negative connotation associated with the word “recall”, and whenever one is posted by the NHTSA due to an issue that doesn’t meet federal guidelines, it is covered by the mainstream media and viewed in a negative light.

But technology has changed a lot since 1966, and in the case of Tesla vehicles more often than not a recall means a simple OTA software update to correct the issue. Yet, the agency has not updated its guidelines and terminology to be more in sync with today’s technology, and forces automakers like Tesla to issue recalls for problems that require no service visit.

And that is the case with the latest notice posted by the NHTSA.

The recall notice concerns the 2021-2023 Model X in which these vehicles have an issue where the front passenger airbag may not deploy correctly in “low-speed collision events.”

Tesla says that during routine testing on October 18 it discovered that the “vehicle restraint system deployment logic did not operate as designed.”

The fix? A simple, free, OTA software update that “updates the calibration of the restraint control module to ensure that the front passenger airbag complies with FMVSS 208, Sections 21.4 and 23.4.”

Tesla Model 3 driving 60mph the wro...
Tesla Model 3 driving 60mph the wrong way down a highway

Tesla says that they are not aware of any crashes, injuries or deaths related to the issue, and that vehicles built as of November 15 already contain the update software. There was no mention of which software update will contain the fix for 29,348 vehicles covered under the notice that have already been delivered.

Hopefully there is a push to have the NHTSA update their guidelines to include more appropriate terms for problems that can be fixed through OTA update, something like “over-the-air recall.” Even Elon Musk himself has complained about it, calling the existing terminology “outdated & inaccurate.”

Despite this however, there have been no indications from the NHTSA that they are considering making any changes.

You can read the full recall notice below. Transport Canada has not issued the same recall notice at the time of publication.

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Founder and Editor-in-chief of Drive Tesla Canada | Darryn@DriveTeslaCanada.ca Have a Tesla tip? Email tips@driveteslacanada.ca, or DM us on Twitter @DriveTeslaca