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Friday, January 15, 2021

Tesla Embedded Flash Upgrade (eMMC)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently sent a letter to Tesla saying it has determined that the screens are defective and pose a safety risk because they can cause backup cameras to go dark and defrosters to malfunction. This issue impacts about 159,000 Model S and X vehicles built between 2012 and 2018. 

The problem is not with the screen directly, rather it is with a small flash memory chip in the control unit for the screen. The system reads and writes to this memory often for many activities. As the chip begins to fail, these read and write operations often have to be repeated several times before they are successful and this causes the touchscreen to be slow, unresponsive, or to fail completely. 

Voluntary Recall Covered Most But Not All

Tesla is aware of the issue and sent the above letter to impacted vehicles in November of 2020. Tesla says they are fixing it at no cost and if you've already paid for it, you'll get a reimbursement. Great, problem solved, right? You might notice, in the second paragraph, that Tesla has some caveats. The first caveat is 8 years. Well, it's 2021 and the problem is only in vehicles in 2012-2018, so that's no problem. Tesla didn't make too many cars in 2012 compared to later years and 2012 vehicles have likely already had this done, so their owners are likely getting a refund. The second caveat, on the other hand, is 100k miles; that can be a problem. There are some road warriors out there that love to drive or drive a significant number of miles related to their employment. These folks could easily be over the 100k mark in a 2013+ vehicle.

Because Tesla's voluntary recall from November left out some customers that did nothing wrong, NHTSA is pressuring them to do the right thing and cover everyone. Repairing this only costs $120 in parts for the new flash chip. And, Tesla offers an upgrade to the entire media control unit (MCU). The newer MCU infotainment system allows owners to play more games and to watch Netflix. This means that some people that come in for this, might opt to upgrade for $2500. This means that Tesla could actually make money from this and customers would have a more capable vehicle.  

I don't know what percentage of these 159,000 owners fell into the over 100k miles and how many were (like me) under the 100k mark. 

When I had my 2016 Model X in for service they replace my flash for no cost to me but there were some things that I think you should be aware of if you take your Tesla in for the eMMC upgrade. 

Getting The eMMC Upgrade

As mentioned above, my 2016 Model X recently had the eMMC upgrade. The 8Gig flash was replaced with a 64Gig flash unit. A larger flash will mean that the reads and writes will be distributed over 8 times more space and each sector will have less wear and tear. This alone will improve the lifespan of the unit. Additionally, Tesla has made some software updates to be more selective about what they write to the unit. Hackers have monitored the traffic and found that they were writing a lot of unnecessary kernel debug information.

So happened when I received the upgrade? 

I asked if there was anything that I needed to know. They said, "No, the fob is on the dash and that the invoice will show up in your account soon." I hopped in my car for the drive home. Whoa, the first thing that I noticed was the nav was in bright day mode. I keep the display in the much cooler dark mode (as everyone should). And the map was in gaudy satellite mode. I quickly switched this to the much cleaner roadmap and dark mode. Okay, now that I look at the screen without being grossed out. I tapped nav to select home and it was no longer there. This is not surprising, they replaced a memory card, so I should expect the vehicle to 'forget' some things.

On the drive home I was on the freeway and attempted to turn on Autopilot. It refused to start. Ugh, it's a beta feature and you have to explicitly accept/enable it in the software controls before you can enable it. I had to drive myself the entire way - what is this the 19 hundreds, can you believe it!☺ It was five o'clock traffic and using AP really removes a lot of the traffic stress. I missed having it.

I finally made it home and now I knew there were a few more things they should have told me at the service center. It was time to take account of what needed to be restored. Here is the list of things that my vehicle 'forgot' and 'remembered' as part of this upgrade: 

Things it forgot:

  • Autopilot (had to acknowledge it's beta)
  • Its name
  • All driver profiles including Easy Entry and Curb View
  • Game scoreboard/progress
  • Garage door opening/closing (HomeLink)
  • Wifi settings/password
  • Screen mode: Night mode, satellite view/road view
  • App/mobile access setting ('Controls' and then 'Safety & Security')
  • Location Favorites
  • Recent Trips

Things it remembered:
  • Streaming favorites/stations
  • Binnacle settings

Seems odd that it remembered my streaming stations, but forgot driver profiles. 

I asked my service advisor why they did save and restore these settings. They said that they have a tool that attempts to read the old flash chip and then place those settings into the unit, but the old units are often too corrupt to read. I'm not sure I buy this explanation since the profiles, for example, were still working so this section of the old flash was still readable. Perhaps their tool is not as persistent as it should be or does not cool the flash to improve its readability... 

So, if you go in to get this upgrade, know that will likely lose all of your settings. If you happen to have a few restored, count yourself lucky, but at least you won't be disappointed if you lose them all if you come in with that expectation. 

Profile In The Cloud

Musk has said that they are working on a feature to move driver profiles into your cloud account. This would be a nice addition. It would allow you to hop into any Tesla (like a loaner) and automatically have the car know your seat/mirror/steering wheel settings as well as your favorite streaming services... This would be very handy and it would eliminate the above problem.

Disclosure: I'm long Tesla

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