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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Ski Trip in Tesla Model X Gone Wrong!

In February of 2022, we drove our 2016 Tesla Model X on a little ski trip and things didn't go as planned. I've waited a while to tell this story. I wanted to have some perspective and not just gripe about the things that went wrong. 

We've taken the Model X on many ski trips. Our vehicle has the cold weather package and pre-heating allows you to stay comfortable even after the vehicle sits in a cold parking lot all day. The winter tires were on; we were packed and ready for snow.

We'd rented a condo with friends for a few days at Collins Lake Resort in the little town of Government Camp, Oregon on Mt. Hood. 

One Cold Night 

On the way there we charged up in Sandy, Oregon and arrived with no problems. We unloaded, schlepped into our temporary abode, and looked forward to hitting the slopes the next morning. That night, an Arctic blast made its way into the Willamette Valley setting record low temps in the region.


It's ironic to be discussing the coldest night of the year while most of North America is currently in the middle of a heatwave. I guess we all need to get used to more weather extremes. 

As you can see in the image above, it got down to 2F (-17C) where we were staying. Unfortunately, the condo didn't have a garage, so our car was out in the cold (not plugged in) getting covered with snow. 

No problem. The battery was ~70% full and the car knows to keep its battery comfortable. The next morning, I opened the app, noting that we had not lost much range overnight. I turned on the car's pre-heat function, grabbed the ice scraper, and headed out to the car.


While pre-heating, I brushed the snow off and scraped the windows, then we loaded up the car with gear and passengers, and hit the road. From the pre-heating, the car was nice and warm as we headed to the ski area.

Things Go Bad

After about 20 minutes on the road, the front window started to fog. In response, as I've done hundreds of times before, I double-tapped the front defrost button. Why double-tap? The first tap turns on AC to defrost mode, whereas the second tap uses the heater to defrost. Since it was cold out, I wanted to use the heated defrost mode. 

The defroster set the heat to "HI" and that's when things went awry. Error tones and a string of alert messages popped up.

Tesla Error Code BMS_w035

Most disturbing among these was a message that read the "vehicle may not restart." At this point in the drive, we were nearly at the ski area. What am I supposed to do? Do I ignore it and hope for the best, perhaps stranding my family and myself on the mountain if it won't restart? Do I immediately turn around and head to the Tesla service station (~65 miles away) even though we've paid for 2 days of lift tickets and 2 more nights in the condo? Do I call roadside service or a tow truck?

We made it to the ski area and parked. I pulled out the app and made a service appointment. The app made it easy since one of the reason-for-service options was "recent alerts." I selected this option, selected the alert, and then was given several dates to pick from. The earliest was March 18th. That was 23 days later. 

Rather than call a tow truck, I decided to take my chances. Maybe the 12V was cold and the alerts would clear up. The alert text said, "Vehicle may not restart." Which means there's also a chance that the vehicle may restart. I was putting my hopes on that word may falling in my favor. So we hit the slopes and hoped for the best. It was a great day for skiing with light snow falling most of the day. However, for me, too much of my mental energy was worried about the car to actually enjoy the moment.

Luckily for us, when we got back to the car, it started. The error codes persisted, but we were not stranded. As we made our way back to the condo, the heat was not working and there was ice on the windshield wipers which made it difficult to see. I had pre-heated the car, but apparently whatever had gone wrong had taken the heating system down too. I pulled over and scraped the ice off the wipers and the windows so I could safely make the return trip.

For day 2 on the slopes, we left the Tesla at the condo. We were on this trip with friends and we were able to all squeeze into their car for the short trip to the ski area. Day 2 on the slopes was excellent. It was a bluebird ski day. There was fresh powder from the night before and the skies were clear and sunny. 

Our bluebird day on Mt Hood

We had an excellent day on the mountain and I didn't have to worry about a ride back. After day 2 of our ski fun was done, we had another night at the condo, and then it was time to head back to the real world. Leaving the condo, we packed up the Tesla Model X, all the while I was wondering if it would get us home. I performed a "two-button reboot" to see if the errors would clear up. They persisted, but (just as it had in the parking lot) it started up. 

Leaving The Mountain, Heading Home

Heading down the mountain, there was no regenerative braking. This significantly changed the feeling of driving. I'm not used to using the physical brakes for minor slow-down moments; single-pedal driving is one of the nice things about EVs and I had lost this feature. With regen disabled, it just felt weird -- it didn't feel like my car.

We made it to the Supercharger in Sandy, Oregon and plugged in. The supercharging session started out fine and then stopped with yet another error message. The battery was far from full. The in-car nav said we had just enough to make it home but I had to wonder if it was including the fact that regen was disabled in this calculation? To be safe, I assumed this edge case was not covered in the nav's range calculation and I didn't want to end up stranded just a few miles from home. So, I unplugged from the Supercharger, rebooted the car, and tried Supercharging again. Again it started charging. We finally had enough to safely make it home with a margin of safety. Just as I was getting out to unplug, we had another round of alerts.

Here are the error messages we received this time:

Tesla Error Codes: BMS_u008, BMS_w172

These were different codes, but the same gist (something's wrong, may not restart, get service). Despite these new error messages, the vehicle started and we were back on the road again. 

Service

We made it home. Despite the "reduced acceleration and top speed," we had no problems driving at freeway speeds or taking hills. A nerfed Tesla is still more than enough performance for typical driving. After pulling into the garage, I shifted into Park and I had no intention of driving it anywhere (other than to the service center). So our X sat in the garage with the snow and ice melting off the wheel wells and undercarriage, leaving clumps of the red lava rock (used to 'sand' the snowy roads) on my garage floor.

Twenty days later it was our turn at the service department.  Even though we had to wait, the nice thing was that service was able to pull the logs remotely and, based on the specific error codes, order the parts needed for the repair (+1 for connected cars/computer-on-wheels). About a week before my appointment, Tesla service contacted me and told me the parts had arrived and if any spots opened before my scheduled appointment, they'd try to get me in early.

Since the car was going in for service, I decided to have a few other little things taken care of while it was there. It was the end of ski season and I was certainly not taking the X back up to the mountain this season, so it was the time to swap back to all-season tires; the wiper blades were worn; and my 12V battery was still the (now well-aged) 2016 factory installed battery. The 12V battery had nothing to do with these errors (according to the service center), but I had just been reading accounts of similar age 12V batteries giving up the ghost, so I wanted to replace mine before it started causing problems.

Sadly, no early slots opened, but our turn finally arrived. I dropped off the car and Uber-ed home on the Tesla provided credits.

A couple days later, service contacted me. While doing the repair, they determined that the traction battery contactors had to be replaced. This portion of the repair was covered under the HV battery warranty (so no additional cost), but it meant that additional parts had to be ordered. They offered me a loaner, so I went in and picked up a white 2017 Model S.

Seventeen days later the additional parts arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief. Given the supply-chain troubles that are currently plaguing nearly every industry, this could have been a much longer wait time.

Just 3 days after this, I was informed that my repairs were done and I went in and picked up my car. The vehicle was still dirty with mountain road grime (I miss the days when service washed your car), but I was happy to have my ride back. 

How Much Did It Cost?

Here's the snippet of the receipt: 


High Voltage Battery Coolant Heater Repair Bill

June Update

Just when I thought it was all over. Months later, a new error message popped up. 

Tesla Alert THC_w0105 (yes, I need to clean that screen)

The coolant system was just refilled as part of the coolant heater replacement in March and now, ~3 months later, it's low🙹 This is not a system that usually gets topped off. I had a leak!

My immediate suspicion is that something was not tightened down during the coolant heater service or came loose after. I hoped this simply meant tightening it down, top-up, and done. I was not so lucky. 

This happened on a Sunday and I was able to get the car in on Wed at 4:30PM (much better than last time). I picked the car up at 3PM the next day. Good news, it was a quick fix; bad news, they had to replace the 3-way valve. They said this was the source of the leak and it had nothing to do with the work that was done in March. Hmmm. 

Nothing? Coincidences do happen. The part is/was ~6 years old (same as the coolant heater that failed). Maybe they were like the proverbial old couple, where when one passes, the other is only a few months behind.

On the other hand, maybe the wrenching and pressure testing related to the work in March caused a micro-fracture that grew into this leak. It's impossible to know, so what we're left with is a car that needs to be fixed and a service center that should be paid for parts and labor. The 3-way value was $55 and the final bill was $551.50. 

I preemptively had the 12V battery replaced when the car was there in March; I wish I would've had this part replaced too. The majority of the bill for this June service was for dealing with the vacuum-sealed coolant lines; something that was already being done in March. So it would've been trivial to change this part too. I would've paid closer to the $55 part cost rather than 10 times that amount. 


Wrapping Up

In total, from the day of the failure to fully repaired (pre-leak), it was 44 days and we paid about $1100. Adding the costs in June and the total is over $1600. This is part of the 'pain' of owning a vehicle that's no longer under warranty. I've owned this vehicle for five and a half years, prior to this failure, it has performed excellently. I hesitate to call this a "major failure" since I was able to drive home (and even Supercharge). All machines break down at some point. I'm just glad that we were not stranded when this failure occurred. Time to start saving for my 2025 Model X upgrade. 


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