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Model S nearly caught fire--should I be upset?

What do you think about this incident? Choose two.

  • 1a. Customer pays for repair

    Votes: 12 27.3%
  • 1b. Tesla pays for repair

    Votes: 17 38.6%
  • 2a. Safety vulnerability Tesla should take seriously

    Votes: 25 56.8%
  • 2b. Fluke issue / no cause for concern

    Votes: 8 18.2%
  • Other

    Votes: 2 4.5%

  • Total voters
I was driving my 2018 Model S in the city when I noticed a bad smell, like burning or something. I assumed it was one of the cars in front of me. The windows were down and the HVAC was off. I was venting / opening the sunroof as well during the short drive. About a mile or two later, the smell got worse. I looked over at the passenger side dashboard and saw gray smoke coming the dash area. Not from the vents, but from "all over". I quickly looked for a spot to pull over but was on a narrow road and the street parking was full. Knowing there was a fire station about about 20 seconds away, I sped to it and stopped in their parking lot.

I jumped out of the car and opened the doors, trunk, and frunk to vent the smoke and provide access to the car in the event the power went out. I also removed the plastic frunk cover to get to the fireman's loop. There were no traces of smoke in the frunk area. As I was running to alert the firemen, fully expecting a fire to appear at any moment, I looked back at the car and saw the smoke had slowed / stopped. There was a lot of smoke coming from the dash prior to stopping so it was an obvious change.

Not wanting the firemen to hack the car apart, and since the smoke had dissipated, I returned to the car and called Tesla 24/7 service. They suspected the 12v battery caused the smoke and recommended I tow the car 2 hours to the closest service center. I decided to research the issue before committing to that tow bill and an unknown repair timeline. I did not have any luck; no one else seemed to be reporting similar issues with their MS.

I returned a day later and inspected the car myself. I quickly identified the problem. The passenger side sunroof cable was snaked around inside the area behind the glove box. I could see melted insulation and components (A/C housing). The sunroof cable had shorted out on a large, exposed metal piece which was bolted to the body of the car below the sunroof cable motor.

I have no idea how the cable was able to work its way outside of the insulated housing. However, I suspect the only reason the short was broken was because I likely opened the sunroof when I opened the doors to vent the smoke (honestly don't remember either way).

Tesla stated they were unlikely to cover the cost of repairs because the warranty expired. I have no problem paying for a broken door handle or bad motor (after the 8 year warranty expires) but an issue like this that nearly started a fire does not seem like something I should be expected to cover. I'm just asking for them to look the car over, replace the cable, and implement a solution so this doesn't happen again. I'm not asking for every melted component to be replaced. Seems like Tesla would rather burn my goodwill than spend a couple hundred on a repair. Additionally, Tesla SC are the only people to touch this car. They did repair the sunroof gasket a couple years ago but I don't think that repair should impact the cable...who knows.

Should I be upset about this? I'm just thankful my two kids (who sit in car seats) weren't with me.

TL;DR -- The sunroof cable escaped its housing somehow, shorted out, and started melting components inside the dash. The car cabin started to fill with smoke but the short was broken and the damage stopped before a fire started.


Well-Known Member
Dec 8, 2007
Yes, you should be upset this happened, but that's a different question than if Tesla should pay for the repair.

If a recall happens, then Tesla would have to pay for it regardless of warranty status. If not, then your car being out of warranty means they are not obligated to pay for the fix even if it was a factory defect (that's the whole point of warranties, to pay for factory defects). However, if this a one-off thing, it's a long shot for a recall to happen.

You may be able to get them to pay for it goodwill, but anything that suggests that they would be obligated to pay they probably will push back on.
Thanks to google;

If the fire was caused by a defect in the vehicle, you could sue the manufacturer

Negligence is the failure to exercise due care (that degree of care that a reasonable manufacturer would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances) to produce a product that was not defective. In order to prove negligence, you will need to prove duty (of due care mentioned above), breach of duty (failure to exercise due care), actual cause, proximate cause, and damages. Actual cause means but for the defect would the car have started on fire? If the answer is no, actual cause has been established. Proximate cause means were there any unforeseeable, intervening events which would relieve the manufacturer of liability? If the answer is no, proximate cause has been established. Damages means the amount of compensation you are seeking in your lawsuit. Damages would be the cost of repair to the car. You will need to mitigate (minimize) damages or your damages will be reduced accordingly.

The seller (auto dealer) is liable for negligence even if the seller could not have known of the defect.

In addition to your cause of action (claim) of negligence against the manufacturer and seller, your lawsuit should include a separate cause of action (claim) for strict liability. Strict liability means the manufacturer and seller are liable whether or not due care was exercised.

When a product is defective, this can be either a manufacturing defect or a design defect. A manufacturing defect is an aberration. A design defect is one where the defective condition is due to the actual design of the product.

You will need to file your lawsuit for negligence and strict liability prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations or you will lose your rights forever in the matter.

Prior to filing your lawsuit, it may be possible to settle the case with the insurance carriers for the manufacturer and seller. If the case is settled, NO lawsuit is filed. If the case is NOT settled, proceed with your lawsuit. If you are dissatisfied with settlement offers from the insurance carriers, reject the settlement offers and file your lawsuit. If it is possible to settle with one of the parties, but not the other, then your lawsuit would only name the party with whom settlement has not been reached as a defendant. If the case is settled with the insurance carriers for both parties, NO lawsuit is filed. If the case is NOT settled with the insurance carriers for both parties, your lawsuit will name both parties as defendants.
Tesla looked at the car today. They suspect prior service on the vehicle related to the sunroof caused or allowed this incident to happen. Ultimately, it sounds like the sunroof cable was not routed correctly which caused the plastic sheath to separate from the sunroof motor allowing the short to occur. Despite the lapsed warranty, they said they would cover the repair cost. Just waiting on parts at this point.
I might be taking the unpopular opinion here but I don't think this is Tesla's responsibility to cover the cost. I think that it's not unreasonable to ask and as a gesture of goodwill, they could definitely do those repairs; but on the subject of responsibility, I don't think it's theirs.

A wire coming out of its housing is extremely unlikely, I don't know if it was most of the wire or if it was just a small part of it, but either way it's definitely somethings that's probably one in a million. This is why I think Tesla could do it out of goodwill, since it's uncommon and almost no one else would show up with that problem.

Now the reason I don't think they hold responsibility for this is because the warranty is over. I understand that this was probably an issue that formed during the production of the car, but speaking as someone who worked building car parts before, I've definitely seen my fair share of parts that were approved to send out after I flagged them and they definitely could fail before the car they go in finishes their life, before or after warranty expires. It's an unfortunate reality but it happens.

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