Edmunds’ Long-Term Tesla Model S On Fourth Drive Unit, Going Up For Sale

JUL 10 2014 BY JAY COLE 54

Edmunds Tesla Model S

Edmunds Tesla Model S (via Edmunds)

It seems like Edmunds’ Tesla Model S test vehicle has lived a pretty cursed existence, as many an issue has popped up over its 30,000-odd mile life…the most notable of which is now operating on its 4th drive unit.

Now to be fair, a long term test in the hands of auto journalists is a true test of the limits for durability of any car. Still, when your Model S is immediately identified by a tech as needing a drivetrain unit replacement from just the sound of the car (and the service guys also have a catch phrase for the problem), you know this issue reaches to more than just one car.

Tesla Model S Drivetrain

Tesla Model S Drivetrain

During the last 500 miles of a cross-country trip, Edmunds’ Model S started making a strange noise, and as the car will shortly be put up for sale, the magazine wanted everything to be in tip-top shape.

Enter the Tesla technician who diagnosed the problem in just a block and half of driving…by ear.

This noise is known internally as the ‘milling sound,'” the technician told Edmunds.

When asked what the cure is for the ‘milling sound’, the tech replied probably a new drive unit.  A recording of the sound was then send back to Tesla engineers, who confirmed their Model S would need a 4th drive unit.

“The technician sent a recording of the milling sound to our engineers and they gave us the OK to replace the drive unit.”

It should be noted at this point, that Edmunds still really seems to love and endorse the Tesla Model S.  They offer that owners will happily accommodate most repairs needed to the car, as early adopters of exciting new technologies are fairly understanding; and that Tesla does a fine job in servicing their product.

“Driving around the past few days with this car has reminded me of how good it is. People often ask me what I think of it, and I tell them this is an awesome car, with a huge caveat: Be prepared for things to go wrong.  The Model S is a highly advanced car from a company that is just learning the ups and downs of manufacturing vehicles on a large scale.”

Edmunds Suggestion To Model S Owners?  Buy The Extended Warranty

Edmunds Suggestion To Model S Owners? Buy The Extended Warranty

Their suggestion to the general public?  If you can afford it, the Tesla Model S is a great car choice…but pop down the extra money for the extra warranty.

“…so if you’re set on buying one, or already have one and plan on keeping it for a while, I would HIGHLY recommend that  you buy the extended service plan for $4,000. “

Edmunds notes that while the battery has a 8 year, 125,000 mile warranty, the rest of the car (ie-the drive unit) has just the new-car limited warranty of 4 years/50,000 miles.

The only other obvious question left to be answered is, “How much will a Tesla Model S on its 4th drive unit go for on the open market?”  Check out Edmunds complete report and long-term wrap up of their 2013 Tesla Model S here.


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54 Comments on "Edmunds’ Long-Term Tesla Model S On Fourth Drive Unit, Going Up For Sale"

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Edmunds just seems to have very bad luck. The most I have seen with others having replacement drive units is to be on the second (and it’s not that common too even on TMC).

See Through

This is an extremely common problem. Don’t try to make it look like a corner case; it isn’t. Just check the Tesla Motors Forum on this issue. If it happened once, we could dismiss it as accidental. Same fate with Motor Trend Tesla car.
This drive unit replacement is a 10K mile maintenance item.

Will these be in Carfax report? Then, I don’t think these cars will fetch much. These are actually Lemons.

Omar Sultan

“This drive unit replacement is a 10K mile maintenance item.

That is one of the stupider things you have posted, which is saying something.


See Through

Omar Sultan,
Are you the same Omar who worked on the Edmunds’ Model S? In their report, they repeatedly mentioned Omar.
“Finally, Omar noticed that we hadn’t performed the annual service on our Model S.”
“Around midday, I received a call from Omar with an update on the repairs”


Why is my Troll Detector beeping?


It usually does…”See Through” usually posts a sentence from time to time that is reasonable and makes sense, just to throw us off the trail…

Rodrigo Henriques Negreiros Magalhaes

I had engine and gearbox problems in all of my gasoline cars so far – engines blowing and gearboxes leaking oil. Can be the way that I drive? Sure! The point is, if I could afford a Tesla Model S, I would buy one with my eyes closed tomorrow 🙂

Jake Jackson

Engine and gearbox problems on all your gas cars? Wow, that’s amazing. Here I’ve had more gas cars than I can count, and no such problems on any of them, including my Volvo with more than 100,000 miles. It wouldn’t be that you’re a Tesla fanboy, and maybe even a stock speculator, would it? Nah.

See Through

Also, Edmunds had an offer of around $80K before the long trip. SO, now may be they can get $75K.


Yep, my Troll Detector is definitely beeping.


Are many owners getting drive units replaced? I have not heard much about this at all. TMC won’t admit to the stats – are there other sources for accurate information on things like the number of cars that have had at least one drive unit replaced, the average number of replacements for those cars, etc.


If you mean Tesla Motors Club, this is not the same forum as found on Tesla’s website. Quite the contrary, lots of mud flies and either stands or falls on its own merits. Fanboys, yes, but that’s par for the course.


Sorry, I meant Tesla Motor Co. I forgot that the club has the same initials…


4 drive units? In 30k miles?!? That is horrible. IT’s not like they have gaskets to go bad, seals to weaken, clutches to burn out…it’s just a freakin’ rotor, fixed-gear differential, and some power electronics! Unless Edmunds was using the drive unit for target practice, there is no excuse for that level of failure.


Keep in mind the Model S is only the second vehicle Tesla Motors has produced. Slight teething problems are to be expected.


…apparently, repair anomalies are too.

See Through

The funny thing is, the replacement units also keep failing.

Pertinent discussion at the Tesla Motors Club forum, here: http://www.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/whats-edmunds-and-drive-units?page=1 To summarize: 1. It’s not the 4th drive unit installed in the car, it’s the 3rd. “Four” includes a unit which was shipped to the service center as a replacement, but was judged faulty by the service center before installation. 2. The “drive unit” includes the motor, the (fixed ratio) gearbox, and the inverter. 3. This can’t be usefully compared to diagnosing and fixing a problem with a gas guzzler’s motor. For example, if the gas guzzler’s water pump goes bad, the service center can just remove the old water pump and put on a new one. With the Model S, if the problem cannot be fixed fairly quickly, the optimal (faster and less expensive) solution is to replace the entire drive unit and have it shipped back to the factory for detailed diagnosis and refurbishing. 4. Most drive units replacements are not due to failure, but rather because a noise was heard either by the customer or by a service technician. This seems to me to be the most important point: Most of the replacements are preventative maintenance, not a result of failure. 5. This problem can’t be that… Read more »

Well said.

Another point to consider is that Tesla is in the midst of designing their first truly mass market car, i.e. produced in million+ quantities.

They’re going to want every bit of data they can get from the fields, and even slightly worn parts are things they’ll want to analyze thoroughly.

See Through

Your point #1 is incorrect. IT IS the 4TH drive unit. Edmunds knows how to count up to 4..
1st one: Original drive the car came with
2nd at 10K
3rd at 20K
4th at 30K ( just put in; hope good till 40K)

Before their long round trip from Los Angeles to New York, someone actually predicted exactly where they will start having issues – around Colorado. And that’s exactly what happened!
10K miles ? Replace drive units.


See Through:

Thanks for your correction. I checked what the Edmunds.com report said, and you’re correct: It does specify they just had the drive unit for the third time… so they’re on the 4th unit.

I was citing what someone posted at the TMC forum, which I guess was a result of confusion over the count.

My bad for thinking Jay was citing misinformation!

See Through

No problem. I am glad, you can see things correctly. At TMC forums, they are mostly Tesla fans or shareholders. They try to find excuses for everything, such as:
– The car wasn’t driven with care
– Too many drivers, like rental fleet
– This 4th drive unit counted as 3rd somehow

When installing the 4th unit, the service center tried another one which broke during installation. That isn’t counted by Edmunds, as it wasn’t really installed.


Interesting points. Makes sense. That is reassuring. I’d still like some accurate statistics on things like the # of replacements, the reasons for the replacements (preventative vs. failure), the number of vehicles with at least 1 replacement, and the average mileage for the first replacement.


33k miles still on the same drive unit…

See Through

What car are you driving?


A horse-drawn carriage, obviously…

Warren M

After looking at the LEAF motor disassembly video a few threads down, its amazing how complex all the electronics are, etc. And with the sheer number of LEAFs out there, the car has been remarkably reliable. I have a 2014 Focus EV, 600 miles on it and it is already having a new steering rack installed.

Alonso Perez

Ghosn specifically instructed Nissan engineers that the car had to be extremely reliable. He understood that the car would be setting the initial image for EV reliability, and you don’t get a second chance to create a first impression.

Too bad he settled on starting with mediocre range; that’s another first impression. But here his famously cost-conscious soul probably dictated that the battery could not cost more than X% of the car cost no matter what.

Alan Campbell

Several Northern California counties/governments are buying 90 EVs, with 64 to be Focus Electrics and 23 Leafs, and 3 Zenith Vans. Sonoma County is actually buying 31 Focus Electric models, previously they leased EVs.

Rodrigo Henriques Negreiros Magalhaes

Funny, I saw the same video and had the opposite impression, how simple the motor is! If we start to count every part in a ICE engine – flywheel, crankshaft, pistons, rings, head, valves, sparks, cam-belts, oil pump, oil filter, water pump, radiator, air filter and so on – we will see that the engine in the Leaf is a mix of a blender with a laptop. The only thing that make no sense for me was the design choose by Nissan as the drive unit in the Tesla Model S and in the BMW i3 use a different layout.


Probably just a bad bearing design on the main shaft. Tesla will get it worked out and most likely extend the drive line warranty period.

Alonso Perez

I’d guess it’s probably already solved by now. Probably affects the first year of production or something like that.


It will be intetesting to see how improved the platform on the Model X is from early S’s, and how reliable their new AWD is going to be…


Also check this article. It has a detailed list of issues with this car. And there is a huge list of issues reported in some Norwegian site. Norway is seeing 6-7 weeks of wait time to get their warranty-covered issues fixed.



“Seeking Alpha” is a stock investor site. While it does have many articles well worth reading, one should always take with a pound or so of salt– not just a few grains– those articles which go out of their way to bash a company with a volatile stock… like Tesla Motors.

The Tesla Model S did not get Consumer Reports’ highest rating -ever- for -any- car by having as many problems as the short-seller who wrote that hit piece of an article wants readers to believe.

Rodrigo Henriques Negreiros Magalhaes

People talk about the Model S as they would talking about a cheap sedan as a Civic or Corolla. I don’t think that’s the case. As a top sedan, it has its cost to be maintained, what as expected isn’t cheap. Nothing different from BMW and Mercedes here. I still remember back in 1998 when thousands of V12 engines in the new BMW 750i where blowing with very low mileage around the world what forced BMW to replace the units. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class W210 has a bad fame in Europe because it loved get rusted.


What exactly is the issue? Bad gearbox?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Sounds like a bearing of some sort…

Rodrigo Henriques Negreiros Magalhaes

Because the high amount of instantaneous torque offered by its electric motor, does make sense to think that the bearing isn’t supporting the load. This doesn’t mean that the driver unit has a design defect. Maybe the auto-part industry isn’t being capable to delivery a well reinforced bearing for Tesla. My actual Ford sedan has a bearing issue in its gearbox – loud noise – but since the first time that I notice, I already drove 2k miles and that’s OK…


Yawn it happens, big deal.


No biggy if you change it every 10K miles.


Seems like a series of unfortunate events for Tesla. Edmund’s did note that it was getting different service that the typical customer. But as Edmund’s also notes: it was more than the drive unit(s). It aslo a touchscreen and a battery along with visors and other items. That car was definately not up the the standards that Tesla espouses.


High pitched whine could be a bearing. Anyhow not sure but Edmunds was probably beating on it like a red-headed step child. Not sure if that would contribute to drive train failure, but, it has been my experience that when you mistreat machinery it can make you cry.

Jake Jackson

Ah yes. It’s always the customer’s fault.


I guess Consumer Report doesn’t have this issue, else it wouldn’t have recommended the car.

Edmunds just got a bad lemon.

I will take it from them with a discount. =)


Perusing another long term Tesla road test, Motor Trend also had a drive unit replaced along with a steering knuckle.

Read into it what you will.


Everyone has it! There is no shame. Just check the Tesla motors forum. Or read this article.



July 10, 2014 at 8:52 pm
“I guess Consumer Report doesn’t have this issue, else it wouldn’t have recommended the car.”

Consumer Reports put the Model S on their 2013 cars to avoid list due to poor reliability reported by owners.


So the real question is “what would this cost out of warranty?”


$15K + time & inconvenience.


This problem is well documented. Edmunds experience is not a random outlier.

There’s a reason Consumer Reports added the Model S to their ‘cars to avoid list’ and this is just one of them.


We miss you so when you ignore this particular screen-name SeeThroughCherylGValue.. how can any concerned troll-fan be expected to remember the unmatched value of your single sentence unless we see it daily? hmm..

Say, how Is that storming the Self-Respect Castle exercise proceeding? So Hope you’re having fun..



I am a Consumers Reports print and online subscriber and I just looked on their website 2 minutes ago which has their most up to date data. The Model S is NOT on their ‘cars to avoid’ list and in fact they state statistically it’s about 20% more reliable than the average car. Their chart that lists reliability of sub-systems for the 2012 model years for used cars is all full red dots (the highest rating) except for squeaks & rattles and body Hardware. It dropped for the 2013 year so that the squeaks and rattles and body hardware drop into black but the rest of the subsystems are red.

Jake Jackson

I see that the Cult of Elon is flooding the comments here. The number of failures on this car is beyond the pale. And I really had to laugh at the $60 standard charge for rotating the tires. Tesla truly has no shame.

The implied accusations that Edmunds did something wrong are also beyond the pale. They run long-term testing on all kinds of vehicles, and are quite objective about it.