Tesla Watches Your Back Side
February 2, 2021
By Barry Shell
After two months it was time to set up a service appointment with Tesla to take care of a few minor deficiencies. We've had our new Tesla SR+ (blue) 2021 model since mid November 2020. The experience of dealing with Tesla Service was unlike any other car dealer and I learned a thing or two in the process. Now I know how to better track problems with our new car. Again as in so many other areas, Tesla has reimagined the automobile service experience. Here's what I found out.
Instead of phoning the dealer, Tesla gets you to make a service appointment using the Tesla app on your phone. After you make contact, they ask you to list your issues using the built in private messaging system in the app. Among other things one problem with our new car is that sometimes the car's touch screen just goes black for a few minutes. This has only happened when the car is stopped but it's quite scary because nearly everything is controlled from that screen. After 2 - 4 minutes it always comes back on. But when it happens it's unnerving. To be clear: you can still drive the car when the touch screen is black, but you cannot use the entertainment system, the climate control, the mirror adjustments, and much more. You also don't get a speedometer. It's pretty strange.
In the days before the service appointment a technician sent me a message asking if I could give the exact times and circumstances when the screen went black. I was not able to tell them because these black-outs happened at random over a two month period, and I could not remember dates and times exactly. But a few days later I was slowly backing the car into the garage and suddenly the whole car stopped, the screen went black, and everything turned off. It was weird. My service appointment was not for a few days yet, so right that minute I used the app to send a message telling the Tesla technicians the exact time this happened to the minute.
In a few hours I got a message back saying, "This is the Tesla remote technician. At the time stamp you provided the vehicle shows you were in reverse and the seat belt was unbuckled, and the drivers seat occupancy sensor was fluctuating like you were lifting on and off of the seat. This can be caused by leaning too hard one way or the other. This can confuse the car making it think no one is present, and it will cause the car to shut down. Please remain in the seat with the buckle on while driving."
The amazing fact is: it's all true. I was just moving the car from the front of the house to park it in the garage and I had not bothered to put on the seatbelt for this simple task. Also, our single car garage door is pretty narrow and the Model 3 just fits with a couple inches to spare on both sides. So while backing up I was twisting around in the seat to look behind and line up the car perfectly and in so doing I did lift my bum off the seat a bit. So this totally explains why the car shut down. It thought no one was driving! The fact that the remote technician at Tesla had all this information at their fingertips is at once brilliant but also chilling. They know EVERYTHING!! They know if I have my seatbelt on, and they even know if I'm twisting around in the seat. It's kind of frightening, and it shows that Teslas and probably all cars in the future are going to know a lot about us and our driving habits. Of course Tesla promises not to use this information, but what guarantee do we have that they will keep that promise? That's another story.
In the meantime, I suppose it's a good thing overall, and in this case it helped me understand the car better. I now put my seatbelt on even to park it in the garage. What's more, whenever I have a new issue with the car I now know to write down the exact time to the minute when it happens. No car in the past ever required this, but with Teslas it's a new habit that everyone should learn. With such time stamps technicians can do amazing things. In some cases they might even be able to solve the problem without you even having to bring the car into the shop. Now that is progress. When it comes to designing cars Elon Musk once said, "No part is the best part." In the same way, no service visit is the best service visit.
Barry Shell is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Canada. He created www.science.ca, the top Google hit for any search on Canadian science. He has written four books, and has published in magazines and newspapers including the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. Originally from Winnipeg, Barry has a BSc in Organic Chemistry from Reed College in Portland, OR and an MSc in Resource Management Science from UBC. His book, "Sensational Scientists" profiling 24 of Canada's greatest scientists and published by Raincoast Books, won a national book award in 2005. If you enjoyed this article please consider using Barry’s Tesla referral code to get 1k miles of Supercharging for free: https://ts.la/barry73962