tesla roadster

It’s either the most dramatic story from a fledgling upstart, ammunition in the arguments of the anti-electric brigade, or the ultimate First World Problem. Are Tesla’s batteries failing, rendering the electric Roadster a four-wheeled space hogger? Owner Max Drucker certainly thinks so.

Drucker took his Tesla Roadster for a spin and then left it in a parking space, drained, for two months. During that time, the battery depleted completely. When Drucker came back, the Roadster had to be towed to the nearest Tesla dealer, where Drucker found out that the batteries were completely dead, or “bricked”—a term familiar to anyone whose iPod has played the Great Gig In The Sky, or owned a modified Xbox. The battery would have to be replaced. The cost? $40,000.

Drucker did what we’re all encouraged to in this democratic society, and wrote an angry letter—this was addressed to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, admonishing him for poor customer service and absolving Drucker of any personal responsibility. Why should he? Is it wrong of him to expect a new car to work after two months? $40,000 is a lot of money. Are Tesla batteries bricking? read the headlines, as if anticipating a juicy, dramatic scandal. So it goes.

This would be a feel-good story if Tesla took it in good faith and replaced the battery, free of charge—but, as it turns out, it was never their fault to begin with. Tesla batteries are not bricking, and the entire story is nonsense.

The owners manual of the Tesla Roadster admonishes owners not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. The batteries require a little bit of remaining energy to recharge, and fully draining them, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery. And this damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement.

In response to Drucker, Tesla released this statement: “Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time.”

Tesla batteries aren’t the same RadioShack Powercells found in your television remote. The energy-dense, highly precise lithium-ion cells inside the Roadster require attention: they can’t be fully drained, and they can’t sit while they’re fully drained. It’s not hard to do—unlike noisy, smelly internal combustion engines, with their myriad parts, electric cars require little maintenance and less stuff to worry about.

But, Tesla warns you when the battery is within 5 percent of its life. It blinks, it beeps, it yelps if you keep pushing it. It can even notify Tesla corporate when the batteries are low, in case it needs to send goons to rescue your car  like it’s an abused pet. In short, there’s little excuse for a Tesla battery to not only drain, but to fail completely—it would be the equivalent of a new car owner who drained his car of oil, drove it around all day, then wondered why he suffered a flat tire when he ran over a shard of his own exploded engine.

Car batteries die, but that’s only because they’ve been fully charged from the alternator. Tesla says that the Roadster’s batteries are fully capable of just sitting there—for weeks or even months—but only if they’re already fully charged. If they’re empty? Theoretically, a fully-dead battery can be trickle charged—slowly, to bring it back from the dead, much like laptop or iPod batteries made with the same lithium-ion technology. But advanced technology is expensive, and $40,000 (which includes delivery and labor charges) to replace a battery is a sad, but entirely preventable, cost.

What Drucker did wrong was to leave the battery fully drained before embarking on his two-month non-automotive adventures. We’re told to read our owner’s manuals for a reason, and what ensued here is a textbook (pardon the pun) example of not doing so. Tesla has a PR gaffe on their hands right now—if it was a company as savvy as Musk wants us to believe, it could replace the battery pack in good faith and reaffirm its stellar customer service. But in the end, it’s not obligated to. So it goes.

Sources: TechCrunch, The Truth About Cars

By Blake Z. Rong