Tesla Wanted $22,500 to Replace a Battery. An Independent Repair Shop Fixed It for $5,000.

A repair bill that costs as much as the car itself is a case study in why we need national right-to-repair legislation.
September 13, 2021, 5:25pm
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Image: YouTube screengrab
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State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.

When YouTuber Tyler Hoover’s Tesla Model S P85 battery stopped holding a charge, he took it to Tesla for repair. The car was out of warranty and Tesla wanted to replace the entire battery for a total cost of $22,500. The Kelly Blue Book value of the used Tesla was about $23,000. After some research, Hoover was able to get the Tesla repaired by an independent shop for about $5,000, or 75 percent cheaper than what Tesla offered.

Hoover runs an automotive channel called Hoovie’s Garage and he’d purchased a 2013 Tesla Model S for use in an upcoming video. 

“Unfortunately, it completely bricked on me,” Hoover said in a video about the car. “I actually had a few great weeks with it...and it’s something that should be easily fixable, but it’s not. At least not with Tesla.”

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The lights and all the displays inside work, but a message on the UI said that its maximum battery charge had been reduced and it would only hold a charge of 50 miles. The Model S was a mere four months outside of the car’s 8 year warranty.

Enter Rich Benoit, YouTuber and right-to-repair advocate who has hacked Teslas and built his own electric vehicles out of the discarded parts. Benoit was able to find a mechanic who could diagnose the problem and make repairs to the vehicle for about $5,000, considerably less than Tesla wanted to replace the battery.

“The point we’re trying to make is giving people options,” Benoit told Motherboard on the phone. “Right now, with Tesla, you don’t have an option...it’s buy a new battery or GTFO.”

Benoit said that, in his experience, gas powered cars are typically harder to work on than electric vehicles, and it’s still easier to get them serviced than Teslas. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “You have literally teenagers doing break and oil changes on $100,000 cars and the customer hops in these cars and drives 85 miles an hour on the highway. We’re trusting these repairs to people that don’t have a ton of experience.”

But Tesla has done a great job of marketing the Teslas as a complicated piece of machinery that needs certified technicians to do repairs. Many basic repairs are impossible to do on its cars because of software locks. “Tesla, first and foremost, is a software company,” Benoit said.

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Tesla recently released its Toolbox, a set of diagnostic software that will tell a repair shop or Tesla owner what’s wrong with a car. Anyone can purchase access to the Toolbox but it costs $3,000 a year or $100 for 24 hours. But diagnostics are only half the issue. 

“You can get a rear Tesla motor out in a matter of 30 minutes,” Benoit said. “The problem comes when that new motor is supposed to go in. That’s when you have to use the diagnostic software to tell the car this is okay, put this motor in here. I accept this motor...right now, that’s not possible.”

Replacement Tesla parts have to be installed by a certified Tesla dealership. Which begs the question, how did Benoit and his team replace Hoover’s battery? “We have alternate means of getting into things,” he said. “We don’t necessarily need the Toolbox in a lot of cases, but it would make our lives 10 time easier…Tesla is locking down more and more access to cars. There’s a lot of things that you used to be able to do that you no longer can do. They’re definitely tightening restrictions.”

Tesla’s use of software locks mirrors what Apple does with the iPhone. It famously pushed out a software update that killed touch functionality on iPhone 8s repaired with cheap aftermarket screens.

Issues like the Tesla battery and repairing iPhones is why we need national right-to-repair legislation. Manufacturers don’t want us to fix our own stuff and they make it hard, if not impossible, to do so. That may be changing. President Biden signed an executive order in July aimed at making it easier to fix your own stuff and the FTC has formally adopted a right-to-repair platform.

Tesla did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.