Tesla, Crap Customer Service And Australian Consumer Law

Tesla electric vehicle customer support - Model S

A two year old, $150,000 Tesla has a failed headlight. Tesla are refusing warranty, and want more than $4,000 to replace it.

Tesla’s notorious customer support is on display again, with a Model S owner offered a repair bill of $4,000 for a headlamp that failed a little over two years after purchase.

Our story starts, as it so often does, with the owner going public on Facebook. This is what appeared on the Tesla Owners Club page:

“Hey everyone – just an update on my last post. Tesla has given me a $4,145 quote to fix the dead LED daytime running light on my 2 year old Model S. Does anyone know how/what the procedure is to get this covered under the implied Australian Consumer Law Warranty? I have asked them about it and they’ve basically acted like they don’t know what that is. I asked to have this pushed up to management which they basically refused. The car was under 2 years old when the light failed and I told them about it. This doesn’t seem fair as it’s hardly of acceptable quality if the part fails within 24 months??”

We called the owner, who asked us not to share his name, and he confirmed the details of his Facebook post.

“We picked our Model S up late December 2017,” he said, “and the lamp failed in December 2019, it was less than two years old.”

The problem is that he’s driven the Model S a lot. In that two years, the owner has saved the planet a fair whack of petroleum-related emissions, since the vehicle has more than 100,000km on the clock.

The Tesla manufacturer’s warranty is just 80,000km, and that’s what the company is using as its “out”. The Model S owner told us the Tesla service rep told him:

“our warranty is 80,000km, that’s it.”

So for a failed headlight – a pretty straightforward item, he said, “this is just a simple LED reflection headlight”, he got the repair quote below.

Tesla Model S repair quote, headlamp

$4,000-plus for a headlamp. You read that right

We asked Tesla to comment on this in light of the statutory warranties that exist under the Australian Consumer Law, and our contact at Tesla said they wanted the customer’s name before they would discuss.

That’s a stonewalling tactic I’ve experienced before. We asked the customer if we could identify him to Tesla, and he quite appropriately declined. So SolarQuotes is at an impasse as far as getting comment from Tesla goes.

In any case, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is clear on the matter. The table below is reproduced from the ACCC’s guidelines document available here.

Extract from ACCC statutory vehicle warranty explainer

Extract from ACCC statutory warranty explainer

The statutory warranty overrides the vehicle manufacturer’s warranty, and “acceptable quality” also means a product has to have durability in line with the expectations of any “reasonable person”.

The owner also told us that the Tesla service rep he spoke to flatly refused to entertain the idea of escalating his complaint.

We’d say it’s time to book a VCAT hearing, then lodge an official complaint with Consumer Affairs Victoria since they’re the first contact for getting relief under the Australian Consumer Law statutory warranty obligations.

A Butt-Call Buys A Costly Upgrade

As it happens, another story was going around the traps last week.

As reported on The Next Web, Tesla’s smartphone app has what’s known in the industry as a “dark pattern” that let owner Nassim Nicholas Taleb buy more than $US4,000 of software upgrades (the Full Self Driving upgrade suite) by accident.

Taleb took the reasonable-enough approach of asking Tesla to reverse the purchase, and said his request was refused (if it had happened in Australia, under the ACL a company cannot refuse refunds just because the customer made a digital software purchase). So he took to Twitter:

That attracted the attention of Elon Musk, who offered a refund – but Taleb took the principled stand that a refund arranged by the CEO on behalf of a single customer merely because the customer has more than 440,000 Twitter followers isn’t how things should work.

Comment: Tesla’s auto customer service is flat-out notorious – as they say at the Tesla Motors Club Web page, “YATSS, Yet Another Tesla Service Story”.

It’s well past time Tesla got a grip on how to treat customers well. As the Model S owner told us, regardless of your commitment to low-emissions driving,

“Things like this are really putting us off putting our money there again”

– and he can’t be the only one.

In spite of its insanely-high market capitalisation, Tesla Motors shipped just 368,000 vehicles in 2019 (according to Motley Fool), comparable to VW’s growth in the US market alone in 2018-2019 (363,000 units according to this report).

Tesla’s presence and its investor popularity has dragged the rest of the motor vehicle industry along, forcing all the majors to either announce their EV plans, or ship electric vehicles sooner than they would otherwise have done. But now that’s happening, Elon Musk is going to find the market changing rapidly around him.

If Tesla expects to keep leading the pack, it needs to compete with auto-builders who have built their service networks over decades – fobbing people off, ignoring consumer law, and relying on the loyalty of fans won’t cut it.

About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.


  1. Jose Nodar says

    How could a headlight cost that much?

    They have to remove the body/chassis/what!!!!

    • This is Model 3. I assume Model S headlight replacement is a similar endeavour:

      • Drew Carter says

        Interestingly, the quote has the labour as $77.73. The part is where the expense is at $3690.91.

      • I think that the labour is reasonable, It’s the headlight assy that’s stupidly expensive. I kind of think they’ve quote on the whole assembly, sensors etc and not just the globe..

        Which would be standard LED globe anyway and cost between $90 and $200 depending on brand.

  2. As an owner of a small business, here’s what Australian Consumer Law actually means. #1 – manufacturers can do whatever they like (and they do) because there are no legal teeth or rights for retailers to recover costs of dealing with matters like this. #2 – in this case, despite the no doubt contortionist ownership structure, Tesla is the retailer and the manufacturer.

    But having said all that, if this things done 100,000km at an average of 35kmh (typical for urban driving), then his LED headlight has been on for 2857 hours – is that reasonable/unreasonable for LED? Dunno. Does the part really cost over $2k? Probs not, but Tesla aren’t the only auto manufacturer with outrageous markups on spare parts. No I’m not defending Electric Jesus.

    I see this all the time in solar. In one example, an off grid customer had their Schnitzel inverter fail spectacularly just outside the Schnitzel warranty, Neither the customer or I picked up was that unlike every competing product at the same price point, the Schnitzel had a 2 year warranty. I replaced the Schnitzel with an SP Pro at my own cost and Schnitzel who have 1300 times my turnover have their tongues out their fingers waggling from their ears saying nah nah nah. I did the right thing by the customer by honouring their statutory warranty while Schnitzel say get stuffed.

  3. I notice the current Ford Ranger comes with a 200,000 km warranty……. Doesn’t come in a status-battery-buggy version though.

    • John Mitchell says

      Ford only offers a 200,000km warranty because the Koreans dragged them kicking and screaming there. If traditional car manufacturers had there way warranties would be 20,000K or 12 months – whichever comes first. Like they used to be before Hyundai and Kia. There are thousands of disgruntled Ford customers out there – just look at the Territory debacle and Ford refused to fix them under warranty saying it was the way you drive the car. Until the ACCC finally stepped in and fined them a couple of million dollars.

      So using Ford as an example of customer service is flawed IMO. Toyota, Mazda and Mitsubishi (plus the Koreans) are about the only manufacturers who tend to stand by their product, sometimes even out of warranty.

  4. Randall Mathews says

    I’m currently in two minds about a warranty issue with my new (to me) PHEV.
    Warranty covers this third hand vehicle until May this year or 100,000 km (and it’s now on 96,400). Traction battery is expressly outside ‘normal wear and tear’ but I have a screenshot of a since deleted Mitsubishi website page which states that no more than 20% degradation was expected over ‘the life of the vehicle’.
    It seems more than that by the dealer’s test… but hey, environmentally, squeezing another traction battery out of Mitsu, even if I could, seems of debatable value. Anyone?

    • John Mitchell says

      What’s your current range? If it is down to less than 70% I’d definitely complain direct to MMAL.

      [email protected]

      Plus a tip before your warranty expires (I didn’t do this :sigh) Get your dealer to upgrade your SatNav maps. I think they do it for free under warranty.

      If you want to know the actual state of your battery there’s a great little app for Android only called PHEV watchdog but you’ll need a bluetooth OBDII adapter – I bought one of eBay pretty cheap.

      I put together a quick Excel graph of my battery degradation over a 12 month period but you won’t have that long.

  5. To be fair, Tesla service used to be excellent, way above any other car ownership,experience I’ve had in 40,years. It all changed about 18 months ago, there was a large reduction in experienced staff, there are no loaner vehicles at all, service Centre lounges for customers to use whilst charging have closed. This was a time when things were very tight financially for the company, but now that it’s had it’s second profitable,quarter, it’s time to reassess

  6. John Mitchell says

    I actually think the bigger story here is the cost of the headlamp. That’s insane and there is no way Tesla is ripping off their US customers like that. Otherwise as simple bang on the front end would cost an absolute fortune to repair.

    I know Tesla has sensors and stuff in the headlamp assembly so maybe that cost is for everything and not just the actual lamp, but still that would make t whole assembly over $US2,000.

  7. Daniel Debreceny says

    LEDs are widely reported to last +50,000 hrs, while electronics for the electronic driver for the LED is anticipated to last 15k-20k hours.

    Realistically, the LED should outlast the rest of the car.

  8. Could have been worse.
    MUCH worse.
    Complaint Number: 11302917
    Vehicle Identification Number: 5YJSA1E1XHF208555
    Your Vehicle’s Make Model and Model Year: TESLA MODEL S 2017
    Note: Your VIN, make, model, and year are all protected under the Privacy Act.
    What part of your car was affected? Fuel/Propulsion System
    What happened?
    This is a complaint related to the Tesla battery fires investigation. Please note that I have used the VIN of another 2017 Tesla to be able to file this complaint. The wreck of the burned out Tesla has now showed up in the salvage yard but it is too badly burned to be able to read the VIN. There was a fire on January 10th in Arlington involving a Tesla Model S Here is a video showing the Tesla on fire outside the garage and spewing flames in all directions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTXkm_0i8vg This burned out wreck which is now in a Chicago salvage yard is very likely to be the car that was on fire. https://www.copart.com/lot/27044150 The video of that fire shows just how dangerous a burning Tesla is. Even with several fire-engines and thousands of gallons of water it is near impossible to extinguish. An occupant of the house was treated by paramedics. The Tesla fan club has tried to deflect the blame on to “Christmas Lights” https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/christmas-light-home-fire-in-arlington-heights-il.181401/ Yeah right! It’s a little past the 12 days of Christmas! AS I am sure you will be aware a single Lithium battery cell has always got a non-zero percentage chance of catching fire due to internal short circuit. When there are 7000 cells tightly packed together a chain reaction a highly likely outcome. Tesla is now tinkering about with the charging rates but this will never eliminate the chances of these fires. Please keep investigating. Thank you. Keef
    When did this happen? 01/10/2020
    Was there a Crash? No
    Was there a Fire? Yes
    Was there an injury or fatality? Yes
    Number of fatalities:
    Number of persons injured: 1
    Medical Attention Required? Yes
    How fast were you going? (in mph) 0

      • Keef Wivaneff says

        Hardly surprising that Musk would set his rottweiler (Electric Fred) and his army of bots out to try and discredit me.
        Remember how Musk defamed Vern Unsworth and said “sue or it’s true”
        I’m still waiting for my court summons for submitting “fraudulent” complaints.
        https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157658490111523

        • With apologies to Frank: “I love the smell of burning shorts in the morning… .”
          Guess the FUDD had to eventually wash up on our shores! 🙂

          • John Mitchell says

            Moreover “Keef” is actually an Aussie, filing a complaint for something that happened in Arlington, Virginia and making it sound like this was his car. Huh? Why? Because strictly speaking it’s none of “Keef’s” business.

            Read this statement: “I am sure you will be aware a single Lithium battery cell has always got a non-zero percentage chance of catching fire due to internal short circuit.”

            Well that is just inflammatory language. We could also say:

            “I am sure you will be aware a single millilitre of petrol can catch fire at any time setting off the entire tank. It’s highly flammable. It even says so on the side of the petrol tanker.”

  9. Are we really saving money overall in going modern or electric, We all managed fine when a standard 7″ sealed beam replacement assembly cost around $10 held in with 3 or 4 screws that anyone could change easily and aftermarket spotlights for fast drivers did not cost $1000 each and add on running light LED’s were as cheap as chips in any parts shop.
    If you must drive such a wankwagon for that evidently immaterial cost to you then I guess you are a well heeled sitting target for being taken advantage of in the first instance until like this blatant case you may seek redress in facebook shaming or civil court action or Australian Consumer Law and good luck with the mostly ignored toothless latter,

  10. I’ve referred this anecdote back to US sources for comment.

    Meanwhile, it’s quite interesting to note how little interest our government has in subsidising EVS:


  11. Keef Wivaneff says

    EVs in Australia and everywhere ARE subsidised by being allowed to use the roads and services without paying any fuel excise.
    Teslas rip up the roads and spew clouds of rubber particles into the air because Musk needs to save the planet with INSANE and LUDICROUS acceleration.
    Elon Akbar.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      If Tesla tyres wear out twice as fast as on conventional vehicles and all that synthetic rubber ends up in the air, that’s still only about 8 kilograms a year compared to 4 kilograms of rubber plus 60 kg of exhaust particulates per year. The petrol vehicles will also emit around 4,500 kg of CO2 with the electric vehicle generally contributing far less CO2, although the amount will depend on how its charged.

    • Haters gotta hate, Mr Leech… but I think there’s more to your virulent campaign(s) than dislike of Tesla, Musk and his innovations.

      We always suspected that industries threatened by EVs would employ every dirty trick in the book to defend legacy vehicle production… and the fossil fuels on which these depend. And, as TSLA shares are almost at AU$1000, some haters, (God bless ’em!) must not only be a little singed, but increasingly desperate. 😉

      Musk, like all of us, has some flaws… as did Nikola Tesla himself. Way back in 1895, Tesla’s contribution to mankind was summarised by Charles A Dana, of The Sun: “It is not in any degree an exaggeration to say that the men living at this time who are more important to the human race than this young gentleman, can be counted on the fingers of one hand; perhaps on the thumb of one hand…” Tesla faced the same kind of disruptive (and ineffective) media criticism.

      As you’ll learn during the next decade, Musk already deserves the same accolades and praise afforded Tesla. But go ahead, ‘Keef’… spew your venom far and wide. Such regurgitation, as we reach the tipping point, was _always_ expected… . 🙂

  12. I have been told but can’t confirm that the Model 3 has no spare and no run flat tyres. Is this true?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Yep, or at least that’s what the internet says. A common problem with new cars. You’d think it would be illegal in Australia, but apparently not.

      • John Mitchell says

        Neither does my Outlander PHEV. It does have the puncture repair goo and a pump though. I don’t go off-road in it so not really a problem. If I do damage a tyre so badly that it can’t be temporarily fixed with the goo, I’m an NRMA member so I’m sure they’ll come and help.

  13. Any concerns about high-speed (ludicrous or insane modes) and the lack of fuel tax revenue may be easily resolved in Australia.

    Driving through dozens of US states and six Canadian provinces, we saw no speed cameras and very, very few patrol cars with radar use. The plethora of Multinovas right across Australia may help supplement the expected loss of fuel excise. Anyone silly enough to burn rubber at the lights deserves a fine.

    Meanwhile, recent Canadian research affirms that people living within 150m of a major road or highway are 14% more likely to suffer major illness. Reduced use of fossil fuels must alleviate medical costs, a well-known burden on government expenditure.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      The savings on health costs from using electric cars are so high that it alone may offset the reduction in fuel excise collection.

  14. Ronald Brakels says

    My 2004 Hyundai Getz is still on its original headlights. Perhaps I should look into getting a electric Hyundai once the new car thrill of my Getz wears off.

    (But new headlights for my Hummer are $380 each, so I’ve replaced them with whale oil lamps.)

  15. Brian from Melbourne says

    Suggest flick this Tesla issue to John Cadogan. He will rip into them.


  16. Richard Larkey says

    Reminds me of a repair to my petrol powered French car. An “O” ring that cost $8 and labour to fit it cost $450.

  17. Shane Hanson says

    Yeah I make, modify, adapt all my own lighting….

    And a neato little LED, these just have to be bright and probably lensed to direct their light forward.

    So I am not sure how they are wired or driven or configured, or have any real knowledge of the voltage they are supplied with, etc….

    But being the spiteful arsehole that I am, I’d fish out for THE LED supplier, or a useable alternative, with or without some modifications and or cooling or circuit alteration by resistor or driver, and then be an utter arsehole and publish a how to with links, and then show that up the Australian dealerships arse, by publishing it on the Tesla fan boys facebook page.

    Also depending upon the manufacturer AND how they are driven, running super bright LED’s at say 85% of their maximum forward voltage (slightly noticeably dimmer), WITH good cooling of the LED, means that you can still get very bright white LED’s but they can last like 300,000 hours. It’s the people who run them at their maximum forward voltage, with insufficient cooling, that get 3,000 – 5,000 – 20,000 – 50,000 hours out of them….

  18. The issue is what’s a replacement headlight worth. If somebody charge you $3000 for a bottle of water would you think that was fair?
    Musk is doing himself and his company a disservice by ripping off his customers. Something like a headlight only takes one stone and its done. It might be pertinent for Musk to release his manufacture cost for the headlight. $10 in China?????

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