Why Consumer Reports No Longer Endorses the Tesla Model 3

Tesla and Consumer Reports have a contentious history. Back in August 2015, the third-party product rating magazine gave Elon Musk’s electric Model S a score of 103 out of 100, forcing them to change their rating scale. Then last week, after initially endorsing the 2018 Model 3, the publication rescinded their recommendation.

If you have Tesla stock, you’re already aware, as the shares took a dip last Thursday when the bad news broke. But while the valuation has climbed back a bit, the important question remains: What changed with Tesla’s mass-market EV sedan that makes it a less reliable vehicle?

Technically, nothing. It’s the magazine’s data set that’s changed. Consumer Reports pulled the recommendation after their annual reader survey was finalized, in which its “sample size of 2018 Model 3s nearly doubled, bringing the total number of Model 3s involved to more than 500.” The common thread among the responses was “a relatively high number of reliability complaints.”

Here’s a breakdown of the most common problems:

  • Electronics: Tesla is known for its streamlined, minimalist design, but the 15-inch console touchscreen shows the drawbacks of that approach. Some people reported instances of the screen freezing and malfunctioning, which can quickly become a major issue … all the driver controls are accessible through this screen.
  • Glass: “Earlier this year, our test vehicle developed a large crack in its massive rear window during a cold spell when it was parked outside,” writes Consumer Reports. That matches up with new survey responders, some of whom also reported rear window cracks, as well as other glass defects.
  • Paint and Trim: As the Drive notes, “Panel gaps and poor painting have both been a long-standing subject of criticism for Tesla vehicles.” But Jake Fisher, Senior Director of Automotive Testing at Consumer Reports, also said “trim breaking” has been a recent issue.

In the end, it comes down to reliability and the trust a buyer places in the automaker to deliver a consistent EV (and car in general). But there is one aspect of the Model 3 that does seem to be reliable, and it might be the most important: “By contrast, CR members have reported few problems with Tesla’s unique electric powertrains, which may be due in part to their relative simplicity when compared with traditional internal-combustion engines.” (Nice subtle dig, CR.)

So what does this mean for you, the EV wannabe who’s been thinking about putting in an order for a Model 3? Should you give up on Elon Musk and just get a Prius? Or are these minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things?

Apparently, it depends on how big of a Tesla fanboy you are. While CR doesn’t currently recommend the Model 3 (or Model S or Model X …), it still ranks among the top brands in terms of owner satisfaction. As they write, “… when a vehicle has an enthusiastic following, like with Tesla, owners may overlook some issues. We’ve seen this with other vehicles such as the Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Corvette.”

Tesla, Wrangler and Corvette: the triumvirate of vehicles that’ll always have a following, no matter what Consumer Reports says.

Images courtesy of Tesla