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Feds investigating Tesla over complaints that steering wheels are falling off while driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the probe covers an estimated 120,000 vehicles from the 2023 model year.
A Tesla Model Y at the Brussels Expo in Belgium on Jan. 13, 2023.
A Tesla Model Y at the Brussels Expo in Belgium on Jan. 13, 2023.Sjoerd van der Wal / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. auto safety regulators have opened an investigation into Tesla’s Model Y SUV after getting two complaints that the steering wheels can come off while being driven.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the probe covers an estimated 120,000 vehicles from the 2023 model year.

The agency says in both cases the Model Ys were delivered to customers with a missing bolt that holds the wheel to the steering column. A friction fit held the steering wheels on, but they separated when force was exerted while the SUVs were being driven.

The agency says in documents posted on its website Wednesday that both incidents happened while the SUVs had low mileage on them.

Investigators look at how often the problem happens, how many vehicles were affected and at Tesla’s manufacturing process. The Model Y is Tesla’s top-selling vehicle.

Messages were left seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.

In one complaint filed with NHTSA, an owner said he was driving with his family on Route 1 in Woodbridge, New Jersey, when the steering wheel suddenly came off on Jan. 29. The owner wrote that there were no cars behind him, and he was able to pull toward the road divider. There were no injuries in the Tesla, which was purchased on Jan. 24.

The complaint has a link to a Twitter posting from the owner that included a video of the detached steering wheel and pictures of the white Tesla being towed.

At first, a Tesla service center gave the owner a cost estimate of $103.96 to repair the problem. The service center apologized in what appeared to be text messages posted on Twitter.

When the owner wrote that he had lost faith in Tesla and asked for a refund, the service center removed the charge and wrote that Tesla doesn’t have a return policy, but he could reach out to the sales and delivery team.

The man was later given the option of keeping the car or getting it replaced with a new one, according to his post on Twitter.