SAN FRANCISCO -- Tesla Motors Inc., unable to fully explain a broken seat belt discovered in early November by a European owner of its all-electric Model S sedan, said today that it has decided to recall the entire Model S fleet.
Tesla today sent an email to all 90,000 Model S owners worldwide, urging them to visit one of the company’s service centers for a safety inspection. Tesla said it has inspected 3,000 more vehicles without detecting the same seatbelt problem, but it decided to act out of an abundance of caution.
“In the event of a crash, a seat belt in this condition would not provide full protection,” the email says. “First and foremost, we care about your safety.”
In sheer numbers, it is the largest recall in the history of Tesla, which last called back the Model S in January 2014 when the company discovered that faulty home wiring could cause Tesla’s chargers to overheat and cause a fire. Tesla also installed a battery shield on the Model S in 2014 to protect against fires, but did not issue a formal recall.
Tesla said the new problem involves the front seat belts, which are anchored to the lower frame of the Model S with a pre-tensioner that pulls the seat belt tight in an accident to restrain the occupant. It is connected to two anchor plates bolted together.
In the case of the European customer, the bolt holding those two plates together was not properly installed, causing the seat belt to be disconnected. It was discovered when a woman in the front passenger seat turned to speak to passengers in the back seat, putting pressure on the seat belt and causing it to come loose.
Tesla said it will take a technician three to six minutes to inspect the seatbelts and another six minutes to install a new bolt if necessary. The company is urging customers to test their seat belts by yanking on the lap belt with a force of at least 80 pounds, which could be sufficient to detect a problem before the inspection.
“We expect the vast majority of seat belts to be fine, but out of an abundance of caution, we want to take a look,” a Tesla spokesman told reporters today. “This is above and beyond what is traditional in the industry,” he added, “but everyone from Elon (Tesla CEO Musk) on down [agrees] that the fact this appeared on even a single vehicle is unacceptable to Tesla.”
Tesla shares fell nearly 1 percent to close at $220.01 today.