2020 Tesla Model 3 Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Services brakes, steering, suspension, and vehicle speed control issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

When it comes to electric vehicles, few are as known as the 2020 Tesla Model 3. This EV is said to be “built around the driver,” but customers can’t stop complaining. The comments are building up about the service brakes, steering, vehicle speed control and the suspension.

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Problems with the Service Brakes

On any vehicle, gas-powered or electric, the brakes are required to stop the car before a collision occurs. However, some Model 3 customers are worried this isn’t going to happen.

One NHTSA complaint states, “Regarding the car brakes, they are very hard to fully depress and I believe it’s because of the regenerative braking. For example, when going at highway speed and you need to press the brake pedal hard it literally feels like the car is refusing to let you use the full capacity of the brakes. It’s very scary, it happened to me and I could not press the brake pedal completely down.”

It turns out that Tesla is fully aware the cars have braking issues. Service Bulletin #SB-20-33-001 R1 says that some brake caliper bolts might not have been torqued to the correct internal specifications. This could cause a serious braking issue and even an accident. While the car itself might be built around the driver, the brakes weren’t made for stopping.

Problems with the Steering

Another way to keep a car under control is through the steering system. If this doesn’t function correctly either, customers are further at risk.

One more NHTSA complaint says, “The auto steer in my Tesla Model 3 failed today when the car was turning on a curvy downhill road. I believe it’s because the lane markings on the right side ended just before the curbing started. The car suddenly turned right and hit the curb brushing the right front wheel. It would have been a fatal accident if it hadn’t taken over. Auto steer technology is not yet ready for use on all the roads and it should not be included by default in all the Tesla models. My car did not brake because the cruise control was still on. I am still in shock and afraid to use the auto steer again.”

Sometimes cars can become too advanced for its time, leading to issues if the roads aren’t prepared. However, there are also times when the manufacturer simply screws up. That’s what is illustrated with Service Bulletin #SB-20-32-007. It says that the automaker might not have installed the upper steering column bolt properly, which leads to excessive play. Any time that the steering isn’t in control, an accident might occur. For a car that’s “built around the driver,” Tesla must have thought owners needed more of an arm workout while driving. Maybe it’s possible to skip the gym visit now.

Problems with the Suspension

The suspension is what dictates whether the ride is smooth or rough. For the price paid on a Model 3, the road should feel like the owner is floating on clouds, but that’s not the case.

Here’s another NHTSA complaint. “The front wheel has gone totally whompy because most of the suspension components have snapped. There is hardly any damage to the car except for the suspension having snapped off. There is no sign of an impact severe enough to justify the suspension failure. The car has done just 94 miles since leaving the factory.”

Having a snapped-off suspension is not normal and certainly not what’s expected from a luxury model. However, there are more problems to be aware of. Service Bulletin #SB-20-31-004 says that the front damper assemblies don’t meet the internal specifications. This issue causes a harsh ride, vibration and plenty of noise. Maybe it’s an internal reminder of how the Model 3 is “built around the driver,” constantly singing in the owner’s ear.

Problems with the Vehicle Speed Control

One final stop in the Model 3 investigation brings the research to the vehicle speed control. This is yet another system that seems to be a complete failure.

One owner wrote this on the NHTSA website, “My wife and I live on a two-lane state route in the country. We were headed home from the farmers’ market this morning around 10 a.m., headed down a hill with three cars behind us. There was an 18-wheeler headed up the hill. I had the cruise control on and traveling 55 mph in a straight line with no curves in sight. When the 18-wheeler coming up the hill was 7 car lengths ahead of us in the opposite lane, my car automatically braked hard enough to bring our speed down to 35 mph before I could override and accelerate. My spouse said, ‘I hate this car. It’s going to get us killed one day. We could have been rearended.’ I have used conventional cruise control to drive for more than 20 years, even in town, to keep from inadvertently speeding. Normal cruise control doesn’t behave in this manner. This is my first report of a recurring problem.”

In this situation, Tesla has chosen to remain tight-lipped. Apparently, there is already too much evidence that this car was never built for the driver after all. Instead, it’s just an expensive piece of metal that deserves a lemon-shaped trophy when it gets dropped off at the junkyard.

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About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 20 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

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2 COMMENTS
  • Clark

    I’m having similar braking issues. It appears that with cars in multiple lanes in front of me, and with an approaching overpass, the car “sees” a potential issue and brakes hard. It has happened on 5 occasions in the first 3000 miles. I also feel like the suspension, roll, pitch and yaw of the suspension has changed in just 3 weeks. Sadly I was advised that the only recourse is to “report a bug” on the voice command so that they can collect the data and change the code. The dampening and spring rate seems off on slight bumps, resulting in the car bouncing.

  • Duane

    After purchasing the basic auto-pilot with TACC in June of 2020, my 2017 Tesla Model 3 now occasionally (varies from ~20-170 miles of driving) applies the brakes drastically (slows 10 MPH in ~1 second or less) on the freeway without any hazardous conditions in front or anywhere near the car. I feel it is just a matter of time before I get rear-ended in traffic. I have taken the car to a Tesla service center for this problem and consulted with service technicians to no avail. In fact, while talking to a service rep on the phone on 3/9/21 about this “safety” related problem he told me that I must maintain vigilance while driving the car with the “Beta mode” of auto-pilot and I replied that I do, however when the car dramatically slows 10 MPH in <1 second mysteriously (without any reason) how can I possibly prevent this "emergency like" braking from happening as a vigilant driver? He had no response!

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