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

Our research shows that Forward collision avoidance, vehicle speed control, and brake problems are among the top reported problems with the 2020 Model Y

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

With the rise of electric vehicles, the 2020 Tesla Model Y continues to be a highly-coveted model. The automaker claims that it has “a place for everything.” But do owners want to put anything that matters to them inside a defective vehicle? It turns out this EV has a myriad of problems including phantom braking, regenerative braking issues, uncontrolled acceleration, and cruise control and Autopilot malfunctions — and these are just the most common issues.  

Click on other model year to view more problems:  2021   2022   2023

Most Commonly Reported

The 2020 Tesla Model Y is a popular electric vehicle, but there are multiple problems, many of which are extremely serious. Owners have filed hundreds of complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about this model, nearly half of which (44%) are identified as being forward collision avoidance problems. Vehicle speed control and service brake complaints account for more than 30% of complaints together. However, many complaints are filed in more than one category, with vehicle speed control, brakes, and lane departure being included in some of the forward collision avoidance complaints.

Analyzing specific issues, phantom braking is undeniably the most common problem. This seems to go hand-in-hand with cruise control and Autopilot malfunctions. Uncontrolled acceleration, a common complaint filed as a vehicle speed control issue, is also common. There are many reports of crashes that are linked to these complaints — some from people who have been driving for decades without ever having had a crash.

Apart from the components and systems already mentioned, many others have attracted substantial complaints. In volume order, these include suspension, steering, the electrical system, airbags, visibility/wiper, exterior lighting, structure, exterior lighting, wheels, seat belts, backover prevention, powertrain, and seats. There are also many complaints filed as “unknown or other” issues, although many of these include the components listed here.

In addition to these huge complaint volumes, by mid-April 2024, Tesla had issued 19 recalls and the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) had opened six investigations, three of which are still open.

With all these numbers, one would imagine that there would be hundreds of manufacturer communications on file advising and information dealerships. But there are only 55.

2020 Tesla Model Y Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Forward Collision Avoidance: Adaptive Cruise Control
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
Unknown Or Other
Service Brakes
Vehicle Speed Control
Electrical System
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
Air Bags


The first investigation was opened in August 2021 to evaluate the performance of Tesla’s Autopilot system. This, says the NHTSA, is “a system characterized by Tesla as an SAE Level 2 driving automation system designed to support and assist the driver in performing the driving task.” It was motivated by an increasing number “of crashes in which Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes.”

In June 2022, the investigation was upgraded to an Engineering Analysis that seeks, amongst other things, “to explore the degree to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems may exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver’s supervision.” This investigation is still ongoing.

Another ongoing investigation was opened in April 2023 to evaluate the need to “add an interlock that requires a brake application by the driver in order to shift from Drive to Reverse to reduce the number of sudden unintended acceleration events.”

The issue of sudden unintended acceleration is major. This particular investigation was opened after receiving a petition that alleges these vehicles contain a defect that can cause sudden unintended acceleration that may result in a crash and injury.

It should be noted that it isn’t only the 2020 Model Y that is implicated in these investigations. Model 3, Model S, and Model X vehicles are also under investigation, and model years extend from as far back as 2012 to 2023, depending on the Tesla model and the specific investigation.

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There is far too much data to consider concerning recalls. However, it is useful to know the reasons for some of these recalls. The greatest number relates to the electrical system, but we are also including forward collision avoidance and brake recalls. Others relate to exterior lighting, seat belts, steering suspension, and visibility.

Electrical System

Nine recalls relate to the electrical system of this and other Tesla vehicles:

  • Vehicles may fail to stop at stop signs, increasing the risk of a crash.
  • Seat belt chimes may not activate alerting drivers to the fact that their seat belts aren’t fastened. This can increase the risk of injury during a crash.
  • Windshields may not defrost properly, which may reduce drivers’ visibility, also increasing the risk of a crash.
  • Pedestrian warning sounds may be obscured or muted, which increases the risk of a crash — three recalls.
  • Full self-driving software may cause a crash. This is because FSD Beta software may allow vehicles to exceed speed limits or travel through intersections unlawfully or unpredictably, increasing the risk of a crash.
  • Autopilot controls may be insufficient to prevent misuse. Specifically, when Autosteer is engaged and drivers don’t maintain responsibility for vehicle operation they may not recognize the need to intervene when Autosteer is canceled or not engaged. This also increases the risk of a crash.
  • Incorrect font size on some warning lights make critical safety information on the instrument panel difficult to read, increasing the risk of a crash.

Forward Collision Avoidance

Four recalls relate to forward collision avoidance, three of which are because pedestrian warning sounds may be obscured or muted.

The fourth is due to unexpected activation of the automatic emergency brake which can cause the car to stop suddenly, increasing the risk of a crash. Dated October 21, 2021, this recall affects 11,728 Tesla vehicles, yet this issue — more commonly known as phantom braking — continues to occur.


There is just one recall each for these components. Some brakes may have loose brake caliper bolts and full self-driving software may cause a crash (also under electrical).

Phantom Braking

Phantom braking is a well-known phenomenon that occurs when the car’s automatic emergency braking system applies the brakes unnecessarily, often at highway speeds, due to misinterpreting environmental factors like lane lines or shadows as potential collisions. Many of the complaints that report phantom braking in the 2020 Model Y state that it happens often — and it is commonly severe. Both cruise control and Autopilot are commonly linked to phantom braking.

A stock answer from Tesla is that phantom  braking will be corrected “in the future probably via several software updates,” as a WA owner states.

An owner from Colorado was driving with cruise control on when “the car violently hit the brakes when there was no one in front of us. We have noticed this is more common when cresting a hill. This happens at least once every time we are on a road trip. This needs to be addressed.”

An owner from Wisconsin was using both adaptive cruise control and Autopilot steers (without Autosteer) when he experienced multiple episodes of severe “phantom breaking.” There were no other cars around and the freeway was flat, clear, and open. Even though there were multiple (more than 10 episodes in one hour), “they have demanded to know the exact time stamp.” He was able to give time within a one-hour period together with vehicle location. But the Tesla service department said “if there is a hardware issue they will look at it. If it is ‘firmware’ it will need to wait for a firmware update. This is dangerous. What if the car slams on the breaks at 80 mph with someone following close behind? You might be rear-ended. Really serious safety issue.”  His car has the latest FSD Beta 10.4 which he says “is much worse than before this upgrade.”

Regenerative Braking

Some reports describe unexpected deceleration or a loss of control that is related to the regenerative braking system. This could be due to software glitches or malfunctions in the system itself, but Tesla is not providing any useful information. Here are some complaints that blame the regenerative system for their problems.

An owner from New York states that the Model Y “loses control in snow and fishtails, making it unsafe. This has happened multiple times in winter and even in heavy rain. I follow standard recommendations for winter/snow driving. If you skid, ease off acceleration, and do not brake to avoid skidding. If we do this, the regenerative brakes kick in and brake the car, causing the skid. Have had several narrow escapes on highways and even on regular roads. I hope Tesla will give an option to turn off the regenerative braking for winter driving.”

In North Carolina during moderate to heavy rain, a Tesla Model Y hydroplaned and spun twice doing two full 360 spins from the leftmost interstate lane and ending up on the right shoulder. “Fortunately, we made no contact with anyone and nothing was damaged and no one was hurt. We believe the car started to hydroplane causing me to let go (of) the accelerator. This caused the Tesla regenerative braking to kick in and made matters worse and caused the car to spin.”

Another owner was driving under the speed limit on a busy six-lane highway when the car “hydroplaned across 3 lanes, past the divider and spun 180 degrees. I was able to bring it to a halt with fierce braking just before it crossed onto the other side. Some damage to (the) car. I was unhurt. (The) sheriff came to assist me to safety.”

Uncontrolled Acceleration

While most of the complaints that highlight uncontrolled acceleration are filed as vehicle speed control problems, probably the worst accident reported is listed as a forward avoidance issue. An owner from New Jersey tells how the Tesla Model Y “sped the traffic light and was hit by another oncoming vehicle.” The complaint says that the crash, which resulted in two injuries was life-changing “to me and others involved in the accident. The vehicle suddenly sped without my control without stopping at the red light.” In addition to injuries, the driver suffered major financial loss including loss of the vehicle. When the complaint was filed in February 2023, legal activities were still pending. “Tesla is not investigating and not taking responsibility for this accident and the nearest dealership is avoiding my claims.”

An owner from Maryland experienced “sudden uncontrolled acceleration which caused it to crash into buildings.” Strangely, this was moments after he had received on-screen error messages that said “Automatic Emergency Braking Unavailable, ABS Disabled, and Automatic Vehicles Hold Disabled.” This car was also deemed totaled by the insurance company. After supposedly investigating the accident for two months, Tesla told the owner they couldn’t find an issue with the car.

“While reversing at low speed from his driveway, the accelerator pedal inadvertently depressed into the floorboard, resulting in sudden unintended acceleration.” The driver, from California, “depressed the brake pedal, but the vehicle failed to stop immediately. The vehicle struck two other parked vehicles in another driveway before crashing into a residence.” The people in the house weren’t injured, but the driver “sustained a fractured neck, and shoulder pain from his seat belt, and head pain from striking the steering wheel.” The passengers were also injured, and taken to hospital in an ambulance with the driver.

Autopilot Link

An owner from California states that he has disabled Autopilot after the Tesla crashed due to spontaneous acceleration. This happened while the car was at a red light and “suddenly went into autopilot and spontaneously accelerated forward at a high speed, causing a rear-end collision and over $7,000 damages to my car.” It was his second experience, though the first didn’t result in a crash. “The first time while sitting at a drive-

through pharmacy window- thank goodness there wasn’t a person in front of me!”

“I believe this safety hazard issue needs to be thoroughly investigated before someone gets killed. I’ve asked for the car data and am still awaiting a manager from Tesla to contact me to discuss what happened and if there was anything on my end that could have caused these incidents to occur. I rarely use my Autopilot, but since (then I) have completely disabled it.”

So What Can You Do?

Do you think you might have bought a 2020 Tesla Model Y that is a lemon? If so, call the Lemberg Law Helpline or fill out a contact form so that we can assess your problems and advise you.

Every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace, or pay cash settlements to thousands of lemon owners like you. They are also required, by law, to pay the legal fees for lemon law cases.

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 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.

See more posts from Brian Jones
  • Kami

    I recently was involved in a motor vehicle collision with the Model Y. I side swept one vehicle and rear ended another one in front of me. Please know my foot was on the brake the whole time this happened. The car went lunging forward two times and did not want to stop. Are they not made to detect objects around the vehicle? I am just glad no one was injured and that there were no pedestrians around.

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