2023 Tesla Model 3 Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Phantom braking, steering, electrical system, and sudden unintended acceleration issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from owners of the 2023 Tesla Model 3

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

According to Reuters, the 2023 Tesla Model 3 has been revamped in an endeavor to cut production costs and boost the appeal of the electric sedan launched in 2017. The focus is reportedly to reduce the complexity and number of components in the car’s interior, and in this way, drive costs down. The Model 3 is already the brand’s cheapest EV and aimed at the mass market. But the revamp hasn’t solved major issues, including unintended acceleration, phantom braking, and loss of steering problems that have plagued the car since its launch.

Click on another model year to view more problems:  2019  2020  2021  2022

Most Common Problems with the 2023 Tesla Model 3

Complaints about the 2023 Tesla Model 3 lodged by consumers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) between November 12 and December 11, 2022, related only to phantom braking, problems with the emergency brakes, and/or sudden unintended acceleration, and issues with cruise control. Two of the complaints report crashes. It appears that these problems might all be inter-related.

One third of the NHTSA complaints about the 2017 launch model mention these same issues.

Since then, complaints to the NHTSA have increased astronomically, with steering problems emerging as another major problem. By mid-February 2024, there were 244 complaints, nearly half of which were about forward collision avoidance issues. In terms of volume, steering problems are now next on the list, with more than 25% of total complaints related to this component. Other problems have been highlighted on other platforms, including Kelley Blue Book (KBB). This features a review that gives the 2023 Model 3 just 1 out of 5 stars stating it is fun to drive but unreliable. After coming home from work one night, the driver experienced complete electrical power loss. That’s bad enough, but “Tesla was unable to diagnose the issue,” even though they had it for more than a month.

Another reviewer blames a “system malfunction” for his car getting “totaled.” “These cars have way too many problems.”

“In winter, (the) battery will only give you half-mileage performance, and (the) price for that compact car is insanely expensive,” says another owner.

Several KBB reviews also mention poor build quality, which is something we mention in our posts about the 2022 and 2021 models.

Investigations into 2023 Tesla Model 3 Vehicles

There have been four investigations opened by the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI). three of which are still open.

The first, opened on April 7, 2023 is filed as an “unknown or other” issue, but relates to the brakes and unintended acceleration. It was opened after the ODI received a defect petition that requested a recall of all Tesla vehicles Model Year (MY) 2013 to present 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. More than nine months later it is still an open investigation.

On June 29, 2023, the ODI opened an investigation into vehicle speed control issues, also following a petition. This asked the ODI to reevaluate a decision to deny a previous request relating to intermittent high electrical current demands on the vehicles’ 12VDC systems that may have caused various incidents. Nearly seven months later this is also still an open investigation.

The other two, opened in July 2023 and February 2024 both address the issue of loss of steering control (see under Steering Problems below).

2023 Tesla Model 3 Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Forward Collision Avoidance: Adaptive Cruise Control
90
90
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
72
72
Steering
64
64
Vehicle Speed Control
50
50
Service Brakes
34
34
Unknown Or Other
32
32
Electrical System
24
24
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
21
21
Lane Departure: Assist
9
9
Lane Departure: Warning
9
9

Phantom Braking Problems

Of the 8 complaints filed with the NHTSA about the 2023 Tesla Model 3, half mention phantom braking. But, these same complaints also mention emergency braking problems once and cruise control issues at least 3 times.

An owner from Iowa states that when phantom braking occurred, it was when both cruise control and autopilot were enabled. The Model 3 had slowed from between 70 and 50 mph very quickly “when there was no object nearby that would cause a collision. This is both frightening and upsetting, as such sudden braking could cause an accident, especially with any car following me from behind.”

An owner from Minnesota was traveling on the interstate at more than 75 mph with cruise control engaged. The Model 3’s emergency braking system braked twice during one trip. “The first felt like a fluke (when the) speed was reduced by 10-ish miles per hour. The second time was terrifying. I was traveling (at) approximately 77 mph on the interstate and out of nowhere, my vehicle slowed down significantly. I was too scared of getting hit from behind to look at the speedometer to know how much it actually braked, but it felt like it dropped down to 30 mph out of nowhere.”

The complaint goes on to say that because they were “scared out of our minds, wondering why and how this happened,” they immediately Googled the problem. That’s when they found out about phantom braking.

“I have owned this car for less than a week and now I am scared to use cruise control. I don’t even have the self driving or advanced auto pilot (feature). Thank God no one was hurt. This is more than a safety issue, this could be life and death.”

What Does Tesla Say About the Braking Issues?

There is nothing on record from Tesla about the 2023 Model Y that deals with this issue. In fact, as of mid-December, 2022, there are zero manufacturer communications. But then, there are only 2 communications on file for the 2022 model, both service bulletins. These relate to some Heat Pump Model 3 vehicles that were built without a hydraulic control unit “wake-up wire.” It states, amongst other things, that “in rare circumstances, braking and stability control related alerts may appear on the instrument cluster and touchscreen during the vehicle power-on process.” If they get customer complaints, dealerships are instructed to retrofit an HCU wake-up wire.

There are also 2 open NHTSA investigations into 2021-2022 Model 3 vehicles. These relate to “unexpected brake activation,” and are the result of hundreds of complaints made to the NHTSA ODI. This is, of course, phantom braking. It is likely that the 2023 model will be added to investigation as more complaints emerge.

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Steering Problems

Complaints to the NHTSA about steering-related issues vary from steering wheels being misaligned to loss of power steering assist and even complete power steering failure. Many complaints state that the steering wheel locks up and displays an error code that warns “steering assist is disabled.” Others say that the steering wheel stiffens and is difficult to maneuver or that it suddenly seizes.

Tesla issued a steering-related recall for the 2017-2023 Model 3 and several other Tesla vehicles on February 15, 2023. But it isn’t clear whether this was intended to relate to issues raised in complaints. It warns that 362,758 vehicles have full self-driving (FSD) software that may cause a crash. And it states that the software “allows vehicles to exceed speed limits or travel through intersections in an unlawful or unpredictable manner.” It doesn’t mention specifics like maneuverability or locking up.

Since the recall is filed as a steering issue, one might imagine that the recall tackles at least some of the complaints. But a year later, in February 2024, owners are still complaining about steering issues that could be related to the FSD software.

The NHTSA is well aware of the issues owners are facing, as the ODI investigations prove. As mentioned above, there are two cases on file with the NHTSA, one of which is still open (see below).

Examples

An owner from Virginia states that the “steering felt stuck and slid off the road which resulted in crashing into a tree. Tesla features did not help stay in the lane or break in an emergency.”

An owner from California also crashed, but this time it was because the FSD malfunctioned. It “failed to disengage, causing loss of steering control, thus causing (the) car to steer into (the) wrong lane and resulting in an accident. Tesla refused to inspect the car unless it was “fixed.” Not long after, the owner was forced to change from FSD to manual steering after the FSD had slowed the car down. “At this moment, the steering wheel forcibly turned to the opposite direction (i.e. left). I tried to correct the steering wheel by turning right even more, but the steering wheel wasn’t responding to my input for a split second.”

By the time the steering wheel responded, the car was in the wrong lane. “I had to swerve in the opposite direction to avoid the incoming traffic and ended up brushing against an SUV, followed by an impact on the curb, before finally slowing down.”

Could this be related to the Recall?

“I was driving to work in the morning and there was a sudden jolt and then the steering wheel became very heavy and I had to pull over and stop the car,” says an owner from Tennessee. When he stopped he says, “it showed me power steering failure and the steering was very hard to control. I could not drive straight and kept swaying from side to side. The steering wheel was very heavy and unreliable. Tesla had to come and tow my car to (the) service center”

Owners Tries to Return his 2023 Model 3

In July 2023, an owner from Connecticut wanted to return his brand new 2023 Tesla Model 3 after he received a “steering reduced alert.” Tesla service told him that “this was not a typical issue but to schedule a service appointment.” Two days later, the owner saw news articles about an NHTSA investigation into the same steering issue in 2023 Model 3s. “I called Tesla service again, and now was told that they could not say that my car was safe to drive.” But emergency assistance said it was safe.

When he took the car into the service center, they said the steering rack needed to be replaced. They gave him a loaner because it was going to take a few days. But this wasn’t done. “I told Tesla that I wanted to return the car, including bc it seemed like Tesla was trying not to perform an expensive repair they had listed themselves in their own documents with NHTSA scrutiny on this issue. I received no response, but was told by TD Bank that Tesla had agreed to a flat cancellation on my auto loan as of Aug. 9, with title to be reverted back to the dealership, and to discuss next steps with Tesla.” He got no response from Tesla, but less than two weeks later, “Tesla reapplied for the loan without my consent. This whole ordeal has been a nightmare.”

Investigations

On July 28, 2023, the ODI opened a Preliminary Evaluation after 12 vehicle owners had reported loss of steering control in 2023 Tesla Model 3 and Y vehicles. They identified 2,388 complaints regarding the alleged defect and associated one crash to the problem. The owner of the car that crashed wasn’t able to complete a right hand turn in an intersection and hit another vehicle. They were aware of multiple allegations of cars blocking intersections because of the issue and at least 50 vehicles that were towed because of it. The evaluation was upgraded to an Engineering Analysis due to continued complaints.

While there is a response from Tesla, the document members of the public have access states Tesla requested “confidential treatment.” This means that “no public version of the response is available.”

On February 1, 2024, the ODI filed NHTSA Action Number EA240001, which is, in effect, the Engineering Analysis. It reiterates what the previous action states, and adds several additional points. For example, “This Engineering Analysis has been opened to characterize the conditions leading to- and stemming from- failures with steering rack part numbers 1044832-00-A , 1188832-00-A.”

This investigation remains open.

Problems with the Electrical System

It would seem given that an EV would have a reliable electrical system, but that seems to be one of the biggest problems with the Model 3.

One user on the Tesla Motor Club Forum said, “Hello, I got my new 2022 model 3 LR last week (Dec 30). On Jan 1st, I got the message ‘vcfront 192’ and the model 3 was unable to drive. The screen worked good, but (the) drive shift could not work at all. After (a) few minutes, it worked and It was able to be driven. Jan 4th, I got the same issue and never fixed. My model 3 is in the service center. They have not told me why yet.” The complaint continues with a plea for information about the issue. “I cannot find out enough information about the issue on Google. I cannot believe it…it is just brand new.”

Tesla isn’t a stranger to electrical system issues. This problem listed above requires a brand new battery, which is simply ridiculous. But, even older models suffered from an electrical system defect that required the touchscreen to be recalled. These parts seem like basic components that shouldn’t fail in an EV, yet Tesla seems to fail every which way around. It doesn’t seem that the Model 3 can “go anywhere” after all, especially when the car is in the shop for a battery replacement.

Issues with Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Sudden unintended acceleration (SUA), is a malfunction identified when a vehicle suddenly accelerates and speeds up without driver control. While SUA is often a result of driver error, it also happens when there’s an electronic malfunction inside a vehicle. You might be able to stop SUA by braking hard. But there are many reported cases of drivers saying that a malfunction prevents them from braking and they cannot control the vehicle.

Just one day after picking up a new 2023 Tesla Model 3, an owner from New Jersey crashed after an SUA episode. “I was pulling into a parking spot, coming to a stop, and the car, within seconds, accelerated into a building. There was no warning at all. Also, after the collision a warning popped on the screen saying that the emergency brake was disabled. This was the first time seeing this alert, and I did not disable anything.”

An owner from California also experienced spontaneous SUA. According to the NHTSA complaint, it happened just after getting an update (presumably a software update). The “car accelerated by itself” just after the driver had exited the freeway” and pulled my foot off the pedal.” At first, “it started to decelerate, then there was a chime sound and the car suddenly shot forward.”

The driver slammed on the brakes as quickly as possible. “Luckily no-one was around. The driving conditions were terrible. It was raining hard and (it was) cold. I also just canceled autopilot by signaling right before exiting.”

Could a Faulty Cruise Control Function Be the Issue?

One of the complainants, an owner from California, describes how cruise control was accidentally activated while moving the car to Drive mode. This “resulted in (the) car moving on its own from a stopped position in (the) garage.” Before he realized what had happened, the car had rear-ended another parked car. “Luckily no human was in front of the car and thus grave body injury was avoided. The car speed might have been less than 20 mph.” There was no front collision avoidance warning, and the emergency brakes didn’t get deployed.

Your Lemon Law Legal Rights

One would assume that defective emergency brakes, phantom braking, and SUA aren’t normal for an electric sedan like the 2023 Tesla Model 3. But these are certainly issues, as complaints to the NHTSA show. They might also indicate that you have a lemon.

If you think you have a lemon, you can contact Lemberg Law and we will evaluate your problems. It’s not going to cost you anything because the law makes Tesla pay the legal bills for lemon law cases. Just call us on our Helpline or fill in a contact form. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you might be able to get the lemon out of your life. If we believe you do have a lemon, we will undertake to negotiate a deal with Tesla for you. It might be a replacement car, a trade-in, or a buyback. We will advise you free of charge.

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.

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