Tesla fans call for recall terminology update, but the NHTSA isn’t convinced it’s needed


Tesla fans have been calling for an update in recall terminology ever since Over-the-Air updates became more popular in resolving vehicle issues. However, the NHTSA, the agency responsible for handling recalls and vehicle safety, is not convinced that it is needed.

The majority of Tesla’s vehicle recalls are performed through software remedies, which makes things complicated when it comes to headlines. Far too often, media outlets run with headlines like “Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles for safety issue,” when in reality, the issue is something small and fixable through a software update that downloads and is applied while the owner is asleep.

Fans are not the only ones calling for a terminology update. CEO Elon Musk is calling for one as well and has on several occasions.

‘Outdated & Inaccurate’

After a 2022 “recall” on over 1 million Teslas for a window issue, mainstream media pushed the narrative that 1 million EVs were in need of a major fix. In reality, the problem was remedied through a software download and update, and not a single car needed to go to a service center for repair.

“The terminology is outdated & inaccurate. This is a tiny over-the-air software update. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no injuries,” Musk said in response to the recall.

More recently, a 2 million-vehicle recall was initiated by Tesla and the NHTSA to increase font size.

“On affected vehicles, the letter font size of the Brake, Park, and Antilock brake system (ABS) visual warning indicators is smaller than 3.2 mm (1/8 inch), as prescribed in FMVSS Nos. 105 and 135,” the NHTSA said in its 573 Safety Recall Report.

Tesla’s font size causes 2.2 million vehicle ‘recall’ that’s really just an OTA upate

The 2.2 million vehicles affected were given a software update, which was downloaded and applied to all vehicles. It increased the font size without anyone needing to physically take their cars to a showroom.

‘No difference to the safety risk posed by a defect’

From the NHTSA’s perspective, recall still fits the bill of anything from a steering wheel that falls off to the font size being a size too small.

Teslarati reached out to the agency last week, asking if there were any internal plans or discussions regarding the terminology of a recall. In reality, there are more companies than just Tesla that would benefit from an update in terminology.

Ford is another company that has used Over-the-Air updates to solve vehicle problems.

The NHTSA told us that any defect, big or small, fits the bill of a recall, and whether it can be resolved through software or through a physical repair makes no difference. It’s still a safety issue:

“Defects that pose an unreasonable risk to safety are serious and should be remedied as soon as possible. The Vehicle Safety Act requires manufacturers to issue recalls to remedy safety defects. Whether a remedy can be completed at a local dealership or through an over-the-air software update makes no difference to the safety risk posed by a defect.”

Recalls are an acknowledgment of a safety defect in a vehicle, and how they’re repaired does not play into the terminology used. Recalls are important because they alert a vehicle owner of an issue, and sometimes, the OTA update may not be successfully applied, or it could persist after the fix is sent through software.

Comparing Vehicle Recalls to Phone Updates

A common comparison used by people who oppose the use of the word “recall” to describe an OTA update is that of a smartphone update.

iPhones are common recipients of software updates, and you’ll see people online facetiously say, “My iPhone is getting recalled!”

The NHTSA does not see a comparison, considering vehicle safety defects can put lives at risk on the road. The driver is at risk if things are not fixed, and others can be put in harm’s way as well.

Unfortunately, those who disagree with the use of the word “recall” may have to deal with it. It does not seem that the NHTSA has any plans to update the terminology used because the medium of repair is not what a recall applies to. It is the issue itself.

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Tesla fans call for recall terminology update, but the NHTSA isn’t convinced it’s needed


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