The single most expensive component on your Tesla is the battery.
The same is true for virtually any electric car, in fact.
The chief reason that electric cars remain so much more expensive than their gasoline counterparts is the battery pack. Advances are always being made, of course, but as things stand, the battery is the one component that every Tesla owner is praying never to have to replace, and especially not when either the warranty or insurance isn’t covering the full cost.
The trouble is, there are other things that can do damage to the battery pack that may not be covered by the warranty, or by insurance. In today’s blog, we want to try and offer some insight and some advice to those who might experience this kind of accidental damage. How can it happen? What should you do about it? Will you have to pay for it all yourself?
How Common is External Damage to the Tesla Battery Pack
The good news is that, from all accounts, it’s quite difficult to cause accidental damage to your Tesla battery pack, and the chances of it happening are quite rare. However, it can and does happen to people, and has left some with bills stretching into the tens of thousands of dollars. Why is it so expensive? Essentially it’s because Tesla doesn’t repair battery packs, but rather replaces them.
Sources of the Damage
The main cause of accidental damage is typically hard debris hitting the battery when the car is being driven at high speeds. For example, rocks and metallic objects in the road can cause such damage, as well as anything that is both hard and sharp. A simple knock on the battery housing typically isn’t enough to do serious damage. What it typically takes is something sharp enough and/or something hitting at the right angle to pierce the outer casing.
The most common reported result of such damage is puncturing the coolant reservoir, which causes fatal leaks and can be very dangerous. Hard-hitting stone or metal objects can also do significant damage to the frame, depending on how fast and at what angle they impact the car. Dents and bumps that impact the outside of the battery housing without breaking the exterior are generally not of any concern, but it’s worth having it checked out after any such impacts happen, if possible.
Tesla “Structural Battery Pack”: Is it Better?
Back in early 2021, Tesla announced its all-new “Structural Battery Pack” design, which uses a honeycomb build to both add strength and durability, but also reduce overall weight. Indeed, when it was launched, the main benefits of the design most loudly touted by Elon Musk were:
- A 10-percent reduction in total mass
- A 14-percent increase in range (potential, not guaranteed)
- A total of 370 fewer individual parts used
The last one is fairly significant in making the battery pack more durable. Fewer individual parts means fewer things that can possibly break or sustain damage, so in theory the Structural Battery Pack does have a lot to offer to Tesla owners, and indeed to reassure them on the road. However, when looking at reports from Tesla owners about damage to the battery pack, it seems that even models from 2021 and 2022 that are using the new structure are not escaping these same kinds of accidents.
What Steps Should One Take in the Event of Such Damage?
The key is to know what to do in the event that you sustain this kind of damage to your Tesla. Below we have shared a few useful tips:
Book an Appointment at the Tesla Service Center
This one might seem fairly obvious, but actually it remains the best and safest option for the vast majority of Tesla owners. If you feel an impact of a foreign object against the underside of your Tesla, you should book an appointment to allow a professional to take a look and assess the damage. Chances are that no meaningful damage has been done, and you’ll be able to drive away with peace of mind and perhaps a small bill for your trouble.
See a Third-Party Mechanic
If you’re worried that repairs at the Tesla Service Center will cost you an arm and a leg, then you could perhaps consider a trusted third party. If you already know a good EV mechanic that has worked on Teslas before, then it can be worth it because you could make significant savings. The biggest difference is that a third-party mechanic is more likely to try and repair any damage instead of simply writing it off as Tesla seems to do as its standard approach.
Assess the Damage – Check for Leaks
You can also, of course, take a look for yourself to see if there is any visible damage. In the vast majority of cases, you might notice some abrasions or scratches, possibly a small dent. What you’re really looking for that is of any concern is signs of leaks from the underside of your car. If you have no way to look underneath your Tesla to see, then leave it parked in your garage, on your driveway or in your street for a little while and then move it. After moving, look back at where you were parked: do you see any pooled liquids there? If so, you have a leak, likely a coolant leak.
Look for Warning Lights On Your Touchscreen
After the impact, have any warning lights or other indicators appeared on your main Tesla touchscreen, or on your dashboard display if your Tesla has one? If so, it’s a sign that perhaps some significant damage has been done by whatever impacted your underside.
For example, is there a warning about ESC (electronic stability control) suddenly not working properly? Or regenerative braking? These have specific warning lights in Tesla models. If you see any kind of warning light, then you should make an appointment with the Tesla Service Center.
Are There Any DIY Fixes?
DIY repairs on the battery are not a recommended thing unless you have specific knowledge or experience that could help you in that regard. There is a good example on YouTube of one Tesla owner with some mechanical knowhow who saved a bundle of cash by being able to repair superficial damage to his car’s underside himself. While driving on the highway, he noticed a metal object (later discovered to be a bucket) pop out from underneath the car in front. Since he had a large truck on his right, he couldn’t change lanes to avoid it, so he drove over it.
Upon inspecting his car, he noticed some damage to the rear end around the suspension, but was able to identify the part, and purchase a new one on eBay for just $60. Using his own labor meant he saved even more money. However, when it came to the huge scratch marks left by the bucket on his battery pack, he decided to take the car into the service center. This was a smart decision, and below we’ll explain why.
Looking at the scratches, he saw no signs of leaks or penetrative damage into the battery pack itself. But he decided to take it into Tesla because he wanted to be sure that if there were any problems further down the line, he had some kind of report in writing that at the time of this incident, Tesla believed there was nothing to worry about. Smart move. He took his car in, had it checked out, and sure enough the report stated in black and white that no further repairs were needed. That could prove useful down the road if anything else went wrong.
Who Pays for This Kind of Damage
Accidental and freakish as this damage is, the bad news is that it won’t be covered by your Tesla warranty. Remember that warranties are primarily put in place to protect buyers from manufacturer faults. If you were driving on a highway and a sharp rock impacted your battery pack, this can hardly be deemed Tesla’s fault, can it? The only circumstance in which the warranty could be valid is if it could be shown that it was a manufacturer defect that allowed damage to be done more easily, but proving that after the fact could be extremely difficult.
So, does that mean that Tesla drivers will be left footing the bill for their repairs? Actually, no, probably not, at least not all of it. The good news is that most of this damage can be covered by insurance. Having said that, not all providers cover it entirely, and therefore Tesla drivers who are worried about such damage should contact their insurance provider or study their policy carefully to see if it is included in their coverage.
Those who drive their car in wilder, more open areas of countryside or desert where rocks and other debris abound should take particular care of this problem. For those in urban areas, areas where there is a lot of construction should be treated with caution, as well as sites of recent accidents where debris might still be present.
Reports from Tesla owners on various online forums seem to suggest that it’s never a guarantee that insurance will cover the entire cost. If it’s something you’re genuinely worried about, and you want to avoid a potential bill of $20,000 or more for a new battery pack, then it’s a good idea to ensure you have enough coverage to cover what you can’t afford.