Mass-produced Tesla cars are still a relatively new feature on the automotive market, and people are often noticing issues arising with design and build quality.
Some of these are fairly innocuous such as occasional body panel gaps, but some of them present a more significant problem for drivers, even potentially compromising the car’s safety.
One of these potentially more serious issues can be found with the side repeaters — also known as the blinkers or indicators. The problem is being caused by light leakage, with LED light from the repeater finding its way directly to the light sensor of the blindspot camera.
In today’s blog, we’ll first describe in more detail why this is a serious issue, and what Tesla owners experiencing it can do about it.
Background: What’s Going on With Tesla Repeaters and Cameras?
In a nutshell, there has been spotted a design flaw in the interior components of the Tesla repeater (indicator) and blind spot camera and sensor array that is affecting many drivers of different Tesla models, especially at night time and in other bad light conditions. What is happening is essentially that light is leaking from the repeater/blinker orange LED through holes in the camera’s PCB board.
This light leakage causes the blind spot rear-view image seen by the driver to experience glare, sometimes completely obscuring what’s in the image. Depending on the exact conditions, the extent of the problem varies. In the worst cases, the light glare renders the driver’s viewfinder completely overwhelmed in bright light, even if just temporarily back and forth while the blinker is on. At best, it creates a cloud of glare-like interference around the top edge, which while not impinging on visibility so much, is still very irritating, and not what one expects from a high-end brand like Tesla (or do they, by now?)
Tesla has implemented two main fixes to the problem, the first a superficial fix to existing PCB boards, and the second a more fundamental change at the manufacturing stage. We’ll cover these in more detail further below.
How Serious is the Problem?
Judging from Tesla forums and message boards, this is hardly what one would call an isolated issue. What’s more, it’s not something that is simply affecting older Tesla models and that has been fixed in subsequent years. In fact, this is affecting models from as recent as the 2021 model year.
The 2 main areas of the vehicle that are impacted the most are the blind spot monitoring system, and also the relatively new Full Self-Driving (FSD) package. Even with a little glare appearing on the blind spot monitor viewfinder, it means that drivers are getting a diminished amount of visibility on a screen that is meant to maximize visibility and make drivers aware of potential hazards in their periphery. For this reason, it’s a pretty serious problem.
Another arguably more concerning factor is how it impacts the FSD package. Full Self-Driving mode relies entirely on properly functioning cameras and sensors. While the glare from the light doesn’t actually mean the camera itself isn’t working or can’t work, the flood of light on the sensor can obscure potential hazards, and/or cause the car to think there are hazards when there aren’t. None of these conditions make for a safe driving situation.
Therefore, while some may think that they can simply put up with the problem, we strongly advise that you do not. Make an appointment with Tesla to try and get the problem solved there, or approach another trusted mechanic/technician to help you fix the problem.
What is Tesla Doing About the Problem?
On the surface, this kind of problem appears as though it would at the very least be something Tesla would fix against the warranty due to its potential connection to safety, and the fact that the problem has been traced back to a design floor in the PCB board of the blind spot cameras. However, while at first Tesla seemed all too willing to help customers deal with this problem, they are now seemingly trying to downplay it.
It seems that there are occasions where Tesla will offer customers a good-will repair on this problem, especially if the driver had not previously received the first of the two fixes that Tesla has created (see below). Those who don’t get lucky on the good will of Tesla will be looking at a repair bill of around $320 in total, including parts and labor.
But if Tesla’s design is at fault, why is anyone having to pay? In its efforts to downplay the issue and undoubtedly avoid some kind of embarrassing recall, Tesla is saying that the general problem of glare from the repeater is actually “characteristic” of the overall design. How helpful they are in getting it fixed for you, therefore, will depend on how serious the glare issue is. Those with serious safety-threatening glare regularly appearing are more likely to get good-will assistance, while others may have to pay out of pocket to improve their experience.
Fix #1 – Electrical Tape
When the problem was first discovered, Tesla offered something of a crude fix, namely by putting electrical tape over the holes on the PCB board, which then obscures much of the glare. However, certain limitations of this fix were quickly discovered, especially for those who received large doses of glare from the repeater/indicator. While the holes were covered, the glue used around the camera was also allowing light to leak in, which in turn meant that the problem persisted, though perhaps only to a smaller degree. If you had the electrical tape put in place, and a small amount of glare persisted, this is where Tesla would simply say that this glare was now characteristic, and if you wanted further repairs, you’d have to pay for them yourself.
Fix #2: A New Array
After the crude initial efforts of applying electrical tape over the holes, Tesla then modified its manufacturing process to create an entirely new repeater array with a properly designed PCB board that didn’t have holes, and glue that wouldn’t allow light glare to seep through. This new equipment can be installed quite simply at the Tesla Service Center, at the cost of about $320 including parts and labor.
The most expensive single component is the camera, at about $240, which led some of the more technically minded Tesla owners to simply purchase these from Tesla directly and then retrofit them to their existing array, saving on labor costs. A more complex DIY fix to the original array was also possible, which we’ll outline in the section below.
Are There Any DIY Fixes to This Problem?
DIY approaches have been shared, but we should warn even the most skilled Tesla and car repair experts out there, that the given method below presents some immediate danger to the integrity of the blind spot camera and sensor array. So, proceed with all caution if pursuing a DIY option.
Put simply, fixing this problem oneself without getting crude tape or a replacement array involves the following steps:
Step 1: Drill two holes of 5-6mm in diameter and maximum 3mm deep at the two circular points on the back of the array housing. These are located just below the part-number information on the housing, and are 20mm apart. Drilling too deep will impact and possibly damage the PCB board.
Step 2: The holes you’ve drilled should reveal the 3 holes in the PCB board, which you can then proceed to fill in with black silicone sealant.
Step 3: Fill in the outer holes with sealant to solidify the housing once more.
It should be noted that even if done successfully, the DIY fix can leave some other side effects such as one camera on either left or right not displaying the same exposure as the other, or something worse. If they are working, but still not to a pleasing degree, it would be advisable to get the official fix from Tesla, and perhaps keep your DIY set as spares just in case.
Conclusion: It’s More of a Tesla Problem
After learning about this issue, and considering that so many car components are shared across different brands on some levels, it’s natural to wonder if other electric vehicles have been suffering from the same issue. In fact, our research shows that this has actually been a uniquely Tesla-related problem, and other EVs have not experienced similar issues. In the end, as with many such technical issues in Tesla cars, it’s one particular minor component — in this case the PCB board and/or the glue around the camera — that is creating difficulties.
It has since been fixed, but once again Tesla’s own reputation takes a blow, and many customers are left frustratingly forking out up to $350 for repairs on a car that they may have been waiting for for 6 months or more depending on when they ordered it. Taking a broader look at this as a production issue, it’s another in a longer line of problems that Tesla has to try and iron out as they expand production to meet growing demand for their cars. Capacity may be growing, and the chip shortage will end sooner or later, but can Tesla start to guarantee absolute quality just as well as they guarantee excitement and hype in their future products?