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Why Tesla cars get totaled so easily

Graham Rapier   

Why Tesla cars get totaled so easily
  • Tesla's cars are tremendously complex, with a multitude of sensors and custom body parts.
  • That makes them extra difficult to repair in the event of a crash.

Crash your shiny new Tesla?

You may be in for a surprise when you get an estimate from your insurance company about getting it fixed.

Insurers are increasingly writing off — or "totaling" — a Tesla even after light damage because of their complexity and cost for repairs, according to the market-watchers at Kelley Blue Book.

Because there are so many tech features like sensors and cameras in the car — on top of highly-specific parts that can only be fixed by Tesla or one of its approved body shops — it's often cheaper to simply declare the whole vehicle destroyed and send it to the scrapyard instead of getting it back in working order.

Luckily, many elements of an electric car's drivetrain can be salvaged. In some cases, parts might find themself powering a classic conversion by a small handful of enthusiasts making some of the most famous cars ever made run on electricity.

To make matters even more complicated, Tesla's new "structural" battery packs — those that are integrated with the car's body — have "zero repairability," according to manufacturing expert Sandy Munro.

"A Tesla structural battery pack is going straight to the grinder," Munro, who's known for his vehicle teardowns, told Reuters earlier this year.

A study by two major salvage companies found that of the over 120 Model Ys declared totaled, "a vast majority" had less than 10,000-lifetime miles, Reuters reported at the time.

Tesla is acutely aware of the high insurance costs of its vehicles, with CEO Elon Musk in January saying they were "unreasonably high." He also noted that the company had implemented design changes, specifically in the bumper, to make some repairs easier and was working to ensure spare parts availability.

"So if you're waiting for a part to get repaired and that part takes a month, now you've got a month of having to rent another car. It's extremely expensive," he said on Tesla's fourth-quarter earnings call in January. "And of course, you're missing the car that you love and the one you actually want to drive. So this has actually a very significant effect on total cost of ownership and customer happiness."

Tesla has also been working to offer its own insurance products in some states, including California, with premium prices based on driving data from cars' onboard sensors.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Are you a Tesla owner who's struggled with repairs or service? We want to hear from you. Reach the author of this story at

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