NHTSA opens Tesla probe over Model Y steering wheel detachments

The NHTSA says two vehicles were missing a bolt that secures the steering wheel.

Sjoerd van der Wal via Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into Tesla following reports of steering wheels falling off while on the road. The agency said it's aware of two reports of the wheel completely detaching from the steering column in the Model Y vehicles. It added that the vehicles were delivered to their owners without the retaining bolt that keeps the steering wheel attached.

In both cases, only friction was keeping the wheel in place until the force exerted on it "overcame the resistance of the friction fit while the vehicles were in motion," the NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation said (PDF). The vehicles each had low mileage.

One owner is said to have taken delivery of their Model Y just five days before the incident. When the wheel detached, there was no car behind the driver, who noted on Twitter and in an NHTSA complaint that they were safely able to pull onto the divider. There were no injuries in the incident, which the owner said occurred on Route 1 in Woodbridge, New Jersey, in late January.

"Both vehicles received an end of line repair requiring removal and reinstallation of the steering wheel," the NHTSA said. The agency's investigation, which covers an estimated 120,000 model year 2023 vehicles, will "assess the scope, frequency and manufacturing processes associated with this condition."

Tesla, which no longer has a communications department that can be reached for comment, has faced several NHTSA investigations over the last few years. Last month, the agency announced that Tesla was recalling almost 363,000 vehicles over issues with the Full Self-Driving software. The NHTSA said the system could "exceed speed limits or travel through intersections in an unlawful or unpredictable manner." Tesla said it would issue an over-the-air update to resolve the issues.

As the Associated Press notes, Tesla has had to issue 20 recalls since January 2022. Several of the recalls were mandated by the NHTSA. In November, for instance, the automaker recalled 321,000 Model 3 and Model Y cars over a rear light issue (one that was again remedied by a software update). That was Tesla's second recall in as many days.