2nd Drive Unit Failure

On a pleasant sunny day just driving up my street my Tesla began to give me a scary warning.  I don’t remember the exact words but the warning was to the effect that the car won’t likely restart.  A bit alarming but I was glad I was very close to home and parked the car in the garage.  The warning only flashed once and went away.  I plugged the car in as normal and went into the house. In hindsight I should have driven the car straight to the service center or left the car parked on the street in a flat location.

The Next Morning

I was concerned about the car, so the next morning I went to check the dash.  The car still had power but would not start and flashed a few more warnings.  I decided to call Tesla Roadside assistance as the car was not drivable.  Upon returning to the car, the car no longer had any power and the dash was not lighting up at all!  Tesla Roadside suggested calling AAA first to get the car towed as the car is out of warranty.


The first call to AAA resulted in a flat bed arriving from the East Bay a full three hours later.  None of their local outfits were available on the holiday weekend.  The tow truck driver however was not very familiar with Teslas and said I needed to get a more standard tow truck that had a dolly.

Towing without a flat bed

From all my experiences having had the car towed, every driver used a flatbed.  I didn’t realize that you could tow a Model S with a dolly.  But alas, the kind Tesla Roadside service person clarified this and showed the following picture from the Model S manual.  The back wheels are on a dolly, so the car will not accidentally overheat if the rear wheels are spinning.

Image from the Model S manual on towing

Another call into AAA to find the above kind of tow truck resulted in another two hour wait and being told no driver was available.  I decided to try again the next day.

The Third Day

Back on the phone again with AAA very early in the morning and no driver was available again.  I was informed that AAA will reimburse you if you find your own tow truck driver, and the  records show that AAA could not help you.  So I called Tesla Roadside service, they found someone who would arrive within the hour and also showed me how to jump the car.

The goal of jumping the car was simply to put the car into neutral, so it could be pushed and dragged onto a flat bed.  To put the car in neutral both the dash and the touchscreen need power.

Jumping the Model S

Jumping the Model S is quite easy.  You pop the nose cone out with a small object on the upper right.  I used a screwdriver.  The red terminal is covered with a small plastic cap, and ground is an exposed screw.  

Power terminal covered with a plastic cap
Jumping with an external battery

Three Jumping Styles

  1. The first attempt was to jump the car with just a battery conditioner which is quite weak but using that method restored some power to the car, and could have worked if given a lot more time.
  2. When the tow truck driver arrived, he tried to jump the car with an external battery but that battery did not have enough power to keep the dash on long enough.
  3. The final successful jump start was through the main cables using the truck’s power.


What I found very confusing was that the tow truck driver who arrived works for a company who also serves AAA.  The truck actually has the AAA label.  I don’t know why they did not respond to the request from AAA but did respond to Tesla. 

The driver was very knowledgeable but did forget to bill me.  The company called back the next day to get a payment.  I have submitted my receipt to AAA but have not yet received the reimbursement.  

I have been a lifetime member of AAA and until very recently had their auto insurance also.  Prior to the internet, their paper maps were essential travel items but I have not picked one up in many years.  Given this experience, I am debating keeping my membership as now it is just a tow insurance policy.  I recently used their service outside of the area with another car, but their response in the San Francisco Bay Area seems almost useless.

The handful of times in my life that I could have perhaps used them for DMV services, I forget that this service exists.

Loading The Car

Luckily after the final jump, the car dashboard would come on long enough to get the car into tow mode.  Getting the car from the somewhat tight driveway onto the tow truck was not particularly easy as the driveway has just enough slope to cause a problem if it rolled away, but after about ten minutes the car was successfully loaded and on its way to the dealer. 

Model X Loaner

The service center gave me a Model X loaner, which was kinder than I expected.  I can’t say I am a big Model X fan.   An unnecessary (for me) bigger car that did not drive nearly as smooth as my now nine year old Model S.  I surprisingly did not like the windshield either.  I found the sun distracting during the middle of the day requiring me to use the windshield visor at very unusual times.

Drive Unit Failure

I was a bit worried that my battery was giving out, but the end culprit was the drive unit.  Tesla service charges $4800 for a remanufactured one or $6000 for a brand new unit.  I hemmed and hawed and conducted a twitter poll.  The poll showed a clear preference for a new unit.  I decided to agree with the respondents and get a new unit. 

The total bill was a painful $8,300 which included $1683 of labor and $553 in tax.  Yikes!

Repeat Failures

My first drive unit failed back in 2017 about four years and 71,000 miles.  This second unit lasted about six years and 46,963 miles.  Thankfully, the first drive unit failed under warranty.

Drive Unit Inspections

I did some internet sleuthing and found that a third party service place in southern California refurbishes drive units.  The drive unit can get messy with oil and other ‘gunk’, so keeping it clean might help.  I discussed this my service advisor, and he suggested I could have the unit inspected and cleaned say between 20,000 to 30,000 miles to remove any buildup.  The cost would be in the neighborhood of $300 for the labor.  I plan on having my drive units regularly checked from now on.

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4 thoughts on “2nd Drive Unit Failure

  1. I recommend checking with Better World Club or Good Sam Roadside Assistance for towing coverage. Better World Club is not part of the highway lobby and has a coverage that includes bicycles. Good Sam can cover RVs or trailers and is good coverage even if you don’t have a camper or RV. An additional note is that many auto insurance includes towing but there’s limitations. Tesla warranty towing coverage is the best and frankly, I’ve wanted them to offer this to out of warranty Tesla owners for many years.

    • Very interesting. I didn’t know there were so many different options. Unfortunately the reviews I found on all of these including AAA aren’t exactly positive. I may just drop it and ‘pay as I go’.

  2. There seem to be many items to service an electric vehicle! What tire life is there? What do you do if you are broke down away from home?

    • Actually quite the contrary. the Tesla only needs tire service, for more details read my extensive coverage of my tire experience. Much less maintenance than a traditional gasoline powered vehicle.

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